My BikingMan Oman Race Diary: Ultra Cycling in the Arabian Desert

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reviewed by Rory McAllister

In the heart of the Arabian Peninsula lies Oman, a land of mesmerizing beauty, rugged terrain – and an unexpected cyclist’s haven.

Nestled within its breathtaking landscapes, I discovered an incredible ultra-endurance bike race that ranks among the greatest I have ever competed in.

Cycling is the best way to explore the world, and as a competitive ultra-cyclist, I have been lucky enough to have raced in some incredible places with my bike.

Racing BikingMan Oman in its first edition back was one of the true highlights of my cycling life. Not only was it an intense physical challenge, but it was also one of the most unique places I have ever ridden a bike.

Whether you’re considering taking part in a BikingMan race yourself or just want to read about the joy and suffering of someone else’s ultra-racing experience, I hope this diary inspires you to take on your own cycling adventure!

My Lynskey road bike leans on a road barrier on the Jebel Shams climb in the BikingMan Oman race.

What Is BikingMan Oman?

BikingMan Oman is a 620-mile (1000 km) fixed-route ultra-sprint race based in Oman and the surrounding areas. It was part of the 2018 BikingMan season, which also included BikingMan Corsica, The Inca Divide, and BikingMan Taiwan.

A key feature of BikingMan races is that they are self-supported. Unlike events such as the Race Across America (RAAM), riders cannot receive help from other competitors or support staff and are not accompanied by a support vehicle.

The clock keeps ticking from the moment the race starts until you reach the finish line, meaning you have to strategically choose how much time to devote to riding, resting, and refueling each day if you want to be competitive.

Bikingman Oman Route.

It was a race designed to show the beauty of the country of Oman and also to challenge beginner and experienced ultra cyclists to finish within 5 days.

Before I went into this race, I had some experience going on bikepacking adventures and even events such as the Transcontinental Race. Still, I knew this would be beyond my comfort zone. 

The reason I picked this race was because when I was very young, I lived in Oman for a few years – but wasn’t able to remember much of it. I thought racing might jog some memories and tell me more about my history there as an expat family!

My Bike Choice for BikingMan Oman

Lynskey Sportive road bike with bikepacking gear.

The BikingMan Oman route is mainly along paved roads, but they offered a gravel section as a shortcut after the first 100 km (62 miles) if you wanted to take it.

For this race, I used my trusty Lynskey Sportive Road Bike, kitted out as follows:

  • Frame: Titanium
  • Fork: Carbon Fiber
  • Groupset: Shimano Ultegra
  • Wheels: Shimano Dura-Ace (Disc Brake)
  • Tires: WTB Exposure 32c

It was probably not the best choice of bike as it features quite aggressive geometry, but it did an excellent job and never let me down in any way, shape, or form. A touring bike would have been slower, but more comfortable.

My Bikingman Oman Race Diary, Day-by-Day

Now for the exciting part – I get to tell you about my adventure and give you all the tips to help get you through bikepacking a race like this!

Day 1 

The start of the race was in a hotel resort, and many of the other riders had booked to stay there, making it easy on the day. It was a relief to get going and be on our way very early in the morning, around 4 a.m.

The first day was the biggest hurdle in my race plan. Unlike many other riders who wanted to get over the first big climb and to the base of the second and largest climb on Day 1, I planned to do them both. 

Getting out of the city was the first step, and we all were escorted out by multiple cars on the big motorway, an unbelievable experience in itself. Then, I moved into small towns and entered the mountains. It felt like I had crossed continents in just the first few hours!

After getting out of the city, everything changed. It went from craziness to relaxation, and for the first time, I got to race alongside camels.

After the first climb at 140 km, with 920 meters of elevation gain, I stopped and got supplies ready for the rest of the day in a small outback shop.

Bikepacking road bike in a sunset in Oman.

Being on 32c tires, I lowered the tire pressure and risked the gravel shortcut. It was tough, but it paid off, saving me a couple of hours.

I knew that the next push would be my toughest challenge in this race.

The climb to the top of the Jebel Shams mountain is a monster. The route taken in the BikingMan race included 22 km of climbing with 1200 meters (3900 ft) of elevation gain and a summit at over 2000 m (6500 ft) up in the clouds – on already tired legs.

Before I knew it, the evening was drawing in, and the road was getting steep – the Jebel Shams was upon me. To this day, I’d still include it in the top five toughest climbs I’ve ever tackled.

It’s not just incredibly steep, but there are gravel sections and no resupply anywhere. I walked a lot of it before getting to the top around 10 p.m., and finding out I was in 9th place.

After a meal in the restaurant at the top of the mountain, I saw many other BikingMan riders who chose to stop and sleep in accommodation there. 

