Tim Marriage took the opportunity of a business trip to India to test out his new folding bike, and tick off a few more countries on his list. On the qay he discovered new cultures, met cyclists like him and found some inner strength to get through some rough patches. He wrote his report for our most recent issue of Pedal Update.
In January I travelled to Hyderabad, India, on business. I’ve got an ambition to travel to more countries than my age so I thought I’d take this opportunity to bag a couple more. I found it was just as cheap to fly via Dubai and as such UAE and Oman would be achievable in the time I had. In India I was thinking it would be good to relive my cycle touring days on the subcontinent 20 years earlier. In my suitcase I had room for either my kids or my Dahon folding bike : or
I chose wisely and before I knew it, I was riding around Hyderabad. Hyderabad is a city in the south of India, 700 kms southeast of Mumbai. It has a population of around seven million (almost twice Sydney’s) and it’s also the sister city to Brisbane.
I arrived in Hyderabad on the weekend. It wasn’t long before I ventured out to ride around the signature Hussain Sagar lake, and on to the outskirts of town to circumnavigate the 10km of crumbling city walls of the 13th century Golkonda Fort.
It makes you appreciate old when construction began around 945 AD. It’s a great example of Mongol architecture. It was the seat of the Kingdom of Golkonda between 1518 and 1687.
Heading back to the centre of Hyderabad, chasing tuk tuks through the insane traffic to Charminar, “The East’s Arc de Triomphe”, where you get a great view of the local architecture and the insane traffic.
I looked up the local cycling club and went out for their morning ride. Two laps round the lake on a Wednesday morning. The lake at dawn was wonderful. After the ride the club riders discussed their last monthly ride 100km out to the ‘forest’. They lamented that last time a group of sixteen of them rode out there, 7 contracted Malaria. I didn’t elect to go. Of course, the real reason I was in India was for work. That went well, and before I knew it I was on the overnight flight to Dubai.
Arriving at dawn, my early start didn’t quite go as smoothly as I had hoped. I was held up for two hours in the UAE immigration queue while the arrogant officials were taking their time to process visitors. Getting my passport stamped, I dumped the suitcase with my work stuff in ‘left luggage’ and headed off into town to find the bus to the end of the suburban line, Ram El Shaed.
Once at the Ram el Shaed, it was time to ride - but it turned out to be more challenging than I thought. I had planned to perhaps catch a taxi to the border, but none were immediately evident. My GPS maps didn’t load and I made wrong turns and miscalculations. Before I knew it I had spent more precious time before I found myself on the right highway and still had 40km to go to the border. I wanted to be at my destination of Khasab (dubbed the Norway of Arabia as it is surrounded by ‘fiords’) by dusk, another 45km from the border. It was Friday (the Sabbath), raining and with 40km winds. I was riding a folding bike with jeans (shorts are offensive) and sandals. Nothing for it but to put my head down and tail up through the not very inspiring highway to the border.
Once I crossed the border into Oman, the scenery changed. It was much drier with sparse vegetation. I found it a magical sight looking across the Persian Gulf to Iran. Ominous signs were posted saying “take extra water” and “check your engine doesn’t overheat”.
Riding for 15km I stopped to get money and noticed my front tyre was getting a bit soft. I had a spare tube, and a new compact pump, but when I’d tried to reinflate it before, it’d let out more air than I put in. I decided not to risk pumping it up any more and pushed on. By the late afternoon I was getting nervous. Darkness was falling, I had another 30km to go and the wind was still against me. While the scenery was spectacular, with superbly maintained roads, low traffic and mainly hugging the coast, some tough hills were ahead.
I made it to Khasab, tired and relieved, as the last light disappeared and settled into my hotel. I had a great night’s sleep then after a hearty breakfast, I was ready to face the world. The front tyre was still an issue. I tried to pump it up but snapped the valve stem off when I tried to inflate it with my new canister assisted compact pump. Resorting to my spare, I installed it carefully making sure I didn’t pinch it and pumped it up. The original stem was still stuck in the pump. I thought while I couldn’t open it up to retrieve it, it wouldn't be a problem. But when I pulled it off, I bent the stem of the spare and all the air escaped. Cursing and resigning to myself that my cycle touring was over and I’d be employing a local driver to take me to the border, I had one more try, and with the store of luck I’d stashed away, the stem bent back straight without breaking. I carefully pumped it up as much as I dared to what must have only been about 40 psi.
I thought about my options. Would it be foolhardy to go out into the desert with a leaky front tyre and without a spare? Absolutely. Becoming stranded in a desert in Oman wouldn’t please my family, or work who expected me back on Monday. There were still some unanswered questions regarding the UAE re-entry visa too for which I couldn’t get a straight answer from the authorities. What was I to do? The friendly hotel staff pointed me in the direction of Khasab’s finest bike shop to see if there might be any other options.
The shop didn’t have the widest selection, but I purchased a BMX type tyre with a woods valve. I knew this wouldn’t really work, but as a spare it offered me some security and it brought me a slender piece of hope. With a deep breath I set off. I figured I hadn’t come all this way not to ride so I would go as far as I could and then ride on the rim if I had to.
The weather that day was sensational and, again, the scenery was just stunning.
The front tyre was definitely softening so I didn’t risk stopping. By day’s end I’d made it to the border and thankfully through immigration without too much fuss. Continuing on to make my bus trip and my flight, before the tyre went down, I didn’t dare stop. All the time I was resting all my weight on the back tyre, feeling my way round corners on the 1-in-10 hills I’d struggled up the previous day. I was hoping the tyre didn’t roll off the rim, and waiting for the inevitable pinch flat. In the end I managed to ride 90km including wrong turns back to Ram el Shalam without it happening.
Back in Dubai, I rode out of the bus station and to the airport and locked my trusty steed to a guardrail. I was sore, sweaty and windswept, but immensely proud of the things that could have gone wrong but didn’t. Proud of the achievements of riding a folding bike with a flat tyre up great hills, getting through a dubious border crossing and slogging along a lonesome highway. I showered and caught the metro into the glitzy malls while I waited for my early morning flight, happy in the knowledge that another couple of countries were in the bag.