Albeit huge advocates of urban cycling, we have been sensitive to the fact that – mostly because of culture – the practice hasn’t taken off in the Middle East. But a You Tube video from Saudi Arabia challenges all the naysayers.
Heat is one of the main obstacles to cycling in the Middle East, or so we thought. Summers are deliriously hot and humid – particularly in coastal areas – and men and women typically wear clothing that seems to be unfit for cycling.
Also, in major urban areas overrun by cars, it’s hard to find a space to fit in with a bicycle, and drivers, not understanding the motive behind cycling in a city, are impatient and sometimes even aggressive towards people on bicycles.
And yet, it would be enormously useful if more people would take up cycling in the region. Not only are countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates guilty of having some of the highest pollution rates per capita, but an obesity epidemic has become a serious public health concern.
Not only that, but more cars requires more infrastructure, which results in more resource use, more pollution, and more traffic. With that comes greater stress, decreased work productivity, and a great sense of dissatisfaction – according to a few cycling enthusiasts who put together a video about the benefits of cycling in Saudi Arabia.
Shot in Damman, the video follows a few men who no longer see their bicycles as a hobby, but rather who use their bicycles to commute, fetch groceries, and take care of other chores. Each of them describes in the video how they initially met several challenges upon deciding to ditch the car for two (or three) wheels instead.
Their friends and family thought they were mad, they were afraid to take up space on the roads – and even questioned, initially, whether or not they had the right to be there – and they worried about how they would smell once they arrived to work (hygiene is exceptionally important to Muslims in particular.)
One man found that if he showers before he goes to work and brings a towel and a set of clean clothes, he doesn’t smell. Another lost a lot of weight and packs his wife’s groceries in handy panniers.
When a passerby asked him, during Ramadan, whether he became thirsty while cycling to work, he answered that the breeze keeps him cooler than if he walked. He gets thirsty, he said, but not as thirsty, and so he doesn’t break his fast.
All of the men that participated in the video acknowledge the existence of barriers to a cycling revolution in Saudi Arabia, but they also demonstrate that none of the reasons cited are valid. If anything, one man said, the bicycle has more right on the roads because it is cleaner and safer.
Check out the video for an in-depth look at Saudi cyclists and tell us in the comments whether it inspires you to jump in the saddle.