UAE Mountain Biking

This was originally an article written by me and published in Outdoor UAE Magazine. Go to their website www.outdooruae.com for lots of information on stuff to do in the region and check out their back issues for a copy of the article along with another mountain bike article by Andy Whittaker.

In this series of articles I’m looking at possible pathways to activity. Often folks like the idea of kayaking, mountain biking or climbing here in the region but don’t know where to start or what’s available. I want to try and help a bit by pointing out a couple of places to start on a path whether you’re a complete beginner or someone who’s played the game before but is new to the region.

In this article I’ll take a look at mountain biking, the scene here in the region and how to give it a go or get involved.

At a glance.

  • There is plenty of great mountain biking around and about but you do need to look for it.
  • There are no maps or guides available to the best of my knowledge.
  • To contact other UAE based mountain bikers check out www.hot-cog.com or there are the “Dubai Mountain Bikers – U.A.E (Dubikers) ”, “UAE Mountainbiking” and “Mountain Biking UAE” Facebook groups.
  • There is little in the way of commercial courses/experiences available at the moment.
  • Get yourself out to Shawka and explore its excellent single track.
  • Learn to navigate and explore using a GPS / Google Earth / your nose.

So mountain biking…………

As discussed in my climbing article in the November issue the Hajar Mountains rise from the desert sands well south of Muscat and run in a 700km limestone arc north to where they plunge into the sea in spectacular fashion at the Musendam. It’s not however the high mountains that produce the best of the mountain biking. The terrain is either way too steep or the roads that run in the bottom of the wadi’s are just a bit dull. The desert sand is obviously not what mountain bikers are looking for so where is there for the knobbly tired gang to go

The mountainbiker’s nirvana is fast flowing single track with occasional rocky steps and lung busting grinding climbs with a reasonable firm base so that the knobbly tyres have something to roll on and grip.

It’s the terrain that lies between the desert sand and the high mountains that provide terrain that the mountain biker is looking for. Rolling hills with speckled with goat and camel farms and its these goats and camels that also provide the genesis for the single track as they wander the lines of least resistance kicking aside the stones so creating weaving paths. The trick for the UAE mountain biker is to find these areas, explore them over time and commit to memory their various options.

Why?

Why is an easy question to answer when it comes to mountain biking. Everyone who can ride a bike must have, at some point in their life, found themselves freewheeling down a hill and experienced an over riding urge to stick their legs out to the side and shout “wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!” For me it’s all about this feeling of freedom, speed and efficiency. For many it’s about the opposite, its about the uphills and they seem to love long gravity battling lung busting uphills, technical sections that take away all their speed and brutally eat leg strength that is needed to get to the top without dabbing. Now in my world these people are just plain weird, hills are a necessary evil, a means to an end, I need to go up to go down. I guess these folks don’t use mattresses, wear horse hair shirts and put thorny branches in their underwear. Some of them definitely wax their legs!!!!!

Where?

Shawka is the UAE’s prime area for single track and technical riding. Over the past couple of years it has received constant attention, exploration and trail development from the Hot Cog gang, the Dubaikers and the UAE Mountainbiking UAE facebook groups. It’s the closest area to Dubai (about an hour out on the Sharjah > Kalba road just as it hits the foot hills of the Hajar Mountains) and the riding is excellent as some of the photos with this article show.

The Explore UAE Offroad Guide has some routes that can be adapted into suitable there and back trips. These can be a good way to start exploring areas.

There is also excellent mountain biking to be found in the Hatta area and around and about Ras Al Khaimah (particularly off to the sides of the Dibba road)

When?

As with most outdoor activities ‘the season’ is the 8 months between October and May but mountain biking is also one that happens all year round because of modern mountain bike specific high powered LED or HID lights enabling the same kind of riding that is done in daylight to happen at night when its cooler.

The first time

Because there is nothing really in the way of commercial courses or experienced on offer you’re going to have to take the initiative yourself. My recommendation would be to beg, borrow, rent or buy a mountain bike with a helmet and some gloves, grab hold of a copy of the Explore UAE Off Roading Guide, fill a bag with plenty (2 to 3) litres of water, a suitable bike pump, 2 spare inner tubes, a puncture repair kit and a multi tool, pick a route that seems suitable and head off. Set your sights low to start off with. Mountain biking is very physical, both for the legs and the upper body, along with this the environment is tough too, the heat will suck up your energy. As you get bike fit and used to the heat you’ll know how much you can cope with.

What do I need?

