By Jen Benepe
I have been thinking about Israel lately, not just in relation to cycling, but in terms of a place that I have never been or never have ridden by bicycle.
But first let me relate to you my experience with Israeli people: they are an uncommon people.
I count among my acquaintances a number of Israelis whose physical prowess, drive, and competitiveness truly energize me.
Many of those people either belong to the Tenafly Road Dawgz, a bike club in New Jersey. Some belong to the Jewish Community Center in Tenafly, NJ. And others I met while traveling to cover the Tour de France in 2009.
It was a group that I met in that lovely town, almost all of them from Israel. We met in Annecy, France, which seems more like Switzerland because of its gorgeous lake, and wonderful surrounding mountains. (You can read about my one day spent with them here.)
Organized in Israel, the members of this tour, Israel Cycling Tours, were mostly triathletes. But let’s not underestimate what that means. They were athletes in the Greek sense of the world, unbelievable, competitive people with a lust for sport like I have never seen before in one group.
First came the 100 km over the same mountain passes ridden by the Tour de France competitors. At the end of the day, instead of retiring to their hotel rooms, they asked, “who wants to go for a run?” After the run was finished, they asked, “who wants to go for a swim?”
None of these athletes were full time competitors, and all of them had other things to do in life. No doubt, back in Israel they faced many of the stressors that we face here in the United States, but also the threat of terrorism on a daily basis.
So why go to Israel? Aside from aspiring to be like these amazing athletes with a lust for life, I want to see the country and find out what their lives are like. No better time than now.
Israel will be host to five races from January to March 2014, three marathons, a half-marathon and an Ironman triathlon, according to the NY Times.
The marathons include one along the Sea of Galilee (Jan. 10), which is run at 650 feet below sea level; one in Tel Aviv (Feb. 28), which takes runners through the city and along beaches; and another through Jerusalem’s historic sites (March 21).
The Ironman (Jan. 17) will be held in the Red Sea resort town of Eilat (it also has a half-Ironman option), while the half-marathon will be run on Feb. 7 or 8 in Ein Gedi along the Dead Sea, reports the Times.
But if you aren’t a marathoner or IronManner, you can jump into a number of big rides through Israel, all of which are sure to be eye-openers.
First of all, you can join with those amazing athletes Gonan Harpaz and Boaz Jaschek who run Israel Cycling Tours and have them take you through Israel instead of the Tour de France. They offer tours of the north or south by road or mountain bike, typically for 8 days and 7 nights, with 5 days of cycling.
For example, the outfit’s tour to the north includes 4 days of cycling with distances ranging from 85 to 110 km per day—or 52 to 68 km, and one day walking through Jerusalem, a distance that is sure not to disappoint riders who are looking for a fitness boost. But history and place are not forgotten as the group winds its way through tremendous scenery, along the shores of the Galilee Sea, the Hula Valley, and the Golan Heights, among other notable places.
If you simply want to mountain bike on your own, you can access the country’s bike trails through their site, Israel Bike Trails. To put together your own road bike tour, consult the country’s official tourist site.
The site writes, “From a pleasant urban ride to a cross country tour, from bike paths for the whole family to extreme off road
routes, Israel has something for anyone who loves to ride…. All of these options can be modified to fit an individual’s taste.” Christian, evangelical, archaeological, ethnic, ecotourist, and cultural tours are highlighted.
Also this March 1, there is a Gran Fondo Dead Sea, a 156 km race, whose registration is unfortunately closed (maybe a friend can get you in or wait until 2015).
If you like Gran Fondos there is the inexplicably strangely-named Gran Fondo Giro D’Italia Jerusalem, which I suppose is no funnier than the Gran Fondo Giro Italia Beverly Hills and Miami–none of these places are particularly Italian.
The event will be held this October 24 starting in Jerusalem. Of course, not to worry if you miss the event in Israel, you can catch up with the Gran Fondo Giro D’Italia in Beverly Hills and Miami/ Coral Gables, Florida, in November.
In November 2014 there is a 7-day ride and fundraiser called the Hazon-Arava ride, which averages between 30 and 80 miles a day.
In an article in the blog GreenProphet entitled, Israel Becomes a Nation of Pedalers (Cycling freaks,) the author Mike Green writes that despite dangerous roads, Israelis are cycling more than ever.
In Tel Aviv, el Aviv – “a city with flat terrain which is perfect for cycling – bike riding has become part of the local culture. There’s a well-maintained boardwalk for cycling along the sea and at least three Tel Aviv cafés rent bikes or give away rentals when you buy a coffee. You can find almost any trend that exists in European cities, like the “peddlers” from the Good Energy Initiative, cyclists who pump up Earth Hour concerts with carbon-free energy.”
“You may also come upon semi-naked cyclists protesting helmet laws (left), or new courier companies like Cicleta with ‘underground’ cyclists weaving in and out of traffic as they deliver packages on bikes instead of on mopeds or in vans.”
“You may also catch sight of the beautiful young people in Tel Aviv, cycling back from the open-air Carmel Market with their purchases in the baskets attached to the handlebars of their bikes.”
But our favorite post from the Green Prophet talks about the night ride he took in 2008 with a bunch of Israeli night cyclists, when he had the time of his life.
“No loud music, repetitive beats, or even a drop of beer (until afterwards, at least), but it was one of the best nights out I’ve had for a while. Two hours of exhilaration: it’s free, healthy – and it’s green. In any case, my new bike is going way faster than the Holy City’s new light railway,” wrote Mr. Green.