HCMC Dining Guide

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Back in the Saddle

I need to give this guy a name.
I racked up nearly 500 miles on my mountain bike during my final two years at school in Pittsburgh, so it is safe to say that I am an avid cyclist. One aspect of Saigon that has most frustrated me from the get-go is the complete absence of any sort of infrastructure geared towards people who want to ride a bicycle for pleasure - not just because they have to out of economic circumstance. The roads are all one big, giant mess of traffic and obstructions and honking. This is annoying enough when you're on a motorbike, but imagine how much worse it would be if had to pedal yourself around. I started driving a moto on my own within two weeks of my arrival in Saigon; but I've always said I would never ride a bicycle here. That changed about two weeks ago.

In February, I'm participating in a charity bike ride from Hanoi to Saigon - 2000 km, or 1000 miles, all on my own two legs. I'll discuss this ride (called H2H, for Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City) in more detail as it approaches (I'll also be asking for donations for the charities involved), but I recently took the first step towards this epic adventure: buying a bike.

Bikes are quite popular here, since they are so cheap, but most of them are fixed-gear pieces of garbage, only made for getting from home to school. Fortunately, there are some shops here that sell real bikes. I got my Chinese-made road bike for a smidge over $200, and last week I went on my first training ride.

Every Tuesday and Thursday a group of people who plan to do the ride meet up on the lengthy Nguyen Van Linh Parkway, out in District 7. The road surface is in good condition, and as you get farther away from the city the traffic largely disappears. I've gone on several rides since last week, and I'm already hooked, once again, on cycling.
The moto lane of the parkway
Once Saigon's extensive tentacles finally peter out, the rides provide some great scenery; as the last construction cranes and rising apartment towers give way to fish farms, palm groves and, on the day these pictures were taken, looming thunderstorms.

I also enjoy seeing people's reactions to Westerners riding road bikes - completely decked out in gym shorts and shirts - riding next to motorbikes and dump trucks. I've gotten quiet a few stares and "HELLOs!" already; I'm sure we'll get even more when we're cruising through rural Vietnam in February.

It feels great to be back in a bike saddle. These roughly 40km training rides have been a relatively easy way of getting back into a routine - my legs aren't what they used to be after a year of practically no cycling. I'll have more on this as preparations for the journey continue over the next four months.

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