ABU DHABI // The increasing number of cyclists who are choosing to ride along major motorways is becoming a growing concern for traffic police, senior officials said this week.
"We're having a serious problem with foreigners insisting on riding their bicycles on the motorway," said Brig Hussein al Harethi, head of the Abu Dhabi Traffic Police. "They must understand, driving on the highway is not safe."
Cyclists said the limited number of dedicated areas for cycling coupled with the lack of respect by drivers puts them in great danger.
Kevin Duell, an experienced cyclist from the UK, leads a group of cyclists from the Abu Dhabi Tri Club.
He said dangerous driving habits by many motorists force his group to "cycle very defensively, expecting the worst and never really relaxing".
"Some drivers in the region, both local and expats, are not the most forgiving and tend to view cyclists as at best a nuisance, at worst a target," he said. "There have been a lot of instances of close calls and a few where cyclists have been hit by cars."
Cyclists say this behaviour does not only exist on motorways.
Khalifa al Khaili, a 19-year-old Emirati, has been cycling along the Corniche for nearly 10 years. But to get there he must cross a couple of main roads, including 26th Street and Corniche Road itself. "Most expats stop when needed, but many times locals won't stop, or even worse, try to purposely run you over," he said.
So far this year, one bicycle rider has been killed on a motorway and two injured in the city. In a highly publicised case last year, Mark Pringle, 50, a keen triathlete, died after being struck by a vehicle.
He was cycling on Khaleej al Arabi Street early on July 24 when a passing car knocked him from his bike. He suffered serious head injuries and died five weeks later.
In order to avoid such situations, cyclists from the Tri Club hit the streets as early as 5.30am on weekends. They ride two separate 100km routes, both leading them on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway.
Mr Duell said the cyclists keep on the hard shoulder of the road and avoid any areas that prohibit cycling. So far, he said, they have never had any conflicts with the police.
Although traffic law does not prohibit cyclists from riding on the motorway, provided they remain on the hard shoulder, the traffic police reserve the right to confiscate bicycles if they feel the environment may compromise the cyclist's safety, said Brig al Harethi.
In addition, children under the age of 15 are not allowed to ride bicycles unsupervised, and wearing a helmet is required at all times. Cyclists must also have the proper lights on the front and back of their bicycles.
"Dedicated routes will definitely help," Brig al Harethi said. "Before they're implemented, there must first be an awareness campaign for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists."