Over the last twelve months Ed Gralton has spent a bit of time over in the UAE with work. Cycling in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai has a strong following and it’s a great way to meet other expats from other industries and to see what else the UAE can offer besides skyscrapers, mega malls and impressive airports.

In Abu Dhabi there is a crew called the Raha Revolution – mostly Brits, but also a few Emirati and a Frenchman from the foreign legion who seemed to have his pain threshold erased . They meet on Friday and Saturday mornings at Al Raha beach outside of downtown Abu Dhabi and do a loop around the airport. A colleague from work rides with them so organised a bike for me, a spare Colnago which was quite a treat. These guys are strong riders and thanks to their tax free earnings are kitted out with some fairly impressive bikes with many on carbon tubulars – Lightweights or Campagnolo Boras and why not when the roads are perfect and a support car follows behind with spares if one should suffer a mechanical.

The terrain in Abu Dhabi is pancake flat and the only hills to be found are the freeway overpasses. The regular ride route on Fridays is about 125km long but only manages about 240m in vertical difference and as such the riding is pretty fast in places – sitting in at 45km/h for long periods. I found this pretty tough riding as it was big ring rolling for long stretches of time with no relief. The heat is another factor that makes the riding not just hard but at times oppressive. Over high summer a lot of the guys take leave and don’t ride and on my trip a few weeks back in August it was still super hot, 35C at 530 in the morning and 45C by 830. You need a lot of water and the support vehicle comes in handy here either handing out bottles or stopping at pre arranged points for top ups – very Euro pro. A shorter recovery ride following a similar route is again on offer on Saturdays and by the end of the weekend with 200km in the legs from high intensity big ring riding I was pretty knackered –http://www.strava.com/activities/24850024.

Ed UAE

On Tuesday nights the Formula 1 track at Yas Marina is opened up for cyclists to use – I didn’t make it to any of these sessions but from all accounts they are good fun. A far glitzier version of Eastern Creek and under lights.  During the week I rode after work on some quiet roads near my hotel across from the Presidential palace and along the Al Bateen waterfront area – http://www.strava.com/activities/25119608. The only concern was when the heavily armed guards at the Palace waved me down but only to ask to have a look at my bike. There is another group that rides out of Abu Dhabi from the British Club on the weekends but they are mostly triathletes (pffh!!) and pretty much stay locked in the bars for the duration of the ride with hardly any chit chat  – http://www.strava.com/activities/24738183#

Perhaps the best ride I got to whilst in Abu Dhabi was 170km ride which took in a 9km hill down on the border with Oman –  http://www.strava.com/activities/25448594 .It’s a ride the Raha guys do once the ferocity of the summer has died down – but it was still at least 35C for most of the ride. Starting at a small town about an hour outside of Abu Dhabi we rode out into the desert along roads that passed sand dunes before riding more long flat sections of road that were exposed to some fairly nasty crosswinds. After about 75km we hit the bottom of the climb of Jebel Halfeet (9km @ 7%) – not so much a mountain but more a ridgeline that just pops out of the desert and about 660m high.  The road up is a fairly constant gradient but is hard work with 75km or so from the approach ride already in your legs.  The civil engineering to construct this road is fairly impressive and the sweeping bends require plenty of caution on the trip back down.

Jebel Halfeet 

The climb up to Jebel Halfeet

In Dubai there is also a strong riding scene mainly due to the efforts of an Austrian called Wolfi who runs a local bike shop.  He calls his group the Dubai Roadsters and normal numbers are about 120 riders or so and again there is a mix of nationalities present. The trip I did this August was at short notice and I was able to hire a bike from Wolfi’s rather than pack up my own – only about $35 for the weekend. The ride offers either a 120km or 80km loop that ventures east of Dubai city along some well maintained roads again with support vehicles in tow. The terrain is a little more diverse than Abu Dhabi but the scenery is nothing special – endless kilometers of barren land marked with high voltage power lines and mobile phone towers.  I met an Italian pilot from Tuscany and he couldn’t comprehend how ugly the land is – but you make do with what you’ve got and it’s pretty hard to replicate the beauty of Tuscany. The riding in Dubai wasn’t as intense as the Raha rides in Abu Dhabi as the group is larger and caters for a wider range of levels – saying that I struggled with the heat on the last hour of the 120km ride (45C+ at 830 in the morning) and the following weekend decided that the 80km loop would be sufficient.  http://www.strava.com/activities/76830838

The driving standards in the UAE are pretty terrible. Drivers drive at stupid speeds, tailgate, don’t wear seat belts and are on the horn at the car in front the moment the lights at an intersection change.  The day I flew out a well known tri-athlete in Dubai was knocked off his bike and killed by a drunk driver on his way to the start of the Friday’s Roadsters ride.  Noting the dangers the locals are rather intrigued about road cycling and although at times they can pass a bit close for comfort there is no aggression towards cyclists.  A lot of the time I would put my bike in a taxi to go somewhere and the drivers are completely in awe by the quick release wheels – once I had about 5 or 6 drivers get out of their cabs to watch me disassemble the bike. 

Colnago

Wilier

Typical expat bikes – a good incentive to get a transfer

So although it’s not somewhere you would take a holiday to go riding if your there for work or stopping off in transit for a few days there is plenty going on in the cycling scene in the UAE and it’s a great way to meet other expats.