DUBAI // Cycling in the UAE is a notoriously hair-raising experience, but the shocks usually come from near misses with a 4x4 on the motorway.
Now, however, cyclists report that the electric thrill they receive from riding round the Nad Al Sheba bicycle circuit is becoming too literal for comfort.
About a quarter of the way round the eight kilometre circuit, which opened last year at a disused camel track, the path passes between electrical pylons carrying high-voltage overhead power lines.
Tristan Brouard, 19, from South Africa, saw a flash of blue light – as if someone had taken a photograph – when he passed below them. The next thing he remembers is the smack of the tarmac.
“It was like a photo was taken and next minute I was on the floor,” said Tristan, who works at The Cycle Hub.
“My friend, who was about 200 metres behind me, said it looked like a static discharge from the power line.”
He likened the intensity of the shock to the small spark from a shopping trolley or a car door. His bicycle helmet shows signs of something a little more intense.
“It looks like electricity went in the top of the helmet and came out the bottom and there are burn marks. I can see the entrance point and the exit point. It’s not a hole straight though but you can see where it went in and went out,” he said.
Another cyclist, who drove from Al Ain to use the circuit, received a sharp shock from her saddle as she rode below the pylons.
Thinking it might be a figment of her imagination, she invited a friend to join her on another ride but said nothing about her suspicions.
“I didn’t tell her about this incident,” she said. “She experienced the same thing.”
Paul Cheetham of the Cycle Hub said he had heard of it happening but never experienced it himself. “I myself have ridden and raced there since September and have had no issues. It must be a specific set of circumstances for whoever is passing under the power lines to be shocked,” he said.
Musab Al Mahmoud, an electrical engineer in Abu Dhabi, was dismissive of the idea that the electrical cables themselves were giving off any sort of charge.
“These power lines have 220,000 to 440,000 volts running through them,” he said. “If you get anything off them, it would be very serious – if not fatal.
“I’m around power lines all the time, and I’ve never felt any static or surge coming off one.”
Mr Al Mahmoud theorised the shocks might be nothing more than the release of a static charge in an electromagnetic field.
“The towers are grounded, so what might be happening is that the cyclists are generating static electricity while on their bike, since the tyres are insulators. When they approach the tower the static electricity on them is discharged through the tower. But this would depend on their clothing and the humidity.”
Dubai Electricity and Water Authority said all necessary precautions had been taken to ensure the pylons were safe, including checking the height of the lines and installing high voltage warning signs.
“We have inspected the lines [where they cross the track] and found them to be within the Dewa design limits for vertical line to ground clearances,” a spokesman said.
The Roads and Transport Authority, which manages the track, asked for more time to respond.