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.
Need more information? Check out these helpful resources for cycling in the Arabian Penninsula: