How Abu Dhabi became the world’s hottest cycling city


By Barry Neild, CNN

Cycling holidays ordinarily conjure up illustrations or photos of pedaling throughout the French countryside, a baguette lashed to the handlebars, or possibly a breezy trip along the flat and welcoming bicycle paths that weave their way via cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam.

They don’t usually include the Arabian desert, exactly where summer temperatures and intensive midday sunshine can make it scorching more than enough to explode bike tires.

But that could soon be switching.

A two-wheeled revolution is beginning to assemble rate in Abu Dhabi, with massive financial investment propelling both people and people into the saddle for cycling encounters that are like nowhere else on Earth.

Last calendar year it was selected by sport cycling’s governing physique, Union Cycliste Internationale, or UCI, as an formal “Bike City” — the to start with in the Center East and Asia to receive the accolade. These searing temperatures indicate it could virtually be the world’s most popular biking city.

At very first look, Abu Dhabi’s cycling qualifications are not quickly evident. Created utilizing oil wealth, the UAE’s money metropolis and surrounding terrain are the domain of the automobile. Gasoline selling prices are affordable, streets are broad, speed restrictions — outdoors of city parts — are very quick.

Seem closer and it’s a distinct story. The earlier couple several years have viewed miles of devoted bike paths spring up beside new highways as the emirate has steadily recognized by itself as the UAE’s gateway to biking, introducing intercontinental races and nurturing homegrown expertise.

Together the way it’s cooked up some exhilarating cycling activities that, when extra to Abu Dhabi’s substantial roster of other sights, could be a key draw for both equally biking fanatics and anyone searching to consider something quite various.

Unsociable hrs

Using element can involve some unsociable several hours even though. In winter, milder climates are excellent for daylong riding, but from May to September, with temperatures at times peaking all-around 48 C (118 F), the ideal time for using is just before sunshine up or just after sunset.

Which is why mates Andy Coleman and Dan Baltrusaitis can be identified soon soon after 6 a.m. on a Saturday early morning pulling on their cycling sneakers in a parking good deal on Al Hudayriat, an island south of the town that is dwelling to beach resorts and a beautiful objective-created cycle track.

“Why I do it, I don’t know,” laughs Coleman as the pair wheel off onto the easy asphalt to start off their session.

In spite of the early hour, they’re not by itself. Dozens of other cyclists are traveling around the network of circuits, which variety from three to 10 kilometers and include things like an exhilarating more than-water track. It is mainly flat, but ferocious onshore headwinds can incorporate to the problem.

“It’s a good encounter,” states Ricky Bautista, one particular of a gang of uniformed riders who have been blasting out laps due to the fact the to start with glimmer of daylight. Bautista’s team all get the job done at a cycle store in Dubai and have ventured in excess of the border to try out the free of charge services at Al Hudayriat.

“I’m a newbie, but all of my coworkers are cyclists and they explained to me, ‘try it and you’ll have fun’,” he suggests. “It’s really challenging right now for the reason that of the wind, but then you change course and you experience like you’re flying and it’s much more enjoyable.”

Quite a few other golf equipment are also out chasing every single other’s wheels on the circuit. Men and ladies of all ages can be witnessed blurring previous the distant skyscraper skyline of the city’s fiscal zone. Some get there by car and some experience from household. There is also a bicycle bus.

For visitors, there is a employ shop — Yas Mena Cycles — which opens early to hire out a fleet of street bikes for under $20 an hour. A nearby branch of Emirates chain Wolfi’s features a lot more upscale rentals, as nicely as providing bikes priced up to and beyond $16,000. The store is also a shrine to the successes of UAE-owned Italian bicycle maker Colagno, with contemporary and vintage Tour de France machines on display.

Healthful lifestyle

Also nearby is the swish new pavilion of the Abu Dhabi Biking Club, a totally free-to-be part of corporation that coordinates general public and sports biking occasions in the emirate and performs with the federal government to establish the exercise, encourage participation and immediate expenditure.

Recognized in 2017, the ADCC suggests about 1.7 billion dirhams ($460 million) has been poured into biking with 445 kilometers (277 miles) of cycle monitor underneath development. On the way are a new indoor velodrome and a bicycle route that will url up Abu Dhabi with Dubai.

