I cycled through the Al Wathba desert in Abu Dhabi — here’s 5 ways it changed my mind about cycling

Writer Jess and group cycling on the Al Wathba cycle track
(Image credit: Jeff Yingling//MyWhoosh)

Cycling through the breathtaking Al Wathba desert track in Abu Dhabi was a welcome change from pedaling through the concrete jungle of London. Invited by MyWhoosh, a free virtual cycling platform, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the growing cycling scene of Abu Dhabi.

Nestled away in the vast expanse of the desert, the Al Wathba cycle track beckons cyclists of all skill levels, with its diverse range of routes catering to both beginners and seasoned riders.

From the gentle slopes of the 8km and 16km routes to the more challenging terrains of the 20km, 22km, and full 30km routes, there was something for everyone to enjoy. Even the best exercise bikes with scenic virtual workouts can't live up to that. 

Much of my previous road bike experience was navigating through the chaotic and noisy roads of London. As much as my bike in London is a welcome escape from playing sardines on the subway, I can find it hard to relax or switch off while riding.

But after taking the 30km route through the Al Wathba desert, I discovered that cycling doesn’t have to be chaotic and it can even be close to therapeutic. The whole experience may even have changed my in attitude toward cycling. 

I cycled through the Al Wathba desert in Abu Dhabi — here’s 5 ways it changed my mind about cycling

Was I just awestruck by the sunset and warm weather while cycling on the Al Wathba desert track or did I genuinely see a different side of cycling? After reflecting for a week, I think there's more to it than that. 

The bike makes all the difference

Riding a bike that costs more than some cars on the market is a rare treat indeed. For a week, I had the privilege of riding a Colnago road bike, including through the Al Wathba desert, and it was nothing short of exhilarating.

While I have very few complaints about my trusty second-hand entry-level road bike back home, there was something undeniably captivating about the seamless glide of the Colnago through the desert sands.

Professional road bikes like the Colnago are crafted from top-of-the-line materials such as carbon fiber or lightweight alloys, offering unparalleled stiffness, responsiveness, and aerodynamics.

The result? Enhanced power transfer, efficiency, and speed, making for a faster and more comfortable ride, particularly over long distances or challenging terrain. Prior to this experience, I never quite understood why people were willing to invest thousands of dollars in a bike. Now, it all makes sense.

the Colnago bike that Jessica rode in Abu Dhabi

(Image credit: Jessica Downey)

Cycling is much easier with a view

Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed with some impressive London landmarks when I commute on my bike. However, it’s very much the epitome of an urban landscape where red buses are charging at you left right and centre, car fumes engulf you and it’s the same route every day.

Cycling through the Al Wathba desert at 5pm, with the sun setting and the only other forms of transport in close proximity being a few horses galloping nearby or the distant camel race track, was undeniably a unique and welcome experience.

A group of 25 of us went out together and just the sight of everyone’s bright cycling jerseys against the desert scenery was a sight in itself. I felt very peaceful soaking in the surroundings.

As the sun began to set, my legs tired at parts where there were hills or strong headwinds but, pedaling into a sky full of warm orange and pink tones kept me powering through. 

Although I can’t cycle through the Al Wathba desert every day, it was a good reminder that I enjoy exercise for fun as much as I use it to keep fit. If I want it to feel less manic back in the UK, I know that I can take my bike outside of the city.

The sun setting over the Al Wathba desert

(Image credit: Jessica Downey)

Hydration is important

It’s rare to find any member of the Tom’s Guide fitness team without one of the best water bottles by our side, you just need to read about the time our editor drank one gallon of water a day for a month to see how serious we are about hydration. 

As an avid runner, I've always been very on it with carrying water with me on my long runs. But I'll admit I don't practice the same caution when heading out on my bike. I simply had never really appreciated the level of exertion that comes with cycling and that of course, I'd get thirsty riding through the desert.

During my 30km ride on the Al Wathba track, my appreciation for a large bottle of ice cold water certainly grew. The air felt very dry, and between having my breath taken away just by my surroundings, I was also regularly inhaling the dry air as I exerted more energy on the bike. 

And while a London summer isn't quite like the desert, it could fool some in one of its heatwaves. I now plan on carrying water with me no matter the conditions of a bike ride to ensure I stay properly hydrated while riding.

Cycling in a group is fun

No matter what your level of experience is on a bike, riding in a group can enhance the experience. I could have happily cycled the Al Wathba track on my own and allowed myself to get lost in the tranquillity of the smooth tracks and open desert.

However, I’m not sure I would have done the full 30km route myself had it not been for the fact I had company. The track feels like it is in the middle of nowhere and I did think while riding it that I would feel quite vulnerable out there on my own if I did have a fall or lose my way at all.

Aside from the safety side of things, cycling in a group is a great way to exercise and be social. I’ve found with cycling, you don’t need to have things in common to enjoy a ride with others in a group. Being outside in nature and experiencing the same track is a great way to bond with others. 

Writer Jessica riding with a group on the Al Wathba desert track

(Image credit: Jeff Yingling//MyWhoosh)

Cadence matters

I have vivid memories of cycling with my dad as a child and taking my anger out on my bike and my poor old man as I couldn’t work out what to do with my gears. Then as an adult, when I started riding a road bike, I felt more confident working with a speedier vessel and playing around with the higher high gears they have to offer.

But cadence isn’t something I’d ever paid much thought to in my cycling adventures. I just pedaled and did what felt right. This was until one of the co-hosts behind the Roadman Podcast cycled by me on the Al Wathba track and gave me a very simple yet invaluable piece of advice.

Sarah pointed out that I didn’t need to maintain such a low cadence as this was putting more strain on my muscles than was necessary. Despite keeping up with the group, some of whom were ex-cycling pros (I must mention this for the sake of my ego), I was giving myself more work than was necessary.

Once I shifted my cadence so that I was pedaling more but putting in less muscular effort, I was able to relax and enjoy the ride more.

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.