lunes, 28 de mayo de 2012

Beirut on wheels

Until recently, the only wheels I had been on in Beirut were my car's.

Beirut is not what you would call a bike-friendly place (and by bike I mean bicycle, not a motorbike. There are plenty of those in Beirut).

First of all, the driving in Beirut is not what you would call, hum, disciplined. As soon as there is a little room on the side of the road, it is occupied by a car, or a vespa (or both). So an attempt at biking in the city would be basically a death wish. And trying to introduce anything remotely resembling a bike lane would be a) naive and b) probably laughed at.

So, to my surprise, I saw an ad in TimeOut Beirut about a night ride in Beirut. Cool! I haven't been on a bike for... basically the time I have been here, and I love, love, love riding bikes. Plus, it's a different plan for a Friday night. So off I go, equipped with my helmet and blinking lights (and not my orange reflective vest, since my husband thinks it looks dorky).

After renting my bike (and arguing with the guy at the rental place who was trying to convince me that girls, according to him, don't need the front brake), I went to Cyclo Sport on Gouraud St. in Gemmayzeh. I meet there about 50 ciclysts in a parking lot. We are all crammed in a corner, since it is an active parking lot, and there are cars coming in and out. A lady is passing energetic drinks for free. People are chatting and showing off their super cool outfits and matching bikes (Of course! This is Lebanon. What was I thinking, bringing those old jeans for the bike ride?).

A whistle blows, and off we go. All very orderly, at first, following some professional looking riders that had lots of brands on their outfits, so they must mean business.

The ride through Gemmayzeh, down the Corniche and Hamra was frankly fun. I had never felt in Beirut the feeling of wind in my face that only a bike ride can give you. And the organizers were very good a stoping the traffic, so we could all pass. I would have never dared crossing some of the larger roads on a bike in Beirut, but in the middle of a sea of bikes, I felt safe.

Some of the areas in Beirut are definitely not meant for biking and going up and down the hills was pretty exhausting. So I wouldn't recommend this bike ride for people who are not in shape. Because you don't want to fall behind (that is what eventually ended up happening). When the group spreads out, it starts getting harder to manage for the organizers and more dangerous for the bikers.

By the time we reached the National Museum, everyone was super tired, and going at different paces. This left long empty spaces in the group between bikes that car drivers promptly took advantage of (dorky reflective vest would have come in handy here). The result was that by the end, the bike ride was quite dangerous, and not so fun.

But overall, I think the experience was worth it, and I would recommend it, if you are looking to bring a bit of an adrenaline rush to your life in Beirut. These bike rides happen quite often as I understand it (Check out their Facebook Page or visit Cyclo Sport). You can rent a bike with them for a whooping LL5,000/hour (includes helmet), or go to BeirutByBike and rent your bike there for the same price.

This, by the way, would not be an appropriate activity for kids. The route is long (3 hours) and the pace is rather fast.

Enjoy the ride!

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