The first great Sana’a bike ride: A marvelous ride [Archives:2004/733/Reportage]

April 29 2004
There were 287 people registered for the Ride, wearing their official white T-shirts. Several dozen unregistered rides also joined them, both at the start and at different points along the Ride.
There were 287 people registered for the Ride, wearing their official white T-shirts. Several dozen unregistered rides also joined them, both at the start and at different points along the Ride.
When Bernie Power, or “Abu Yasser” as he is called in Arabic, thought of organizing the first Bike Ride in Sana'a, he may never have thought of the deep impact such a event would have on everyone who would take part in it.
Abu Yasser, a keen biker who has been involved in several rides in his native Australia, is a Project Director with the International Community Service (ICS), whose work with ICS in Yemen has mostly involved health issues. Therefore, such event was just a natural extension of his social and environmental work.
When an approach was made to the Ministry of Youth and Sport in March, 2004 about organizing a Bike Ride program, the Minister, Abdurahman Al'Akwa'a, was very enthusiastic and supportive of it.
While Mr. Ali Al-Suwari, Assistant Director of the Yemen Cycling Federation, a department of the Ministry of Youth and Sport, took care of organizational details like official permission, police, traffic, ambulance services and ride observers, Mr. Abu Qassim, an employee of the ministry, carried out the registration of ride participants.
The Great Sana'a Bike Ride, being organized to promote biking as an option for everyone, was not intended to be a race or a championship; rather it was a public event, open to all. To stress that point even further, there were no specification or restrictions on the types of bikes that could enter, any two-wheeler would do.
Organizers were obviously interested in building community than promoting competition, as their event book said “fun and friendship were more important than velocity and victory.” They just wanted people to understand deeply the health, social, economic and environmental benefits of bikes as one of the basic form of transportation.
In the process of preparation, a registration fee of a 100 Y.R. was due on every participant. The fee was decided to be symbolic due to the generosity of the event's sponsors, in covering the majority of the program's cost.
While Yemen Times donated free advertising space and printed articles about the ride, other sponsors like SPACETEL provided free T-shirts for all participants, ten free mobile lines and twenty clocks in addition to cash donations to cover running costs. Taj Sheba Hotel, as a mean sponsor, sponsored the press conference on March 28, providing valuable prizes and also arranging the printing of the T-shirt. Shamalan Water Company took a very important part in sponsoring the event, where it provided free water, donated the cost of its employees to give away water to the participants.
Complete media coverage of the event was carefully planned. As for TV, the event was promoted in two TV ads in prime time in the week before the event. Yemen TV news gave significant coverage of the event in the sport report the evening after the ride.
Regarding newspaper advertisement, ads appeared in five English editions and one Arabic newspaper prior to the ride. That is in addition to interviews with Mr.Power, who, in his turn, wrote six articles about the ride. In that span, about fifty journalists attended the event's press conference.
A strong poster campaign was mounted, under which dozens of Arabic posters were placed in strategic positions around the city.
The plan took many sides into account. Logistically, the route of the ride, at a length of 21 kms, was designed to be a challenge to all, nonetheless, achievable by most. As for time, the event was to take place early on a Friday morning to minimize disruption to city life and traffic. Four police cars, four motorbikes and an ambulance were on duty during the ride. To that effect, three support vehicles accompanied the riders to pick up those could not complete the ride. Meanwhile, major intersections were blocked off as bulk of the riders went through.
At 9:00 AM on Friday morning, the ride began and 287 participants, wearing official T-shirts, took off. Along the ride, several dozen unregistered riders also joined at both the start and at different points.
The toughest point in the route was the hill going up to the Sheraton Hotel, which broke up the pack of riders as some got off and walked. Others had mechanical problems and needed help, some stayed together and some just rode alone. As the ride continued, some riders went fast, some went slow, while others just wanted to have fun and ride at a medium pace. Nonetheless, towards the end of the ride, all riders stopped and rode to the finish line together.
At the finishing line, prizes, which total value was more than$5500, were given out through a Lucky Draw. Since it was not a race, there were no prizes for first, second or third place. Draw prizes included mobile phones and clocks, and free meals and overnight stays at Taj Sheba Hotel. Other prizes included free bikes helmets and bicycles. Regardless of how they did in the ride, all participants received a free T-shirt and 5 free bottle of Shamlan water.
One thing that was shared by all was the fact that everyone left happy.