If you want the full experience, I recommend listening to Soundtrack from this trip while reading this article and looking at the photos: Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll
2019 had just began, and I was just chilling, hoping to get through the Bay Area “winter”. My friend Jean Michel (@Jeanmichelf) from São Paulo messaged me about going to Southeast Asia. He was going to meet the Hardbrakers, a group of fixed riders from Germany. They’d start riding from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, crossing Cambodia, and finishing in Bangkok. On track bikes, and self supported. Jean originally met the Hardbrakers in Hamburg in 2013. They get together once a year to travel on their track bikes – Russia, Hungary and Turkey are some of the countries they toured. In 2017, they visited Brazil to meet Jean, and ride from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. I didn’t know any of the Hardbrakers, but Jean told me to “go for it” with their plans of Southeast Asia touring, so I started looking for flights. Despite the somewhat short notice, I found a reasonably priced ticket. I would leave in two weeks
Now I only needed a bike! My main ride is a 11 speed road bike with hydraulic brakes, but I thought it’d be better if we were all riding fixed. A “tracklocross” bike, rather than a “proper” track bike would be perfect. Then I could easily attach bottle cages, and maybe even a front rack. I stopped by my local bike shop (King Kog in Oakland) and talked with Shawn, hoping to pick his brain about the build I had planned. He has a badass custom travel bike that collapses down that he took to Colombia. Built by local Oakland builder Casey, aka Mars Cycles. He also showed me his Somec build. A classic Italian steel bike… with Shimano Di2! I spent a few hours on Craigslist/eBay digging. I found an All City ‘Nature Boy’, built with Paul cranks, Paul brakes and Paul hubs! I picked up the bike, installed a front Pass & Stow rack, and set it up fixed with a 46×18 gear ratio. Now with bikes and the visas in order, I was ready!
I landed in Vietnam pretty much at the same time when Jean, Douglas and Gianfranco also arrived from Brazil. We assembled our bikes at the airport, and rode to meet with the Hardbrakers, who arrived the day before.
We joined Rob, Benny and Ben from Hamburg, Jeremy from France, and Kili from Switzerland. We quickly connected and it felt like we were friends from a long time. Jubie joined us later on the trip. Cycling in Ho Chi Minh was, well, wow! There were way too many scooters on the road. I’d say, 2 scooters for each car. Traffic lights seemed non-existent. Luckily, the guys from Tali Bike were there to guide us. They organized a welcome ride and showed us around.
From the capital, we headed to Ben Tre. Not a long day in the saddle, but some of us were feeling the heat. Turns out one guys was actually riding a singlespeed! We found a chay (vegetarian) restaurant for dinner, and the trip was off to a good start! Riding through Vietnam was so exotic to me, it seemed like we always had water surrounding us. I really enjoyed getting to see the small villages and experience how people live. At first the country seemed really underdeveloped. Or, were they? They seemed to be getting by just fine, without the “need” for electric toothbrushes and luxury SUVs.
Despite the language barrier, we had no trouble connecting with the locals, who were always offering us drinks and fruit. A regular trip to the grocery store was an event, for us and the locals who wanted to take photos with us.
After a few days in Vietnam(and yes we had Vietnamese sandwiches and coffee), we headed to Cambodia. It was my first time crossing an international border by bike, and it was something I will never forget. The landscape changed a lot. The houses had a very different architecture, there were cows and beautiful temples. And in the early afternoon, the light was just perfect. We said “hello” so. many. times! We were deep in rural Cambodia, no tourists whatsoever. So a group of non-locals riding track bikes really stood out. They all wanted to greet us! By the time we were getting closer to the Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, we actually got a lift. It was dark, and we were exhausted from riding all day. Our ride was a 150cc scooter with a trailer attached to it. That would never be legal in the US! Somehow we all managed to fit. 9 guys and 9 bikes. We headed to Siem Reap and got a glimpse of the Angkor Wat, their intricate temple complex that is also featured on their national flag. We were getting close to Thailand, the end of our trip!
When we hit Thailand, I realized I was happy with my choice of gears. It was the first time we had any elevation on the the road (Vietnam and Cambodia were damn flat). In Rayong, I decided to head to Pattaya, where I would take a train to Bangkok and skip a day of riding. The rest of the group rode their bikes instead, but got a bunch of punctures on that day. Boo! Pattaya is not very family oriented, but I enjoyed my much needed break. I ate some durian, and a found a place that served only mango sticky rice and was open for 24 hours.
In Bangkok, I met up with the Hardbrakers again. The city is much bigger than San Francisco, and the traffic is as intense as you would expect, but really fun to ride. I rode around Wat Pho, and had a massage at a local massage school that was very legit and highly recommended! My trip was near to an end. Klong (Klongpista) from the Bkk Bombard was kind enough to host me for one night, and help me box my bike. Klong also shoots film, with his Leica and a Minolta point-and-shoot. Come visit me, Klong!
My bike and I arrived safe and sound in the Estados Unidos, and I ran to get my film developed. I am glad that I took my Stylus Epic, as my digital camera was filled with photos of the street vendors and their food. I am already missing the camaraderie of the Hardbrakers, and being on a bike in the middle of nowhere in another country. I look forward to join my new friends in another ride!
Thanks Shawn at King Kog in Oakland, Alex Rims Europe,
Alpina Sports, Biehler Custom, Bombtrack Bicycle Co, Breakbrake17 Bikes,
Explorer Fernreisen, Continental Tires, Quadlock Case,
and Suicycle Store for helping us making this possible!
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