When some of road cycling’s biggest stars arrive in the UAE in February for the inaugural edition of the Dubai Tour, the benefits will go well beyond providing a compelling spectacle for fans of the sport. The International Cycling Union event will also showcase the emirate’s attractions, with a sprint around some of the city’s best-known landmarks before finishing at the Burj Khalifa. Saeed Hareb, the chairman of the group organising the Dubai Tour, told The National that it will put a “spotlight on Dubai as a hub for important international sporting events”. But the importance of the event goes well beyond that: it will help encourage more people here to take up the sport.
Cycling is a burgeoning activity around the world, with adherents finding it a way to exercise and have fun. In many cities, they are assisted by pro-cycling policies and facilities intended to get people out of cars and onto bicycles. The benefits are obvious: cycling reduces traffic congestion and air pollution, while helping people live healthier, and save money on fuel and, above all, it makes cities more liveable.
The UAE ought to be ideal cycling territory, with sunny but comfortable weather for at least half of each year, flat terrain and smooth roads. Unfortunately many cyclists in the UAE – and even more who contemplate taking up the activity – harbour serious concerns for their safety on the roads. This apprehension has a firm basis in reality, with regular reports of accidents in which cars and trucks have collided with cyclists, often with fatal results. The only way to quell these fears, and to encourage others to pedal, is to build infrastructure across the country that promotes biking as a way to get around. The wide roads in the UAE offer the chance to build dedicated cycle lanes separated from traffic.
Dubai has already taken the initiative by building several cycle paths in the emirate as part of Dubai Bicycle Master Plan. In August, the Roads and Transport Authority announced the completion of the construction of 104 kilometres of dedicated cycle paths. Similarly, Abu Dhabi has worked on improving cycling conditions as part of the Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, backed by awareness campaigns for other road users.
Dubai Tour should not be just the start of a sporting tradition, but it should mark the beginning of a new way of life on the road.