A PAR­A­DIGM SHIFT

How Qataris be­came cy­cling’s new­est fans

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THE ISSUE - Con­tent and photography By Mar­garet Kad­ifa

How Qataris be­came cy­cling's new­est fans

On a Jan­uary morn­ing, 80 cy­clists, rang­ing from com­pet­i­tive rac­ers to chil­dren wheel­ing next to their par­ents, sped down the Cor­niche in a ride or­gan­ised by the Qatar Cy­cling Fed­er­a­tion and the Qatar Sports Club. Doha's sky­line in the back­ground, the rid­ers made a state­ment: cy­clists, not just Land Cruisers and buses, are part of Qatar's roads.

Cy­cling has em­bed­ded it­self not just in streets but in the life­style of Doha's res­i­dents. Ex­pats, es­pe­cially those from Europe, North Amer­ica and the Philip­pines, have been ac­tive cy­clists for years. They have formed dozens of groups in­clud­ing Qatar Chain Re­ac­tion, Pi­noy Road­ies Qatar and the Qatar Cy­cling Com­mu­nity. Re­cently the sport's pop­u­lar­ity has grown so much that cy­cling routes are packed, groups' mem­ber­ships have in­creased and Qatar's first spe­cialty bike stores opened within a month of each other at the end of 2014.

But scat­tered among the Euro­pean, North Amer­i­can and Filipino ex­pats on the Cor­niche that Fri­day morn­ing was a new group of cy­cling fans: Qataris.

“It's boom­ing, it's not just grow­ing,” says Dr Mo­hammed Al Kuwari, a con­sul­tant bariatric sur­geon at Ha­mad Med­i­cal Cor­po­ra­tion. Al Kuwari founded the Qatari cy­cling group, Qatar Cy­clists, in 2012. At the time there were only three mem­bers. The group has since grown to 60.

While there are no for­mal statis­tics to show how many Qataris cy­cle, An­drej Filip, tech­ni­cal sec­re­tary at the Qatar Cy­cling Fed­er­a­tion, cites in­creased at­ten­dance at time tri­als, races and rides, and the rapidly grow­ing membership of Qatar Cy­clists as ev­i­dence that Qataris are in­creas­ingly opt­ing for the cy­cling life­style.

It's an ac­tive life­style with the po­ten­tial to ad­dress Qatar's high obe­sity rates and re­lated health prob­lems such as di­a­betes. A 2013 study in the med­i­cal jour­nal

Lancet found that the ma­jor­ity of Qatar's adult men and women are over­weight or obese, and Qatar's 2014 di­a­betes rate of 16.3% was well above the world av­er­age. The Supreme Coun­cil of Health ad­vo­cates ex­er­cise on its web site as a way to de­crease the 70% of Qatari deaths in 2013 that it says were due to pre­ventable causes. Se­ri­ous cy­clists have made it how they ex­er­cise year­around, rid­ing as early as 4:30 a.m. in the sum­mer to avoid scorch­ing tem­per­a­tures.

For Qatari cy­clist Haya Al Ghanim, bi­cy­cle rides have slowly re­placed cof­fee chats as a way to keep up with friends. It's a so­cial sport, concludes Dan Crow­ley, an Ir­ish ex­pat and an avid cy­clist with the group Qatar Chain Re­ac­tion. Par­tic­i­pa­tion of­ten in­cludes weekly rides rang­ing from about 40 kilo­me­tres to over 100 kilo­me­tres with other cy­clists, the de­ci­sion to spend time out­doors in­stead of in a car or at the gym and the abil­ity to push your­self to go faster and far­ther.

“The beauty of cy­cling is that you can chal­lenge your­self and achieve huge dis­tances,” Al Kuwari says. “If you told me two years ago that I would be able to ride 150 kilo­me­tres, I would say ‘that's im­pos­si­ble'.”

The sport also in­volves splurg­ing on a few too many bi­cy­cles. “It started as a hobby and it be­came a pas­sion,” says Dr Ab­du­laziz Al Kuwari, an or­thopaedic spine sur­geon and Mo­hammed Al Kuwari's twin brother who cur­rently runs Qatar Cy­clists. He has been cy­cling for three years and has in­vested in five bikes.

Qatari cy­clist Marouf Mah­moud says he wants to in­spire and at­tract peo­ple to cy­cling, es­pe­cially other Qataris. He is the cap­tain and a co-founder of the char­ity cy­cling group Qatar Sandstormers, which started in 2012, and, with part­ners Wa­jeeha Al Hus­seini and Ea­monn Con­don, he opened the Doha bike shop Car­bon Wheels in De­cem­ber 2014.

“We're re­ally bring­ing out the glam­our in the sport,” Mah­moud says, sit­ting in an arm­chair near the front win­dow of Car­bon Wheels just af­ter sun­set on a Wed­nes­day. The nor­mally busy store had mostly emp­tied, but a few cus­tomers stopped in for a quick pur­chase or chat. Car­bon Wheels of­fers cus­tom bike fit­tings and it and the other new bike shop, Flash Bike Shop, lo­cated in Me­saeed, are stock­ing brands and pro­vid­ing main­te­nance ser­vices that were pre­vi­ously un­avail­able in Qatar. They of­fer the guid­ance and va­ri­ety that helps get new cy­clists started, says Crow­ley.

To en­cour­age con­ser­va­tive cy­clists, in­clud­ing con­ser­va­tive Qataris, to start cy­cling Al Hus­seini says Car­bon Wheels is look­ing to stock more mod­est cloth­ing lines. This could en­cour­age more Qatari women to get in­volved with cy­cling, Al Ghanim says.

