To call attention to Qatar’s small but growing population of cyclists, riders from around the country are planning to hold a “Share the Road” event next week.
The campaign will launch on the morning of Friday, Oct. 30 and focus on safety awareness and road etiquette.
It is also a show of solidarity for a Filipino cyclist and triathlete who was recently injured in an accident while biking in Qatar.
Three weeks ago, Dondie Montiague was out training on a hard shoulder at the National Ceremonial road (which connects the Dukhan Highway to Shamal Road) when a bus pulled out in front him, causing him to slam head-first into the vehicle.
The cyclist has since been confined to Hamad Hospital with a severe spinal cord injury, according to his colleagues.
According to 55-year old Irish expat Ben Keane, one of the founders of Qatar Chain Reaction, one of the oldest cycling groups in Qatar, such accidents are becoming increasingly and unnervingly common.
Speaking to Doha News, Keane recounted another accident two years ago when a rider was injured after being knocked off his bicycle by a Land Cruiser, resulting in broken ribs and internal damage.
“Cyclists are fragile animals. While we can wear helmets, lights, etc. it is nothing compared to the speed, ferocity or impact of jeeps, busses and cars,” he said, adding that vehicles driving at fast speeds create drafts that cyclists have sometimes been dragged into.
“A lot of drivers drive too close to the cyclists and do not allow for any unforeseeable potholes, spilled concrete (and) manholes that affect the cyclist and sometimes the cyclist needs to swerve to avoid them,” he said.
Other cycling groups have also expressed safety concerns in the past.
Speaking to Doha News last year, Egyptian expat Ahmed Fawzi, one of the founders of the Qatar Cycling Community, said that the large majority of the population does not heed cyclists.
“People don’t consider (us) here. They see us, and yet they interfere. Sometimes they even ride on the cycling lane, which can be more dangerous.”
Keane added that riders who texted while driving put cyclists at added risk.
“Most people who drive here aren’t just driving. They’re on Facebook, on social media, or texting. They don’t focus on the road. On our part, we try our best. We have lights, vests and are well lit-up. Even Stevie Wonder could see us, but people still don’t. It’s a pain really, but we need to do it,” he said.
So far, some 350 people have registered for the awareness event, which is organized in conjunction with the Qatar Cycling Federation and supported by some six local cycling groups.
The two-route simultaneous bike ride starts from 6:30am at Katara Cultural Village.
Competitive, novice and recreational riders alike are invited to partake in the event, with the only requirement being a bicycle and a cycling helmet. Riders are encouraged to register online here, though all residents are welcome on the day.
Participants will be divided into two groups. Group A will traverse a 100km route that could take up to four hours. It goes from Katara to the Pearl-Qatar and the Lusail Circuit up until Tenbek in Al Khor, and then back to Katara.
Group B, reserved for riders looking for a more manageable route, will cover the 19km from Katara to the Pearl and back.
“We are all teaming up to join (this) advocacy. Everyone is welcome. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a pro cyclist, a weekend warrior, or just a regular bike commuter. If you’re riding on two wheels, you need to get involved. This is for us,” Keane added.
As there is no bike network connecting these various areas, the group will be escorted by police cars, who will block off roundabouts and slip roads as the riders make their way through the routes.
As the weather cools off and traffic becomes even more insufferable, more residents are turning to cycling.
This season, a group of cyclists formed by three Qatari physicians has launched a new support service to aid riders in distress – a vehicle complete with a defibrillator, mechanical tools, water and other gear.
Qatar Cyclists, which is sponsored by the Ministry of Youth and Sports as the country’s official cycling club, offers the mobile service to riders all around Qatar.
“We try to provide as much support for other teams as possible, in terms of budget, help and medical assistance,” said Jamal Al Khanji, a 42-year old Qatari physician and one of the group’s founding members.
According to Al Khanji, cycling is good for one’s health and has environmental benefits.
“Qatar is well-suited so that people can ride for over six months in the year. (For) our part, we’re trying to make Qatar a more bike-friendly city by pushing for a network of cycling paths.
More people are starting to realize that the (means of transportation) helps reduce pollution, traffic, consumption of fossil fuels and is good for your health,” he said.
Residents looking to take up the sport as a hobby have a variety of options, with various speciality and open groups catering to all enthusiasts.
Aside from Qatar Chain Reaction, which founded in 2006 is one of the oldest and largest cycling groups, other groups include Qatar Cyclists, the Filipino International Triathletes Qatar, the United Filipino Mountain Bikers Qatar, Tri Club Doha and Pinoy Roadies.
Another popular group is Pinoy Mountain Bikers Qatar (PMTB-Qatar) which began in 2012. With an initial membership of around 20 riders, the group has now grown to over 1,000 members on Facebook, with roughly 350 of them being actively involved.
PMTB-Qatar acts as an umbrella for various other smaller Filipino cycling groups, which include the Al Ahli Boys, Colorum Boys, Jose Pedal (Al Khor Boys), Team Rest Boys, Mesaieed Cockroach MTB Club, Pinoy 29’ers, Wakra Riders and Pinoy Roadies, among others.