“Knowing the name of something doesn’t mean you understand it.”
Equally, as stated, being from Kuwait doesn't mean I understand it, either. Coming back to Kuwait as a cyclist who lived in a cycling-centric society was challenging. Although this piece isn't really about Kuwait from my perspective, but from others.
Going about things methodologically, I wanted to remove as much bias as possible from documenting the cycling scene here. So the first and most crucial step was to lay down my points of view and experience about what I observed in Kuwait, which I did here.
Why? It's so that I:
Give the reader a baseline of where I'm at.
Be transparent about how I perceived things, given that I'm new to the cycling community here.
To establish a connection between my peers in cycling-centric communities with riders in Kuwait and the gulf states.
To understand the whole story and not just their names.
TLDR, to set the scene for local riders to dig deep into the subject.
And digging deeper, we did.
The idea of “Meet The Rider” came to me after a friend managed to get me out of the house to ride my bike on real roads, not just the trainer. First, a quick backstory, throughout the past 16 months, I mostly rode my bike indoors whenever I was in Kuwait, given the treacherous road conditions. So, again, I dive deep into that topic here.
However, I had promised Moe I would ride along when I returned from Spain.
Stay honest to my promises; I kitted up and met him at Al-Arjan, a once prosperous free trading zone turned to ruins after many years of bad policy and greed. The good thing about the area is it’s somewhat low traffic in the mornings and afternoons. In addition, it offers direct access to two bridges across the gulf of Kuwait, the Jaber Alahmad bridge and the Doha bridge.
A destination many, if not all, cyclists frequent.
Cyclists tend to ride on the shorter Doha bridge since riding on the longer, and more sought-after Jaber bridge is risky. Unfortunately, it's risky due to dangerous traffic conditions, and police will likely stop and ask whether you have a permit or not.
Long story short, after the death of a few cyclists on the Jaber Alahmad bridge, the government took what they thought was a “rational” decision and banned cyclists from using the bridge. However, after some resistance from the national cycling team and officials, the team acquired a permit to ride on the bridge.
So now, only a selected few have the privilege to ride on the bridge without risking any complications with the law. The rest, or the majority, can risk traffic fines and possibly harassment from drivers and, even worse, dealing with distracted drivers.
From what I gathered from others, this is a typical way of dealing with issues here in Kuwait. First, take the easy way out, regardless of whether it's right or wrong. Second, ensure the restriction of poor solutions to a few or only those with connections. Third, avoid making any actual reforms or, god forbid, put restrictions on cars!
As the famous saying goes:
“when you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
I know I wrote that this piece isn't about my POV, but I have to discuss this next point. Riding here is mentally draining. I find myself dragging my feet to ride for 2 hours at least. It's mostly mental and rarely physical. I have the fitness and the experience, and I thought I had the mental capacity. However, I was proved wrong after a few rides. Add boring scenery on top of dangerous road conditions to the equation, and you got a good recipe for a total mental drain.
Lead by what I experienced and observed riding here, I kept asking, “how the heck do these riders keep on doing it?” as in how do they ride regardless of the inhospitable riding conditions.
A light lit above my head, “Meet The Rider, that would be a cool project!” I read interviews and gained insight from others who had done something similar in the US and elsewhere. I wanted to ensure I was going about things in constructive and informative ways both for the reader and the rider.
I wanted to challenge riders in Kuwait to go down the rabbit hole and speak up. Living in a society like Kuwait can be challenging to go against the grain and speak truth to power. But desperate times call for mediocre measures, which is to simply start by talking about the issue!
Let me just say I wasn’t and will not be the only one who tried to amplify the concerns and needs of cyclists and pedestrians to have more safety on the road in Kuwait.
I simply want to keep the momentum going.
Some have done so locally, such as in TV interviews. However, this was the first time anyone really focused on the rider, and taking this to an international level was essential.
Salman Alsaffar was the first to vocalize his interest in the project. He said, “I’d be happy to help with anything that benefits cycling.” This a mantra of many cyclists in Kuwait. His eagerness to answer questions, network, and encourage others to do so was kindling the flames of what would turn into a full cycling advocacy movement.
If you haven’t read Salman’s interview, I recommend you do so if you want to know more about how cycling in Kuwait has changed over the past decade.
“Our first race as a national team was unforgettable; it took place in the United Arab Emirates, Tour de Al-Sharjah. It was as surreal as it was eye-opening. During the training camps, daily training, and all that we had to do to be better at cycling, we never expected to see the level of riders, speed, and sportsmanship we saw during our first race.” Salman.
Stories like Salman’s resonated well with many of you, especially about how eye-opening it was about a place few people know about. So, driven by that, I reached out to Salman to nominate a rider I should interview. He suggested I get in touch with Nora Albarrak.
Equally as excited, Nora was fully supportive of the MTR project. A new pathway opened up with every conversation.
“Well, to be honest, I can’t name a person that led me or inspired me to pick up cycling; because it was the whole triathlete community that inspired me to do so. With no exceptions!” Nora.
The community is here and ready to break through the ceiling that’s been limiting them for years. I learned a lot from them while in the saddle, sharing stories with some of these talented riders. I heard about the highs and lows of their journeys as individuals and as a community. With every “breakthrough” came empty promises, and with every empty promise, they grew more determined to push the envelope.
However, the reality of “pushing the envelope” looks quite different everywhere I look. For example, in Kuwait, riders are often seen as incompetent, and their sport as a pastime fit for children alone. Or as adults dressed in Lycra riding on the road, inconveniencing poor drivers.
Ahmad Alsharhan spoke directly about these issues, his struggle with swimming against a raging river of bad policy, careless officials, and the general sentiment that cyclists should not ride on the roads.
“As for creating a safe space, we tried everything, with little to no success.We tried to pressure officials through conventional & social media to raise awareness so that the public majority are aware of our needs, which are to just feel safe. Sadly, we saw no movement or support from the government.”Ahmad.
Meet The Rider project started with the simple idea of putting a face to Arab cyclists, sharing their stories, and bridging the gap between the riders and the rest of the cycling world. It is also an attempt to highlight issues that international cycling can greatly help with.
Sadly, however, many cycling companies were reluctant to take a chance to simply lend an ear. Was it perhaps that they don’t understand this region? Based on my actual experiences reaching out to dozens of cycling brands, lots have not been eager to give me a chance to share what I learned about this region from a cyclist’s perspective.
By the same token, only a few brands we’re interested in extending their arm and collaborating on bringing the positive support that these riders desperately need.
Again, this is just a small step of a long journey I set myself on, thanks to you, the reader, and the talented people I meet along the way. Think of this as a prelude to what's to come in the future.
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