Home

Cycling in Vietnam – 10 Pieces of Advice

Leave a comment

I’m not a travel blogger but having just cycled for three days down Vietnam’s Central Coast, I felt compelled to share some thoughts.  Rather than wax lyrical about the experience, I’ve decided to give 10 pieces of advice which you may or may not find useful.

  1. Obey the Rules – just because you’re in a different country, on a different bike and maybe riding with people you’ll never see again, you remain obliged to obey The Rules.  Velominati are the Keepers of the Cog.  In so being, they also maintain the sacred text wherein lie the simple truths of cycling etiquette known as The Rules.  As cyclists, we have the responsibility of firstly adhering to The Rules and secondly applying Rule#3 – Guide the Uninitiated.  I tried to apply this when my brother-in-law decided to ride with no top on.  His reasoned argument was that being a model (I know) apparently there’s nothing worse than turning up for a photo shoot with tan lines on your arms.  I failed in my duty to adequately explain Rule#7 – Tan lines should be cultivated and kept razor sharp and off he and his single toned torso tottered.

    Blatant Breach of Rule#7

    Blatant Breach of Rule#7

  2. Remember to Talk – sounds obvious?  Well, it can be easy to just sit and ride, or just talk to who you know but you’re not going to expand your mind with that philosophy so introduce yourself and hear other experiences.  Our group of 6 comprised of yours truly and my other half, my youngest brother-in-law on my wife’s side and his wife and a couple from Sydney, Australia, Steve and Patsy.  Riding in Vietnam is a very stress-free experience, certainly the route we took.  Very little traffic, decent roads and relatively flat, so it’s ideal for chatting amongst yourselves.  I spent a good while talking with Steve and established that the third male of the group is none other than an Iron Man.  So one male model, one Iron Man and me.  It was at this point I thought I felt my rear brakes rubbing on the rim and dropped back to sob quietly and reconsider the benefits of an expanded mind.

    Shooting the Breeze

    Shooting the Breeze With the Iron Man

  3. Look Around – an error most people make when riding bikes is that they focus on the road and view in front of them but fail to even glance at the sights around them.  You never know what you could miss and you probably will never cycle the route again so make the effort to absorb as much of the sights as possible.

    Take In The Views

    Take In The Views

  4. Respect the Locals – one of the most endearing memories of the trip was how friendly the Vietnamese people were.  Our route took us through rural villages which are located in one of the poorest regions of the country but despite this, everyone offered us a smile, a wave or a two fingered salute (apparently this is a gesture similar to the Western wave although I’m not sure if our guide was having a laugh).  Every time we went through a village we heard the screams of “HELLO” from children who then scurried out to high five each of as we rode through their lives.  Whilst shouting “hello” back became a tad monotonous, we had to remind ourselves that the sight of us was extremely interesting for these kids so it was important to respond as if it was the first time we had done so.

    Life Goes On

    Life Goes On

  5. Learn Something New Each Day – I guess you could apply this to everyday life.  I live in Northern Ireland and one of its most visited attractions is the Giant’s Causeway, on the North Coast.  Now I am personally greatly underwhelmed by this jewel in Northern Ireland’s crown so imagine my horror when we arrived at a place known as Ganh Da Dia to be presented with the view below.

    The Stuff of Nightmares

    The Stuff of Nightmares

  6. Always Remember the Joy of Riding a Bike – We can all remember the freedom that riding a bike brought to us when we were kids.  But we grow up and if we’re lucky, we manage to squeeze a few hours a week of riding into our allegedly hectic lifestyles and we forget those feelings.  Well on day 3, the weather was more North Atlantic than South China Sea, slightly cooler and pretty heavy rain.  Everyone was a little bit apprehensive, we had a 70km ride coming up and no sign of the sun breaking through.  Our route started with a 4km descent on a dirt road.  Now you can approach this in two ways 1) take it easy, it’s not a race, remember healthcare costs in Vietnam or 2) ride it like a kid, almost lose control, get caked in dirt and laugh.  I selected option 2) not because I’m particularly daring but because it’s just too much of an effort to slow the bike down when you’re my weight.
  7. thumb_IMG_1404_1024Acknowledge History – My knowledge of the modern history of Vietnam is probably similar to everyone else’s – it was two countries, Communist North and Democratic South, Ho Chi Minh was a bad guy, the Americans tried to save the South from the bad guy, the Americans failed, Ho Chi Minh won, North and South were unified and Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City.  On the second day we stopped at My Lai, the scene of the 1968 massacre of a village and its inhabitants by an American Unit.  Unlike many of the war museums in Vietnam, there is no need for the Government to embellish this story.  It is a poignant reminder of the horrors of war and the lottery of where and when you are born.

    My Lai

    My Lai

  8. Eat With the Locals – On an organised trip, it’s very easy to dine at the hotel/resort that you are spending the night and that’s fine, particularly if you’re knackered.  But I would always recommend asking your tour guide where is there a good place for local food.  We did and whilst in some cases we had no idea what we were eating, we knew it was fresh, we knew it was healthy and we knew we were directly supporting the local economy with our tourist dollars.

    Not Really Convinced

    Not Really Convinced

  9. Hydration & Sunscreen – dehydration can ruin your entire day and on a 3 day tour that’s a shameful error.  Half a litre (at least) an hour is a good measure and if you’re running low, stop, wait for the support vehicle and fill up.  Your fellow riders will always ease up, you’ll catch up with them soon enough and sometimes it’s nice just riding alone in a foreign landscape.  Failure to apply and reapply sunscreen is an even greater sin and will do more than ruin your day.
  10. Make Memories – at the end of the day we’re just passing through so savour each moment and make memories.  And inadvertently advertise Saddle Skedaddle.  And bad photos.  And bad hair.  Mine, not hers.

    Just Making Memories

    Just Making Memories

Our trip was provided by the team at Vietnam Bike Tours who are based in Nha Trang and guided us there from our pick up at Hoi An and our routes can be seen in the Route Section of the site.

So there you have it, my 10 pieces of advice after a wonderful experience, cycling in a truly foreign land, absorbing the local culture and just having some good old-fashioned fun.  Take my advice or leave it but as Baz Luhrmann said – trust me on the sunscreen.

Xin Cam on

The Giant

Power to Weight for Dummies

Leave a comment

P/kg where P is power expressed as watts and kg is weight – well that’s it there. The formula that if applied and managed effectively enables us to monitor and subsequently improve our performance on the bike. We can develop a training programme around these numbers, slog our guts out over the winter implementing it, carefully plan our spring and summer rides to ensure they optimise the impact, stare at our computers, only occasionally looking at the road in front for a pothole.
Or, we could just focus on losing weight.
Now, this post is not intended for the elite athlete as you are already at a weight level that cannot be reduced and your focus will be on the power side of the formula.
This simple story is for those cyclists who carry more weight than they wish and who get frustrated with the apparent lack of progress despite going out two or three times a week.
When I got back on the bike about 3 years ago I was over 18 stone (over 115kg). I spent the first year riding around regularly at a steady pace, struggling up any incline and whilst clearly getting fitter, didn’t really lose much weight. I attempted the Ventoux challenge and crumbled on the second ascent.
I then spent about 4 months looking to buy a new bike. I focused on getting the lightest possible bike for my budget because a lighter bike makes you go faster, right?
Another 6 months of the same. A few rides a week and still my performance was static.
Then I succumbed to Strava and whilst I didn’t and to this day don’t play the segment game when I’m actually riding, I did and continue to study my performance on key segments afterwards.
I had lost my first significant amount of weight (over a stone or about 8kg) about a year ago and low and behold, all my segment data showed a remarkable improvement even though it didn’t feel that way on the bike.
This year, I’ve lost another stone (7kg) and again my numbers are massively better but what is more interesting is that I am now feeling the benefit on the road. I actually know that I’m going well, I know that I won’t go into the red (unless it’s a silly gradient or I’ve overindulged the night before) and I don’t dread climbing, I look forward to it.
So yes, it’s really that simple.
If you’re reading this thinking, “I know all this, what’s he going on about, of course you go better if you’re lighter” then you are 100% correct.
I knew this too, so why didn’t I do enough about it before Ventoux and why did I spend 4 months looking for as light a bike as possible and why didn’t I join Strava or any other training app earlier?
Well, it’s like most things in life, we don’t address the elephant in the room, we don’t focus on the root cause because that means we have to deal with it, that means we actually have to do something tangible. And that means effort.
But when applying that effort enables you to see or feel real benefits whether it’s a Strava segment, a drop in waist size or dress size it becomes a no brainer. And more importantly, you’re doing it for yourself, no-one else. I’m one of the least competitive individuals on this planet but there’s something fulfilling about beating yourself. You are your hardest opponent, physically and psychologically.
So I continue on my odyssey, whatever that odyssey is, whether it’s losing weight, cycling more, keeping active but no longer is the odyssey a pain in the ass because I know that each step should make my riding more enjoyable.
Colin Montgomerie once said “nothing tastes as good as slim feels”.
I’ll paraphrase him – nothing tastes as good as climbing faster than you did last week.
The Giant

100 mile challenge with only five rides in 15 months?

Leave a comment

So my better half has gotten herself into a bit of a pickle. She was asked if she would be interested in taking part in a small cycling challenge for charity starting in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh and ending in Newcastle, County Down. The distance is more or less 100 miles and could be termed as a tad lumpy. Did I mention that she hasn’t ridden a bike since St Patrick’s Day…..2013?
As I am a caring husband and cycle relatively frequently, I stepped up and said that I would take her place which she gratefully accepted.
For about an hour.
Then her competitive (stubborn) streak took over and she decided she will indeed take part. Now, to be fair she’s pretty fit but most people who cycle will recognise the fairly obvious fact that to get on a bike and ride 100 miles just isn’t quite that straightforward. You don’t know your limits, you haven’t got any miles in your legs, you don’t know how your body will react to 7, 8, 9 hours on the saddle.
Anyway, we worked out that she would be able to go for a ride a total of five times between making the decision and the event (7th June).
Ride #1 – 14 miles from Bangor to Donaghadee and back (flat).
Ride #2 – 30 miles from Bangor to Greyabbey and back (flat).
Ride #3 – 40 miles from Bangor around some hills in County Down (lumpy).
Rides #4 & #5 are taking place this weekend which will cover about 55 miles each and need to include some climbs.
So the question is “Will she do it?”
Actually the question is “Will she beat me?”
“Cycling isn’t a game, it’s a sport. Tough, hard and unpitying, and it requires great sacrifices. One plays football, or tennis, or hockey. One doesn’t play at cycling.” – Jean de Gribaldy (Sean Kelly’s directeur sportif.)
The Giant