Biking in Beirut

Over a recent coffee with two Lebanese friends, I discovered that neither of their daughters, ages 8 and 9, know how to ride a bike.

It seemed surprising, until you think about the lack of public spaces in this concrete jungle. Narrow sidewalks are overtaken by parked cars when they aren’t full of people, and streets are equally narrow and clogged with traffic. There isn’t much place to take a bike ride in Beirut.

The exception is the waterfront. At the famed Corniche, bikes are best ridden at off-peak times, when you don’t risk running down any of the hundreds of men, women and children that love to take a morning/afternoon/evening stroll along the boardwalk that lines the seafront. A better choice for an easy bike ride in Beirut is at the bland but uncrowded waterfront at BIEL. The company Beirut by Bike noticed that too, and have set up shop with hundreds of bikes for rent.

But what about those girls who haven’t learned how to ride a bike? Do they have to miss out on the fun?

Cleverly, Beirut by Bike’s stock of rentals isn’t limited to two-wheelers. Tricycles are as popular with adults as they are with kids, and BbB stocks the trikes in a variety of sizes.

While there a couple of other bike rental shops around town, BbB is single-handedly managing to change the conception of biking in Beirut. They sponsor night bikes on Friday evenings. Hosted a 13km bike-a-thon on October 5 with 1,650 participants. This Saturday (the 18th), BbB is the sponsor of a fundraiser for the National Organization for Organ & Tissue Donation & Transplantation (NOD), where L.L. 10,000 (US$7) gets you a bike & helmet rental, plus water and a t-shirt from NOD, with all proceeds going to the charity. Sunday (the 19th) BbB will be back on the roads, this time in Dbayeh, co-sponsoring with the sporting goods store Decathlon a fun ride with professional cyclists. They even offer free lessons to teach you how to ride a bike (by appointment and weekdays only). Beirut by Bike is doing an admirable job of making biking a sport accessible to all.

Other noteworthy efforts include the company Outdoor Generation, which offers cycling classes and tours for children and adults; a feasibility study by the Beirut municipality to develop a bike route through the city, and another study for a bike route along the northern coastal road; Deghri, the Arab world’s first bicycle courier service; and Cycling Circle, a club that organizes events such as the upcoming costumed Halloween ride on October 31st (event details available here).

The Lebanese are a determined bunch. Despite pollution, traffic, and general lawlessness on the roads, they are managing to develop a vibrant biking culture. I’m impressed.


2 thoughts on “Biking in Beirut

  1. f. cafa says:

    Amazing blog Amy! I’m considering a job in Beruit and am a single bachelor of the age of 31 without Arabic or French. I know the city is remarkable place but am really concerned about safety issues. I would be living and working a few blocks from the water near the American College. If you can offer any suggestions or advice I would appreciate it. I’m white and have blue eyes so there would be little fitting in.

    • cupcakeamy says:

      hi there, and thanks for reading! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the blog. With regards to your concerns… on the one hand, you are right to be concerned about safety issues, as there has been a gradual deterioration in safety in the time I’ve been living here (two years). That said, I am also the obvious foreigner (tall, blonde, and just never manage to dress as glamorously as a Lebanese woman). I wondered before arriving if I should fake being Canadian or some other nationality, but the truth is that I’ve never once felt any bad vibes against being American. On the contrary, when someone asks me where I’m from and I respond with USA, the response is inevitably enthusiastic, along the lines of “oh, my cousin is in Detroit!” or “I studied in Texas”, etcetera. Given the situation in the region, there are no safety guarantees and the sectarian friction is worrisome, to put it mildly. But there continues to be very low rates of petty crime, and I still feel comfortable here, and you will see many international people all about town. Arabic and French are always helpful, but neither is essential, it’s quite possible to get around with just English. (I don’t speak French either, and only started studying Arabic once I’d arrived here.) Media can be very distorting, so I guess my suggestion would be to come for a visit and check out how you feel!

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