It’s obvious with mountain biking that sooner rather than later you’re going to need a bike! My recommendations are to go burley all mountain rather than cross country racing snake. The environment here is brutal on kit with the rocks trying to tear everything apart. You are going to need fat tyres (2.3 at least) with tough sidewalls to avoid sinking in to the soft stuff in the wadi beds and to avoid them getting ripped apart by the razor sharp rocks. Make sure your frame will cope with the wider tyres.

Along with a study bike you are going to need to plan to be self sufficient on the trails as there will not be many folks around to help. Tubeless tyres with sealant are a good idea to reduce puncture stops, a pack with a 3 litre water bladder I would consider essential, 2 sturdy style inner tubes, a decent working bike pump, a multi tool and a headtorch. I also carry a lightweight first aid kit. It has no “there there” plasters or the like, its orientated towards stopping significant bleeding and supporting injured limbs.

You’ll be looking at bike lights suitable for riding technical trails at night quite quickly too. I suggest a minimum 500 lumen bar mounted lamp with a wide spread of light and a helmet mounted light with a focused 100+ lumens.

Knowledge = Safety

Out on the trails here there will be just you and the people you are with to solve any problems should they occur. You need to have with you (in the group) the knowledge of what kind of problems are likely in the first place, some viable solutions to those problems and the ability to action those solutions. I know it sounds daft and obvious but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to mend a puncture before they find themselves with one on the side of a trail in the middle of no where. Other common problems are ripped off rear mechs, broken chains, brutally buckled wheels and badly cut up riders (the only place to fall off is into the rocks here!).

There are no maps so get and learn how to use a GPS so at least you know how to get back to your car should you need to. Lastly don’t underestimate how much water you are going to plough through.

Ian is an active climber, kayaker and mountain biker and is a qualified outdoor instructor.

21 Responses to UAE Mountain Biking

  1. justin says:

    this is not the information i was lookin for. plz make a information text bout how many mountains are there in the united arab emirates

  2. ianganderton says:

    The Hot 6 Mountain Bike Endurance Event is happening at Showka this weekend. Check out this link to a blog post for details https://ianganderton.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/the-2012-hot-6-mountain-bike-endurance-event-friday-23rd-march-2012/

  3. ianganderton says:

    Cyclists may also be interested in an old post on road cycling here in the UAE https://ianganderton.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/road-cycling-dubai-style/

  4. ianganderton says:

    On the Friday 30th March 2012 there is a race being organized, the Super D race. Check out the details on the facebook event page https://www.facebook.com/events/254482527979757/

  5. jules becci says:

    Hi, my freeride bike will arrive in 1 month in Dubai, what is the best place for extreme rides around dubai for you?

    • ianganderton says:

      Hi Jules,

      As discussed via email and on Facebook groups the free ride and downhill scene here is very very small. There is only one track built I’m aware of and it’s been kept a closely guarded secret, I haven’t ridden it yet.

      Sorry cant be of further help

      Ian

  6. Pingback: First ride at Showka on the BMC Trail Fox (inc Video) | Ian Ganderton's Blog

  7. Binod shankar says:

    hello Ian I am a first time MTB-er and wants some advice on what bike to buy, from where, good routes in the UAE and Oman etc. My email is binod.shankar@gmail.com and mobile is 050-5582498.

    • ianganderton says:

      Hi Binod,

      Your best place to start for this is to visit one of the specialist bike shops. Adventure HQ, Ride, Michas, Revolution and Wolfi’s all have staff who are regular riders and know the trails.

      Once you’ve had a chat there you’ll have an idea of the bikes that are available. It’s worth trying a few for size. All good bike shops will be able to give you advice on this and let you try a couple “around the block”.

      Join a couple of the Facebook groups and folks there will point you in the right direction for places to ride. Expect to take it steady to start off with. The riding here is more technically difficult than many places, something I was reminded of on last weeks trip back to he UK!

      You can hire a bike from some of the bike shops. I know Adv HQ have the choice of disc or non disc brake hard tails. This is worth doing for your first couple of rides as you’ll quickly get a feel for what works for you. This will enable you to spend the right money on your own bike.

      If your enjoying the mountain biking (how couldn’t you?!?) then your likely to be ready to buy a bike.

      Enjoy!!

