Thursday, 15 November 2012

Cycling in Riyadh.


Cycling in Riyadh is beginning to take off.

It wasn't hard to notice the increase of cyclists amongst the populace given that for the first two years of living in the country bicycles in Riyadh's great outdoors were virtually nowhere to be seen. (Bikes ridden by kids on compounds is, of course, a different story).


The first bicycle I saw being ridden down a Riyadh footpath in the central city was by one of the city's many workers (you can read more about them on my post Worker Bees). It was an old bike, a classic one gear beauty, but it was peddling along just fine.   This bloke obviously started a new trend because he is no longer a lone cyclist in the city.  Not that the numbers are excessive, but of late there is more than 1.

In fact, on our walk through the city last night we were passed by six Worker Bee blokes on bicycles in the space of five minutes and spotted more bikes chained to posts and poles along the street.  Perhaps having a Wheels bike shop recently locate to the vicinity, on Sulamaniya-Thalateen, has pushed up cycling interest

Do Saudi's cycle?
I would say generally speaking - no. 
Why  not?  No idea.  Perhaps the heat.  The thobe isn't really conducive to cycling either.  Whatever the reason Saudi boys aren't really into cycling.  Football yes.  Cycling no.  (Not yet, anyway - perhaps the bike shop will change all that).

Surprisingly the bike shop stocks a few bikes for women, although only males were cycling about the street.  Hubster was less than happy for me to haul out one of the women's bikes and give it a try.  Apart from the fact he didn't want to attract attention he had an opinion on the cost (too much) but mostly he wanted to know where, exactly, I intended to ride the bike should I purchase it given that, just as women can't drive in this country, the general consensus is they should also not ride bikes - not in public anyway.


Cycling isn't encouraged for Saudi girls due, mostly, to the cultural value placed on the status of a females' nether regions, more specifically her hymen.  The importance of being a virgin bride is one of the reasons given for restricting girls in this country from participating in numerous sporting and exercise activities that would benefit their physical and mental well-being.  Obviously, being a bright, happy and healthy female is less attractive to the Saudi psyche than being virginal.

Living in the 21st century one could argue the archaic-ness of this belief and call it Saudi nonsense but it pays to remember that before the Wicked West became wicked (or is that educated and enlightened) tradition preferred Pure as Snow brides at the alter.  And Saudi isn't the only country around the globe that still likes their brides to be innocent flowers.

What's confounding about Saudi is the conservatives continued stance of discouraging female involvement in sport or exercise even after the marital sheets have been bled on and long after offspring have sprung forth.  What is their rational?  Principal!   If you aren't already aware of what those principles may be this article, Two Steps Forward, by Eman al Nafjan on the Foreign Policy website, gives a little insight.

Of course, even without cultural and religious restrictions not all Saudi girls are intent on rushing out to go bike riding though one does wonder how many would, if they could.

My friend recounted a story about a Saudi family on holiday outside of  Saudi Arabia.  The father was trying to teach his daughter (14years) how to ride a bike.  He was teaching her on this holiday because he would be frowned on for teaching her in his own country.  My friend thought this was a sad story.  I had to disagree.  What a great Dad!  What a fabulous thing for him to do!  By all accounts she was determined to keep trying and he was perfectly happy to keep teaching.  Definitely a story with a lot more positives than negatives.

I have often wondered whether this young lady mastered her bike riding while on holiday and, if so, whether she continued her riding after returning to Saudi.   "Where would she ride?" I hear you say.

Two places I have seen youngsters, boys and girls, enjoying the great outdoors on their bikes in Riyadh are out in the desert on family picnics and along the wide walk ways beside Al Elb Dam on a balmy Saudi evening. 

Granted these kids were quite young (pre-teen), but it was heartening to see the parents didn't restrict their young daughters from the enjoyment that cycling can bring.  And I have to admit that, though these families (my vast experience is drawn from meeting both of them) were of Middle Eastern origin, neither of them were Saudi.

What do you do in Riyadh if you're a serious cyclist just itching to get on ya bike?  One expat I know throws his mountain bike in the back of his truck and heads for the hills outside of Riyadh with a couple of his friends.  He is, admittedly, a little bit crazy.

Keen cyclists (including a couple of women) have also been seen pedaling the walking tracks around the DQ though, be warned, it's not a smooth ride by any means.


If you're looking for a cycling club in Riyadh then this site - Riyadh Wheelers - may be of interest to you.  According to their website the club, which consists mostly of expats, has been in existence since 1992 and there is a raft of other information about what they offer as well.

For those looking for a more leisurely ride there is a walkway that runs through Wadi Hanifa that a few cyclists (mostly men I gather) are known to ride along.  It has cross my mind to cycle through Wadi Hanifah with Hubster one weekend and I even contemplated designing an abaya specifically for the purpose.  However, Mr Noor may have to come along too, as wheel man, in case we need a quick exit due to locals unhappy with feminine-ness cycling in public in Riyadh.

Ka Kite,

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