The term ‘mountain biking’ came about in the States about fifty years ago; Marin county California and some enthusiasts began to build their own bikes specifically with the idea of taking them off-road rather than for cruising the paved boardwalks of the coastal area. Before this, the Swiss army had their own bike regiment, back as far as the 1890s no less! And the term ‘mountain biking’ has continued to mean general off-road biking since, as opposed to literally biking up and down mountains.
This is just as well for me, as when I was applying for jobs in the Middle-East, I noticed one job which had advertised ‘Mountain Biking Instructor Qualifications preferred’. I know a bit about mountains and a bit about bikes, but I don’t know much about the terrain of Qatar. Sand, sure. Coastline no doubt. But mountains? I don’t think so.
Qatar is in the Middle East, one of the Arabian Gulf States; its only direct neighbour is Saudi Arabia, but its very close to the Unites Arab Emirates and Oman. Doha, Qatar’s capital city has much in common with Dubai, however it is not quite as grand or as ridiculous. Extremely modern and fuelled by unimaginable wealth from the worlds third biggest oil reserves, Doha is a beautiful city with some inspirational buildings, large highways and top notch facilities.
Sadly, there is currently a lot of construction taking place, a common theme for Qatar, meaning many of the roads and especially footpaths are closed making getting around the city, especially on my preferred mode of transportation, my skateboard. Crossing the road is a nightmare too, and due to the lack of paths, trying to get from where you are to a shopping mall across the road will actually mean it will take twenty minutes until you give up, walk a mile back to your car and drive to the mall’s car park.
Back to bikes. When I landed in Qatar, I was picked up by my employer and looked around for some terrain to bike. Hills, valleys, anything to go up or go down. Nothing. It was flat. In fact, it was the flattest landscape I’d ever been to. In fact, the highest elevation in Qatar – the entire state – is half that of my last apartment in Australia. Yes, my old apartment in Australia was double the height of anything natural in this entire country.
On a side-note, has anybody in the history of the world moved somewhere in which the entire country doesn’t have somewhere even half the height of the previous, sea-side residence?
So I forgot briefly about the biking and enjoyed thinking about paddle-boarding around 32kms of man-made coastline in the form of The Pearl, an enormous man-made island just down the coast form the capital, Doha, and the area I would call ‘work’ for the next few months.
This is Paris riding BigLongy, my board along the Boardwalk of The Pearl. Skating, or cycling, is not allowed on the Pearl unless rider is below ten. He’s not, but with it being a very windy day he’s sort of sailing…
When I arrive home and I am greeted with bikes. Not a couple of them, either, but sixty of the bloody things. In our house. Scattered everywhere. So where are we going to take them?
Well, as it turned out, they were not traditional mountain bikes, but a curiosity I had a little experience with; Fat Bikes. These Fat Bikes built are with a standard aluminium frame, rigid forks, multiple gears and four inch wide tyres. Called fat bikes as they have much ‘fatter’ tyres than a mountain bike; originally being developed alongside but on a much smaller scale than traditional bikes, and often for use on snow and soft mud ours were destined for the desert. The desert which makes up the vast majority of Qatar.
My first day out on them was to a place called Zekreet and to see some amazing sculptures and learn some interesting history. A sparsely populated area until midway through the twentieth century when oil companies built a port in the area to bring in their materials and equipment. Now home to the astonishing East-West/West-East sculpture which consists of four 14m high steel columns set in a ravine in the dunes, it stands out from the desert like nothing you could imagine. They run in a line stretching over a kilometre exactly East to West. It really is quite extraordinary and if you ever get the chance to visit Qatar, even on a layover, spend an extra few hours and visit this place.