  8. vincent says:

    how far is the normal/ newbie track in shawka? thanks

  9. Steve Thomas says:

    HI Ian,
    Great MTB blog, very interesting and informative. I’m visiting Dubai for a week over Christmas time this year and would relish the opportunity to MTB in Dubai. Especially great would be to ride in Ras Al Khaimah as I could leave my girlfriend with her friend that works in the hospital there and go MTB’ing for the day!
    I’d be very grateful if you would get back to me with some possibilities for a day’s riding if you wouldn’t mind. I would like to hire (rent) a full sus quality MTB for the day and would also appreciate your recommendation on this too
    I was looking at the mountains in the distance on the left-side of the Dubai – Al Ain road when I was there last December and thought that they looked good for a ride out.
    This is a shot in the dark, but if it all works out it will be great.
    On the other side of the coin, if ever you’re in Cyprus, I can certainly show you some world class trails, all steep, but wide (at least wide enough for a 4 x 4 to drive down) that will most definitely keep you entertained with guaranteed ‘wow’ factor for hours on end. In fact, there’s a route I know which starts in Troodos square at 5500 feet ASL and finishes at Pissouri bay (sea level) 40 miles away. Its 3/4 down hill with a couple of killer climbs along the way!
    If you receieve this Ok and want to discuss further, drop me a mail.
    Best regard,
    Steve Thomas

  10. vincent says:

    Thanks 🙂

  11. vincent says:

    Hi Ian, thanks so much. we went to Shawka last weekend, we were assisted by some trail veterans who happened to have camped there over night. 🙂 it was a nice experience. we’re coming back very soon. Thanks again.

  12. Drew says:

    There is some great info here Ian, Thanks
    except now I want to buy a sea kayak

    I just moved to the UAE and want to get out in the dirt I would like a little insight of what type of bike works best on the local terrain. I have been debating having my bike sent to a local shop or purchasing another bike to have while I’m here. My current bike is a Turner RFX, w/160mm coil sprung travel, 2×9 drive-train it’s a burly bike that works well in the Arizona terrain where I’m originally from. Would I be better off with a lighter more trail friendly bike such as a Yeti SB66 with a 3×9 drive-train? I’m a retro grouch that likes rapid rise rear mech’s I have enough parts to build another bike I just need to have them sent to me so I want to stay away from a complete bike this option would take the longest and I would miss out on a lot of the season.

    Next question, where can I find a rack for my vehicle? I’m looking for a spare tire mounted rack that would fit a jeep wrangler. I prefer a Thule 963 spare me if I can find one or would I need to get one shipped?

    Thanks, Drew

    • ianganderton says:

      Hi Drew

      Sorry for the delay getting back to you.

      The Turner will do the job for sure. I’ve heard the ground here is pretty similar to Arizona.

      Having said that I’ve recently moved from my Spesh Enduro with 36 Talas forks to the BMC Trail Fox TR02 with 32 Talas forks and I’m enjoying the reduced weight and extra pedal speed a lot.

      There is never just one good answer for all riding is there.

      To start with I’d get your bike here as start riding ASAP. You’ll soon be able to adjust things if you want to

      Ian

  13. Jay says:

    Hi Ian,

    You have a very informative blog which can be great reference for all newbie like me.
    At the moment, I finally decided to try MTB so you could say I’m a neophyte on this field. Done some research over the net and will be checking out some of the bikeshops in Dubai this weekend but I’m still a bit confused on which bike type will i be using. Gone through all types but currently I’m down to an XC or Trail Bike. Question is which bike is best suitable in UAE especially in Dubai?

    Thanks a lot,
    Jay

    • ianganderton says:

      What bike is always a difficult one but you’ll find that most of the regular riders out at Showka and else where ride a pretty similar style of bike and thats a 150mm full suss trail bike.

      My BMC Trail Fox has proven excellent. Its used for general riding at Showka and else ware in the region including Salalah plus has been in a bag and used in Nepal, the Alps and the UK (North Wales and the Lakes). I’ve raced on it in the Dante Torres Super D (fastest overall time), Showka Open (3rd in Exec) and Trans Hajar (mid field).

      Have a look at this page for more info https://ianganderton.wordpress.com/my-bikes/bmc-trail-fox-tr02/

      Hope this helps

      Ian

      • Jay says:

        HI Again,

        Gone through a couple of bike shops today and I saw your bike:-)
        Gone through the specs and your video, it seems pretty amazing that it can handle almost everything. However, will there be any cons for flat surface or road? Is the travel (150mm) too much?

        My type of ride would be off road but sometimes, I’ll probably take it to a cycle track,

        Thanks again! Appreciate your advice

        Cheers,
        Jay

      • ianganderton says:

        Hi Jay

        Sorry for the delay replying.

        It all depends how much efficiency you want. I ride my Trail Fox on the road plenty but my road bike feels A LOT faster. I dont ride my road bike off road though!!

        Ian

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