Bicycle fans enjoy city's past, present

Bicycle fans enjoy city's past, present

The Ha Noi Now and Then club boasts the biggest collection of vintage bicycles in the country.Thai Hanh finds out what makes them tick.

 

From the beginning (5am) Nguyen Hop Ngoc’s morning is a bit different from the average Hanoian. The retired general is used to routine, but the one thing he can’t predict is which bicycle from his vast vintage collection he will feel like taking out for the day.

Ngoc, 70, says after the selection process, he rides the bike along Quan Thanh Street, leading to West lake, to meet members of the club he founded called Ha Noi Now and Then - which consists of like-minded bicycle enthusiasts from all walks of life.

Pedal pushers

Ngoc’s collection boasts nearly 10 vintage bicycles including many from France including Peugeot and Marina, which Ngoc says he usually chooses to ride in the morning.

Come rain or shine, Ngoc and his band of pedal pushers take a trip out on their bikes. They’ve been doing this every day for two years.

Ngoc says his hobby began five or six years ago. His father was a bike collector, and Ngoc used them to exercise in the morning. If a fancy vintage bike caught his eye he would set about trying to buy it. He soon noticed that he wasn’t alone in his passion for push bikes, with more like-minded people scattered across the city. So they decided to get together and create a club. From a scanty membership of five, the club now has nearly 50 members.

"Our hobby is eco-friendly and good for your health so many people enjoy it," he says.

"Our members come from many different districts: Hoan Kiem, Hai Ba Trung, Ba Dinh, but they share the same passion for vintage bicycles."

Soon after founding the club, the push bikers decided to unite their efforts to find new additions to their collection of vintage models. Together, the group now has 200.

"I’m sure we are the only biking club in the country to have so many vintage bicycles," Ngoc says.

None of the models were used by professional bicycle racers, most of them belonged to office workers. In the past, a bicycle could cost a fortune, and not everyone could afford to buy one. The group’s collection includes models from 1936 and 1945 which have been preserved in perfect condition, even though some of the parts are very difficult to come by.

Everyman’s club

According to Ngoc, the Ha Noi Now and Then bicycle group is open to new members, whoever they are. Some are still employed, but apart from Ngoc’s 10-year old granddaughter, the youngest members are in their forties. The oldest member, Nguyen Danh Dien, is 90. Dien was a professional bike racer during the French colonial period. Bicycles have been an important part of his life and he can still reel off the names of all the models he’s ever owned, including Championa, Lincon, Tour de France and Mercier. Despite his age, he still pedals away with the group.

Full work out

The club serves the needs of all, young or old, Ngoc says.

"We are like old machines; if we don’t exercise, we will go rusty in no time," he says.

Just like Ngoc, Hung, 53, says he first joined the club when he started having health problems. He wanted to boost his strength and get better.

"Now I’m healthier than I was before I got sick, and I’m happier," he says.

Even for Ngoc’s granddaughter, the club is good for body and soul.

"Here she gets good exercise and also learns about society by listening to our stories," Ngoc says.

To the group members, the club is more than just a way to meet people and get exercise. Every day they choose a new spot to ride their old bicycles, so they can enjoy different scenery. After an hour or so, they have a break for some tea and have a chin wag about bikes and life. The club is brimming with camaraderie. They have even raised a fund which they dip into if they want to congratulate or support a club member in need.

On special occasions, the group rides further out of the city limits to Gia Lam or historical sites like Dong Da Monument or Van Mieu (the Temple of Literature). The head of the group also reveals they are preparing to exhibit their bikes on October 10th to cheer the capital’s Liberation Day. The show is also part of preparations to get official recognition for their club, Ngoc says. — VNS