Pedal power: Dubai’s cycling future

A new cycling lane in Dubai’s desert will help secure the future growth of the sport in the emirate. finds out more 

When the group of keen cyclists who use the Al Qudra Road in Dubai received a decree last summer from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai saying that they were to stop for safety reasons, they wondered whether they had become a victim of their own success. After all, as Stewart Howison – the Co-Founder of Cycle Safe Dubai, a collective which organises group rides – says, in just over two years the “handful” of enthusiasts had grown to the point where 200 riders were making their way to this quiet stretch of road every Friday and Saturday morning.

In fact, HH Sheikh Mohammed, who regularly drove down the road, was intrigued by the sport and wished to encourage the popularity of the Cycle Safe Dubai initiative – in spectacular fashion.

“We initially thought it was a clamp-down, but then we were asked for our input into building a dedicated cycle path,” he chuckles. “It was funny, we actually had no idea what to suggest – we just expected a little extension to the side of the road, like you get in a lot of Western cities.”

The reality opened at the beginning of January and surpassed Howison’s wildest dreams. A AED20m (US$5.4m), four-metre-wide path runs parallel to the Al Qudra Road but is set away from the traffic, and at the end, a purpose built loop sweeps into the desert, with built-in gradients key for fitness training. All in all, it’s now possible to ride an uninterrupted, traffic free, 86km “lollipop” – rare enough in cycling’s traditional heartlands, let alone the Emirates.

“And it’s only been seven months since that first phone call,” beams Howison. “It was being constructed at the rate of 1km a day. I have to say, this is completely thanks to HH Sheikh Mohammed’s vision of creating a sporting nation. I genuinely think the path will help develop that. We’re already getting over 400 people a day using it.”

With innovation and development in areas of mobility currently a key goal for the UAE as it bids to host the World Expo in Dubai in 2020, perhaps most encouraging is that Howison is now getting emails every day from Emiratis saying they’d like to give the sport of cycling a try.

Howison, who also owns a bike shop at Dubai Autodrome, highlights the positive repercussions of this: “We’ve been holding the Spinneys Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge for the past three years, and every year we’ve discussed with various bodies about whether we should aim to host a professional road race – a “Tour of Dubai” or “Tour of the Emirates”. But our attitude has always been that it’s important to grow the local interest in the sport first and foster the sense that it would benefit Emirati people. Everyone is working towards helping local cyclists compete at the highest level possible.”

And to that end, just like the cycle path, dreams of a professional Dubai Tour in 2014 are now very much a reality, with the Sports Council planning a four day event in February next year.  “It will be fantastic - the great stars can come over and people can enjoy watching them, but more importantly, it will inspire people to get on their bikes, and they’ll have the paths to ride on. And after that, well, I think interest will explode.”