Camels, Dunes, and Wadis Loop (United Arab Emirates)
109 Mi.(175 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Mike is originally from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, but inevitably fell in love with the misty Pacific Northwest of Oregon, where he now calls home. ESL teacher by trade, adventurer at heart – Mike’s life pursuit is to experience the world by bike, one pedal at a time.
When people hear the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or Dubai, they typically think of tall skyrises, luxury, and flat expanses of sandy desert. What will shock the visitor is the great variety of landscapes the country has to offer—from palm-filled wadis (valleys), craggy mountains, to (yes) large expanses of sandy desert. Cutting through this diverse land straight out of “1001 Arabian Nights” is a combination of singletrack, lots of gravel, some sand, and a terrain that looks like you’re riding on the moon, or Mars. Surprisingly, this route captures all of this variety and more in just a short one hour drive from downtown Dubai. Did I mention you’ll see camels??
What makes this ride even more special is a deeper look into Bedioun and Arab culture that even local expat residents who have been living in the country for decades haven’t experienced. Don’t be surprised if you’re stopped by many Emiratis on your ride giving you a big ‘thumbs up’ or an invite for tea or food. This hospitality is so great that attempting to say ‘no’ to such an offer is a losing battle. Also, reassuringly, this hospitality also translates into an extra level of safety and security along the route because the local population will make sure you’re not left high and dry if something were to go wrong, e.g., flat tire, heat, etc. They will always come to the rescue… and most likely with food, tea, and a super jolly attitude.
The route begins with an awesome section of flowy singletrack through some of the UAE’s best mountain bike trails. After that, the route is mostly flat with the difficult sections coming on day 2 when you hit the mountains. The flat sections do have sandy bits so if you’re riding anything less than a 2.6” wide tire, expect to push your bike a bit, but not forever. On each day, you ride through one or two small villages or towns with plenty of resupply options. Additionally, the warmer weather in the region allows for a much lighter load on the bike.
The Camels, Dunes, and Wadis Loop has been assigned a difficulty of 5 out of 10. Overall, the route is on well-maintained gravel, but deserves a bit harder grade due to the rough and rowdy wadi sections where there’s a lot of large boulders and washed out areas. The sandy sections can also present a challenge if you’re riding anything less than a plus-sized tire. The climbs are short, but steep, and give your quads a run for their money. Re-supply is easy as you pass through several towns or villages everyday. Towns and villages are where you need to grab water since there are no natural sources on route. Lastly, weather is paramount – this is the Arabian desert and summertime highs easily reach 40 degrees celsius or higher. Thus, be careful if you ride this route on the fringe of the shoulder seasons of April or November as the temps can be okay for the ride one day, but on the other day could be dangerous. A hotter day could turn this ride into a difficulty of 8 or more.
Route Development: Surprisingly, not much is publicly known about the development of the singletrack trails in Shawka. After doing a lot of surface-level research, it seems to be a combination of folks at the Shawka MTB store along with others in the UAE biking community. Whomever is responsible, many thanks for creating a fun network of trails that have been included in this route.
- Flowy singletrack in Shawka.
- The Emirati people – very helpful, fun, and caring.
- The descent into Wadi Shawka at the end of the route.
- Crazy geology – Freaky rock formations in the middle of the dunes just before Meleha (mile 30).
- Camels abound – and, if you’re lucky, you might see some camel racing!
- Many sand dunes – the sunrises and sunsets over these dunes is surreal.
- Local food – Eating mandi (rice with meat) at one of the many local restaurants, many many delicious local dates.
- Lovely winter weather – Very pleasant weather during the winter months, which allows for a lighter ride and a lot of the equipment and clothing to stay at home.
- Meleha Archaeological Museum – The cafe inside is a welcome surprise – just when you needed a coffee and burger….
- Local culture – the historical fort in Masafi, camel racing, and Bedouin hospitality.
When to go
- This is a winter-only ride (December – March). Summertime highs are easily over 40 degrees Celsius as are much of the spring and fall. November or April are possible, but it will definitely be hotter and you must check the weather forecast carefully to catch a cool weather window.
- Renting a car from Dubai airport is probably the easiest and fastest way to get to the trailhead (and run last minute errands in Dubai). Arranging this as a tourist in the airport is super easy and you could theoretically be starting your ride within 2 hours after arriving at the airport.
