Bicycling in a city of Scooters..

So my bike came with me. The other half purchased a battered second hand 10 quid hard case from some bloke in London via the medium of Ebay. One of our friends kindly collected it en route to somewhere she was going. Wheels & a lock were installed, bike was dismantled & packed around the bike were various soft things carefully weighed to ensure we didn’t exceed the maximum (we did – very slightly – nice man at the airport let us off) weight per individual item. The remainder of the excess baggage allowance my employer gave me was used for the safe passage of my beloved Mango bike.

The case arrived in HCMC airport missing 2 wheels, but otherwise generally intact. It was far too large to put through the manual x-ray machine so instead the security checks consisted of us opening the case, the lady rummaging a bit:
lady – ‘this bike new?’
me – ‘no look at the mud on it’
lady – *giggles* ‘OK’
We do the case up & that’s it – she made it – my bike made it!

I think it was a day or so later when she was fully re-assembled and ready to go. I took her for a quick little jaunt around the block & waited for JJ’s departure until I braved proper roads, traffic etc.

In the beginning I was slightly terrified. I started off just before Tet so the traffic was massively decreased in volume, & I was beginning to gain confidence. I had progressed from little rides round the block & had decided to go to the cash machine to get the money to pay the estate agent. This was the last working day before the Tet holiday and it was busy, really busy. After trying 3 separate cash machines (they put a cap on the amount you can withdraw around Tet because of all of this crime I keep hearing about) I managed to draw out enough money & was back on the road. Lights are red so I stop; I cannot tell you what the rule is that means that at some lights people actually stop & at some they are more for decoration, fear of death perhaps? Who knows – but these lights are the proper sort, so I stopped in line with everyone else. The man behind on his scooter starts to bib & I am wondering where exactly he expects me to move to as I am sandwiched in between two other scooters with one directly in front of me, he continues with his irritating bibbing & I am not sure what inside of my brain told me it was acceptable, but I started to gently nudge the lady in front of me with my wheel, just very gently, but nudge nudge, sure enough she moved forward nudging the person in front of her & the lights changed and we were all off. Then afterwards I was thinking about it & thinking actually that’s not ok though is it? I mean if you were in a car in England, you wouldn’t just gently nudge the one in front of you would you? That’s actually really quite naughty. Now as I was having a nice ride, deep in thought, I decided to extend it (as I often do) & this was a poor decision because somewhere between dropping off the money & making this decision I gained a puncture & had to dismount to sadly walk the 4km home praying to the bicycle gods that this was just a flat somehow. I pumped up the flat tyre to find it deflated again almost immediately. A bloody puncture. What brilliant timing, everything is shut for Tet & I have no puncture repair kit…. GRRRRRRRR!!!! I feel almost certain this is somehow that bibbing assholes fault. He did it, he punctured my baby 😦

The boyfriend dutifully repaired the puncture when he arrived for the Tet break, we ordered some Gatorskins they have Kevlar in them to help protect against punctures on these somewhat treacherous roads & I did a trial run to work. That feels like a lifetime ago!!

Now I ride my bike to and from work every day. On the way to work I am yet to have a day where some idiot doesn’t cut in front of me and force me to break on the hill I dream of coasting down. On the way home I have to brave cycling into the path of oncoming traffic for a few hundred metres, which is always a bit tricky but you get used to it. I have bought myself a bunch of disposable face masks because I prefer not to have a mouth full of grit & insects. The security guard at work gets worried/upset/confused if I ever arrived not on my bike. It took around 17minutes the first few times, I can make it in 12 now, a lot of it hinges on traffic lights.

So far I have been bumped several times always in the front wheel & I find it extremely disappointing to write this, but always by women. Not one single man, & I know gender is irrelevant in this exhilarating, terrifying, semi dangerous race to & from the office, but I do feel a little let down by my fellow females. The most common bumpage is when someone cuts in front of me underestimating the pace at which I am going so have to go faster than they expected then slam their brakes on as they are cutting in & again underestimate that a bicycle wheel is considerably bigger than a scooter wheel & bump me in the wheel. Thankfully they have only been pretty gentle bumps, but I glared so hard & they knew, they could tell through my mask I was glaring.

