A far cry from city cycling and the by now well-travelled road trails of Europe, few would venture to cycle among the sand dunes of the Arabian Gulf.
Three hours south of Abu Dhabi, bordering the vast plains of eastern Saudi Arabia, lies the Liwa Desert. Hues of burnt orange and hazy blue skies bake in the desert heat, speckled with villages that have grown up around the belt of oases offering salvage from the dust.
Of course, groups of inquisitive tourists often ride the slick tarmac highways into the desert, searching for that mystical world of Sir Lawrence. Though perhaps less known in the West than its glamourous cousin Dubai, Abu Dhabi itself is a hub of industry, Emirati culture and heritage, famous not least as home to one of the latest Formula 1 Grand Prix circuits.
For 20-something Dubai residents Olga Zolotova and Mohammad Khalaf, such unconventional cycling terrain and adverse conditions as found in Liwa are no reason to be perturbed.
As longstanding extreme sports enthusiasts (only this summer the pair climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in support of the UAE’s 2015 Anti-Discrimination Law, Zolotova and Khalaf plan to cycle 300 kilometres across the desert in 24 hours this Christmas Eve.
Using GPS technology and a cycling app, their route will map out the shape of a present in the sand, taking no detours when faced with villages, lakes or seemingly un-scalable dunes. Zolotova told UAE newspaper The National ‘if we face a lake we have to go through it, and if we face a vertical 500-metre dune, we’ll have to cross that too.’
All this will be done on specially designed desert fatbikes, which are equipped with wide rims and larger wheels to compensate for the constantly shifting sand. The popularity of fatbikes has soared in recent years, with US magazine Outside proclaiming riding one ‘was like a human-powered monster truck. I had that feeling you get when you’re a little kid: This bike is freedom.’
Yet far more than just a showpiece extreme challenge, Zolotova and Khalaf are taking on Liwa to raise money and awareness for an important cause; Marwa Fayed’s Toy Run. Set up by Dubai-based businessman Omar Samra in memory of his late wife, the initiative collects used and unwanted toys and delivers them to children in less-privileged communities, from Ethiopia to India.
This year the donations are going to Nepal, which was hit by a devastating earthquake back in 2015. Zolotova and Khalaf hope that by drawing lines in the sands of Liwa their latest challenge will encourage admirers to give generously to the Toy Run in the remaining weeks of their campaign, and all the while inspire others to get onto their bike, wherever they are in the world.
Fatbike's are not unique to the desert either, Huez* has developed its own Fatbike experience with the 4* Hotel Ciasa Salares in the Dolomites, described as "the ultimate winter biking activity for riders and winter sports enthusiasts who are looking to have fun on the snow." The hotel now stocks a selection of Huez* limited edition Starman Storm Jacket's for each of its guests who sign onto the adventure. We look forward to seeing some great winter photography over the next few months. Contact us if your interested in joining.
Words by Rebecca Stead