Journey to the center of the Earth by bicycle

Before the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, back in the 1990’s I used to travel to Sinai several times a year.  One of my favorite spots was Mount Sinai, where every night an extraordinary collection of nationalities and monotheists would gather to watch the sunrise.  The valley from which the mountain and monastery are reached has a small town named “Santa  Katerina”, after the famous nearby monastery.  Unlike the mountain and monastery, Santa (as it is known) is a strip of carpet shops and restaurants fronting small houses and government buildings and behind them the tallest mountains in Sinai.

In the course of the nineties, the growing prosperity brought by Middle East peace led to the steady expansion of the strip. The strip is dominated by a large restaurant which clearly pre-dated the peace agreement and which is next to a perfunctory bus station. Now that Sinai is too dangerous for the likes of me, I’m sure the restaurant still stands while the carpet shops have vanished.

The restaurant serves a delicious grilled chicken with rice at local prices an is always full of both travellers and Egyptians, and it was here, at some point that I spotted two cyclists eating. Anybody who has a heavily laden bicycle in the middle of Sinai has clearly ridden a long way and I wandered over to find out where they came from.

The story they told was quite astonishing. One had cycled from China and the other from England.  They had met in Jerusalem, and decided to cycle together to Sinai. The ancients believed that Jerusalem was the center of the earth and in a way they were right, because for them Ireland was one end of the world and Japan the other end. Jerusalem is definitely in the middle and also stands at the entrance to Africa (from Sinai) and so in many ways it was the center of the ancient world.  It has always seemed to me that these two cyclists each cycled from one end of the world and met in the middle.

One of the two cyclists, I think it was the one who had ridden from China, told me that he was planning to cycle to Tel Aviv to buy a bicycle.  Specifically he wanted to buy a Kona which he had heard were very cheap in Tel Aviv.

In those days Kona were considered one of the finest bikes you could get (and best in value for money) and there was one shop in Tel Aviv that sold them, Pik’s bicycle shop at the north end of Ibn Gabirol.

Pik’s shop is still there and has existed for almost forty years. He has always had an eye for good value bicycles and, if you’re looking for a good bike he is worth checking out though you should take into account that he is a bit of a difficult man and no longer in his prime (he currently imports Tomac bicycles).

I eventually got over to Pik and, needless to say, bought myself a Kona.  I asked him about the cyclist and he remembered him.  He said he had received a letter from the guy saying that he had ridden the Kona without problems all the way to Scandinavia and then sold it at a profit!

The Kona I bought was unquestionably the best mountain bike I have ever owned and I loved it. I spent five years in England at the beginning of the Millenium and it spent most of that time sitting in my garden in South Tel Aviv. It was still rideable when I returned, but it never really recovered and I had moved on from mountain bikes.


About the Author
Jonathan Lowenstein is an Anglo-Israeli who has lived half his life in England and half in Israel, but has never spent longer then a decade continuously in either country, Both Tel Aviv and London are his native cities and he has almost always commuted by bicycle. In the 1990's, he helped found the Tel Aviv Bicycle Association, arguably Israel's most successful bicycle advocacy organization, now known as the Israel Bicycle Association.