My advice to any budding and experienced cyclist: Wear a helmet . Get up early . Ride defensively . Wear a helmet, seriously!
The extent of my experience in cycling is quite limited. I’ve only started a couple months ago. I bought it on January 27 on a whim when I noticed a second-hand mountain bike advertised for sale on a supermarket’s bulletin board and thought I’d like to try it. I had to contend with that incredulous look that came over my wife’s face though. I just retorted that she should be happy that what I’m thinking of opting for is a bicycle rather than a motorcycle. I’m in the right age-group of the latter, but was opting for the former, because I’m really young still. That didn’t do the trick.
In any case, I became a stupefied owner of a good mountain bike a couple of days later. I say stupefied because the last time I was on a bicycle was when I was twelve or so, and the first thing I did when I was evaluating the bike to buy it, was to crash off of it. Suit and all, onto the cemented ground.
I had no idea where people go riding, I didn’t know the rules of the road, I didn’t and couldn’t find a “dos and don’ts” list anywhere and I didn’t know if a cycling culture actually existed here in Bahrain. Nevertheless, I thought I’d just get on for now, and deal with all of those things as and when they occur. All in good time.
The first thing I discovered is that old adage of “it’s like riding a bike” isn’t actually true. A lot gets forgotten and the balance must be worked on again to re-acquire it. That and the many little things that must be understood and sorted out too; from the proper height and position adjustment of the seat, the height and orientation of the handle bars and the tyre pressures are a few. I’m thankful to all the people and companies who shared their knowledge on YouTube. Watching a few of those videos were an invaluable education and reduced the sharpness of the education curve, allowing me to expedite the start of this new adventure.
I live on the border between the villages of Duraz and Barbar on Bahrain’s north coast. One of the island’s most interesting and ancient routes – the Al Nakheel Highway, meaning the Palm Groves Highway – is just a stone’s throw away from my home. That road spans almost the whole breadth of the northern part of the island from Budaiya village on the west through to the Bahrain Fort on the Eastern shores. The road passes through several scenic villages and is quite navigable. As it is a single carriage-way and running through villages, it can get quite busy at peak hours and does get a bit narrow at the small shopping areas along that road; particularly through the villages of Barbar and Jannusan.
The length of that route is 12 kilometers and a round trip if I start my route by going to Budaiya village and then double back I average about 25 kms and it takes me approximately an hour and a half at an average speed around 21 kph.
I normally ride early in the morning – around 6.30 or 7.00 – on Fridays and sometimes on Saturdays with hardly a car in sight and just a few people getting their early breakfasts from the Khabbaz (local baker) or one of the samboosa and sandwich shops which every village on the route has. I’ve not stopped yet to sample any of their fares yes but I do take the time – sometimes – to stop at the Bahrain Fort museum and enjoy the sights and sounds of the early morning.
The ride has become much more of a please when joined by a couple of friends. Now Basim Al-Sai’e, Bader Kanoo and I have made it a habit to ride early every Friday morning. We’ve gone as far as Zallaq in the south of the island and of course as far east as the Ritz Carlton hotel and back.
It’s just been a couple of months since I got the bike. It would serve me well to remember that I’m a complete noob at this, rather than feel like I’m actually a pro. The latter allows me to have a sense of experience I actually do not have. At no time was this more apparent than the last weekend. The various cuts and bruises suffered when I fell off my bike on a main road last Saturday. I’m so fortunate to have had my safety helmet on because what broke my fall on the metal fence at the side of the road was that helmet!
Let me end by repeating my advice I opened this post with: to any budding and even experienced cyclists: remember that Bahrain’s road and drivers are very hostile to cyclists. The dust and sand on the roads will easily derail your bike. You will lose traction in a glimpse of an eye sometimes through no fault of your own and you’ll find yourself in dicy situations. Help yourself and save your own life by ensuring that you always wear a helmet, go on your rides as early in the morning as possible to avoid car traffic and get on less busy roads, and always ride defensively. Don’t take cars, pedestrians, other cyclists, children, youth, dogs and other animals for granted. And most of all, wear a good quality helmet, seriously!
With all that said, cycling on Bahrain is quite pleasurable. Go out and enjoy the limited nature that we have, and make it your own!