The Min­istry of Youth and Sports made Qatar Cy­clists the first am­a­teur cy­cling club to be spon­sored by Qatar and ap­pointed Ab­du­laziz Al Kuwari manager of a new

"A 2013 study in the med­i­cal jour­nal

The­Lancet found that the ma­jor­ity of Qatar’s adult men and women are over­weight or obese, and Qatar’s 2014 di­a­betes rate of 16.3% was well above the world av­er­age."

Ab­du­laziz Al Kuwari par­tic­i­pated in this ride to “show every­body that there are Qataris who are cy­cling,” he says. “And to show cars that bi­cy­cles are part of the street.”

cy­cling cen­tre. The cen­tre has al­ready or­gan­ised rides and will have its own team with sup­port ve­hi­cles and staff, says Ab­du­laziz Al Kuwari.

But for cy­cling's pop­u­lar­ity to con­tinue to grow, the gov­ern­ment needs to pro­vide the nec­es­sary in­fra­struc­ture, and fast, says Filip. Right now, Qatar's roads, dom­i­nated by Land Cruisers, are danger­ous for cy­clists. There has been a 14% in­crease in ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents be­tween 1995 and 2013, ac­cord­ing to a study pre­sented this year by the Qatar Road Safety Stud­ies Cen­ter at Qatar Uni­ver­sity. Most cy­clists ride early on Fri­day morn­ings in groups to stay safe, says Crow­ley, but this does not en­tirely avoid ac­ci­dents. On ar­guably the most popular road among cy­clists, Cer­e­mo­nial Road, cars swerve into the bike lane to cut ahead of traf­fic, Filip says.

“They ride their cars in the cy­cling lanes at like 80 kilo­me­tres an hour,” Filip says. “I'm afraid some­thing bad will hap­pen soon be­cause you see more and more rid­ers go­ing out and it's just not safe.”

The Qatari gov­ern­ment is in the process of di­ver­si­fy­ing its roads, adding pedes­trian walk­ways, a train sys­tem and bike lanes, says Dr Eyad Masad, an ex­ec­u­tive as­so­ciate dean and pro­fes­sor in the Me­chan­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing Pro­gramme at Texas A&M at Qatar. In most of the ex­press­way and lo­cal road projects, Ashghal builds bike lanes, says Noura Zreik, an Ashghal spokes­woman.

Cy­clists have taken ad­van­tage of some of the new bike lanes, in­clud­ing ones near the new air­port, says Mon Muñoz, a cy­clist with the Filipino cy­cling group Pi­noy Road­ies Qatar. How­ever, most bike lanes be­ing built in Doha are con­ducive to com­mut­ing, the fea­si­bil­ity of which ex­perts and cy­clists have mixed opin­ions [link to old ar­ti­cle], not for the long-dis­tance train­ing re­quired for the com­pet­i­tive road cy­cling that is tak­ing off among Qataris. Cy­cling as a sport de­mands wide, in­ter­rupted roads, says Mah­moud. Filip points to new high­ways be­ing build out­side of Doha as pos­si­ble lo­ca­tions for cy­clists to train, such as an ex­press­way cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion that will link the Doha Golf Club to Al Khor and Ras Laf­fan, as long as the bike lanes are wide enough for groups or the ve­hi­cles ac­com­mo­date cy­clists.

To fit the needs of to­day's cy­clists, there should be a velo­drome, a good bike share pro­gramme and more sports clubs that sup­ply bi­cy­cles to their mem­bers, says Saad Ferzam, an avid cy­clist and the hus­band of the owner of Flash Bike Shop.

Filip hints that a velo­drome is on its way. In the mean­time, the Qatar Cy­cling Fed­er­a­tion will con­tinue to host lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional events to raise aware­ness of the sport, in­clud­ing the an­nual Men's and Women's Tour of Qatar in Fe­bru­ary and the Road World Cham­pi­onships in 2016. Qatar Cy­clists and Qatar Sandstormers are also plan­ning a 45-kilo­me­ter ride for Sports Day, this Fe­bru­ary 11, says Mah­moud. Like the pre­vi­ous Fri­day ride, this route will in­clude the Cor­niche.

Ab­du­laziz Al Kuwari will be par­tic­i­pat­ing in this ride to “show every­body that there are Qataris who are cy­cling,” he says. “And to show cars that bi­cy­cles are part of the street,” Mo­hammed Al Kuwari adds. “We be­lieve in pro­mot­ing this cul­ture.”

Mah­moud says he hopes to see in­creased Qatari view­er­ship of the up­com­ing races, and that one day cy­cling in Qatar will be so popular that, like in Europe, peo­ple will line the streets to watch a cy­cling race.

“Peo­ple out­side of their houses in their own neigh­bour­hoods watch­ing and cheer­ing,” Mah­moud says. “I think that is some­thing that will hap­pen.”

More than 80 cy­clists, which in­cluded many Qataris, par­tic­i­pated in a ride or­gan­ised by Qatar Cy­cling Fed­er­a­tion and Qatar Sports Club

Dan Crow­ley (sec­ond from left) and Saad Ferzam (sec­ond from right) pose for a pic­ture along with friends at the Qatar Sports Club af­ter com­plet­ing their ride down the Cor­niche.

Mem­bers of the Pi­noy Road­ies Qatar

Marouf Mah­moud warms up be­fore head­ing out for a sec­ond ride.

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