Meet The Rider: Raneem Nabulsi
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Raneem Nabulsi. I was born and raised in Jerusalem, Palestine. I chose to challenge stereotypical norms and take on Enduro Downhill Mountain Biking. Through exploring trails in Palestine and worldwide, today, I travel the world with my mountain bike and continue to take on downhill trails, hoping to challenge and continue developing myself and push my limits. My passion has become a big part of my life. I strive to share my story and inspire other women in my community to join this thrilling sport against all barriers and obstacles. In addition to being a mountain biker, I am a pharmacist, a pianist, and a basketball player. I aim to help, serve, and inspire women and men, mainly the younger generation, through my profession.
What got you into cycling? Did someone inspire you? And how long have you been cycling?
I was born and raised in a family that embraced sports and arts. My mother used to be a professional tennis player, and my father was a professional basketball player. My sisters and I all took on this passion. We continued to be engaged in sports activities, including biking and basketball, among others. My father bought me my first bike when I was 5 years old, and he taught me how to ride it, which was the spark of this long-life passion that I still embark on to this very day.
I used to pass by a bike shop and saw many mountain bikers passing by. This ignited my curiosity, and I started asking about this exciting sport. Through that, I started talking with and having connections with professional bikers.
I discovered mountain biking totally by chance. I used to pass by what seemed to be a bike park on my way to work. Every time I passed, I saw bikers parking their cars, taking off their bikes, getting ready to ride, and disappearing into the woods. I was curious and wanted to know about that place, so once, I parked and watched them early in the morning; at 5-6 am, many riders came, sometimes alone or with friends.
Also, Near my work in Jerusalem, there was a huge bike store that I thought of checking many times without any reason, maybe because it reminded me of my childhood, the bike my dad bought me, and how I used to ride in the neighborhood with other kids. I was so curious about the bike store that I finally decided to go inside one time.
I saw lots of mountain biking bikes, but I didn't know the difference between one kind and another and was surprised to know the differences in their prices. So with the help from the people who worked there, I decided at the same moment to buy my first mountain, bike-which was a Marine hardtail, they advised me to try the sport, and if I liked it, I could buy a better full suspension bike (which I didn't know what it meant back then), I bought a regular helmet as well.
On the weekend, I decided to ride. My first ride was alone on a Friday morning; I went to the forest I used to see on my way to work; inside it, you can see the remains of Imwas village.
So it was me, my bike, and my music; I didn't know where to park or where to go; I rode anywhere the trail would take me. I thought 4x4 trails were single trails; I got lost for a long time and was finally found by a local who helped me return to my parking place. I don't know how to explain it, but it was the best day of my life! It's like I discovered this exciting world, and I knew somehow it would be my escape place from now on. I wanted to know everything about it.
One day, my sister sent me a Facebook event about a mountain biking group; I contacted Mohammad Moakat, on his page is called Wolfclub (now we are best friends and ride together a lot). I asked if I could join them, and I remember he explained really well that there weren't any girls joining this trail, that it's an extreme sport, and maybe it's better to join the girls' ride later during the day (the easier trail) I insisted I wanted to join, but their ride was at 6 am, and it was a no way for me to join the girls ride at 11 am because of the hot weather. So I joined them, the only girl in a group of about 13 guys.
In the beginning, I was really embarrassed; I thought I was going to be the reason they would have to wait in case I was bad at riding, but surprisingly to even me, I did just fine and better than many of them. The trail was intermediate in difficulty, and it was my first time trying single trails. From that day on, I joined some of their rides more often; I met other people on the trails and got introduced to a Bike tailor group on Facebook.. lots of riders would add me and invite me to join their rides.
The Facebook group has many riders sharing photos of biking, opinions about Mtb, bike types, rides, and everything. It opened a whole new world for me that seemed to be exciting and addicting. I started to watch Mtb videos and learn, joined many girls and mixed groups, and was excited to learn about new trails every time; it's like I saw Palestine from a different side of view with the biking. I felt I was a tourist many times; Mtb introduced me to many places I could have never known about without biking.
After about 3 months of biking, I was invited to go to the sugar trail in Jericho; my first ride was with the Marine hard trail (trails like this must be with only full-suspension bikes, of course, but I guess I was crazy, maybe to try it with my bike) I've seen videos of the trail. I was scared of trying it, but the group was easygoing and patient, and slowly but surely, I could finish the whole trail without any injuries. We hear many riders falling, having injuries, or breaking bones yearly, so I was thankful and lucky I had no injuries. Sugar Trail is so special to me because it made me discover Enduro and downhill and realize I am into this type of sport more than cross-country or road biking. I found myself there! I loved going down fast. It was so adventurous. This is my personality as well, being adventurous. I felt free and happy.
Afterward, I started to ride more in the north of the country; I found out there are lots of enduro trails, so every weekend on a Saturday, I'd join a group who rides there; riding a lot made me a better rider; I learned from the riders I rode with, taking tips from them, imitating their moves. I often had to ride with groups of only male riders because Enduro is less known by girls. I never wanted to back out because of this, although being the only girl in the group was uncomfortable. Many times were riding with groups of 2 or 1 girls, but for me, it's better than nobody. Sometimes I had to choose to go to easier trails just because girls were joining there, and maybe it's what society expects more. But then I try to balance again between wanting to ride enduro trails and making sacrifices.
So within 3 - 4 months, I turned from a regular rider who came with basketball clothes to the first rides to a more professional rider. I remember the first month I started riding, I went to a bike shop and bought a Fox regular helmet, a full-face helmet, and Mtb clothes (trousers, t-shirts, shorts, pants, and shoes. All on the same day). The men who worked there were astonished and even told me they thought I wouldn't buy anything at all, it was a surprise for them that maybe because I am an Arab and a girl, I am sure.
