|A change of pace: Martial art master Nguyen Quang Dung during a morning cycling session. More Hanoians are trading their scooters for bicycles to avoid traffic congestion. — VNS Photo Trung Hieu
Nguyen Quang Dung, a martial art master living on Hang Bong Street in Ha Noi, chooses to go to his classes on his bicycle, rather than his car or motorbike.
"Parking in Ha Noi is always a problem. With my bicycle, I can easily get out of traffic jams. Perhaps others differentiate between fitness and work, but for me, it is not difficult to combine exercise with going to work. It is only important for us to manage our time properly," he said.
The trainer in ancient martial arts Shaolin Hung Gar noted that people living in Ha Noi endure traffic jams every day, with some often crossing red lights to avoid traffic jams.
"The rapid development of a large urban area has made everyone feel hurried. I'm tired of that. That's why I've chosen a bicycle to slow down my life.
"Of course, initially, I rode my bicycle with the aim of reducing fat and increasing my strength as well as resistance. But riding around West Lake, with trips to the suburbs of Ha Noi, along with my cycling mates made me see a completely different side of Ha Noi. It's really peaceful, fresh and gentle," he remarked.
Perhaps also with this reason in mind, most bicycle riders in Ha Noi like Dung choose West Lake as a standard route for exercise and a feeling of living in a peaceful city.
The approximately 20km road around the West Lake is especially attractive for the riders when they pass through old villages such as Yen Phu, Trich Sai and Quang Ba to see the locals at work, especially the fishermen fishing in the lake early in the morning.
Becoming a movement
Ha Noi now has its own cycling movement, promoting better health and a slower pace of life.
At 6.30am, Ha Noi is still engulfed in fog – the influence of the monsoon after the Tet, lunar new year. Now and then, one can see a bicycle rider on the street, braving the cold winds.
The tea shops, cafes, and bicycle repairers who are not afraid of the chill are also hard at work, and their venues will soon become a resting place for those who enjoy this activity.
Some of the riders, after ending a round, stop to have a cup of tea and chat with their mates. Others painstakingly make three or four rounds before returning home.
A group of people, old and young, stand by, waiting for others and preparing to take a trip to the Bat Trang pottery village on the outskirts of Gia Lam District or even to Ba Vi Mountain.
"I chose the bicycle because of its simplicity and slowness. The bicycle is never fussy. It requires no paperwork, rear-view mirrors or gasoline. We just need a little bit of health and some peace of mind, and then we can slowly get through the rush of urban life. The slow pace helps me forget the noise and bustling activity around us. While riding, I can feel life happening," stated Nguyen Ngoc Nga, a young office worker.
Having recognised the importance of protecting the environment, recently, an order issued by Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai asked five major cities – Ha Noi, HCM City, Hai Phong, Da Nang and Can Tho – to run public bicycle rental services in their downtown areas.
According to the order, this is one of the measures being adopted to increase traffic safety and reduce traffic jams in the cities by 2015.
Following that order, Ha Noi People's Committee deputy chairman Nguyen Van Khoi asked the local Department of Transport to implement the pilot project to supply public bicycle services in the city's central area, and a report to the city People's Committee is expected in May this year.
Master Dung said riding a bicycle helps people to relax.
"Each cycling trip to me is like a small outdoor adventure. With a smartphone, we can record the beautiful moments of nature, humanity and social living. Moreover, these trips help us to communicate with many people across social classes."
His new cycling mate, Nguyen Duy Binh from the Ha Noi Motor Club, claimed that he wakes up at 5am every day and rides for 30km per session.
"We often ride in a group of five people. On some Sundays, we travel as far as 50km for a one-way trip. Team spirit during the trip is high as we help each other along the way."
Nguyen Ba Duong from the same club pointed out that the activity is good for cardiovascular exercise and strengthening the lungs.
"It also helps me to reduce my body fat percentage. My rheumatism stopped bothering me after five months of cycling," he noted happily.
Dung remarked that most young people now seem to always be in a hurry, and they forget that everyone needs to take a few minutes to slow down and enjoy life and watch Ha Noi changing every day while retaining its own beauty.
"I believe this cycling movement will develop further as it not only improves our health, but riding a bicycle also helps reduce pollution. If you do not yet cycle, you should join us, and you will surely see its benefits," he said with a broad radiant smile. — VNS