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  • Writer's pictureMo Awesome

What is it Like Being a Middle Eastern Mountain Biker?


What is it like to be a Middle Eastern mountain biker in the United States? After all, when you look at the sport itself, Middle Eastern is probably not the demographic you will run into on the trails here in America. As someone who is Lebanese, in the 12 years I have been riding mountain bikes (9 of those years in the bike industry), I have met maybe a handful at most and have never found myself using my Arabic on the trails. I would argue that Middle Eastern mountain bikers might be one of the smallest demographics out there, most likely because if you tell a Middle Eastern mom you want to ride your bicycle down a mountain you would be met with a very concerned “yallahteef” (oh my gosh!) and not much encouragement. This would probably be followed by a loud explanation on how mountain biking is a crazy white person sport and you would most likely be driven to soccer practice after, rather than your nearest trailhead. So for those of us that defied the Middle Eastern American odds and are pursuing our dreams of mountain biking, what's it like?


Sorry had to squeeze these in! -Hannah

My parents were born and raised in the Middl Eastern country of Lebanon, and are both muslim. My dad decided to escape a civil war and come to America in his 20’s, in search of a better life. When he first immigrated to America, he knew very little English and had no money. He was pursuing the American dream and also knew this would lead to a better life for a family he wanted. He would later go back to Lebanon and meet my mom, and after getting married to her, bring her to America. A few years after that they gave birth to me, followed by my sister. I was the first ever person in the family to be born in the USA, otherwise known as a first generation Lebanese-American. Arabic was the first language I learned, as at the time that is still primarily what my parents spoke. In fact, I am still able to speak Arabic today. I was raised muslim, attending mosque for a small period of my life, before eventually losing faith in my teens only to refind my faith in Islam when I turned 30. We moved back to Lebanon for a short period of time before finding ourselves back in the USA, a move that would eventually lead my parents to realize this would be the place my sister and I were raised. 



My sport of "choice" in childhood!



After high school I went straight to college and this is where my mountain bike career would begin. When I got to college I realized I didn’t want to be there. College was actually the only path really presented to me in high school. Being raised as a first generation Middle Eastern American, at 17 I didn’t think there was any other path I could take. I couldn't blame my parents for this either, once again they immigrated to this country to raise me, this was all new to them. All they talked about in high school is how you are getting ready for college and not much is spoken about other paths in life. My parents faced so many challenges after immigrating to this country too, so in their eyes college would make my life easy, or at least that is what they thought. 


I chose to attend the University of California, Irvine and soon found myself struggling to find anything that interested me, but dropping out was not an option. And for anyone reading this with Middle Eastern parents, you know exactly why (nervous laughter). Disappointing your parents is not an option and there was an insane amount of pressure for me to finish. Not helping my situation was the fact that I hated attending classes, almost as much as I detested the entire college process. 


This was also around the time I first discovered mountain biking. In fact, up until I was 18, I never even knew mountain biking existed. I had never even seen a video of anyone mountain biking as this was pre MTB YouTube. But UCI is about 2 miles away from some of the best mountain biking in the world, and what would later become my favorite trails. After starting college, I was soon in the market for a new commuter bike, and this led me to finding a hardtail. Bike shop employees would tell me that this was perfect because I could commute to class and maybe try mountain biking. And as someone that was looking for any excuse possible to skip class, this is what I did. 


Circa 2017, a few years after college!

Mountain biking would soon become something I would get insanely addicted to, primarily fueled by a desire to find something to do instead of going to class. I was a very fast learner when it came to school and even though I was skipping a majority of lectures, I could cram a semester amount of info in one or 2 nights and managed to crawl my way to a Bachelor's degree. Now unfortunately this skill of learning quickly did not apply to mountain biking, and here I struggled. You have to keep in mind, I never even knew you could ride your bike off-road growing up and now all of a sudden I was going down mountains. I was also learning most of this primarily by myself with no coaches at all. A few people would give me advice along the way, but this was an addiction and I wanted to get better at this sport. 


Hannah and I on one of our first road trips together!

Now during my time at UCI I also found myself beginning my journey into the bike industry. I got a job at a bike shop and I would continue to work in bike shops for a while after that. I spent so much time mountain biking and by the time I graduated I was very good at it, to the point where I bought a van so that I could travel all over North America. This would allow me to ride different mountain bike destinations, further improving on my skills! The next step for me was coaching mountain biking and this is around the same time Hannah and I started dating. That then transitioned into YouTube and content creation, with lots of brand partnerships. Throughout this entire journey, I met so many people and worked with many brands. However, never once did I ever meet anyone else who spoke Arabic.


