Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Breaking away

Cycle rides are spreading a biking culture in Egypt as a healthy alternative to cars, writes Omneya Yousry

Breaking away
Breaking away
Al-Ahram Weekly

Cities that invest in cycling are rated among the best places to live in the world and the most economically rewarding. An informal group of cyclists in Egypt who believe that bikes are the way to a better, brighter and healthier future have decided to take their hobby up a level and share it with the wider world.

“I used to drive from home to work and vice versa for about four hours every day. My life was hell and I wasn’t pleased with anything as a result of the crowds and the waste of time,” said 36-year-old Mohamed Nehad, founder of the group called Wheelers World Discovery.

“Because I love sports but have failed to stick to one due to the need for daily practice, I decided to go in for cycling. I started to go to work on my bike. It took me 35 minutes, then 25 after practice. I saved three hours a day from my schedule as a result, and I added to my family time, reduced pollution, exercised and enjoyed my life,” he said.

It all started when Nehad plumped for cycling as a life style in 1998. “I would hop on my bike and ride to work, and when I got to my desk my brain was at its peak for many hours,” he said. Later, he got to know other bike-lovers, and from this a community was formed.

“Travelling to Ain Al-Sokhna on bikes was the first crazy thing we did as a group. We arrived after 13 hours on our first try, but after lots of training we did the 140 km route in three hours. Other than that we have also travelled abroad for cycling events in Europe. For example, we went from Italy to France and from Norway to Italy on bikes.”

“Cycling is a science. What works for you won’t necessary work for others. There are many factors you have to consider, such as what you want in a bike and what you want to do with it,” Nehad said.

Wheelers World Discovery started in 2010, but the group only became more widely known in 2013. “We read about and tried almost all kinds of bicycle to encourage people to join the group, and we tried to encourage people wanting to get fit or treat certain illnesses to join,” Nehad said. A team of five founders and almost 20 organisers divided into committees on research and development, marketing and logistics to promote the group more widely.

The group is a non-profit organisation, and it carries out four training sessions per year at ascending levels. These start with Fun Rise, in which trainees learn how to select a suitable bike according to their weight and height and how to deal with any problems they may face. They also gain an idea about first aid and road safety.

“This phase’s target is 20 km. We always have one leader trainer at the start of the biker queue, as well as one at the tail and a weaver in between, when we go out riding. The following level targets 80 to 120 km. It’s a more technical phase where we teach wind breaking, how to help when somebody is in trouble during a ride, and bikers sign language.” The third and last level is tougher, and a biker is required to reach 350 km per day, like from Porto Sokhna to Hurghada,” Nehad said.

It is never too late to join the group. One 58-year-old lady who came with her granddaughter hoping to learn how to ride a bike succeeded in doing so and even joined the team on the Sokhna route. “We added a coaching session to teach those who have never been on a bike in their lives,” Nehad commented.

Cycling awareness and training are not the only goals of the group, and charitable causes are also an important part of its objectives. “The charitable causes we support can be divided into two categories: immediate and long-term projects,” Nehad said. “For many events, we make deals with bike vendors to bring stock for those who want to join us but don’t have their own bikes. Donations are made to special pre-announced causes such as Back to School events.” Wheelers also participate in village development activities through associations like Life Makers, in which group members contribute to long-term projects such as the association’s “Making Lives” project.

In September 2013, the Wheelers team decided to tighten their backpacks and take a cycling trip from Vienna to Budapest. They then set out on a route from Cairo to the White Desert with 23 men and 27 women taking part. This helped raise awareness of domestic tourism, refresh foreign tourism and attract foreign currency to the country, and a new trip was planned from Cairo to Petra.

Though the Wheelers team had to plan, market, fund and obtain official permission for the trip, group members managed to get recognition for a cycle route from Egypt to Jordan from both governments as a result.

According to Nehad, plans now include supporting the building of a comprehensive system of cycling lanes and sidewalks in Cairo. Decision-makers needed to start cycling-inclusive city and transport planning, he said, and cycling should play a bigger role in transport discussions.

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