Yikes bikes, peddling power

Posted in Travel

Yikes bikes, peddling power

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realise fishing is stupid and boring.” Desmond Tutu, high-fi!

This afternoon I donned my cycling shorts and reluctantly went off to the gym to attend a Spinning Class after an absence of 8 weeks. And that’s almost as close as I normally get to a bicycle. My resistance to bikes stems from my childhood cycling experiences, I would enthusiastically hop onto my bike and pedal away, forgetting the return journey, there’s no such thing as a halfway mark and one’s memory is short when you’re flying downhill. So it was often with blood, sweat and tears that I got home. My balance isn't so hot so I often had a scuffed knee and bruised ego.   In my day a telephone was a luxury especially since we lived on a farm in the bundu, so the thought of giving my parents a ring to fetch me was out of the question. Speaking of which our “number” was 2 shorts-and-a-long, where the lady at the switch-board knew all the gossip and news, she even knew who was home or not!

Later on in high school I really loathed riding my bike, so embarrassing on that black old fashioned 1964 model with the curvy handle-bars, the neighbour’s kid and I painted it pink, which was a disaster. For my 27th birthday I received a racing bike, with Marie biscuit wheels, which was great until I got a puncture 10km from home, I don’t do punctures and repair kits, so it was a relief when I  opened the garage door one morning to see it had been stolen, one advantage of living in a crime ridden country!
With a sigh of relief I tossed my lycra padded cycling pants into the bin until 10 years ago when in a fit of romantic good cheer I agreed to a pink bike with a basket on the handlebars, it’s rusting in the store room but, I did do four trips and pedalled to a  dinner party on it. And then three years ago during a “tempore persum” (a moment of sheer madness) I promised my Precious I’d accompany him to his Spinning Classes (his birthday gift!)

Being the ever adventurer I suggested cycling to our luncheon reservation in Hoi An, I set off full of the joys of spring, forgetting that our navigational skills are limited and the route could be much farther than expected by all accounts. I pedalled like mad to get over the curved bridges and loved the exhilarating downhills with the wind blowing through my perspiration soaked hair, my conical hat flying off my head and almost strangling me at times. Like mad dogs and Englishmen out in the midday sun we’d forgotten about the humidity too. By the time we were half way and had already done twice the GPS' expected distance of 4 km we were both fuming and not talking. Pointing fingers or sulking and lunch do not go together so I decided to take the road of least resistance and belted up. Eventually we cruised into the grounds of the Baby Mustard Restaurant. The first thing we did was order the cool Passion fruit, Ginger and Lime drink. Delicious with a drop of our hidden stash of Gordon’s gin. Our meal was outstanding. But more on that later.

After lunch, armed with new directions, a map and boosted spirits we set off in a better mood, bouncing along farm roads, negotiating water buffalo, ducks and a couple on a motor bike and side-car.  Butch was thrilled at seeing a few waders and other birds as birding isn't big in Vietnam.   We also observed three ladies harvesting a rice crop.  I was a little unsteady by then, but soon regained my confidence and composure! Precious on the other hand was a tad heavy for his bike and something happened to his seat which caused him much discomfort. I was concerned about him and quickly offered to swop bikes, it felt like I was on a “bomber” doing a wheelie all the way home in a very inappropriate fashion, but I leave that to the imagination, suffice to say the saddle was sticking up at an angle! We needed a nap before supper.

Our second cycling encounter was a much more sedate affair, except that my front tyre and handle-bars weren’t in alignment, so when I tried to negotiate my first sharp bend in the road I careened straight into a rice paddy. This was an ice-breaker and even the very snooty French couple had to giggle. We were in the Mekong Delta doing our second home stay at the Nguyen Shack – Mekong – Can Tho. I did manage to stay on my bike for the rest of the morning and really enjoyed rural life from the seat of my trusty “iron horse”.
I have to give myself a pat on the back as I think it’s fantastic that we had the gutzpah to get on a bike in a country with at least 4,5 billion bikes, no road signs and no traffic rules, where the tring-tringing of a bell is the only means of communicating where and what you are.   We loved it and managed to get home unscathed.

Most Hotels, guesthouses and home-stays have bicycles for guests to use/hire, be sure to do so, it’s well worth the effort. But, you need to be fairly fit and of course you must know how to ride a bike! Alcohol and riding will have health risks and could be hazardous.  Cyclos are another option if you're not too au fais on a bicycle.

On Saturday my Precious even suggested we cycle into the village for lunch, we didn't.   I’m pleased to announce the Spinning class was exhausting but bearable as we’re not as unfit as we thought, but, rest assured, I will not be doing the Argus or the Epic EVER.  Precious said I should be grateful as my spinning bike, which is as dilapidated as the best of them in Vietnam has gears!

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

― Albert Einstein