So what's it like being a Middle Eastern mountain biker in the bike industry? Well, it's pretty interesting. I feel like I “blend in” really well, most people don’t even know I speak Arabic, let alone that I have Lebanese citizenship. But every now and then my Lebanese side comes up and it's been a learning process in how to deal with a lot of the cultural differences. Lebanese people are very loud and passionate, and I 100% have both of these things. It's taken me a few years to realize that in American culture, that comes off very aggressive, when to me it shouldn’t at all. I know I grew up in the US, but my parents raised me Lebanese. When I talk, I am passionate and I’m just trying to get my point across. But seeing Hannah's look of concern when she first came over to my parents house and saw my parents and I just having a normal conversation made me realize the expression that exists in my culture is very different from non Middle Easterns. 


Circa 2018 when we first started YouTube.

The same can be said with conflict resolution. In Lebanese culture, if you have a problem with someone they will know it because you aren't letting it go. It's very normal to get into a heated argument with someone and be okay within a few hours. But in an industry that is so interbred it has been interesting experiencing a few moments where I thought I was okay with someone, only to hear they called some of our friends behind the scenes to discuss some issues they have with me. That concept is very foreign to me, if you have an issue, express it . Sure Lebanese culture can be filled with gossiping, however we are not avoidant people. 


The other weird thing for me has been not knowing when a brand wants to use me as a diversity token or because they like who I am and the business I've built. There have been a few times where I get pretty excited that a brand wants to work together and then something slips where I start to get the feeling that it might be a little less to do with me and maybe a little more to do with the fact that I'm brown. That is an instant deal breaker for me, especially if a brand isn't up front about it.


Don't get me wrong, every now and then I look around at group rides in the US and it does strike me as kind of odd that there aren't more brown mountain bikers. But then I also remember how that wasn't even an option for me growing up. If I had told my mom I wanted to mountain bike, once again a loud “Yallahteef” would be heard and it would be followed by “lah, mahfeek” (no you can't). And if a brand wants to get more brown representation, then tell me that and be honest, because there is nothing weirder than beating around the bush when it comes to race, and honestly you shouldn’t have too. Just don't call me a BIPOC when we first meet, that is weird and yes that has happened before. Just say “hey it's so cool that you're Middle Eastern, lets get more brown people on bikes”.




And how are my interactions with people in the southern United States or mountain bikers in general? After all, living in a van has taken me all across the United States and we have even spent a considerable amount of time in the south. I bring this up because when we first told some friends about our trips to the south, I was met with “wow that probably was tough for you”. I realized they were referring to me being brown and assuming that my time mountain biking in the south was filled with dealing with racism. When I told that person that actually our trip was filled with amazing people showing us around, and that southern hospitality was a real thing, they looked very confused. And I am not exaggerating either, the time we have spent mountain biking in the south has been insanely awesome, and we have met some of the nicest people. Does racism exist down there? It does, but racism also exists in some capacity everywhere, even overseas. And throughout our travels I have met and talked to so many people in the US, further deepening my love for this country and the places we have been! 




Mountain biking is filled with some of the best people I’ve ever met, and like I said, the few negative interactions I have had with people have primarily been online and/or are few and far between. When it comes down to our core, we are all just looking to get into nature on 2 wheels and escape the "real world". Do I wish there were more brown mountain bikers on the trails here in the United States? Absolutely, I think it's a pretty rad thing to see people from different cultures mountain biking here in the US. Do I think brown people need more representation? It would be nice to see, but not in a corny way to make marketing managers feel better about themselves. Be up front and honest about your curiosity. Ask me about being Middle Eastern or even muslim. Ask how we can get more Middle Eastern people on bikes (good luck convincing Middle Eastern moms). And if your end goal is more brown people on the trails, then say that. It’s an awesome goal and I think when done right, wields amazing results.


But don't throw letters at me, especially when we first meet. Or else my Lebanese side will come out. 


-Mo Awesome





6 commentaires


Ameen Younis
Ameen Younis
15 févr.

Great article, Mo! It was cool meeting you today and it’s funny how we talked about this right after you wrote an article about it. Hope to see you on the trail again!

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angelyoutuba
14 févr.

"But UCI is about 2 miles away from some of the best mountain biking in the world"

What are you talking about? the dreaded Luge or Modjeska canyon? ;))) OC is mediocre at best for MTB (lagua beach excluded)

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Hannah Awesome
Hannah Awesome
14 févr.
En réponse à

Hi Angel, Mo was referring to Laguna as those are the trails near UCI and his favorite!

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Mohammed Alquraishi
Mohammed Alquraishi
14 févr.

Enjoyed reading it Mo! I have come across an Iranian guy back in fort Collins in 2013. A Turkish friend rode with us sometimes in Flagstaff, but not much else. There is however a growing interest in mtbing here in Saudi and surrounding regions and many people are catching the bug.

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Hannah Awesome
Hannah Awesome
14 févr.
En réponse à

Thanks Mohammed! Mo says he wants to visit Saudi! 😄

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