David Piper is a man on a mission: 16,000 miles over 4 continents on his bicycle.
Around the world, in other words, but with a twist. Instead of doing his global journey all in one go, David is linking up a series of rides that will eventually connect to make his circumnavigation complete.
After cycling through places like Death Valley (in August!), most of Europe and a fair chunk of Asia, David added the Arabian Peninsula to his list of rides. Here he tells us what it’s like to ride a bike in the little-visited countries of Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
1. Why did you decide to bike tour in Oman, Qatar and the UAE? It’s not a typical destination for bike tourists.
I’ve been trying to link up a series of rides that would take me around the world and having made it to Jordan, I was stuck – can’t ride in Saudi, Iraq, Iran (at the moment), Pakistan. I don’t like the cold so it was south to Qatar!
2. Was the bureaucracy hard to tackle or straightforward?
Very easy and all dealt with at the borders. If I’d had better info or up to date maps I’d have worked out that there is no longer a border with Qatar and UAE and Saudi Arabia expanded a few years ago.
3. How did you find the climate for cycling? Wasn’t it very hot, sandy and harsh or do you enjoy those extreme conditions?
In November it was mid thirties most of the time (day and night) so apart from midday just about bearable. With plenty of water and a wide brimmed hat, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think the ‘riding season’ there would be from October to March. The sand was only a problem in the drivetrain, so I got in the habit of rinsing that over each night.
4. The Arabian peninsula is strictly Islamic. Did you have to make any adjustments to your normal cycling routine because of this?
I’ve always found Muslim folk to be very tolerant. Contrary to the British media you are not going to get your legs cut off for wearing lycra. They are all football crazy and play in shorts so they fully understand the need for the right kit. I’d always slip on a pair of long trousers when I stopped and didn’t ride with my shirt off like you might in Europe in the summer.
5. You mention the high cost of living, in the UAE in particular. How did costs compare between the 3 countries you visited and is it possible to do a low budget tour here?
If you tuck away out of sight, you can easily camp out on the sand (there’s plenty of that available), but check for scorpions first! Its only if you are soft like me and have to go to a hotel that it’s going to get pricey. You’ll need lots of water and that can add up so if you’re riding on a strict budget then a filter / purifier would be handy. Get chatting to the locals over a coffee in Oman (the least expensive of the three countries) and you might find they pay the bill for you!
6. Can you describe one particularly memorable encounter from your tour?
I do love a beer so had to forgo this pleasure as its banned under Islamic law. That’s a problem for me as after drinking at least 10 litres of water and fizzy pop on a long hot ride, an ice cold bevvy is what’s required. However, one night I asked for a beer as a joke and got taken to a secret Omani drinking den!
7. Any bad experiences?
Only trying to ride down the motorway into Dubai as there is no other road!
8. What do you think the reaction would be to a woman cycling here?
It’s unusual to see an man on a bike, so a cycling woman would illicit a lot of looks. It’s not meant to be disrespectful but of course if you were wearing hot pants and a bikini top that could be misinterpreted as being err…ummm…’of easy virtue’, as my gran used to say! In the cities it’s normal to see western women in more revealing clothes, but I’d say out in the country it’s best to cover up a bit. But you don’t need to wear a burka. It’ll save on sunblock too!
9. If you had to pick just one of the 3 countries to return to, which one would it be and why?
Oman definitely. The generosity of the people and the desert mountain scenery.
10. What’s the one thing a cyclist should always bring on tour in the Arabian Peninsula?
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.
Thanks to David Piper for answering the questions and providing the photos. Do check out his website Tra-velo-gue with its wonderful journals and photos of his ride.
Need more information? Check out these helpful resources for cycling in the Arabian Penninsula:
- Arabian Peninsula Fact Sheet – A downloadable fact sheet, courtesy of the CTC
If you’d like to answer 10 questions about a favourite cycling destination, read the guidelines and then get in touch.
10th December 2009 at 3:53 pm #
Nice article. I cycled in the southern Arabian peninsular this year also, from Mokha in Yemen through to Dubai. It sounds like you had a very different experience to me!
A large portion of Yemen was off-limits and I was forced to take a lift with the local military, but other than that, Yemen was definitely one of the highlights of the area, especially the food which is a huge surprise and utterly terrific. The mountains here are also spectacular. But be prepared for culture shock – Yemen is the poorest Arab nation, with serious social issues at the moment. Crossing the border into affluent Oman is a serious slap in the face.
If you’re in Oman, I highly recommend the mountain range of Jebel Akhdar – an isolated highland area accessible only by an incredibly steep road, but with a culture all of its own. Definitely worth the side trip.
The UAE is expensive if you want it to be, but if you take advantage of the plentiful desert, eat at south Asian workers’ canteens, and Couchsurf in the cities, it’s surprising how little you can live on (while the rest of the population is chucking money around like it’s going out of fashion!).
The biggest mistake I made was going there in summer – it was 56C at one point in Oman, and not nice by the sea either due to the stifling humidity. I’d love to go back in the ‘winter’ months.
Love the blog – keep them coming…
10th December 2009 at 7:18 pm #
Tom, thanks for all that great information! There’s so little out there on cycling this area, that every small comment makes a huge difference. I have heard all good things about the Yemeni people and culture, if only the country was a bit more stable.
9th March 2014 at 8:26 am #
Good to read about cycling in this part of the world. I just thought I’d offer a comment about cycling in the region as a woman.
We lived in Oman for a few months in 2010-11. There is a very popular road cycling club in Muscat with many female (expat) members (I believe there is also a big club in Dubai based out of Wolfie’s bike shop). On day rides from the capital, many women just wear Lycra with no issues, although I chose to wear longer baggier shorts and a loose T-shirt out of respect for local sensibilities. Looser clothes are also much cooler.
Away from the capital, women would be advised to cover up a bit more. We have just cycled from Dubai to Muscat (March 2014) and I wore a loose long sleeved dress over a pair of 3/4 length Lycra leggings.
However, don’t fret too much. There are so many expats in this part of the world and although I’d advocate respect for the local culture, most local people are pretty tolerant, especially in Oman. Women should have no real problems.
Enjoy – Oman is my favourite country in the whole world.
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Nice to read so much about cycling in oman . Laura I am a cycling enthusiast from india and have seen half of india on cycle. Can I get some more details such as where and how do I meet and join the expat cyclist in Muscat. I will wait for a response.
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