Want to keep fit and see a bit of the country? Then you’ll need to get on yer bike. Time Out Bahrain catches up with the Pinoy Mountain Bikers
Time Out Bahrain staff
Bahrain might not be the most beautiful place on earth, or the most culturally interesting. OK, let’s face it, so it’s hardly going to win in a contest of the most exciting either. And, yep, the coastline is craggy and uninviting, and in terms of architecture, it is not about to win any awards. But if you are a biking enthusiast, then Bahrain is a bit of a haven. Sure the roads tend to be dominated by cars, but head off-track and you have some of the best mountain biking terrain to be found in the region. Thanks to the gritty gravel that covers most of the country’s landscape, the country is a biking base that is just waiting to boom.
Or so thinks Jun Manabat. A long time resident of Bahrain, Manabat has been leading a team of Filipino biking enthusiasts since 2008, under the name of the Pinoy Mountain Bikers –Bahrain. And what started as a purely Filipino affair has become a diverse group consisting of members from all four corners of the globe, male and female, young and old.
‘When people come to the Middle East, they often don’t think there are opportunities to cycle, and so most people don’t bring a bike. But as soon as they see us and find that there are cycling groups and routes then they are so happy!’ says Manabat, whose enthusiasm is catching.
But, I ask, on roads that are so dominated by motor vehicles, is riding a bike not dangerous. I’m recalling an incident recently when I watched someone pull out in front of a cyclist and nearly kill the poor guy. ‘Sure, but we go on road and off road. When we cycle on road, we don’t ride on busy highways. Also, riding on a Friday means there is less traffic on the road anyway.’ He has a point, on Friday mornings the roads are habitually deserted.
But surely half the fun of riding is driving through inspiring landscapes. Certainly, when driving a car the view is rarely inspiring. ‘Actually, there are places that you can go on a bike that are beautiful in Bahrain. Take Budaiya, for example. When people ride there it is so green, and with the smell of the sea breeze and the soil you do actually feel like you are in the countryside.’
And while the group is open to anyone who loves riding, and rides at the pace of the slowest, if all the riders consent, then the pace is certainly not for the faint-hearted. ‘We usually travel around 18km an hour, which is a pretty good pace. Our routes depend on who turns up and what people feel like, but the big one we do is to the Tree of Life and back. Most people think you can only get there by car, but cycling there is a much better way to travel. And once we even went all the way to Durrat Al Bahrain and back.’
The routes also depend on the time of year. Sakhir, which is predominantly inhospitable desert, is not a place that you want to find yourself in the heat of the summer sun. But during winter is one of the best places for riding, having the best gradient in the country and some of the most interesting landscapes. But Manabat is keen to stress the group is an all year affair. ‘We don’t stop for the summer, we just get earlier.’ Rather than starting at, say 9am in a Friday morning, they start at a frighteningly early 5.30am. ‘We get less of what you call the occasional riders at this time,’ he says, and it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to understand why.