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No-brake bike cycling trendy among young in Vietnam

No-brake bike cycling trendy among young in Vietnam

Sunday, August 17, 2014, 12:01 GMT+7

In the past two years, Vietnamese youth, particularly those in Ho Chi Minh City, have enthusiastically taken up the hobby of riding fixed-gear bicycles, most of which only have a front brake, and some have no brakes at all.

Though fixed-gear bikes, or fixed-wheel bikes commonly known as fixies, which have a drive chain with no freewheel mechanism, have been imported into Vietnam in the past few years, use of the bikes did not become such a trend until recently.

Ho Chi Minh City is now home to some ten clubs of fixed-gear buffs.

At one of the Fixed Gear Hung (Fixed Gear Enthusiasm) Club’s practice sessions, 21-year-old Le Quoc Tuan, club manager, kept reminding his members of the techniques while they were riding their bikes around the downtown areas.

At turns, they slowed down by raising themselves and pushing hard on the straps attached to the pedals for balance.

The group then gathered beneath Nguyen Huu Canh Bridge in District 1 to practice technically-demanding maneuvers such as standing on the two pedals, wheelie (raising the front wheel off the ground and balancing on the back wheel,) and keo spins (maneuvering the bike with one arm).

The sport of personality, adventure and strength of will

While most bicycles incorporate a freewheel to allow the pedals to remain stationary while the bike is in motion, the fixed-gear bicycle, which remains the standard track racing design, boasts a fixed-gear drive chain, which has the drive sprocket (or cog) threaded or bolted directly to the hub of the back wheel, so that the rider cannot stop pedaling.

When the rear wheel turns, the pedals turn in the same direction. This allows a cyclist to apply a braking force with their legs and bodyweight by resisting the rotation of the cranks. It also makes it possible to ride backwards although learning to do so is much more difficult than riding forward.

The bikes cost from VND4 million (US$188) to VND12 million ($565) apiece, but fakes from China are also rampant.

Real fixed-gear bikes are light, durable and have thin tubes which are usually rubbed against the road surface.

Fixies appeal to youth mostly with their simple, colorful designs and special mechanism, which make them both trendy and thrill-offering items.  

Users can also make their bikes even gaudier and fun to look at with their own stylish additions or changes to the frames, wheels and spokes.

According to Tuan, Fixed Gear Hung Club manager, fixies’ simple mechanism allows total novices to grasp the basics only after a few tries, and learn how to skid and bring the bikes to a stop after one week.

“I was scared when I gave it my first shot, and lost my balance again and again. But after a few days, I learned how to create friction while letting the bike skid on the road surface, and stop it safely,” shared Nguyen Thi Trang, an 18-year-old female student.

Tuan added that it takes patience, courage and passion to master more challenging maneuvers, including fishtailing (swinging from side to side while riding forward), and the track stand technique (a maneuver in which the bicycle can be held stationary, balanced upright with the rider’s feet on the pedals.)

The manager added that his club members often imitate new moves from foreign websites.

Le Van Luan, 36, head of Fixed Gear Saigon Club, finds fixie cycling most appealing in its working principles: riders have no brakes to apply and just keep moving forwards, which offers them thrills and satisfies their yearning to overcome obstacles.

Tuan of Fixed Gear Hung Club, who regularly rides his fixie to school, added that the sport also gives riders motivation to keep practicing the moves, which gain in difficulty, as well as enhances their stamina and physical strength.

Riders can also make minor repairs to their bikes themselves, which helps cement the bond between them.

Fixed Gear Hung Club was founded in 2013 by Pham Quoc Huy, 29, to gather those sharing the hobby. The club now enjoys a membership of almost 300.

Every Wednesday and Friday evenings, the club members ride their bikes together and cover some 7km from the city’s downtown to the foreigners-packed Phu My Hung urban zone in District 7.

Similarly, members of Fixed Gear Saigon Club gather and ride around the city, which is also a way to encourage the use of bicycles among locals for health benefits.

Other fixed-gear bike clubs are based in District 3 and Binh Tan and Thu Duc Districts.

Luan, Fixed Gear Saigon Club leader, has run his fixed-gear workshop on Phu Nhuan District’s Tran Cao Van Street since 2010.

His staff and him assemble quality fixies, and sell finished ones and accessories.

Other fixie shops include Fixed Gear BinBin on District 1’s De Tham Street, Fixed Gear HCM on Phu Nhuan District’s Nguyen Van Dau Street, and Fixed Gear BonBon Shop on District 3’s Ky Dong Street.

Recently, more and more older adults, including office workers and elderly people, have also taken up fixie riding to improve their health, relax and help save the environment.   They can install or uninstall the brakes to suit their purposes.

Tran Van Kieu, 57, of Binh Thanh District, often rides his fixie to work, some 3km from home, as he finds cycling safer than motorbike riding.

He sometimes joins local youth’s fixie rides around the city.

Fixed-gear bike race held for first time in Vietnam

Twelve teams of local fixed-gear cyclers showcased their skills and competed at the SaiGon Alleycat race, held for the first time ever in Vietnam, on August 10 in Ho Chi Minh City.

Adapted from Alleycat, a global fixed-gear bike competition, the SaiGon Alleycat, saw the cyclers, in teams of three, departing at 23/9 Park in the city’s downtown, riding past several locations around the city and decoding secret letters before reaching the finish line.

The organizer, Fixed Gear Saigon Club, plans to hold the competition twice yearly.

The competition also attracted several foreign cyclers.

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