Abu Dhabi // Commuter and recreational cyclists have called for motorists to be more respectful and aware of bikers on the road.
“What you have to contend with here is the drivers who really just don’t understand bicycles,” said Paul Crooks, a 50-year-old Australian who has lived in the capital for 12 years and rides with a group of friends twice a week.
“Therein lies the biggest problem of all. They don’t see cyclists, they don’t respect them. And as a result, if you happen to be in the way, you get run over. It’s just reality.”
Christopher O’Hearn, a 47-year-old media executive who lives in Dubai, agrees that drivers need to be more courteous.
“Hard driving and speed is the main thing,” said Mr O’Hearn, who is British and races with Raha Cycling Group.
“Generally I find people are fairly respectful of cyclists, but it’s the momentary inattention. It’s the fact that if something happens, they’re just not paying attention.”
Mr Crooks was quick to add that this phenomenon is not exclusive to the UAE. The battle between cyclists and motorists for a share of the asphalt is constantly waged all over the world, he said.
“If you are in the States, Canada, Australia or England, they have bike lanes that are not respected often by cars,” Mr Crooks said.
“You get on a bike and ride a bike on the road among cars. Just take it for what it is, you know, it’s not safe full stop. It doesn’t matter what country you’re in.”
Bike riders need to be proactive about ensuring their own safety, Mr O’Hearn said.
“Cyclists themselves need to ride quite defensively here,” he said.
It is vital to cycle in groups and avoid busy roads as much as possible, said Kevin Duell, who leads the Raha Cycling Group that rides every weekend.
“We try to avoid the motorways whenever possible, but sometimes you have to go to a motorway to get to safer roads,” said Mr Duell, who has been cycling in the UAE for the past four years.
“We stick together and don’t recommend anyone goes cycling by themselves because the more people you have the more visible you are. Cycling in Abu Dhabi is as dangerous as anywhere else in the world. In fact, I think cycling here is safer than in London because the roads are wider here and there is more space available. But when you mix slow-moving cyclists and fast-moving cars you will have a problem, tragic though that can be.”
He said the death of Roy Nasr, a triathlete who was killed in September by a drunk driver during a morning bike ride in Dubai, had made some cyclists think hard about the sport.
"The thing is you can't protect yourself against drunk drivers and idiot drivers, and that was a tragic incident," he said.
“It makes you think again about cycling. So when you get out to cycle, it is a conscious decision you take and I believe it is still a safe thing to do.”
Peter Mueller, a 50-year-old Australian who commutes 12 kilometres to and from his Abu Dhabi office most days, said it is important for cyclists to make themselves visible.
Mr Mueller, a member of the Abu Dhabi Tri Club, installed high-flashing lights in both the front and rear of his bike. He also wears a reflective vest. Despite these safety measures, he has been struck by cars twice in the 10 years he has been commuting here.
Despite the accidents, he refuses to discontinue his regular commute, arguing that the health, environmental and economic benefits outweigh the risks.
“I’d encourage more cyclists to get out there and cycle,” he said.
“I think the more cyclists there are on the road, the more pressure there will be to install infrastructure to help support cyclists. So the more the better, in a sense.”
But bike riders should steer clear of main roads and motorways, where it is technically illegal for people to cycle.
The offence is punishable by a fine and, in some cases, the cyclists may be detained and forced to sign a treaty swearing they will not do it again or risk being deported.