Friday, 15 April 2016

The Amazing Race 28, Episode 8

Tbilisi (Georgia) - Dubai (U.A.E.)

Dubai is constantly under construction, as host Phil Keoghan noted at the start of this episode of The Amazing Race 28. As I pointed out when the reality-TV show first visited Dubai in 2009, that can make it hard to find an up-to-date map, recognize landmarks from an earlier visit, or find your own way around, even if you’ve been there a few years before.

This season’s group of travellers did visit some of the same places in Dubai, and faced some of the same challenges, as their predecessors on The Amazing Race 15. Some of those challenges were quite realistic, and reminiscent of previous seasons of the race as well as of my own experiences in other Gulf states.

One team struggled to find anyone to ask for directions on desert roads where the rare pedestrians were manual laborers who didn’t speak English. Eventually they pulled over and went into a crossroads strip-mall convenience store.

Another team managed to get their SUV stuck in the sand just pulling off the pavement far enough to park, without even trying to drive across the dunes. Local people with a little experience make digging a vehicle out of the sand look easy, but it requires a combination of digging and driving techniques that aren’t necessarily intuitive. In a situation like this, it’s best to put your embarrassment aside and ask for help sooner rather than later, if you can, before you dig your vehicle in deeper!

But this season, rather than having to drive themselves across open sand, the racers had to travel alongside camels, either on foot leading a pair of tethered camels through the dunes, or riding bicycles in a race with camels on a level track.

A race between bicyclists and camels might seem like a made-for-TV stunt, and it is. So far as I can tell, this isn’t an experience (yet) available to ordinary tourists — although in Dubai, (almost) anything is possible for a price. But bicycling around a camel-racing track (without trying to compete with any camels) is actually a normal thing in Dubai, where one of the few safe places to ride a bicycle is a former camel racing track converted into a recreational velodrome.

Like Disneyland, Dubai is a city of dreams. Whether it’s a real-estate developer’s or U.A.E. citizen’s wet dream or an ecological, social, political, economic, and human rights nightmare is a matter of perspective, which in Dubai depends on your position in a pyramid of privilege largely determined by what passport(s) you hold. Tour brochures and advertisements will give you plenty of Arabian fantasies. For the other side of the story, a good place to start is the essay by urban social geographer Mike Davis that anchors his anthology, Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism.

Dubai has plenty of well-paved roads, of course, but conditions on them aren’t always welcoming for cyclists. Cycling is regarded as a recreational activity — for which special facilities (which you can drive to with your bicycle) are provided — and not as a way to get around.

Bicyclists are legally barred from any road in Dubai with a speed limit of 60 kph (37 mph) or more, which rules out most through roads and makes getting to or from many places impossible by bicycle. There are no “mixed-use” paths, as cyclists are also barred by Dubai law (the Emir’s decree) from pedestrian and horse-riding trails. The only places in Dubai where it it is legal to ride a bike — other than some low-speed local streets — are on dedicated cycle tracks.

I suppose vehicular apartheid probably seems natural to authorities in an apartheid state like Dubai, but it’s a textbook case of what’s wrong which such a segregationist traffic regime in a place where separate is the opposite of equal.

Dubai has diversified its economy into tourism and real-estate development, but the wealth and modern lifestyle of the Arabian Peninsula was built on oil and automobiles. Aside from an occasional eccentric white expat, the only people who bicycle for transportation are people who can’t afford motor vehicles, which by definition makes them members of the underclass whose lives are expendable and who can be run down with de facto impunity.

Dubai drivers may not be consciously hostile to cyclists, but accounts by local cyclists suggest that motorists aren’t generally attentive to the possibility of encountering cyclists on most roads. Local recreational cycling clubs recommend that their members ride only in a group followed by a support car with flashing lights to warn overtaking motorists of the bicyclists ahead.

The teams on The Amazing Race 28 were provided with bikes to ride on one of the paved frontage roads just outside the rail on each side of the sand track used by the camels. Normally this road is used by trainers, race stewards, and commentators driving alongside the camels. If you thought those were Travelocity gnomes strapped to the backs of the racing camels, think again: those are gnome-sized robot camel jockeys with radio-controlled whips, as shown in this BBC video.

Both members of each team had to beat the fastest camel in the pack over 2 km (1.2 miles) from a standing start. In the desert, at mid-day, in full sun, on an unfamiliar bike, and against camels whose pace they would find it hard to anticipate.

The camels got up to speed much more quickly than any of the bicyclists, and tired more slowly than the humans. The only pair of racers who beat the camel pack (barely, in a photo finish) in their first heat were Kurt and Brodie, who were the only pair to ride single file, rather than side by side, with the rider in back close enough to the one in front to benefit from the leader breaking the wind for both.

On level ground, most of the work done by any bicyclist is in overcoming wind resistance. “Drafting” close behind another rider can substantially increase your speed. If you take turns, you can both go faster with less effort. Drafting isn’t just for racers but for anyone who rides with a companion or a group and wants to get further and arrive at their destination less tired. It makes the biggest difference with a headwind.

You might think you don’t want to ride that closely behind another cyclist, and it does takes both practice and concentration on the part of both leader and follower to draft safely. But if you ever find yourself riding into the wind all day, even on a lesiurely tour, you’ll find yourself wishing you had learned to draft.

Never draft behind anyone without their permission, and don’t let anyone draft behind you without warning you or if you aren’t confident that you both have the skill to lead and follow safely. The more practice you have, the closer together you’ll be able to ride, and the more it will reduce the effort required to keep up with your companion(s).

A road bike racer typically keeps their front wheel within a couple of inches of the rear wheel of the rider ahead, while an experienced club rider might follow at a distance of half a wheel diameter. But even a full bike length behind, which takes less practice and skill at bike-handing and pacing, you can usually get significant benefit from drafting another rider.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and many people learn to draft while touring. Maintaining a steady pace and straight-line track can actually be easier with a loaded touring bike that can’t accelerate or decelerate too quickly. But the best way to learn to draft or ride in a paceline is to practice with an unloaded bike, before your tour, with skilled friends or with a well-organized riding club like one of those affiliated with the League of American Bicyclists.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 15 April 2016, 23:59 (11:59 PM)

Really looking forward to visiting...looks incredible.

Posted by: travel, 30 April 2016, 18:25 ( 6:25 PM)
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