Starting off with five founding partners, Wheelers World Discovery rapidly expanded to an 11,000-strong army of cyclists. Eihab Boraie talks to the crew about their work on reintegrating the sport of cycling in Egypt, encompassing everything from daily road safety to breathtaking bike tours.
In the city madness of traffic-locked roads that epitomise the struggles of Egyptians attempting to get from point A to point B, comes a fun, healthy, traffic-less mode of transportation. No we aren’t referring to a hover board, or a flying car, but rather a tried, tested and true form of clean travel that never became obsolete; the bicycle. Trying to unify and build a strong community of cyclists that hope to reclaim Egyptian roads and explore the finest scenic bike tours around the world, is none other than Egypt based Wheelers World Discovery. Looking to learn more about this growing cycling movement, I met up with co-founder Sara Farouk to talk about the Wheelers community and the struggles facing cyclists on Egyptian roads.
Painting Egypt and its problems as being either black or white is frankly unfair. Often generalisations leave people feeling offended, as it is impossible to make a general observation that would properly apply to a country with a population of 90 million. However, how does one look at Egypt’s hazardous, often fatal streets, ignore its aneurysm-inducing traffic, and breathe in heavily polluted air without accusing millions of being lazy, careless, and reckless?
Long before Egypt was selling millions of cars without thinking about where they would drive or park them, cycling around on bicycles was considered the efficient, time-saving, clean mode of travel in the once considered Egypt’s cosmopolitan capital Cairo. Sadly, a popular belief is that the bicycle lost the road war against cars, assuming that cycling is impossible in Egypt. Proving that this is a gross misconception are the good people behind Wheelers World Discovery (WWD), who believe that there is power in numbers, which continue to grow their community, while changing the Egyptian mindset with each passing tour. According to co-founder Farouk, “Wheelers began with a group of 5 friends. We started cycling 6 years ago with different groups, but then it came to us in 2012 to start a cycling group and to try promoting cycling as a means of transportation and sport.”
Started by its five founders that include Mohamed Nehad, Ahmed Mousa, Ibrahim Makram, Mohamed Abdel Azim, and Sara Farouk and with a name for their new community picked, the Wheelers began humbly trying to, “Motivate people to take their bicycles out more. We wanted to reach out to those who live in Zamalek and want to go to the club, and convince them it would be easier for them to travel on around the island on a bike. This lead us to founding Wheelers in 2013 and our first organised trip was to Jordan,” explains Farouk. Each of the founding partners had their own duties, and looking to escape Cairo’s treacherous roads, the first trip organised by the group would see these avid cyclers impressively cover 1200 km over 7 days starting from Cairo and making their way to Jordan’s picturesque Petra. To safely plan this trip, WDD partnered with Destination 31, who handled the travel logistics while WWD focused on cycling activities.
Originally the group was eyeing Europe as their first destination, but after hearing of the tragic events that took place in Saint Catherine, they shifted their focus and decided to start planning more regional trips in an effort to highlight Egypt as a safe place for tourists. “When the events of St. Catherine happened two years ago, we cancelled our Prague trip and organised a tour across Sinai to spread the message that Sinai is safe. We decided to go to Jordan right after, and enlisted help from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports as well as Internal Affairs which us supported big time! We started the journey with 5 cyclists, but of nowhere where joined by over 50 other cyclists, bringing our total to 69 cyclers on the Cairo-Petra tour,” proudly remarks Farouk.
Not often will one find the government willing to help niche communities, but for the government a group of cyclists looking to boost tourism, while develop a sport that was once popular in Egypt seemed like a win-win situation. “They joined us on our tour helping us stay safe across Sinai and helping us get into Jordan. When we arrived at the border, we were honoured to find the Cycling Federation who asked us to join the federation. When we got back to Cairo the Cycling Federation decided to sponsor us and gave attention to the initiative, because apparently cycling in Egypt was a big thing in the 60s before it died out. It seemed like the federation wanted to refresh the whole cycling culture in hopes of returning to the days were Egypt had a national cycling team, and a yearly cycling event that was like the Tour De France,” believes Farouk.
