x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Get out of my way - my bicycle is definitely here to stay

Re-discovering the old pleasures of the bicycle, our columnist finds a new benefit as well.

'The wind of Heaven is that which blows between a horse's ears," relates an Arabic proverb.

And while I am riding a far inferior mode of transport, it still feels like the winds of Heaven greet me from time to time with surprises along the path.

There was that group of labourers taking a break on the grass playing a board game. In another corner of the lawn, there was a collection of chirping birds of different colours and sizes, hopping about in the shade of a tree. Then, sporadically along the way, I saw lone runners or families walking, some with their pet dogs, and the occasional ultra-serious bicyclist in full gear zooming by without a glance.

You get to see the world anew when you are on a bicycle. It may sound obvious, but you would be surprised how just biking around, even for a few minutes a day, can change your life.

Until this month, it had been over a decade since I last rode a bike, and I don't know why I ever stopped.

Oddly enough, it was Rocky Balboa, the last in the Stallone franchise, in which an older, crustier Rocky comes out of retirement for one last punch-up, that inspired me to get off my couch and buy a bicycle. If I had hesitated a second, it wouldn't have happened. There are just too many excuses: no bike paths, the heat and the inevitable stares drawn by a woman on a bike.

But I did it and even found one that I can fold and squeeze into the trunk of my car. So now, wherever I end up, I just pull it out and bike around. I also bought the equipment: a helmet and a pair of pink "biker" sunglasses.

Of course, some people stare, others bark at me and a third group just laughs.

A few of my Arab girlfriends refuse to get on a bicycle, having always been discouraged by their families. There were silly fears about getting injured in a fall and the all-inclusive: "it's not lady-like".

The best memories from childhood are from biking with my siblings in our residential compound in Jeddah, and seeing the action around us. The security staff of the compound called me "mukhabarat on wheels" as I would report "suspicious" movements in the area. As a kid, I would wear goggles and a rainproof jacket to ward off the bugs.

Biking is more than just a healthy workout for the body, it is a workout for the mind and soul. Problems that appear big seem smaller after a good ride. Admittedly, I enjoy biking in a colder climate amid forests and greenery, but you have to make the best of whatever is available.

There is not a lot of open space in my neighbourhood, and bikers often have to dodge drivers, some of whom actually appear to speed up when they see a bike. In the UAE, and in most Arab countries, the bicycle culture and respect for the rights of the two-wheeled are almost nonexistent.

Motorists are simply not used to us on the roads. There are pending projects in Abu Dhabi and elsewhere to build more dedicated bike lanes and I, along with hundreds of others, can't wait.

Undoubtedly, my bike has been the best investment I have made this year. And it seems to have other benefits as well. Recently I saw a friend for the first time in a few months, and both she and her husband said the same thing when I arrived at their door: "Wow. You look great."

Looking in the mirror, I see that my deep frown wrinkles have disappeared. Botox, you just got run over by my bike.


Rym Ghazal is a columnist for The National and author of Maskoon, a young-adult novel published in Arabic