Cycling Vietnam: Same same, but different!

Same same, but different. It’s a saying the Vietnamese use to describe the way they do things, how they live, what they’re selling, almost anything. It boils down to how their way of life is essentially the same as Westerners, but actually very, very different!

Same same, but different: The Vietnamese way VS the Western way.

Such is my experience of cycling in Vietnam. I had booked the wife and I into a new hotel on the beach in Hoi An that boasted free bikes for guest use. So in essence a main course of romantic getaway with a cheeky side of cycling. On arrival and seeing the fleet I knew this was going to be a challenge. I may have been riding a bike, but it was going to be very different to what I was used to!

A quick photo opportunity and break from the heat by the river.

No carbon, drop bars or fancy electric derailleurs here, just a solid 30kg of steel single speed utility bike. Same same, but different! But hey, all miles are good miles, right?

If you’ve ever been to Vietnam you’ll know that it’s hot. I mean already 30 degrees Celsius by 8am hot. Most mornings I’d be out the hotel door before 6am for a pre-breakfast ride in order to beat the heat. Our hotel “bike boy” who’s job it was to note down your room number and pump up the tyres was usually still fast asleep next to the bikes, so I’d quietly wheel one down the ramp and slip away onto the crazy Vietnamese streets for a blast. I’d get an hour’s ride along the beach road or looping through the Ancient City, racing school kids on eBikes and dodging scooter traffic before returning drenched in sweat and re-racking the bike to the surprised expression of all the staff. What a way to build an appetite for a hearty Vietnamese breakfast!

Along with these morning solo jaunts I also did quite a few hours of extra wheel time with the wife sat on the rear rack. I covered many more miles exploring the ancient town and local roads, wife perched happily behind me. Most people at the hotel took the free shuttle bus  but I preferred to pedal everywhere. 

Mid-ride coffee stop. Drip filtered onto condensed milk!

The hotel staff were amazed that we only ever took one bike between us. I am more confident negotiating the sometimes crazy and seemingly rule-devoid Vietnamese traffic. Hauling an extra 50kg up any slight incline may have been hard work (read: good training) but using  the one bike as opposed to April on her own bike is actually faster and also made a few women we passed on the way a little envious.

Even when pedalling into town with April on the back, if I saw another bicycle up the road I’d instinctively give chase. I guess I just can’t shake my roadie attitude! Once I was cheekily drafting a scooter loaded with an entire family. The mother got a little annoyed and waved me off, so I promptly dug deep and overtook them. I can’t help it!

At the local cycling cafe for more ride fuel (same same, but different!)

On one of my early morning rides I decided to throw in a cheeky Vietnamese 10 mile time trial. After a short warm-up I stomped on the pedals. Forearms resting on the bars, hands gripping basket for extra aero points I panted away in the 35+ degree morning heat. I chased down kids riding to school on their eBikes and the occasional scooter. A couple of locals on a moped pulled up alongside me and cheered, yelling “faster, faster!” in their best broken English. I obliged by putting the hammer down, legs spinning madly on the single speed. “35k!” He shouted, then “40k!” Bring it!

Judging what I thought was half way I pulled a u-turn and accelerated that Titanic hunk of iron back up to speed. Back past the hotel and a little extra for good measure. Checking the stats afterwards I’d managed the 10-mile section at a 17.5mph average speed. Fairly respectable on the rusty shopper!

By day three I was getting sick of the poorly maintained fleet. From what I could garner from various staff, the bikes were sourced second hand from China. Add to that the hotel bike maintenance boys’ skills were limited to barely pumping up a tyre and it was safe to say that many of the bikes had seen much better days – some were actually unsafe with bolts missing, brakes not working, child seats hanging off!

Made this one my own personal bike, the “best” of the bunch.

Rusted chains, bent metal, under-inflated tyres, missing bolts, you name it. So with some borrowed tools I fettled away for a couple of hours until I was happy. The job was made much more enjoyable as I was surrounded by beautiful young Vietnamese women (hotel staff) totally enamoured by my pro-level handyman skills! Those pretty young girls kept telling April how lucky she was! And yes, I am still milking that one!

Who is this crazy hotel guest holding a wrench rather than a cocktail?

A few adjustments to stop cranks rubbing on chain guards, 50psi in the tyres, scrape the dry rust off the chain and lube up with motor oil, whatever I could manage with limited resources. I worked my way through around eight of their bikes, after my magic touch they were like a different fleet! Team Sky would have been proud. Sure they were still tanks, but at least they were safe, silent and slightly more efficient tanks. Marginal gains shopper bike style!

By the end of the trip I’d racked up a decent amount of cycling time, seen the sights, spent quality time with the wife, taught the “bike boys” some proper maintenance skills and made great friends with the lovely hotel staff. It may not be everyone’s idea of the perfect relaxing or romantic holiday – or perfect cycling holiday – but I loved my time in Hoi An and will treasure the time I spent there.

