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Meet The Rider: Rayan Alkhuwaiter

cyclist posing in Saudi

Who are you?

“My name is Rayan Slaiman Mohammad Alkhuwaiter, and I'm from the AlQaseem province, Unayzah, to be exact. I was born, raised, and spent all my life there until I got my first job in the big city, Riyadh.

My non-cycling life revolves around my family and my job as a microbiologist. I did that for a few years in Riyadh until I got a Masters's scholarship in the UK, and I jumped on that opportunity.

Little did I know that this would be a pivotal moment in my life as a cyclist.”

cyclist posing in Saudi

What got you into cycling? Did someone inspire you? And how long have you been cycling?

“You know, I think a lot of us here in Saudi have the understanding that cycling is something you do for fun as a child or a means of transportation here and there. It never really crossed my mind that cycling is a sport, let alone a lifestyle. However, like many others, I lost track of cycling as it became a thing of the past. Unsurprisingly, I picked up football like many others in Riyadh for years.

However, in 2016, I got a full-ride scholarship to get my Masters's degree in the UK. That was a pivotal moment in my cycling career. I noticed that many people cycled there for numerous purposes. I saw commuters, roadies, and even bikepackers. That piqued my interest. So I started digging into that.

There was a calling, a drive, to get a bike so that I could at least commute to school. But I also wanted to incorporate a more sporty lifestyle. I got a B-twin road bike that became my main reliable means of transportation since public transportation took longer than I could ride to where I needed to be. That rhythm and lifestyle grew on me fast.

Those two short years abroad flew by fast, and I returned home to Riyadh. However, I was also eager to explore the cycling scene in Saudi. Surprisingly, I found a group called “Darrajaty” (my bike), through which I got to meet who I consider to be the godfather of cycling in town, Anas Albabtain, who took me under his wing.

Anas pushed me to get stronger, faster, and more competitive. He pushed me beyond the party pace and went from riding a few days a week to a thoroughly thought-out training plan with a purpose and a goal.

To put a timeline on that, I picked up my first roadie in 2016, and 2017 I became serious about my cycling goals.”

cyclist posing in Saudi

What does cycling mean to you?

“It means a lot to me, for obvious reasons!

You remember we spoke about my transition to triathlon. However, cycling remains the main sport, the core of my athletic journey. Sure, triathlon requires me to split my time between 3 sports. However, I can’t imagine a week going by without riding my bike.

Again, cycling isn’t just a hobby anymore; it's much more than that. The sport somehow interwoven with the fabrics of my life over the years, and by doing so, it became a natural thing to do. A lifestyle would be an understatement.

You know, as I ride with the groups and notice all the 50, 60, and 70-year-old riders with us who still maintain that lifestyle, I get motivated even more and have something to look forward to, a lifetime full of this amazing sport.”

What was your best ride ever?

“That's a tricky question, Alhamdulillah; I was blessed by many “best rides ever.” However, as you recall, we spoke about my trip to Colorado, where I rode up Independence Pass—a 30km ride up a sustained +5% gradient, above 3600MASL.

That was a memorable ride, given how hard it was; the stunning scenery of the American Rockies, the breathtaking viewpoints, the new terrain, the camaraderie, and every little detail about that trip helped make it unforgettable.

Another “best ride ever” was last year’s (2022) version of the Establishment Day ride (read 2023’s ride report here). As you might know, the 2023 version was challenging, given the weather, wind, and overall hard conditions. However, last year’s was perfect overall. We had a dynamic peloton that worked together to maintain high speeds and kept the stoke high throughout that day!”

Editor note: I can attest to that; you must experience riding in Saudi!

What can you tell us about being a cyclist in Saudi Arabia?

“Well, when talking about cycling in Saudi, we have to distinguish riding in Riyadh vs. riding in any other city in the country, given the humongous size of the sprawling metropolis. Riyadh is very, very big.

With that in mind, I can say that it’s easier to start riding elsewhere than in Riyadh. Riding here requires a few extra steps, like loading the bike into your car and driving out to roads on the outskirts to avoid traffic. Comparing that to the UK, I found it easier to dip your toes into riding on public roads because of the cycling infrastructure. It’s definitely less intimidating to start compared to a big busy city without the cycling infrastructure back then.