I have started to ride to CrossFit, I am still yet to work out how to get there to avoid crossing the road of doom, which is an uber busy fast moving 4 lane road. I know there is a way to avoid it, I just haven’t sussed it out yet, it is such a challenging road to cross that when it is clear I let out an audible sigh of relief. My ride home is much less harrowing.

I have in fact started to ride to most places. HCMC is a very flat city, so riding your bike around is not particularly taxing energy wise. Being vigilant & having a grasp on how the traffic is flowing, spacial awareness & peripheral vision are things I can thank roller derby for because I have a head start on most people here & that’s what you need all of your energy for really, actually peddling is the easy part.

So ingrained into my life has cycling become that I insisted on JJ purchasing a bicycle so we could go on adventures together, we went out for a test ride, I got a bit carried away & 42km later I had to cycle the poor dying other half home, forgetting he is not used to the climate, or riding bikes for quite a long way..

It got me thinking though. 42km felt like nothing at all, it felt as though I could have gone further, I wasn’t tired. I had started to look at routes this guy ‘Dong Mad Mal’ had been posting on Endomondo of 50, 60, 70km & I felt like this wasn’t something that was completely unattainable. The morning JJ went back off to the UK this last trip I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up, got dressed into some probably quite inappropriate cycling attire, jumped on my bike & peddled. I overtook many very professional looking cyclists in fancy outfits, went past other groups sat eating their breakfast noodles in cafes, & was fascinated by this cycling subculture I knew nothing about.

I was determined to follow the path of the river, I had dreams of lush green, deserted roads & instead (so painfully obviously) I found myself in district 1, slap bang in the middle of Saigon. Peddling around trying to remember the way all the Ubers & Grabs had taken me, failing. Luckily enough it was super early so instead of the total insanity of the traffic, it was only mild chaos. I cycled round 1, 3, 8, 10 maybe not in that order, I found Ben Thanh market & managed to navigate myself back to Phu My Hung. I think that was around 30km & I suddenly thought maybe I was feeling a bit thirsty so I stopped at Annam bought some fizzy pop & water, sat down for a bit, drank them, it was hot, I must remember to drink, I thought.

I realised that I wasn’t tired or worn out just thirsty. Got back on my bike and vowed I would cycle 50km. I mean why not, it’s not so far really in the grand scheme of things. So I went straight down the big road (I know no road names here except my own – still – they are just soooo hard) keeping an eye on my Tom Tom spark, watching the KM rack up & when I got far enough that I knew I would have done the 50 on arrival home, I turned to head back, stopping off to take photo’s of waterlilies feeling pretty damn pleased with myself.

51.91km is what I actually did. I felt a little tired after that, but that could be because I had just cycled over 50km on around 3 hours sleep.
Today I went out to my employers factory. It’s a bit further than the furthest I have cycled, perhaps another 10km or so. It was only on the way back when I was watching the scenery change & noticing landmarks I remember from my cycling – the waterlilies for example, I realised that 50km is in fact quite a long way & I had managed to do that on my 3 gear road bike, with 3 hours sleep, a can of diet irn bru & a bottle of water.

Having my bicycle here is freedom. Being able to clock up distances of over 50km is the ultimate in freedom – there are a lot of other places you can get to when you start to get over the 50km mark, & that makes a lot more of Vietnam a lot more accessible. It really made me start to think. What if I plan my journey properly, get some sleep, eat some food & drink sensible drinks – where could I go? How far could I go? Cycling has never felt like a chore to me, it makes me feel like a 5 year old, big cheesy grin, I love riding my bike. I am not a brilliant bike rider, I can’t do any tricks or anything, I just like it & it’s  a great mode of transport too which is a bonus. No matter what has happened in the day or how bad I feel when I wake up I jump on my bike & whizz around peddling like fury & I am cured. It’s the simplest fixer. I saw a great quote the other day which really summed it all up & I am kicking myself for not saving it but when I find it again I will put it here. For now though I am out; bedtime.

Night world x

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