Same same, but different!

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Update your Strava privacy

Strava have recently added some new privacy settings to your profile, so now is a time to have another look at your current settings and maybe tighten up the security on your account.

You should already at a least be using the “Hide Your House” option to keep the start and finish points of your regular rides from showing up (ie: your house or even work).  In the past there have been reports of clued up bike thieves using Strava data to target homes with expensive bikes. This privacy zone can be set from 200m up to a 1000m radius, which is good if you live in a more rural area.

The new settings can enhance your privacy further. Ever had loads of random kudos from Zwift riders or for a Sportive where Strava has shown you “rode with” a whole bunch of strangers? Well now you can also hide your activity from group rides, so it only shows to athletes you follow or that follow you. You can also remove an activity from Strava segment leader boards completely for added privacy.

Alongside the “Hide Your House” option, I have my Strava profile page and training log set to private, with my activities uploaded as private by default. So spend a minute or two now reviewing your settings to ensure you’re happy with your Strava privacy.

A bit of love for the road bike

I gave the Kinesis Racelight roadie a bit of love this morning, treating it to a full drivetrain degrease, clean and re-lube. I realised that I hadn’t actually ridden it since last year and that just won’t do! So far my rides in 2017 have either been on the borrowed bike in the Blue Mountains, my Planet X time trial bike or on the trainer.

Project_Aithein_07Position has been tweaked and of course stem slammed since these pics…

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Sure it’s “only” got workhorse Shimano 105 kit and Fulcrum Racing 3’s but that alloy race geometry frame just loves a good thrashing! Hopefully the weather will play ball and tomorrow morning I can have a short blast around some local roads. Actually I really should do a longer endurance ride as it’s been a while since I’ve ridden for over two hours. Mostly just been shorter hammer fests! :-)

Bike packing like a boss

So you’ve got a fancy road bike, you’ve racked up some training miles and now you want to go explore pastures new. Maybe even tick off a few epic Cols. Well unless you’re hiring out there, you’re going to need to pack your bike!

img_2732In my opinion there’s no substitute for a proper hard case bike box. Sure soft bags are lighter and usually slightly smaller, but if you want the best peace of mind for your (probably quite expensive) road bike then it’s GOT to be a hard case box. Nobody wants to arrive at their destination to find a snapped derailleur or worse, a crushed carbon fibre frame!

My favourite is the Bike Box Alan. It’s got plenty of padding, Velcro straps to hold everything in place, anti-crush pole plus loads of extra space for all your other gear such as helmet, clothes or nutrition. While not the cheapest and at a shade under 11kg not the lightest, in every other way the Bike Box Alan really is a cracker. Mine has protected my bike when flying across the globe and also when moving house.

img_2734Foam protective layer sits between frame and wheels. Note the anti-crush pole.

Yes, I bought a bright pink one! ;-) It’s taken some hard knocks along the way and there’s plenty of scratches to the outer case, but everything inside has always arrived in perfect order exactly how I packed it. You can’t ask more than that.

Stealthy Bike P**n

Just a bit of weekend bike porn for you. :-) I’ve had my Planet X Stealth for a couple of years now without many changes except for the wheels. They were a bit of a “you only live once” purchase while I was working for Sigma Sport. Those Roval CL60 carbon deep section babies really hum along! Now I’ve just got to get back to fighting fitness so I can do this bike some justice over the summer months.

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#ridelots

Hands on with mechanical doping

Recently I had a chance encounter with the guys from Typhoon, who build intriguing “motor assisted” road and mountain bikes. They had on display a motorised carbon road bike that on inspection shared an extremely close resemblance to one recently discovered in the world of cyclocross.

At first glance I didn’t spot that the bike was modified. It just looked like one of many very sleek carbon road bikes. In fact the weight wasn’t even that bad, I’d guess around 9kg, no featherweight but less than my fully kitted winter bike. Even on close inspection the only clue was a barely visible wire running from the storage bottle into the seat tube. The guys assured me this would be totally hidden in the future and that the storage bottle would be much smaller.

IMG_0988Click on the pic to enlarge. You still won’t be able to tell it’s an e-bike!

This particular pre-production model had a three-speed motor activated by a tiny switch hidden on the bars. Once turned on it kicks in when you pedal, providing up to an extra 250 watts of power in high mode.

Yes, that’s an extra TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY WATTS!

According to the guys they are currently two months away from a proper release, but with the recent publicity surrounding mechanical doping in the pro ranks they brought a couple of examples to the Bike Show to ride the wave of that publicity, so to speak!

At a cost of around 12,000 euros I don’t think you’ll be seeing many on the club rides any time soon, but this undoubtedly proves that the tech is out there, works perfectly and is accessible to the general public.

Now if only I could score a proper test ride…