By no means is Wheelers World Discovery the only cycling group in Egypt. There are plenty that divide themselves based on the kind of trips they prefer, however arguably no other group has grown quite as fast in such a short period of time. According to Farouk, “Certain groups started off with long distances, some started off with fun rides, and others had off-road riding at Wadi Degla and so on. When we joined forces with the Cycling Federation we got in contact with all the cycling groups and tried to get them all under one umbrella. We're now Wheelers World Discovery – the mother of cycling groups across all cycling groups in Egypt with over 11,000 members. So any cycling group who wants to do anything, or connect with governmental institutions, they come through us, because we have the contacts with the Cycling Federation, and we carry out the events for the entire cycling community.”
Bringing together the cycling communities is the most important step towards change, but for that change to be meaningful an education on street safety is required for both cyclists and motorists sharing the road. “At first people used to harass us a lot on the streets but now it’s much easier. You go along and people actually cheer for you on the streets. Hopefully within the next couple of years we'll have a lot of projects going on with the government. With all the renovations happening in Mohandessin, we're trying to push to have at least a cycling lane put in,” describes Farouk.
This may seem like a stretch but in fact Egypt’s possibly first ever bike lanes were installed in the Fifth Settlement earlier this year. Sadly, they were ignored, with many choosing to ignorantly park their cars in the cycling lane. This reaffirms the importance of a national program aimed at educating the masses on the rules of the road. “Beyond cycling lanes, we're trying to educate and enforce cycling rules and laws. Even if you check our page you'll find that we don’t publish an event without adding at the end of it all the cycling rules like Drive on the left, don’t cross this…etc. You can’t just get on a bike and go cycling in the street, you have to know and respect the rules of the road as well. For instance when someone comes to join a ride, if they come without a helmet we don’t let them join, we ask them to please go back - it’s for your own safety,” reaffirms Farouk.
Cycling in gated communities and resort destinations like Gouna is a far cry from doing day long tours or commuting to work on Egypt’s battered roads. To successfully negotiate this difficult terrain requires training, knowledge on what bike to use and how to deal with minor fixes that are guaranteed to happen. “If you're going to buy a bike and your objective is to commute with it, don’t buy a road bike. If you're planning on training and going long distances, buy a road bike. I get a flat tire every 2 or 3 rides on my commute to work. You need to know how to fix your own bike, because there are barely any technicians,” advises Farouk.
Looking to help anyone acquire the knowledge and training to cover over 100km a day, WWD, welcome all those interested to join their community and their scheduled rides. According to Farouk, “I have to say you need to join a community, especially in Egypt - it’s not an individual sport. It’s not an activity that you do on your own, we're not there yet. However, we encourage everyone to join us on our weekly tours. We have a ride every single Friday that’s announced on our page. We also do training that lasts for 3 months, where we take beginners who have never had any cycling experience and attempt to reach the main objective of having them cycle 100km in one ride.”
Once a cyclist is able to complete this feat, they become suited to taking on the adventurous and scenic marathon tours across countries. “Fayoum we do all through the winter, we have mini trips that take about 2 hours. Ain El-Sokhna takes about 4 hours to go and then we bring them back by busses. Beyond Egypt, we're planning on doing 800Km over 7 days - a tour from Slovenia to Croatia sometime next August,” a hopeful Farouk announces. Aside from their breathtaking bike tours, WWD, is constantly organising new events/competitions, and continue to reach out to like minded outdoor activity groups like Cairo Runners and Train For Aim. In the immediate future Wheelers World Discovery will be launching on Monday 26th October to Monday 9th November a three part competition that will have enthusiastic athletes competing in a run, a bike race, and mixture of the two, a duathlon.
With Wheelers World Discovery events growing in size with each passing year, it is only a matter of time before Egyptians start realising that the solutions to some of Egypt’s most annoying problems can be solved by adapting to a non motorized two-wheel lifestyle.
Photography by Mohamed Hamdy, provided by Sara Farouk