If I wanted to stay in this Top Ten position, though, I had to push on into the dark, at least for a few hours. I got the bike ready and set off again around 11 p.m. with gloves and a winter jacket on, as it was absolutely freezing.

In my mind, the descent of the huge mountain I had just climbed would be easy, but high-speed gravel and sharp corners in the dark weren’t as fun as I had imagined. No Strava KOM, for me, unfortunately!

At one point, I heard loud barking and could hear a dog chasing me, but I couldn’t even see it as it was too dark.

At the bottom of the mountain, I saw many riders who had planned to sleep and head up the mountain. They could believe I had already been up to it. I found a small roadside hotel open at around 1 a.m., and decided it was time for a comfortable nap. 

A dust road bike after being ridden on a gravel track.

Day 2

Waking up after a few hours, I have to admit – I didn’t feel great.

I was so tired, and the 3500 meters (11,500 ft) of elevation and 350 km (220 miles) I had cycled the day before was definitely in my legs. I didn’t want to push on, but in my mind, I knew I had already completed the toughest sections, and the rest would be easier.

The second day was much easier than the previous, and although feeling some aches, I was making amazing progress.

My plan for the day was to get as close to the coast as I could as I thought if I could cover another 300 km or more, then it would put me in a good place for a three-day finish.

The terrain was much flatter, and I couldn’t quite believe the sandy terrain I was cycling through. Sometimes, it was just a road, some small rocky hills, and everything else sand.

Although close to towns, I felt in the middle of nowhere and never saw any cyclists – not even the ones I was racing against!

The locals were lovely to be around, and in conversations when shopping, they had a lot to say, but when on the road, you were often just a part of the scenery. Although there were trucks and cars in places, I never had close passes or ever felt in danger. 

In the afternoon, I was exhausted, and my back was hurting from the aggressive riding position on my Lynskey. I always say when racing that there’s very little that water, food, and caffeine can’t fix though!

This did the trick – alongside laying on a shaded bench in the afternoon heat. 

The evening came around, and I couldn’t quite believe how tired I had got, but I had covered 300 km (185 miles) on the day already.

I found a very basic hotel around 30 km from the coast and got a full night’s rest, which was sorely needed – even if it cost me a few places in the race.

A cyclist on a desert road.

Day 3

Waking up on the third day thinking I could finish the race today was a huge mental boost, and I couldn’t wait to get on the bike.

Oman is a wonderful place, and each day offered something so different. For an adventure cyclist, it was just incredible.

I pushed early to the coast and got caught in the strongest fog I have ever ridden in. I could barely see three or four meters in front of me, and in case of any issue with cars, I took myself to the hard shoulder.

I found a small shop in the absolute middle of nowhere that just had packet food and looked to have no electricity. When bikepacking, you often have to take whatever you can get, and this was one of these moments.

Stacked with snacks, I pushed on.

The whole coast section was across small beach roads, which I felt my dad might have taken me to in the past in my childhood in Oman. It felt very familiar and was so beautiful.

A road bike on the beach in Oman.

Then, surprisingly, the most incredible dual carriageway for around 80 km (50 miles) – which may not sound like the most pleasant cycling experience at first glance, but bear with me.

However, it had two lanes for cars and a single empty lane that I could cycle in. It was a beautiful tarmac to ride on, and with a tailwind, I flew into the afternoon, unable to believe how safe I felt on this road.

The final push was 100 km back into the mountains, and after a quick resupply in the evening, I thought it would be plain sailing to the finish – but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

There was lots of climbing up very steep roads, challenging navigation, and it was very remote.

All this I was able to deal with, but then it got spicy. I was taken onto washboard gravel, which felt like I was trying to tame a wild washing machine, but for some reason, I didn’t mind. I realized something in that moment that took me away from the race. 

I was in the middle of a desert, on a washboard gravel track, at 1 a.m. with the best view of the stars I have ever seen. It was so peaceful, and although I thought it would really scare me, I was loving it.

It was a moment where time stood still, and for me, the world stopped spinning.

Robbie Ferri cycling in Oman.

The Finish Line

On the way back into the city, I passed the side of Oman where I lived in my childhood.

I saw monuments I remembered and places I went to with my family, and it all came back to me how incredible Oman was. When I got to the finish line, I was gutted it was over, and it all felt like it went so fast.

I finished the BikingMan Oman race in 2 days and 22 hours, ending up in 15th place.

A good sleep in a hotel and multiple beers the next day was a perfect finish to an adventure I never would have thought I would be having. If you have the opportunity, I recommend racing Bikingman Oman, 100%. I’d love to go back.

Here’s a video I made of my BikingMan Oman adventure if you’re interested in seeing more!

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

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