I was already crazy about mountain biking, and now I wanted a better bike as well, with the help of friends who ride with me and seeing a lot of YouTube and Instagram advertisements. So I decided to get a Santa Cruz. The plan was to buy a used black 2017 Bronson that was in great shape, and then I saw on Instagram the advertisement for the new 2019 turquoise Bronson, and here we go; I was so crazy about it that I decided to get it and ordered it online through a bike shop here. I was the first to get this type of bike in the country, and lots were talking about it and following me on Facebook and Instagram.
I remember I started biking in June-July 2018, and in November, I joined a biking trip to Morocco where I knew nobody from the group; I felt like I wanted to travel alone but with a group but still alone. It was one of the great trips I've ever been on; Morocco has amazing Mtb trails and breathtaking views. So in that summer of 7/2019, I traveled to Morzine (Enduro and downhill park) with a group of girls from abroad. I was the only Palestinian and Arab girl in the group.
Then I decided to go to Morzine again after 2 years as well.
Riding a lot made me a better rider; I took a few private lessons with an amazing rider who also gives Mtb courses; riding with more riders made me stronger. The more you ride, the better you get.
I posted a lot of pictures about my Urban rides in Jerusalem and the old city, and many riders contacted me asking me to take them on a bike tour in Jerusalem; a lot of Arab riders were interested in me because they wanted an Arab bike guide, and especially since I live in the old city, I know all the possible tiny places that one who doesn't live here wouldn't know about it.
This opened new opportunities for me, getting to know girls' groups and many other groups. So I decided to do a biking course as well, and a few months ago, I took the certificate, and now I am a biking guide as well. I plan to gather riders, especially girls, and take them on biking trails; I want to introduce Mtb biking to girls hoping many will choose to be Enduro bikers.
A lot of girls have been asking me to join my rides, which has encouraged me to want to gather girls and give them practical lessons and take them on Mtb trails. This is a new project I have been working on lately; I bought 6 Mtb bikes, and I am planning one at a time to buy more bikes, trail helmets, and whatever is needed to make this happen. Not easy because I can't do it all at once, but I plan to make it happen.
Lately, I took girls and mixed groups on regular trails and urban in Jerusalem and the north since I don't have a trailer. So for now, I am using Dad's pick-up that fits 5-6 bikes and my friend's car that fit 2-3 bikes.
The feedback I get from the girls every time I take them to ride and their wanting more rides pushes me to move forward in my project. I really have this dream to also to see Palestinian women Enduro riders on the way. Many tourists are asking for biking tours in the old city; I proudly take them, showing them the old city as I see it. They were interested in me because I am Palestinian, and I share stories rarely seen or heard by many for various reasons.
So, for now, I divide my time between work, biking tours, timeline, and riding Enduro trails. Mtb has also introduced me to many people and riders from abroad. I hope one day I can make this dream have come true and bring Arab riders and introduce them to the trails in Palestine, and I hope more Arab girls will ride Enduro trails as well.
What does cycling mean to you?
Cycling is a form of freedom. Freedom means many things to me. It means to be myself the way I am and live freely, without borders, restrictions, and obstacles, to enjoy life, to be safe, and to be able to fulfill my passions. Cycling, to me, is a way to connect with nature and escape the stresses of everyday life. As a Palestinian experiencing limited movement, driving through checkpoints and being stuck for hours can be time and energy consuming, exhausting, and very frustrating. Through cycling, I overcome these limitations and feel free, clear my mind, restore my energy, connect with nature, and explore new places, especially those I would have discovered on my own.
What was your best ride ever? (what made it so?)
My best ride has to be the Sugar Trail' Darb Al Sukkar' in Jericho, Palestine. It's one of the most special mountain biking trails in Palestine and the region. I have ridden my bike in it with several groups and across different seasons, and I still enjoy going there every time. The location, uniqueness of the place, and typology add to it, making it a magical place for me. As a mountain biker, riding there feels like an exciting amusement ride.
Although I have ridden in Morzine, France, and other exciting places with extraordinary views, this ride remains my best, as once there, one can see the camels, sunrises, and golden desert sands. It is also the route that allowed me to enter the mountain biking world and become an experienced rider.
What can you tell us about being a female cyclist in Palestine?
Being a Palestinian women cyclist, especially a mountain biker, comes with unique challenges. Cycling is still considered male-dominated, and many people view it as inappropriate for women. I sometimes face criticism and judgment from people from my society and others. Enduro remains less known than regular biking, and since it is regular biking, it's a less known sport, so people are more likely to dislike or criticize it, more so if a woman is into it.
At the same time, I receive much support and encouragement from family, friends, and even people I don't know in my country, other Arab countries, and worldwide who believe in breaking down gender barriers. Many people got interested in cycling because of me, especially women, and their passion has encouraged me to strive to create an opportunity for more women in Palestine to join this sport. I am committed to the long-term vision of empowering women and the young generation to build confidence and overcome barriers through mountain biking. I never allow existing challenges to stop me. On the contrary, I use them to ignite more power and persistence to continue breaking up stigmas, wherever they are, and any hurdles.
What do you need as a cyclist in Palestine? Would you happen to have any advice on how to get there?
I have a dream to spread my passion and influence others, and enlarge the mountain biking community in Jerusalem and Palestine as a whole, mainly among young women. I hope through this sport to raise awareness about Palestine and the beauty of its historical and natural places and to encourage healthy lifestyles that will enhance my society's physical and mental well-being, mainly among young women, who usually do not enjoy this kind of sport or others. I am currently collaborating with like-minded people and interested bikers who wish to engage in cycling and Enduro to organize ongoing trips and rides. I hope to be able to maintain this initiative.