For example, I had a bike path from my front door all the way to school, and that was a big factor that helped me start.

Now when we compare other cities within Saudi to Riyadh, we have many areas with low-traffic roads, such as in Unayzah or the Aseer Mountains, where you can string together a 400k ride and get to enjoy the beauty of your surroundings.

However, yeah, in general, I would say it’s less intimidating when you have the proper cycling infrastructure.”

cyclist posing in Saudi

We spoke about how your accident in 2021 was a pivotal moment in your life. What got you through those days? How did it help you come back, stronger?

"Yeah, as you said, that was indeed a pivotal moment in my life.

Before the accident, I was locked in on maximizing growth as a professional athlete because I wanted to and had milestones to reach with the national team. Life revolved around my athletic career, and it became all-consuming. It didn’t occur to me that I was pouring so much time into training, racing, and everything in between that I started to borrow time from my personal life and work as well.

However, reality struck me when I woke up in the hospital.

A lot of folks have asked me, “How are you feeling?” how do you feel about not being able to ride your bike, race, or possibly live that lifestyle again?

“Happy to be alive,” I said.

I was genuinely happy just to be alive and surrounded by those who mean a lot to me, family, friends, and colleagues. It was a wake-up call. The first 3 days after the accident and before the major surgery were the most challenging days I’ve gone through.

However, the company I had from friends and family, especially my childhood friend Hamad Alsuwaiyal, who stood by me, helped me through those dark days. He spent the first three nights at the hospital, keeping me company, and stood by me for months until I managed to stand on my own feet.

The constant push and support from everyone galvanized me to power through the pain and recovery and to not only go back to where I was but surpass that as well. “This is just a bump on the road.” I also can’t forget the gracefulness, patience, and ever-lasting support I got from my wife through and through.

At the one-year mark of the accident, I ran and completed a marathon, not to win or set records. But to prove to myself that I can and I will. After all, the biggest challenges are those you have within.”

cyclist posing in Saudi

Was your start in Saudi Challenging? What made it so? And how have things changed since then?

“Well, as I alluded to about how the existence or lack of infrastructure can help with dipping your toes in the water. I’ll add by saying that the most challenging thing about riding in Saudi is having the mental capacity to endure a car-centric city. The fact that you have to drive out of town, do your ride, and drive back can really drain a lot of energy and time.

My average commute to the start of the ride is about 50 mins each way. And that adds up.

I guess the efficiency in trying to ride your bike alongside maintaining a balance between everything in your life really takes a hit. But perhaps that’s just the nature of living in such a big city. Another thing is the continuous expansion of the city as well; Riyadh is growing fast!”

cyclist posing in Saudi

Where do you see yourself and the Saudi cycling community headed in the future?

“As you have seen during your visits to us, we are incredibly fortunate to have so many incredible communities in the country. For example, during your first day with us, you got to me the Riyadh Wheelers community. RW has been a pillar in the growth and expansion of cycling in Saudi and they have been doing so since 1992.

They have been organizing rides, races, and competitive fondos in the area to attract those curious about cycling and provide resources and connections to any cyclists, new or seasoned.

We at Riyadh Pelton also try to gather everyone from around the kingdom to come together, ride, race, and compete to improve cycling for everyone. We were lucky enough to have so many different levels of groups, disciplines, and interests that you can find whatever fits your needs.

The plethora of teams, groups, and clubs in the Kingdom are part of what we need to take cycling to the next level in Saudi.

I believe that cycling in Suadi will see massive growth in the next few years and that it will become a part of many households across the Kingdom. Thanks to the rapid growth and openness to a healthier lifestyle. Especially as the cycling infrastructure continues to expand and the many new cycling shops that are opening all over.

And if you, the reader, are curious about cycling in Saudi, want to start somewhere, or even just connect with fellow cyclists in Suadi, please reach out to us at Riyadh Peloton, and we will be thrilled to answer any questions you may have.”

cyclist posing in Saudi

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