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 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!!!!!
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)
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.