On a quick look riding a bicycle in Hanoi may not seem ideal. But given the alternatives of walking too slow buses confusing and no English speaking drivers to help or taxi or xe om, a bicycle is almost as easy.
A bicycle can fit in smaller gaps in traffic and acts on the command of the rider quickly. It also deals well with the inconsistently of Hanoi roads. If you’ve travelled around town, I’m sure you understand what I’m talking. Imagine you are on a perfectly good road and next thing you know your wheels have dropped in to a gap nearly two inches deep and eight inches wide. You need to be able to respond quickly to that.
If you’re living in Hanoi you know the only way to escape the constant city pollution is to leave the city, otherwise you are stuck with it. Usually accidents can be avoided if you keep your head up, your eyes and ears open and your wits about you. So riding in Hanoi does have some drawbacks but they are not as bad as the initially appear to most people.
In fact, for all that so many say otherwise Hanoi is preferable to Saigon in some ways. The traffic jams are even worse, with traffic crammed into all the space between buildings on one side of the road and the other. A pedestrian can barely cross the road.
In Saigon I’ve see a person walking their motorbike across the street perpendicular to the flow of traffic blocking four lanes of motorbikes, pushing their way across a very full road lane by lane. Possibly attitudes have to do with having a lower volume of traffic here; you don’t need to push and fight your way through because there is less to fight through.
If you prefer the safety of a group of riders rather than being surrounded by anonymous traffic there are some cycling groups you can join. In Saigon it took me five months to find the local cycling community and I only ever managed to join the group ride in district 7. Something always seemed to prevent meeting up, like a change of venue or a start time of five am.
I’ve faired much better here in Hanoi. There are two group rides that I know of: the Hanoi Ridazz and the Thang Long Velo Club Sunday morning training ride. And both of them are great. For those wanting a social ride that allows you to see the city on a Friday night there is the Hanoi Ridazz. For those of you who need to push themselves a bit there is the Sunday morning training ride. Or you can, as I do in my case, attend both.
The Hanoi Ridazz was started a few months ago by a couple of gentleman both named Linh. They meet twice a month (the second and the last Friday each month) in front of the statue of Lenin on Dien Bien Phu street around 9:00-9:30 in the evening and then they take an easy roll around different parts of Hanoi and normally finish the ride at a cafe or bar. And usually there is a stop for a sugar cane juice in the middle of the ride.
The ride moves at a pleasant 12-16 km/h for a couple hours and the riders talk to one another all along the way. The first one I went on was at the beginning of the 2010 World Cup so we rode past all the big soccer football stadiums in town. I’ve also been on the bridge to bridge ride and around West Lake with them and it’s always a good time.
If you fancy something a bit more fitness and training oriented you can meet Thang Long Velo Club riders at the Ciputra Monument at about 6:00 on Sunday mornings, unless it’s raining. They split into ability-based groups and do a loop of about 100 kilometres which includes 70 kilometres of hard riding from when they turn off Duong Pham Van, through the countryside, on to the Quoc lo where the hard stuff finishes with a sprint to the Hanoi city limits sign.
The A group of about 10 people is quite quick averaging over 35 km/h and spending extended periods of time at over 40km/h when people are pushing the pace to get way from the others. After the sprint they might stop and get a refreshing beverage at the side of the road and then usually all the riders in all the different groups meet for a bowl of pho.
So if you can taker the occasional bump in the road the bicycle might be the best way to get around Hanoi. And it makes a great social and fitness tool. Now only if I could find decent bikes and bicycle parts in this town. If you have suggestions come meet me on a ride.
This article originally appeared in Vietnam Pathfinder.