Known as Sarah cyclist, Sarah Al Sammak is one of the first Bahraini girls who took up cycling in 1999. Certified by British Cycling, Sarah is the founder of CyclingBees. She has raised the pride of Bahrain by cycling in 4 continentals and winning 15 medals.
Bahrain This Week meets with Sarah Al Sammak to bring more details of her unique journey.
Almost all of us start our rides on a tricycle and soon outgrow them. How and when you realized that you can’t get over the love of riding a cycle?
My first pedal was in Victoria BC in Canada in 1999. We were staying in a house that had two bikes. My brother and I decided to use them and go downtown. There were cycling lanes everywhere there. One day as we were trying to get on the bikes to head out of downtown, a bus came right behind us. Both of us panicked, but the bus driver signaled for us and said: “Take your time”! I couldn’t believe he would wait for us, but he did! He waited for us to get on the bikes, pedal in a straight line and then he overtook us! This incident made me love cycling more and couldn’t stop thinking of cycling when I came back home!
When did your first pedal in Bahrain start? Can you detail the experiences?
My first pedal in Bahrain was in Awali when my friends bought me a very basic bike as I never stopped talking about bikes ever since I came back from Canada! I remember seeing a group of expats riding road bikes. I went to them on my very basic fixie bike to ask about bikes, and one of them laughed at my bike. That day I went right away to Skate Shack, the local bike shop and bought my first road bike. That was in 2006! I got to know the boys at the shop were shocked to see a Bahraini girl buying a bike!
When did you first, participate in a cycling competition in the Kingdom? How were you received by the viewers?
I was asked to race on a Duathlon Race when I was 22. The race was on 22nd March, which is my birthday. I thought it was a nice way to do a new experience on your birthday! So I did and it was my first time to pedal with locals!
My rides in Awali were all with expats, because as a covered, unmarried (at that time) Bahrain girl to be on a bike, you would be stared upon! So I used to hide and speak only English wherever I go so they won’t know that I am Bahraini.
I remember one day a non- Bahraini car followed me in Awali and took pictures of me and tried to scare me. Thanks to the security of Awali they stopped the people in the car.
How many cycling competitions have you participated so far and which is the most memorable one?
I think I have done more than 16 with medals and trophies.
I usually don’t like to repeat the races I do, but there is one race I have done 4 times! It’s Spinneys 92 in Dubai. I love this race because it was my first race that I did outside the country and love doing it because I can race and see how I do with a big number of strangers! What I like about it is that if you do very well, you can get qualified for World Championship Races! And I did! I got qualified for two years for World Championship Grandfondo in Italy! However, I couldn’t go as my daughter was starting a new school on the same day. But I am happy I got qualified
I also loved it when I did Maratona Des Dolomites in the Italian Alps! I was the first Arab woman to participate there!
Can you detail the journey of ‘Cycling Bees’ since its inception?
Cycling Bees originated when my best friend Dana Zubari and I decided to train for Ironman and started our rides from Saar instead of driving all the way to Zallaq! We both just had our kids and I had an injury. We were just trying to pick up our pace that’s why we couldn’t join the old groups we used to ride with.
We used to ride to Manama, Hamala, Muharraq and used to take so many pictures or videos while cycling and posted them on Instagram. Many started to approach us asking if they can join our rides because they looked fun and we said, “Of course, why not!”
We had to create a Whatsapp group to make communication easier and to think of a name. I thought of Cycling Bees because my bike is called a bee owing to its bright yellow and black colors! This was a temporary name but everyone loved it, so it stayed! The logo was something I had it when I started cycling and called myself Sarahcyclist so I used it for Cycling Bees!
Is Bahrain traffic cyclists friendly country?
Traffic has changed a lot, but we ride in early mornings with less traffic.
In an age of elite SUVs and Sedans ruling the roads, how do you explain the importance of cycling?
I think cycling is a nice activity that you can do with friends and is a workout too! Most of the girls who join us do for the fun part but then they get addicted and get fitter!
What’s your message to the Bahrain girls/ladies on cycling?
What’s keeping you away from Cycling? If you don’t know how to ride we can teach you how to ride with the Bikeability course! If you are a beginner then this is the group for you!
The feeling of the wind going through your face is unbelievable and that’s what keeps us going! It’s freedom!
Cycling Bees home is a home to bring cyclists together. Women can come and workout while their kids can play around. In that way, mothers won’t feel feeling guilty of leaving their kids alone, while enjoying their favorite sports.