Jeddah Cyclists Pedal power to the fore



Rawan Radwan

Published — Wednesday 27 February 2013

Last update 1 March 2013 7:37 pm

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One of the newest group participations to emerge in Jeddah as of late is “Jeddah Cyclists,” a group dedicated to connect through a sport that is a shared interest among the members. The concept is to try out something new and healthy that would benefit many living in the city of Jeddah and spread the bicycle culture among adults. It started with three members working at the same company in late 2011 with the purpose of doing something different and unique, something that can grow and spread around for the better good, and by March 2012, the numbers started growing. Then and there would the group become a legitimate establishment of amateur cyclists.
Anas Malaika, one of the administrators of the group, is responsible for the safety of the group and all that comes with it. Safety is a must when joining; a proper cycling bike is essential as well as a helmet, which is assessed by the group coach, Akram Jibreel. The safety of the group is important, and a safety car is always tagging alongside the cyclists to keep an eye on them if any was put in harm’s way. The car is stocked up on first-aid kits, extra helmets, extra water bottles, and power bars. An earpiece is also used among the members to communicate between each other and the safety car. As part of their safety mechanisms, reflective clothing is essential, especially during their sessions. Helmets, front and black reflective, and flashing lights are required on the bike. Some even provide reflective clothing pieces, all to prevent any accidents from happening. However, despite the group members trying their best to follow traffic rules and stay careful, it’s a bit dangerous to pass by a busy crossing or a roundabout, for the drivers are not familiar with bicycles roaming the streets, thus leading to some concerns over their safety. But nevertheless, all safety precautions are taken into high consideration.
Around Oct. 2012, the group launched a larger social networking campaign and strategized on how to spread it through the communication means such as Twitter, Facebook, and their personal friend and acquaintances. It started with mutual friends joining, and those friends mentioned it to others. The number of members grew larger and many circles have then started to wonder about this new thing in town. By December, the number of members grew to over 100 on Facebook and more followers on Twitter day after day.
Hasan Atawi is the group’s technical support and purchasing adviser, helping each new member with all that is needed to join. Some of the main rules of membership are that a member has to be over the age of 18, must have a helmet and safety goggles, a proper bicycle, practice attendance and must follow the captain’s instructions. People ask to join through communicating with Medhat Hallab, the marketing manager, through a phone call, or through messages over the social network feeds. After attending a meeting, a member is given a temporary registration number to see if he is able to comply and if this group is suitable for him. He is then given a permanent registration when confirmed. Information is then provided and registered, such as contact information, bicycle information, and blood type.
All members are provided with any information they require. Social networking has played a major role in spreading the word of this group, and as a sign of a good and cohesive project, dedicated members are given the tasks of providing information on the group for the world web to view. Information includes how to pick the right bike according to height, which type of bike is most suitable for the streets (there are differences from mountain bikes for example), types of cycling posture, routes used by the members and timetables with clear information, and even locations of where the most suitable bikes are available for new coming members. Facebook and Twitter have now surpassed 1,500 followers combined, and members are free to participate in their experiences through tweets or pictures. It helps advocate team spirit, health, and find a new hobby such as bicycle riding.
Training sessions take place three times a week: Sunday and Tuesday evenings and early Friday mornings. The routes are provided by the captain, and specific speed limits and distances differ from one session to the other. Evening sessions usually go from 15 to 30 kilometers and with speeds of 20-25 km per hour. Friday early morning sessions are longer, due to the 6:30 a.m. meetings at the point of start. The reason for this early hour is the help of the empty streets on Friday mornings. This provides safer and longer routes for members to enjoy their experience. Sessions on this day go up to 45km. Briefings are held before start, and groups are then divided according to level. There’s the HG (high speed) group that are allowed to go over 30 km/h and the LG (lower speed) group with an average of 20-25 km/h to provide the least risk of injury to newcomers, train well, and move to the higher speed group. Sessions aren’t only organized for these three specific days; members can communicate via Voxer or WhatsApp and train on their own time, with no less than three members per session.
When asked about difficulties or harassments the group might be exposed to, the members all agree that there are very few issues they encounter. Rarely would there be a bottle thrown at them or a car tagging along and be yelled at by young people. But when this happens, the members understand that it is due to it being somewhat of a new and different thing that the public is exposed to. However, many steer clear of the cyclists, and others show their support as they drive by.
Mazin Azrai is a 23-year-old medical student studying abroad and is a cyclist enthusiast in the city he’s studying in. “I was very happy and surprised at the same time. I have a lot of respect for this hobby, and I wish it could spread more. Our culture is opening up to new things, and cycling is both new and healthy. I wish that the group grows and starts getting the attention it deserves through getting sponsors and recognition from the General Presidency of Youth Welfare. This way, it can gain the respect of the society and other professional groups as well.” He looks forward to joining Jeddah cyclists when he finishes his education and is currently training to join the official cyclists of his city.
Alaa is a stay home mom running a private business and is also a cycling enthusiast. Her husband is a member of Jeddah Cyclists. She believes the group is an excellent way for men to get out of their normal routine and join both a healthy and promising hobby. “I’m extremely proud of my husband and the members of the team. They are committed to this, and all members show a great group effort to pave their way into the society’s acceptance of such sport. There are special routes for cyclists in countries all over the world, but unfortunately not available in Saudi Arabia, specifically in Jeddah. I hope that they get the recognition they deserve to practice their hobby.”
Many cyclists agree that safer routes should be provided for those who would like to keep doing this as a healthy hobby, and there should be designated areas for them to practice this great sport. Biking along the Corniche or at Al-Mamsha behind Westin Hotel isn’t perfect nor is it sufficient, but it’s much safer there than trying to find a route inside the city limits. The way the group organizes its tasks is very well thought, and new members are signing up every week. The importance of advocating such a hobby has caught the attention of other groups that care about the environment, personal growth, and health. Jeddah Cyclists has recently participated with Jeddah Friends at the New Corniche Carnival to Protect the Environment as well as other minor participations with affiliated groups, and will be doing so in the future to spread the word more and more.
All information needed is provided on the group’s Facebook as well as Twitter @JeddahCyclists.

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