Good News For Cyclists
Al Qudra Cycle Path  (Dubai Cycling Course)
Location: Al Lisaili, UAE

Aaron Noah M.

“No, no, no…who put a bike path through MY dunes?!” I howled.

It was six o’ clock in the morning and, if dragging myself out of bed so repulsively early wasn’t bad enough, now I had to come to grips with the RTA’s (Road & Transportation Authority) latest project which appeared to bulldoze right through one of my favorite desert hiking spots near Al Lisaili, UAE.  On my last visit to the area, about six months ago, there was nothing but a small tarmac road that meandered its way through golden dunes and scrubby trees for a few kilometers and then disappeared into the sands.  This protected zone was home to all manner of creatures, including Gazelle, Oryx, and many types of lizards.

Now there was a bike path.  With two lanes.

People seemed to know about it as well.  Six o’ clock in the morning and cyclists were everywhere, hundreds of them.  I realized this bicycle presence was much better than the din of motorized quads ripping up the landscape but with so many people cycling in packs, their conversations could be heard long before I could spot them on the horizon.  Surely the shy wildlife would not stick around with all of the commotion.

Al Qudra Cycle Path

Cyclists everywhere

Some friends and I set out to inspect the area and our first trek into the dunes confirmed my initial fears.  There were plenty of animal tracks to be found…but all of them were bearing away from this new bike path, and not a critter in sight.  Without a single click of the shutter, we retired in gloomy spirits back to the truck, and back on the road to investigate more of this abominable bike path.

As it was in my previous experiences, the tarmac eventually sputtered out into gravel and then into sand.  The brand new cycle path, however, kept going strong, picking up where the road ended and raced off into the dunes for as far as we could see.  At this point we ventured off-road across a sandy plain and away from the cycle path by a few kilometers.  We were not just wandering; last year I had stumbled on a wildlife feeding station out here that was teeming with Oryx.  Did the construction of the bike path scare away the herd?

After cresting a small hill we scanned the distance for signs of life.  My friends spotted the feeding station…which was empty.  I was muttering curses under my breath (bike this and bike that) but I drove on over the dusty tracks.  After about five minutes along we started to see white dabs in the dunes.  My beloved Oryx or just desert rubbish?  I stopped the truck and we sat still.  The white dabs were moving, across the dunes and toward the feeding station; we were in luck!

Herd of Oryx

Still there! A herd of Oryx.

I edged the truck slowly forward and was glad to see that the Oryx herd was still in the area, with even greater numbers than before.  There were also a few small Gazelle visiting the feeding station, nervously nibbling amongst their much larger cousins (both animals are a type of Antelope).  We got our shots and then left them to finish their breakfast in peace.

On the way out back to the road one of my companions spotted a flash in the dunes; I stopped the truck, jumped out, pointed my camera toward the sand and waited.  After a minute my patience was rewarded: an eyeball appeared in the dune, scrutinizing the landscape for intruders.  I remained very still and eventually, when it was satisfied that it was safe to come out, a small vibrant Skink (a.k.a. “Sandfish”) popped out of the sand and into full view.  I snapped a few photos and then crept in closer.  The colorful reptile now seemed more curious than disturbed by my presence, and started rummaging around the dune while periodically peering back at me with judging looks.  I got a few more shots and then, again, left nature to itself.

Skink

A Skink (a.k.a. “Sandfish”)

So maybe this bike path was not such a bad thing.  The animals were still around and now there is a safe scenic place for bicyclists to enjoy the outdoors.

It turns out that the Al Qudra Cycle Path is just one of many such projects in the works.  The RTA is investing 19 million dirhams (5.2 million USD) to develop more paths all over Dubai, as part of a master plan to promote environmentally friendly transportation in cities and remote areas alike.  By 2020, they hope to have over 900km of cycling tracks throughout the emirate.

The Al Qudra Cycle Path starts near the interchange with Dubai Outer Bypass Road and continues past the end of Al Qudra road, out into the desert and reportedly looping past Bab Al Shams resort, for a total of about 50km.  A group called Cycle Safe Dubai organizes sunrise outings every Friday, starting at 6:30a.m. (see contact details below) and there are plans to establish local and international cycle competitions as well.

I’m still not thrilled by this cycle path intrusion into “my” dunes, but I appreciate the ideals that are being promoted by the RTA; I am in support of organized trails and dirt roads into the desert wilderness rather than the destructive “dune bashing” which is so popular with tour operators.  If done correctly, recreation and preservation of the environment can go work together for the good of both, and I think the new RTA mindset is a step in the right direction.  Maybe it’s time for me to leave my truck at home and explore the quiet dunes on bike.

Update! 8 January 2013

Looks like Dubai has big plans for this cycling course.  Dubai Tour 2014 has been announced for the now official Dubai Cycling Course.  Here are some related links:

GulfNews “Dubai to launch cycling Tour in 2014”

Emirates 24/7 “DSC sign MoU with RCS Sports to organise Dubai Tour”

Click on the thumbnails below to see more of the area:

Getting There:
From Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, follow Umm Suqeim Road towards Bab Al Shams.  After passing MotorCity , Umm Suqeim Road becomes Al Qudra Road.  After crossing over the Dubai Outer Bypass Road (E611) look for the start of the path and small parking area on the left side.

Cycle Safe Dubai:
For activity information contact Stewart Howison at 050 680 4528.