Biking Rub' Al Khali (or Empty Quarter) on a bike. A world first. From Abu Dhabi - UAE on the Arabian Gulf to Salalah - Oman on the Indian Ocean. 21 days of unsupported fat biking through the Arabian sands. Maxime Chaya (LEB) & Steve Holyoak (GB). Dec. 2016.
As an adventurer also fond of cycling, Max joined his two passions many, many times; both on road and off-road, in the great outdoors.
Max has been engaging in what is now referred to as Bikepacking and Adventure Cycling long before the terms were invented. It began in the 90s with the Trophée du Nil in Egypt, then the Raid Thaï in Thailand, Petra & Wadi Rum in Jordan, the VO2Max challenge in Lebanon, the Kenya Sports Safari in Africa, Mt. Blanc to Mt. Cinto in France and Corsica, the Lebanese Mountain Trail by Bike … the list is long.
It is therefore with no surprise that Max invested himself fully in the planning and preparation when the idea of crossing a desert on a bicycle first occurred to him in 2013. Especially that it soon appeared possible to bike across not just any desert, but the largest sand desert in the world, what Max considers to be the most beautiful of all; the desert of all deserts: the Empty Quarter (aka Rub’ Al Khali).
For this perfect crime baptised BRAK (Biking Rub’ Al Khali) Max teamed up with his good friend, British ultra-Marathon Runner Steve Holyoak. Steve is a top-level athlete and a like-minded friend. The two had already bikepacked a few routes together: Petra & Wadi Rum in Jordan, the LMTB in Lebanon and the GR7 in Europe which saw Max and Steve cycle 2000 year-old Roman cobblestone roads from the southern tip of Europe in Tarifa (Gibraltar), all the way to the summit of Spain’s highest peak, Mulhacen at 3,718m a.s.l. in eight days, unassisted, with just a small backpack each.
Expedition BRAK took almost 3 years of meticulous planning and preparation.
Max and Steve (UK) formed the perfect team to carry out the daunting project of starting in Abu Dhabi, UAE with their rear wheels in the Arabian Gulf and fat biking all the way through the Empty Quarter, unassisted, to finish some 1,600 km further south and dip their front wheels in the Indian Ocean at Salalah, Oman.
The journey in the wild was three weeks of pure mayhem to the point that Max and Steve are actively working on obtaining a new permits to repeat it. This time, hopefully while entering the Saudi part of the one-and-only Rub’ Al Khali (Empty Quarter). Their journey might be longer this time, possibly biking across the Kingdom all the way to Jeddah on the Red Sea. Stay tuned!
The adventure lasted 21 days, alone, albeit with daily calls to Base Camp via Satellite phone.
The more Max pedaled, the more he loved cycling. To this day Max still thinks it’s an amazing sport, enabling us to practice whenever we want, wherever we want, as long as we want and as strenuously as we want. Unlike many other sports, it doesn’t require booking a facility or an opponent; one can just hop on one a bike and—whether on paved roads, gravel trails, sand or snow—immediately feel liberated.
It’s so invigorating to feel wind rush through one's hair while absorbing the sights and sounds of barren landscapes and mountainous greenery—along with enticing aromas from the kitchens of little red-roofed stone houses dotted around the Lebanese countryside.
A pleasant walk can be too slow and time-consuming (at least for Max's liking); riding in cars and on motorbikes is often too fast, noisy and sedentary. A bicycle, on the other hand, moves at the perfect speed to appreciate the surroundings and discover new places.
Max: "Cycling’s inspired some really creative ideas when alone with my thoughts."
Max: "Throughout the years, cycling’s inspired some really creative ideas when alone with my thoughts. To this day, it’s like a form of meditation—several times a week outdoors. Mentally, it stimulates, energizes and helps me think outside the box with amazing creativity, clarity and speed."
Why is Max more inspired riding my bike than sitting behind his desk where there are actually far fewer distractions? It’s as if exercising the quads stimulates the brain. This is definitely the case when cycling on empty, sinuous mountain roads that are void of traffic. The ideas inside our head seemingly require serenity to spring to life—as well as the fluid movement and ideal pace of exploration that cycling affords whoever is pushing the pedals.