The aim is to get as several locals as feasible to take up biking as part of a balanced way of life, but also to lure people. “One of the major goals is to have much more vacationers come and have a bicycle family vacation in Abu Dhabi,” ADCC Govt Director Al Nukhaira Allkhyeli tells CNN.

A eager bicycle owner himself, Allkhyeli can usually be discovered education about just one of the most important highlights of the Abu Dhabi biking scene — the Yas Marina Circuit. The racetrack loop that hosts System One activities is routinely opened up to the community for night or early morning cycling.

Visitors can book on their own in for a free session on the monitor, with helmet and a array of effectively-utilised street and hybrid bikes thrown in for no cost (swisher steeds are readily available for lease at a department of Wolfi’s up coming door). There are changing rooms but no showers.

Even for non-F1 lovers, tackling the Marina circuit is a thrill, with gigantic grandstands looming up on both side of the 7-kilometer loop, furthermore the occasional superyacht moored with a look at of the monitor. The roar of the absent crowds can continue to be felt echoing in excess of the location.

To start with-time riders will be torn concerning the will need for pace or selfies as they swerve about the blacktop (averting accidental turns into the pit lane).

Surreal and gratifying

There are much more sedate — and without a doubt a lot more serious — biking activities to be experienced in Abu Dhabi.

For people adverse to breaking into a sweat, there are gentle rental bike rides together the waterfront Corniche, or inland on the palm-sheltered pathways of the Al Ain Oasis, in Abu Dhabi’s 2nd town. Anybody fortunate adequate to be keeping at the luxurious Qasr Al Sarab Desert Vacation resort in the Vacant Quarter can attempt their hand at excess fat-tire biking in the sand dunes.

Hardcore cyclists will want to head to Jebel Hafit, Abu Dhabi’s only authentic mountain, in which a brutal switchback highway to nowhere offers astounding sights around the emirate and the probability to change legs into jelly.

A further emphasize in the desert is the Al Wathba cycle observe, a sleek, objective-constructed cycleway in the center of nowhere that perhaps offers one of the most surreal and gratifying bicycle adventures in Abu Dhabi.

About an hour generate from downtown, the entrance to the track sits in a little huddle of structures that involve a shower and rest room block, a modest supermarket and a bike shop that rents out fatigued but serviceable carbon racing bikes by the hour.

It’s a typical daytime race venue in cooler months but in summer months, the monitor will come alive as the sunlight sinks into the horizon. Photo voltaic-powered road lamps dimly illuminate loops of up to 30 kilometers which stretch absent into the desert night time.

Riding it solo is an thrilling if a little bit unnerving working experience. It is tranquil out there among the dunes and, inspite of tiny pools of electric gentle, incredibly darkish.

There is nothing to cease you blasting at highest velocity except the occasional drift of soft sand across the track. Right here and there a blown bulb makes a mini-blackout that riders will want to keep their nerve to ride as a result of without having slamming on the brakes.

All-yr using

Biking headlong into the inky unidentified of a very hot desert night may well appear to be like a very good metaphor for Abu Dhabi’s major-shelling out pursuit of a activity seemingly at odds with its weather.

But suggests Isabella Burczak, UCI’s advocacy and development supervisor, the emirate is on a obviously lit path to achievements having shown a motivation and robust political will powering its vision to really encourage and develop cycling for leisure, transportation and activity.

Its Bicycle Town status, she says, need to assist inspire it to keep obtaining all those aims as nicely as sharing know-how and competencies with a community of 20 other Bicycle Metropolitan areas from Bergen in Norway to Wollongong in Australia.

And — if cyclists adapt by using early or late, and provisions are made like employers providing showers for sweaty commuters — that heat won’t damage it a bit.

“In all cases, incredibly hot weather, cold weather, I imagine alternatives can be found to guarantee that men and women can continue to take advantage of biking for whatever purpose,” she tells CNN.

And can it definitely rival the classic biking locations like France, Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands?

Thanks to that relentless desert sunshine, it previously does, states Aditya Bhiwandkar, a biking fanatic and sales assistant at Wolfi’s.

“In Europe you have snow and rain,” he says. “But in Abu Dhabi you truly can experience 365 days a 12 months.”

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