Monthly Archives: August 2011

I Biked in Dubai in July

It’s been a while since my last update.  After I finished my EuroBikeTour, I traveled around the Wiesen area a little, visiting Maria in Darmstadt, and then going on an overnight bike tour to Heidelberg.  After that, I left my bike behind and visited Tien Yin in Vienna, before returning to Frankfurt to meet up with Renbo to go to Rome and Berlin.  I then picked up my big bag – full of bike touring stuff like panniers, racks, Brooks saddle, and an assortment of other stuff – from Maria, and headed to Dubai to meet up with Renbo again.

For some reason, I had the bright idea that it would be fun to bike in Dubai.  So here’s how it went.

I had emailed King at wolfi’s Bike Shop weeks ago to arrange this.  I wanted to ride the Sunday night ride tonight, July 24, organized by the Dubai Roadsters, and I would be renting a bike at Wolfi’s to do so.

The weather was nearly the same today as it had been since I arrived, and as it would be for well past the rest of my stay.  Sunny with a high of 43C (109F).  The heat would peak around 2 or 3pm and linger till about 6pm,  dropping down as low as 33C (91F) at the dead of night.  It’s also a very humid, sticky, muggy heat, as Dubai is a coastal city.  The Emirati traditionally leave the coastal area in the summer in favor of the dry heat of the desert and mountains to the east.

Wolfi's Bike Shop, where I rented my bike. Very nice folks, very nice shop!

I packed my under-saddle bag with a patch kit, tire levers, front and rear lights, and a multitool.  I also brought my sunglasses, camera, phone, mini-wallet, and two water bottles.  Although the weather called for the shortest bike shorts possible, I wore my Chrome knickers, as I didn’t know what biking attire would be culturally acceptable in Dubai.
I took the Metro to the Noor Islamic Bank Metro Station.  It was a 20 minute walk from there to Wolfi’s Bike Shop.  At nearly 5pm, it was still so unbearably hot that I took refuge in the two air-conditioned bus stops along the way.  I had a sheen of sunscreen and sweat by the time I arrived at the bike shop.

The staff at Wolfi’s helped me get fitted on the bike and to put my lights on.  Koos, one of the staff members, drew a very detailed map to direct me to the ride location.  He also told me that there would be a water cooler not too far from the ride area and that at the end of the ride I could hail a cab to take my bike back to the hotel – he assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem.

After browsing the shop a bit and refilling my water bottles, in part to cool down and in part to muster up the courage to get back out in the heat, I set on my way.  The directions were easy to follow, although that didn’t stop me from getting slightly lost.

The lonely desert highway where I managed to get stuck with a flat.

About 5 or 6 km into my ride, I hit a hard gutter on the side of the road and got a flat on my front tire.  I realized then that there was no pump in the pump slot on the frame.  I started walking toward the ride start, hoping that maybe someone there would have a pump.  At worst, I could catch a taxi back to the hotel, I hoped.

A few minutes later, I saw a cyclist, and I hailed him.  He first tried a foam inflation product, but it didn’t work.  He then called someone, identifying himself as Wolfi – he was the owner of the shop!  He had the shop staff send someone in a bus with a spare front wheel, and a pump and extra tube.

I waited a half hour on the side of the busy desert highway, to no avail.  One of my bottles was empty already.  I started to trudge toward the ride start again – I couldn’t afford to let myself be stuck there with no water left.

Here's the bike I rented - a pretty nice entry level Scott. At the time of this photo, I was waiting for my rescue.

In a few minutes, my savior pulled up to the shoulder and greeted me.  He apologized for taking so long, saying he had encountered some bad traffic.  He popped in a new front wheel and I was ready to go.  He also handed me an extra tube and a pump, just in case.  He grinned, “You’re good to go!  No excuses now, get back to the ride and have fun!”

Just as the bike shop bus pulled out, another rider going to the Sunday night ride biked past.  I joined up with him and we rode the desert highways to the ride start, which was out near the camel race course, many kilometers from the edge of Dubai.

When we got there around 6:30pm, there were about a dozen people biking up and down the strip in a few scattered groups.  The meet-up time was 7:30pm, so I rode the ~6 km stretch about ten times or so, trying to catch the groups, but I had trouble keeping up.  It was a nice area – there were 4 lanes on the road but very little traffic, and there were nice palm trees and manicured lawns.  At the end of the strip was a guarded checkpoint and signs indicating no entry and no photography.

The mosque where the Sunday night ride met.

As the sun set around 7:15pm, I asked a couple of riders if there was any water nearby – they told me no.  I was down to my last half bottle, and it appeared as though riders were leaving (in hindsight, I realized they were all going to the meet-up point, but the lack of water alone would’ve made me leave anyway.)

I had some trouble finding my way back in the dark, but I eventually figured it out.  At times, I regretted coming out for the ride, wasting an entire afternoon/evening under the harsh Arabian summer heat.  Eventually, I found my way back to the city along the highways.  By then, the traffic had picked up considerably (most people go out an hour or two after sunset, due to the intense heat.)

I got up to the interchange that crosses Shiek Zayed Road, the main thoroughfare through Dubai, but I didn’t trust the traffic, nor myself biking through it.  Even if I had made it to the other side of the interchange, I wouldn’t know how to get back to the hotel – I was only hoping to catch a taxi on the other side, as it would be in a slightly busier area.

I saw a gas station just before the interchange, so I dipped in there and got myself some water and juice – I had just run out of water.  Having gotten a few calories from the juice, and having filled my water bottles full of ice cold water, I walked out to plan my next course of action.  I walked over to a taxi which was getting filled up and tapped on the window.  I asked if he would be able to take my bike and me, and he said no.

Disappointed, I walked back to the road and hoped to flag down an SUV taxi.  I didn’t see any for a while, but I did see a group of four cyclists – it looked like they had come from the Sunday night ride!  I hopped in line with them and, as a group, I felt the courage to ride over the busy interchange.  One of the riders started talking to me, and he was able to give me very easy directions to get back to the Mall of the Emirates.  After a kilometer or two of riding together, they peeled off and I thanked them again and again for the directions.

The Burj Al Arab at night on my way home from my bike ride

I rode the rest of the way along a busy but relatively low speed major road.  A mosque and the Burj Al Arab loomed on my right as I biked past.  I was able to gauge my progress by checking the bus stops, which indicated how many more stops it was until the Mall of the Emirates (among other stops.)  I pulled up to my hotel, then walked my bike into the elevator and to my room.  I was almost as wet when I stepped into my room as I was a few minutes later while I showered.


Posted by on August 24, 2011 in Uncategorized