x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Camel track to offer different kind of ride

Nad Al Sheba racecourse is to be turned into a venue for a range of cycling disciplines.

Cycle Safe Dubai, a volunteer group of cyclists who meet every week for rides, will have a branch at the track and will be responsible for enforcing safety on the circuits.
Cycle Safe Dubai, a volunteer group of cyclists who meet every week for rides, will have a branch at the track and will be responsible for enforcing safety on the circuits.

DUBAI // The sound of camels' hooves will soon be replaced by the whirring of bicycle chains as the old Nad Al Sheba racing track becomes the region's first bicycle park.

The new park is taking shape at "an extraordinary pace", said Stewart Howison of Cycle Safe Dubai, the curator of the park.

Three tarmac cycling tracks, measuring 8 kilometres, 6km and 4km, are already in place and an 850-metre kids' course should be completed by the end of summer.

The decision to turn the unused camel track into a bicycle park came from the office of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and the Ruler of Dubai.

News of the centre has been welcomed by cycling enthusiasts, who say their options have been limited.

"It's very exciting. Seven years ago, we were riding on the road praying for our safety," said Nichola McDonald, 37, a sales director.

"In fact, I stopped cycling and started running because I could stay clear of the cars. The general motorist on the road wasn't aware of cyclists."

Previously, the safest routes available for serious cyclists were Al Qudra Road and the Dubai Autodrome, which allowed bicycles to take over on Wednesday nights.

"The new support for cycling is fantastic," said Ms McDonald.

Mr Howison said the new park would have "everything related to cycling, with as many variations as possible".

The track for children will have street signs, speed bumps and roundabouts to teach youngsters about road safety.

"The whole idea is to teach kids the fundamentals of cycling on the road, a lot like the UK cycling proficiency exams," said Mr Howison.

"They will learn how to look after their bikes, ensure the brakes are working, reflectors … they'll learn about the safety side of things."

Ms McDonald praised the idea of a training ground for children.

"They have nowhere to learn to ride a bike," she said. "It's not the safest place to do it on the road. This is something that will be open permanently for them to learn."

A BMX circuit is also in the works, and a grandstand for international events will be added in phase three of the park's development.

The planned BMX track will be 350m long, complying with Union Cycliste Internationale rules for BMX competitions.

Mr Howison said he expected that the BMX track would be ready before winter.

"It's just shifting dirt around and it might only take a few weeks to put the BMX track together," he said. "The berms [banked turns] will be the only permanent structure of concrete and what we put in between can be changed."

Runners will also be allowed to use the facilities and, by the third phase of development, there may be a 750-metre pool for triathlons.

The desert and shrub between the tracks will become an off-road running ground with a gravel base.

There is already a large grassy area in the centre of the stadium, and the grandstand will be upgraded to include male and female changing rooms and showers.

Cycle Safe Dubai, a volunteer group of cyclists who meet every week for rides, will have a branch at the track and will be responsible for enforcing safety on the circuits.

"It's a beautiful complex with grass, palm trees and the grandstand," Mr Howison said. "There will be a jungle gym for kids. We are also looking at doing a Friday morning market."

An official opening date for the bicycle park is in the works.

The Roads and Transport Authority is also building a 45km cycle track between Arabian Ranches and Bab Al Shams, scheduled to be finished this summer.

eharnan@thenational.ae