12. Bicycles

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to willingly drive your car on the wrong side of the road?  I’m not talking about the debate between the left-side-drivers of the former British Empire nor Napoleons right-side-driving rest of the world, I’m talking about willingly wishing to drive against on-coming traffic on what is effectively a three-lane A-Road.  No, I thought not.  If however you woke up one morning with the desire to experience what the sensation may feel like – out of curiosity – then your vehicle of choice would likely be a tank, something that would stand a head on crash at the very least.  Unless you woke up in a padded cell with your hands stapled to your clothes, you would certainly not choose a bicycle.

When I first started driving over here I had a shock.  I was bombing down a road at a certain speed that was not too far off the designated limit.  There were three lanes and naturally I was in the correct one, on the right.  I was approaching a roundabout and from afar I saw a cyclist.  He was over to the right on the shoulder which seemed normal enough but when I got closer I realised I could see his face.  “This shouldn’t be so” I thought.  “Why – or how – on Earth is this man riding his bike backwards?”  The answer soon became clear; he was in actual fact coming towards me.

His coordination left much to be desired as his front wheel zig-zagged all the while as he constantly threatened to fall off.  I feared that I had to act quickly to stop this man from being killed.  All I could think to do was to sound the horn; it was all I had in the bank.  I hoped that he would understand and translate the loud thunderous sound into “Aha!  I must be doing something wrong, that surprised looking Englishman in the big white 4×4 has just verified it for me, I must act to correct the situation post haste!”

It was wishful thinking and didn’t work out that way.  Instead of getting off the road to safety he panicked and wobbled and as if it was happening in slow motion fell off to the left and hit the ground in a bundle of metal, beard and pyjamas.  I quickly pulled over, got out and ran over to him thinking what I would have to say in court later on.  By the time I got to him he was getting up and dusting himself down.  I asked him if he was OK, and thankfully he seemed fine.  He smiled at me and said “Shukran habibi (thank you my friend)” It didn’t sound sarcastic and he appeared totally unaffected by what had just happened, so carried on about his business with a smile and a ring of the bell.

I was ultimately shocked but not surprised.  As it transpired – despite it being illegal to cycle on the road full stop here – this kind of thing happens all over the UAE.  Back home in Blighty it is illegal to cycle at night without lights on, it’s a social faux pas to cycle without a helmet, you’re mad if you’re not wearing something reflective and damn right idiotic to cycle on the wrong side of the road, especially on something like the A406.  But here the cyclists on their rusty Raleigh’s seem to think that nearly being killed is all part of the daily grind; a mere occupational hazard.

Here you go mate. If you insist on cycling on the wrong side then take this just in case something goes wrong...

It’s perfectly normal to cycle the wrong way around badly lit roundabouts.  Apparently its fine to cut laterally across three lanes on a 60mph road and it’s quite fun to fall to the right under a cars chassis and be painted across the tarmac.  That could have quite easily been the last day of his life; it was after all a near death experience.  What if he had fallen to the right and not the left?  Had that been me I would have needed a day off to calm down at least, followed by lots of counselling.

So what is to be done?  Do we all need a passenger riding shotgun to take them out as we find them?  Sadly not.  We can’t take their license plate numbers and report them to the authorities since a) they don’t have license plates and b) the person you called wouldn’t understand anyway.  Do we stop next to them and show them an instructional video?  Nope, can’t do that either.  What about carrying equipment around with us – like helmets – to donate to the madmen?  It’s a nice idea but not really feasible.  The best and only thing to do is to give them as wide a berth as possible.  Get over to the far left lane, as far away from this bearded, banzai bicyclist as soon as you can and stay there.

But for the love of God, whatever you do, don’t sound the horn

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