Cycling? In Dubai? So it’s not usually the norm to hear someone riding around on a bicycle in Dubai, until we met Elen Paloots.
Here begins her story of cycling around Dubai and all the things we miss since we do not own a bicycle.
First things first, why did you start cycling here?
Getting a bicycle here in Dubai has huge personal meaning to me. I arrived in Dubai last year from Sydney. As you can imagine these cities are as different as day and night.I found it difficult to settle in Dubai. I asked everyone how they enjoy themselves here and what fun things are there to do in Dubai. The only answer I got was beach clubs, brunch and parties. This is not always my idea of happiness or fun.
I depended on taxis for transport which frustrated me. Not long after I arrived in Dubai I travelled to Estonia which gave me some fresh ideas. I decided not to give up on Dubai, after arriving back into the UAE I bought a bicycle with my last dirhams. Since that moment, my life has changed in Dubai. I was able to enjoy things like grocery shopping and going to workout studios with out having any hassle. Cycling around to these paces took away a lot of stress.
What is even more exciting, I was then able to start discovering the real Dubai – hidden cafes, galleries, neighbourhoods, architecture, people, and boutiques... I have always loved taking photos as long as I can remember but now it has become my biggest passion. It’s fascinating how differently I see the city once I’m on my bicycle while listening to on my iPod. The shapes, the colours, the shadows… Everything looks beautiful and different! Also it’s a nice feeling when someone in a car gives me a thumbs up or even stops to say that I’m crazy but they love it! So basically cycling helped me through depression of leaving home.
I bought my bicycle from a really random small shop in Satwa.
I Paid AED 500, I love it and it’s my baby. And it’s called Elegent City – it makes me laugh every time I see that name!
Is it not too hot to ride around in Dubai?
I would say the winter weather is just perfect for cycling, the crisp air and clear sky make it incredibly enjoyable. Summer months is a bit different story as you can imagine. It is very hot but if you are mentally prepared for the heat and sweating then it’s fine. Weather is something you can’t change so there is no point to complain about it – I just deal with it! Obviously I can’t go to some nice cafes or work but for running errands and cycling for fun the heat doesn’t bother me.
Are there cycling tracks?
Yes there are cycling tracks in Dubai. The most famous ones are Nad Al Sheba and Al Qudra cycle paths. These tracks are more for cycling as a sport and seem little bit boring for me.
I like to cycle because I want to discover new neighbourhoods, meet people, have tea, take photos and have adventures!
I’m sure one day I will check out these tracks as well as I’ve heard the sunrise there is supposed to be amazing.
Is it safe to ride a bicycle around Dubai?
You need to be extremely careful. It depends of the neighbourhood, your skills and traffic knowledge. Jumeirah is very safe, the streets are wide, the drivers are considerate and there is not many people walking. Then again I enjoy going further, to older parts of Dubai which are more a little more dangerous because of traffic. There is construction everywhere, often it happens that the road just ends, there is a lot of high bumps and weird street plans and the cars don’t notice me. In the beginning it was very hard to get used to this as in North of Europe where I’m from the roads are very user friendly. Now I like this crazy contrast and I get a thrill out of it, it’s like extreme sports – dangerous but you love the adrenaline. Just make sure you wear a helmet.
Whats is your usual route?
I have two different routes – Jumeirah and Dubai Creek. Jumeirah is pretty with amazing villas, beautiful flowers and nice cafes. I love going for a swim or yoga and then for coffee or lunch. My favourite restaurant is Comptoir 102 with delicious healthy food and it also has a really cool shop for jewelry, clothes, interior design. Culinary Boutique is another one of my favourite spots. I will cycle anywhere for good COFFEE, you have to try Espresso Lab, Stomping Ground and Mokha 1450. On the Satwa side there is some colourful old buildings which are interesting and nearby, The Sum Of Us is an awesome place for coffee and lunch.
My other route is towards the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood which is more adventurous. I need a whole day for that. It’s not a problem for me to cycle for 6 hours in a row so I can see many places. The moment when I cycle down to the Creek and I have De La Soul playing on my iPod my heart is bursting with happiness! First I like to go to Bastakiya, have a look around in the galleries, cycle by the water and through the souk. On the roof terrace of Make Café there is an awesome library, I’ll go through some design books while having an iced coffee. Then I head to the Creekside café where they serve the most epic French toast in Dubai. It’s such a peaceful place around sunset. Then I park my bicycle and take an Abra to the other side of the Creek. I will walk around on the spice souk and buy some cinnamon sticks and vanilla pods.
Are there rental bicycles around in Dubai?
Yes there is. There are rental bikes on docking stations at different locations. It has the same system as any other big city bike rentals. I guess these bicycles are better for some short rides around Downtown or Marina area.
Is it different riding in Dubai rather than Estonia and if so in what way?
Yes absolutely different! First of all, there I’m not the only woman cycling and it’s normal to use a bicycle as a form of transport regardless of your social status. We have cycling lanes and also different rules, for example cars must stop at the zebra crossing as pedestrians and cyclists always have priority. All the areas and different towns are easily accessible. You can take your bicycle on a train, in some European countries there are even special carriages for that. You are allowed to park your bicycle in front of a fancy shop or next to your table at a restaurant. Here unfortunately that’s not the case. I ended up in tears once. I had such a beautiful day cycling around and I was in such a happy mood. I was at this popular new retail development with lots of boutiques and cafes. After leaving my fitness studio I took my bicycle and I quickly wanted to nip in to grocery shop to buy water – the security told me that I have to remove my bicycle. Next I went to a cafe for a cake and a coffee, parked next to my table… and again! I was told to remove my bicycle. So that was the moment I burst out crying, I just wanted to have a normal day doing normal things and it seemed impossible. Few weeks before that they even had big posters there where they were promoting a car free day so it just didn’t make sense to me at all. Regardless of that I won’t give up and I believe one day Dubai will be a more bike friendly city.
What do you wish we had that would help cycling around Dubai better?
Well obviously as many cycling lanes as possible and definitely lower curb stones, it’s very bad for a bicycle to bump up and down all the time. Also you have to have a lot of patience and physical strength to lift your bicycle up all the time. More tolerating business owners who don’t mind me parking my lovely bicycle near the entrance (instead of hiding it behind the building somewhere far away).
Well my biggest passion right now is to keep cycling around Dubai to take photos. I want to show people that this city is so much more than shiny skyscrapers and fancy restaurants. I will keep uploading my photos on my website and I hope to have an exhibition one day. Doesn’t matter if it’s just in the living room of my villa or an art gallery in Dubai I want to keep inspiring other people. A lot of my friends and colleagues have bought bicycles because of me and I want to keep showing them how easy it is to become happy here. The feeling of freedom is incredible. Once the weather gets more tolerable for other people I will guide everyone down my secret routes. I would like to get a mountain bike and a good helmet, so I can go faster and further and dodge the street curbs. I am loving the idea of Hatta Mountain bike trail for some off-road cycling. But for that I need a friend who has a car with a bike rack. Hopefully some will read this and will make my dream come true 😉
Thats it for now and hope you enjoyed my journey through Dubai on a bicycle.