x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Mean streets demand bike lanes for better safety, cyclists say

On the first anniversary of the death of triathlete Mark Pringle, cyclists in the capital say bike lanes are essential to improve safety for riders, whether recreational or competitive.

Cyclists ride around the Yas Marina circuit during a June event organised by the group Cycle Safe.
Cyclists ride around the Yas Marina circuit during a June event organised by the group Cycle Safe.

ABU DHABI // On the first anniversary of the death of triathlete Mark Pringle, cyclists in the capital say bike lanes are essential to improve safety for riders, whether recreational or competitive. New groups such as Cycle Safe have seen pioneering initiatives including the Yas Marina circuit and the Dubai Autodrome opening twice a week for cycling, but many say it is not enough. Every Wednesday, around 270 cyclists ? locals, expatriates and families ? descend on the Dubai Autodrome, and about 100 take to the Yas Marina circuit.

Paul Crooks, an Australian project manager and former competitive cyclist who has lived in Abu Dhabi for eight years, regularly cycles long distances. Each Friday, he organises groups of riders, starting at 5.30am, for 130km rides from downtown Abu Dhabi, across Saadiyat Island, to Shahama. In the winter, up to 50 people will join. "To avoid problems, we start early," he said. "We always ride with a support car behind us."

He said that for serious cyclists, bike lanes help only in busy inner city areas. He normally goes at about 40kmh, too fast for other riders. That's no problem on roads outside the city. But in the city, he would sacrifice high-speed pedalling for bicycle lane safety. "For the likes of commuters and kids out cycling, there is definitely a need for this, especially downtown on streets like Hamdan," he said.

Romano Dolbey, a personal trainer in Abu Dhabi, said he wants to compete in next year's Abu Dhabi Triathlon but training for the event, which involves a 200km cycle ride as well as a 3km swim and a 20km run, is tough in the city. "You have to go well out of the city and find the quiet places and go at quiet times," said the 23-year-old South African. "You can't train on the Corniche, firstly it's too short and secondly, there are too many people there so you can't train to the standard you need to for a race. Yas Island is good but as it's open only a couple of times a week, it's just not enough for race training."

Cycle Safe's founder, Stewart Howison, a South African ex-professional rider, lives in Dubai. "We have great weather and great flat, smooth roads to cycle here but we don't have the tracks to make it safe," he said. "Putting in tracks as an afterthought to a city is very difficult, making enough room on the roads for the trucks, cars and bikes." In Ras al Khaimah, Brian Hamilton, an American, says riding on the roads is "very dangerous".

He chooses to do his 60km rides mainly off road. "The drivers here don't have any experience of cyclists being on the road so they don't get that they have to share it." @Email:mswan@thenational.ae