While many people head to the French Alps or Dolomites to train and soak in the sensational views, some of the best cycling in the world actually happens to be right on our doorstep. Here are eight of the best spots close to the UAE.
The city of Salalah is home to some of the most striking scenery and cycling in the region. It’s green and lush — banana trees and coconuts line the roads — and its hills have been compared to terrain in New Zealand and also Wales. The roads are of the rolling variety, although they can be steep, with gradients reaching 20 percent in places. A popular ride with cyclists starts near a village called Sikun Shikfainot and takes in beauty spots such as Buyu Aram, where there is a viewing point with remarkable vistas of the coast below in Taqah.
Cycling in Bashout Mountain (Saudi Arabia)
It’s a little known fact that Saudi Arabia is actually home to many mountain climbs that would rival the French Alps, and perhaps the most impressive is Bashout Mountain. You’ll find it some 800km from Riyadh and the climb is famous for many reasons: not only is it steep (it’s 12km long and serves up 1,382m of elevation gain – that’s an average gradient of 11.3 percent), it also has a whopping 62 switchback turns.
Moon Mountain (Oman)
This 14km climb west of Salalah has an average gradient of around 7km and mixes the green countryside you’d expect in the region, with rock-sheltered switchbacks similar to Jebel Hafeet. Keep an eye out for the locals here: both camels and cows wander the road freely and will need to be navigated as you climb. At the top of the hill you’ll find a military checkpoint and you’ll need your passport to get through, but the soldiers are friendly. Keep cycling a few kilometers and you will find a viewing point at the village of Shaat, which provides grand views of the mountains below.
Cycling is becoming so popular in Jordan that the country is hosting a UCI Gran Fondo in February. One of the best rides here starts from the ancient village of Dana and heads out to Petra. Dana sits on the edge of the Wadi Dana, a huge canyon (it’s also where you’ll find conservation area the Dana Biosphere Reserve). Petra, of course, needs no introduction — the historical city has been inhabited since around 7000BC. This route is a hilly one — you’ll take in 1,500m of climbing in just 70km.
Hasik is a coastal town in Southern Oman that offers dramatic coastal shoreline views, along with jaw-dropping rock formations and lush, green forestry. Starting your ride on the seaside at Sadah is recommended, and it’s then an 80km ride to Hasik. On the way you’ll pass the Natif waterfall, a natural spring situated in Wilayt Sadah. It is possible to continue along this beautiful road, although it becomes more hilly (there’s a 10km climb for the super-fit). Before that big climb though is Khor Sanq, an oasis surrounded by palm trees.
Cycling in Musandam (Oman)
Another one that is on the bucket list of many UAE cycling enthusiasts, the Musandam road can be found north of Ras Al Khaimah. It starts just after the Al Darah border post and heads to the port city of Khasab ; you can get to the border post by staying on the E11. So why do cyclists go there? The perfect storm of incredible views and tough climbs. It’s a 40km long road from the border to Khasab, with around 400m of climbing. The views are out of this world: on the one side you’re greeted by stark, jagged mountains, on the other side the roaring ocean of the Arabian Gulf.
How to get there: Drive through the Al Darah border on the E11.
It’s almost a 100km ride from the capital city of Morocco (Rabat) and Casablanca, the country’s largest city, which is an often romanticized destination thanks to the 1942 movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. This one is more about the views than the pain. It’s a coastal cycle taking in picturesque towns such as Harhoura (which has eight beaches and is also home to a network of caves that point towards human activity more than 100,000 years ago). Get ready to soak up the culture as you cycle through an area founded in the 12th Century.
The town of Nizwa sits below the Hajar Mountains, and the main attraction here is Jebel Akhdar. This monster of a mountain is so tough, the pros only go up a third of it during the Tour of Oman. This jebel is 14km long with an average gradient of 10.3 percent, with extended sections averaging at 12 percent. You have to get permission to cycle up it from the local authorities, but there are alternatives including Jebel Haat, a 23km climb. You can also cycle to the Hoota cave here, which is 5km long and home to the rare Omani blind cave fish.
How to get there: You can drive it it under five hours from either Dubai or Abu Dhabi, via Al Ain.