Here today, Saigon tomorrow

A family from California moves to Ho Chi Minh City. Hilarity ensues.

Don’t Tell Mom – Bicycle Adventures

So in early December I wrote up a great intro to my bicycle post which invited my mother, who has never been a fan of me being on two wheels riding amongst two-ton vehicles, to go ahead and skip the post. But before I got a chance to publish it a mosquito did a number on me and my parents visited, saw, and heard about the bikes. So mom – you don’t have to skip this one. But don’t worry, we’ll be safe. We swear! You even said that traffic really does move slowly enough that it’s possible that it might be just a little bit, perhaps, safe. 

Perhaps.

So I was an avid cyclist back in Sacramento. When planning on what we would bring to Saigon I decided against bicycles (have you seen videos of the traffic here?).  Not to mention that our American bicycles would be thief magnets here, right?

But after seeing that the streets in my local ward are much less frenetic, the traffic is actually much slower than I thought, and bicycles are fairly popular amongst my coworkers and none of them have yet suffered a concussion, I decided to give it a shot. So of course my first order of business was to have a bicycle custom made out of bamboo but modeled after the Yuba Mundo which I had back in The States.  I ordered it in September, and after some mis-communication (shocker, I know), it was all mine come October.

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The idea was to have the kiddos ride on the back, see? Well, the bike was made by a company which outsources the work to rural Vietnamese and Cambodian people (but in a good way. No, really! They supposedly pay a living wage and all that), but the quality was such that I don’t necessarily trust my children on the back. So that become my getting around by myself bike (until the “when-you-pedal-it-turns-the-wheel” part broke).  Now it was Sarah’s turn.

We headed down to Võ Thị Sáu, aka bike street, where Sarah got herself a nice single speed from the ubiquitous Vietnamese bike manufacturer Martin 107/Asama, and I checked out their options for multi-child transportation. Ok, I actually saw their options when we were in Vung Tau back in September, but I wanted to make sure they actually had the bike. They didn’t. Then they did, but it wasn’t built yet. Then they didn’t. Then they did. Then I bought it.

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Wowskies! It seats like 17 people!  Or four (three seats plus the cushion {under the saddle bag connector} over the back wheel).  I get those numbers mixed up.  We now had a way to bicycle to our school, which is slightly less than a mile from our apartment complex. Finally were ready to give it a try!

Round 1, a Sunday:  Off to Snap Cafe for a weekend meal. Success!
Round 2, a Tuesday:  To school on an actual work day morning. Success!
Round 3, a Wednesday: The Little Lady unfortunately threw a wrench in the works of round three. And by wrench I mean her right foot and by “in the works” I mean in the spokes of Sarah’s bicycle. At a stop light. Once Sarah started to go The Little Foot was in a world of hurt. Yep, we failed to get proper foot protection and she earned a case of “bicycle foot,” an unfortunately common ailment amongst children in this part of the world.

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It wasn’t broken but she couldn’t put any weight on it so she ended up getting a removable cast. But it was only removable to let the swelling go down. Then she got a real cast. After a couple of weeks the cast was off and she was (impressively) back to normal. Whew…

Ever since “the incident” I’ve been looking for a way to guard against it happening again. I’ve asked plenty of people if there are products which I can buy to block the wheel. The answer is either a strong no, a “Wow! That’s a good idea. No.”, or “yeah, they have it at the Martin 107/Asama headquarters on bike street.” The problem is that the folks there already gave me answer #1. It wouldn’t be too difficult to build, but I don’t have any tools here, so it’s be a bit of a pain to deal with. I’ve also had plenty of people argue that there’s no way she’d do it again. Pain teaches lessons that warnings don’t. Which is all nice and well, but in the off chance that it does happen again, how bad would I feel that I didn’t put a foot guard on the bike? You see, it’s not about her. It’s about my feelings.