- If you don’t want to rent a car, you could probably arrange a shuttle with Wolfi’s Bike Shop in Dubai.
- Hiring a taxi to take you from the airport to the trailhead is an option, albeit very pricey (~$100). Not recommended.
- Overnight parking is available at the trailhead.
- Even though the UAE is a very modern and welcoming country, it’s still conservative in many aspects, so please be respectful, and act and dress modestly. Shorts are fine while riding, but try not to ride shirtless and don’t enter a mosque or a supermarket dressed inappropriately.
Dangers and Annoyances
- If there is rain in the forecast, or a slight hint of rain clouds in the sky, get off trail immediately. Flash floods in the wadis are no joke and happen so quickly that you can get caught off guard in an instant. Many people have died because of the flash floods and cars have been swept away and destroyed (my car was flooded in a parking spot in Dubai during one storm!).
- High winds could cause sand and dust storms that impede visibility and cover the route to the point of it being indistinguishable. Once again, do your weather homework before setting out. For the most part, the weather in the UAE is quite stable and predictable; however, storms do occur and are easily avoided if the weather forecast has been researched in advance.
- For the small portions that you are on a paved road, watch out for some crazy driving. There is plenty of shoulder on almost all the roads, but many drivers speed insanely while at the same time texting on their phone.
- As mentioned before, there are a lot of roaming camels in the country, but they DO belong to somebody, most likely a local farmer. Therefore, be respectful and don’t chase them or go up close to them without the permission of the farmer.
- The UAE is probably one of the safest places in the Middle East, if not the world. The crime rate is extremely low and theft is almost unheard of. Nevertheless, use common sense.
- Wolfi’s Bike Shop Dubai: https://wbs.ae/. The staff there, especially the maintenance people, are avid riders in the UAE and will have a lot of beta to share. It’s also the best place to pick up any last minute gear or supplies.
- Flying into Dubai is probably the easiest and most affordable option.
- The UAE is quick to welcome visitors and tourists so many nationalities can obtain a visa-on-arrival at the airport. However, check your home country’s appropriate ministry or department for specific travel requirements before arriving.
- Wild camping is permissible almost anywhere in the country. As long as you’re not camping inside someone’s fenced area or immediately beside someone’s home, then you are fine. However, it’s still best practice to follow Leave-No-Trace and discreet camping ethics. When in doubt, ask (most can understand and communicate using basic English).
- Supermarkets and gas stations throughout the country offer a wide-range of food options that can satisfy any dietary preference. They won’t have the gluten free or vegan specific options as the supermarkets in Dubai, but they will definitely have food that can fit your needs. If you desire something specific, I suggest stocking up on it beforehand in Dubai at any of the major supermarket chains (Carrefour, Spinney’s, LuLu’s).
- There are also many restaurants in each of the towns you pass through. Theoretically, one could eat out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the route and not cook at all, but then would it really be bikepacking??
- Free water is available at almost any mosque – and there are a lot of mosques in the country and along the route. The water is potable so no need for a filter unless you would rather be extra cautious.
- There are also several water tanks with filters attached along the route. This water is usually cold and meant for the public in need of a drink. Keep your eyes open for them as they look like a soda fountain at a fast food joint with 2-3 spigots . They are located on roads just outside of houses.
- Post-ride libations can be found at many hotel restaurants in Dubai, albeit pricey. Our favorite is BFF at the Movenpick Hotel in Ibn Battuta Gate. Alcohol is illegal in the Emirate of Sharjah, in which a portion of the route runs.
- There is a short, but impressive, hike-a-bike section about ten miles past the town of Masafi. The government built a new highway and filled in an entire wadi full of dirt and gravel. The hike-a-bike is up a steep access road used by heavy equipment from the bottom of the wadi to the highway.
- There are some short sandy areas along the route that can eat up some skinnier MTB tires.
- A MTB with plus-sized tubeless tires is best for this route – 2.6” wide tires would be the absolute minimum. Suspension is unnecessary. I rode a Surly ECR with a 3.0” front tire and 2.6” back tire while my buddy rode a Surly Ice Cream Truck fat bike. He commented the fat bike was too slow for most of the route. The ECR was cruisey throughout.