Hot wheels: Wallpaper* taps into Dubai’s exciting cycling revolution
Bike rides in cycle in Dubai start early in the morning, long before the sun comes up. The Lycra-clad, carbon fibre-equipped massive of the Dubai Roadsters meets at the Nad al Sheba Cycle Park on Fridays for the start of a 5.30am ride that takes in a lap of the park’s circuit before heading out down the Meydan Road. Hosted by Dubai cycling legend Wolfgang Hohmann – owner of Wolfi’s Bike Shop on Sheikh Zayed Road – the group then splits into two speeds and distances: 85km for the keen and steady rouleurs and a 120km route for the go-faster peloton.
The first hour is in the chilly, clammy dark. Around 150 red tail lights blink in the cool half light, the whirr and click of expensive, precision Japanese gearing audible over the light traffic. But as the sun rises, Dubai’s otherworldly cityscape reveals itself. There’s the Burj Khalifa tower; the rapidly rising 150m ‘Dubai Frame’ at Dubai Creek Harbor Calatrava’s newest, $43 million addition to the extraordinary skyline; and, of course, the Burj Al Arab – neither the tallest nor most spectacular any more, perhaps, but now regarded as a the Emirate’s icon.
The lounge inside Jumeirah Al Naseem
Wallpaper* is riding Dubai with ex-pro turned Tour de France TV commentator and cycling apparel entrepreneur David Millar, in town as part of his ambassadorial relationship with Jumeirah and the hotel group’s drive to be tête de la course of the global luxury cycling movement. Millar, a veteran of Alpine climbs and urban time trials, is impressed and surprised at the variety, range and strangeness that a cycling trip in the autotropolis of Dubai has to offer. ‘It is only on a bike that you realise just how much Dubai has built for cars rather than pedestrians or cyclists,’ he says. ‘There’s a new ruling making it illegal to ride on any road with a speed limit above 60kph and security will stop you getting close to any of the landmark structures… but Dubai has reacted by developing some great purpose built bike tracks and venues.’
Millar loads Wallpaper* and its Colnago into an air-conned SUV and we drive 20km from our base at the Jumeirah Al Naseem out to the Al Qudra Cycle Track car park – giant, two wheeled sculptures overhead let you know you’re on the right route. After luxuriating in the smart Trek bike shop, the café, changing rooms and first aid station, you ride either a 50km or an 86km loop of the lollipop-shaped circuit. It’s an odd, slightly detached experience of heat haze and sandscape that is half time trial, half video game, especially on a weekday, when you’ll likely have the whole track to yourself. Take plenty of water.
The tighter, less challenging 7.75km Meydan Cycle Track at the old Nad al Sheba camel race course is nearer town and a great training venue with views of the Burj Khalifa. On Wednesday evenings, the flood-lit Dubai Autodrome on the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road is open to cyclists between 6pm and 9pm.
By 2020, Dubai plans 900km of cycling lanes at Al Mizhar, Mirdif, Al Warqa’a, Al Sufouh, Umm Suqeim, Jumeirah and Al Barsha. There will be cycle paths linking the streets of Jumeirah to parks, beaches and shops and at Al Barsha (connecting the Mall of the Emirates and the Sharaf DG metro station), Bur Dubai, Discovery Gardens, Al Furjan, Green Community Village and the Dubai Investment Park.
The accommodation at the five star Jumeirah Al-Naseem hotel might be cushy, but Millar’s Dubai cycling tour is no freewheeling shopping trip. The climax of our three-day trip (made more comfortable by a revitalising post-ride massage at the Talise Spa) took us two hours north from the Luc Besson-like metropolis of the city way out to the David Lean-style panorama of Ras Al Khaimah. The Jebel Jais is the UEA’s Mont Ventoux; 1,934m above sea level and a steady 22 mile ascent among wandering mountain goats on roads surfaced like alabaster. The higher you get the cooler it becomes – a positively parky 10°C colder than the hot city at the top.
Back in October 2017, the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Authority announced the opening of the Jebel Jais Observation Deck near the peak of the mountain. Offering street food trucks, picnic areas and a variety of viewing platforms where visitors can enjoy panoramic, 360-degree views across the Al Hajar massif and the Arabian Gulf in the distance, the Naga Architects-designed project is magic at night when the deck is illuminated by solar powered lights. Earlier, the world’s longest zip-line was added to the Jebel Jais peak – so daring Emirati adrenaline seekers can now spend their Friday afternoons racing Ferraris and Colangos to the bottom.