Over the past few months while we were trying to figure out family bicycle transport I did poke around on my bamboo bike a bit. When I brought it in to the local Western bike shop they literally couldn’t stop laughing and belittling it. I knew what I was getting into. I knew it might just be a piece of art. But I wanted them to tune it up as best as it could be tuned up. It came with two derailleurs which I now recognize as a mistake. The front one never worked. The back one worked ok until recently when I discovered that I could pedal, pulling the chain, which rotated the cassette (the thing that has the gears on it), but that motion had no effect on the wheel. Hmmmmm. That’s kinda the point of a bike. To pedal and turn the rear wheel. I haven’t had that fixed yet. So I’m riding the tandem a lot. Or Sarah’s. Hence the bike lock incident.

But before the cassette decided to be all loose and easy, when the only issues with the bamboo bike were that it felt so flimsy that it could snap at any time and that the mechanism holding the handlebars on would come dangerously loose regardless of how often I tightened it, I went on a “proper” (as the British would say) bike ride on a Sunday morning with Casey and Linc, fellow Americans at my school, and Martin, the Brit.

We explored the vastness of District 2, which turns from cramped urban to fields of nothingness in no time flat.

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Also, after doing some deductive reasoning and a few calculations, I realized that that uninvited six-legged visitor which caused me some much yuletide trouble probably did her (only the females bite!) deed on this adventure.  So I guess mom was right after all. Bicycling is dangerous.

Fast-forward to the present time. I realized (after being told as much by a clever coworker) that if I put panniers (bicycle saddle bags, which in this case are made of recycled Vietnamese reinforced plastic bags and made for Caucasian tourists like myself) on Sarah’s bike and zip-tied a plastic guard to part of the wheel it would be pretty good protection against another bout of bike foot. Kazaam!  The bicycles were ready to carry all of us and we were ready to give riding to school another shot. This past week we had three successful school commutes via bike (that 75 cent taxi ride was really cutting into our savings), a pattern we hope to continue.

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– Warren

9 comments on “Don’t Tell Mom – Bicycle Adventures

  1. Molly
    March 3, 2014

    Nice! My interest in moving to India from Seattle was dimmed quite a but when we got a bicycle that can carry all 3 children because I thought “this is really fun & probably would not work in India.” Maybe I should not be so pessimistic. I remember seeing Vietnamese men in fancy spandex riding along when I visited Vietnam in 1998 and being interested that bicycles were cool for recreation as well as transport.

  2. Bill Schnack
    March 3, 2014

    Ironically I was reading Steves’ Copenhagen this A.M., for planning purposes of course. FYI police issue 500-kroner (that’s $100 USD) tickets to anyone riding on a sidewalk. So while in HCMC, practice staying off sidewalks. Oops, oh, forgot. No sidewalks in HCMC. Nevermind.

  3. Natasha
    March 5, 2014

    Great post! One of my friends alerted me to your blog! I’m joining my husband in Vietnam in June 2014, and am very interested in biking there, but I’ve got a 2 year-old so a trailer or cargo bike is probably in my future. I’ve got a bunch of questions about that, and the living area (my husband is currently looking, but has not found us an apartment yet). Care to email me?

  4. Sandy Schnack
    March 18, 2014

    It’s taken me this long to respond…you know..speechless, I guess..but I am wondering if you all are still biking to school…the whole bike thing is a bit of a worry…

    Mom

  5. Warren & Sarah
    March 19, 2014

    Yup.

    We’re doin’ fine! It’s a quick ride and as you’ve seen everyone goes slowly around here.

  6. An
    March 26, 2014

    i love following your adventures mr.schnack!! hope everything is well 🙂

  7. Peter Richter
    March 26, 2014

    Too bad you weren’t aware of the Yak horn handlebar option when you order that first bike… I snorted and chuckled for quite awhile when I first saw the photo, now it’s part of my desktop picture rotation…

    L street greetings to you all…

    Peter

  8. Pingback: A Mellow Yet Productive Weekend | Here today, Saigon tomorrow

  9. Pingback: Our Commute | Here today, Saigon tomorrow

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