Ibn Battuta on a bike

Nader Habib , Tuesday 16 Apr 2024

Nader Habib talks to cyclist Amr Selim about what he has learned on his bicycle trips around Egypt and the region

Amr Selim visits Alexandria on his bike
Amr Selim visits Alexandria on his bike


“My dream is to ride my bike around the world. Whether I can achieve it or not, I will hold onto it until the end of my life. My wish is to visit Tunisia, Algeria, Jerusalem, Iraq, Sudan, and many African countries to see their different cultures, customs, and traditions.”

“These are my dreams, but I hope they come true,” said Amr Selim, a 37-year-old young man who currently works as an electrical engineer.

Selim’s hobby is travelling on a bicycle to show people the beauty of the world, especially Egypt, through the historical places he visits and by sharing videos on social media or through his books in which he documents his journeys.

“Every place has a history and a story that everyone should know,” he said.

Selim said that he has loved riding bikes since childhood, and it is a talent he was born with. But the idea of travelling by bike really started during the Covid-19 pandemic, when no one could go to work or go out due to the curfews. No one could meet their relatives or friends except through social media or phone calls. 

It was then that the idea occurred to him and his friends to start making trips by bike to tourist places in Cairo. They visited museums, mosques, churches, palaces, the Saqqara area, and the Al-Qanatir Al-Khayriyyah district about 25 km from Cairo.

“The trip to Benha was one of the first I took outside Cairo, and it was a wonderful one,” Selim said. “It was an exploratory trip where I had a lovely experience that holds a special place in my heart.” 

The story began when a friend posted a note on Facebook about a cycling trip to Benha, he added, saying that a group of ten people then met at 6:00 am. “One of the benefits of such trips is that we make new friendships. As the saying goes, people’s true character is revealed during travel. There is even a proverb that says, ‘choose your companion before the road,’” he said.

“During the trips, we appoint a leader who must always remain at the front. Another person is appointed at the back to ensure that no one falls behind. This helps to ensure that no one falls off or has an accident without our knowledge. From time to time, we stop to take some photographs or drink water,” Selim recalled.

“The Benha trip took us three hours, and upon reaching our destination we were greeted with chocolates, juice, wonderful hospitality, and beautiful smiles that made us forget the hardships and fatigue. It was more than a wonderful experience for me, and I then started to engage in other experiences on my own and not necessarily in a group.”

All of this was also a good use of leisure time. Many people use the weekends to sleep and rest, but Selim doesn’t. He wakes up early, takes his bike, arranges with friends, and goes to visit a place with them. 

“My first book was called Rahal Al-Mahrousa,” Selim said. Rahal means traveller in Arabic, and Al-Mahrousa is an old name given to Cairo. The book is about places Selim visited during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I added a section in the book about Cairo at night and wrote about the people and their behaviour in the Downtown area,” he added. He does not consider the book to be a travelogue – instead, he hopes it will serve as a reference for anyone who loves to visit Egypt.

“After the trip to Benha had inspired me to travel, I decided to start going alone by bike to Zagazig, Port Said, and Ismailia. I started going out with groups to the Desert Oases and Alexandria, and then the idea came to me to continue what I had started and to publish a new book.”

“I published ‘Southern Journeys,’ which is an extension of the second book and includes all the southern governorates of Egypt. The Cairo-Aswan trip is the longest I have made in Egypt at 1,000 km to the Aswan High Dam,” he said.

OUTSIDE EGYPT: Travelling outside Egypt presents its own challenges, as it involves dealing with different cultures, customs, and traditions. 

“During my travels abroad, I consider myself to be an adventurer and therefore I do not book any hotels or places to stay. I discover my surroundings and deal with them in the moment. Ninety per cent of my accommodation is in a tent, so the life of a traveller is not a luxurious one. I sleep in a tent, ride a bike, eat bread and cheese, and try to return to a simple life before the Internet and social media.” 

Selim said that at the end of his long bike journeys he likes to reward himself, sometimes by staying in a hotel. “When I arrived in Aswan, I booked a room in a hotel and started enjoying the city, visiting tourist and historical sites. On my return journeys, I don’t go back to Cairo by bike. Instead, I use public transport as the road I took doesn’t differ from the return road, so there is nothing new to see.”

One of the funniest things that happened to Selim on one of his trips was when local people thought he was a foreigner even though he was in his own country. 

“They would greet me in English, saying how are you?’ and I would respond in Arabic with ‘good morning.’ This would surprise them, and everyone would start laughing, exchanging greetings. When they found that I had arrived in their city by bike, they would ask to take pictures with me. I published the pictures in ‘Southern Journeys,’ as the culture of travelling by bike is not widespread in Egypt.”

“Before going anywhere, I choose places with history and heritage,” he said. “I go to learn and to see something new, like customs and traditions. My choice of Jordan was not a coincidence, for example, as I knew that the country hosted a large number of shrines for the Companions of the Prophet and for the other prophets. There is also Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.”

Selim said he documents his travels in his books because he thinks it is important to keep a record of what he has done and where he has been.

“I want to leave my mark for future generations, just like the late Egyptian writer Anis Mansour did in his book 200 Days Around the World in the Modern Era. Although I never met Mansour in person, he has left a great legacy that has benefited those who have come after him.”

 “In ancient times, there was also the 14th-century Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta, who wrote a book called Rihlat Ibn Battuta [The Travels of Ibn Battuta], the full title of which may be translated as ‘A Masterpiece to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling.’ There is also the ancient Egyptian saying, ‘know that what your pen writes will live forever,’”

For Selim, travel has several benefits, the first of which is the way it can modify someone’s character. “It makes you rely on yourself, and it helps you in that you must make decisions yourself on the road. It increases your culture and knowledge by learning new information and making new friendships,” he said. 

The moment of reaching a destination is a beautiful one for Selim. “I am passionate about achieving my goals,” he added. 

 “The advice I would give to others is to go out and see places for themselves and not rely on the words of others. The value of the journey is not reaching the destination, but the experiences gained along the way,” Selim concluded. 

* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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