Tour de Vietnam


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Dear Friends:

Having journeyed across Vietnam many times via a bicycle, our group can not claim or make the distinction that we are experts on advising travelers how best to plan a two wheel journey across the country.  However, we can provide some important tips based on lessons learned from our past biking experience that can make the two wheel journey a more enjoyable experience.  As in any outdoor adventure, thinking ahead of time is perhaps the most important part of the activity.  To bike on the road over long distances, the important thing to remember is to carry the simplest of the necessities and not be overburdened by the weight of unnecessary items.  A fully loaded bike (with fully stocked panniers), we recommend, should not shoulder more than 10-15 kg of gears and other basic necessities; any more added weight would slow progress and make incline climbs unduly strenuous.

These are the items that our bike group generally plan ahead of time prior to a bike trip.

I. Bike.   This item is an obvious necessity.  Without a bike, a two wheel journey would simply cease to exist!  We at “Xe Dap Xuyen Viet” believe that not only having a bike is important but choosing the right bike for the trip is critical to the success of the journey.  Information on the costs associated with the different types and styles of bikes can be found via internet, bike shops, and bike distributors.  Below is a brief description of the bikes that we have used on the Xe Dap Xuyen Viet bike rides.

1. Mountain Bike :  As the name implies, this type of bike is designed to traverse mountain terrains.  This includes unpaved trails and hills.  There are advantages and disadvantages of using this type of bike.  On occasions, when the road is in a poor condition, such as potholes, unpaved/uneven surfaces, and rock litter roads, this bike is designed to take the abuse of these conditions.  In doing so, however, the bike generally employs larger tires than conventional bikes which is a disadvantage in speed since larger tires tend to add more resistance to the road.  Thus, it takes more time to go from one place to another.  To prevent spoke breakage, we recommend using wheels that contain 36 or more spokes.

2. Road Bike:  This bike is designed mainly for riding on paved roads at fast speeds.  As such, the components on this bike are generally light in weight.  Road bike tires are built extremely small in width and thin inside which although allows less road resistance and therefore faster speeds, they are more vulnerable to punctures, flats, and skidding (on wet roads).  Therefore, when traveling on this bike over long distances, it is important to carry along a large quantity of spare tubes and tires.  To minimize spoke breaking, use a wheel set that contains 36 spokes or more per wheel.

3. Touring Bike:   This is undoubtedly the best type of bike to use for bike touring, and we highly recommend using this type of bike for a trans-Vietnam trip.  Flats and broken spokes are the two most recurring problems in any long distance bike trip.  In our experience, depending on the severity of the problem, the down time to fix a flat or repair a broken spoke can be as little as 15 minutes to as long as several hours.  In 2005, when team members used mostly touring bikes, we had only one problem with a broken spoke and less than a dozen flats (from four touring bikes).  Compare to previous rides, using touring bikes gave us the least bike related problems.  This probably has more to do with the sturdy design of a touring bike.  The tire on a touring bike is a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike.  The touring bike frame is generally built strong to withstand the stress of a heavy load and is usually equipped with a rack for carrying loads.  We recommend using wheels with 36 spokes or more when using touring bikes to prevent problems of broken spokes during the ride.  We also recommend using tire sizes 700c X 28 or 700c X 36 to withstand any heavy loads on the bike.

II. Items of Necessity (for the Group):  When riding in a group, below are the most important items to carry along on the trip.  It is important that the support personnel stay close to the riders during the trip so that these items can generally be accessible in time of need.

1. One floor pump with both shraeder and presta valve attachments.

2. One or two long bicycle chains to lock bikes together.

3. Bicycle tools that hard to find in Viet nam such as:  cassette lockring tools, chain whip, bottom bracket tool, crank pullelr, and cone wrench.

4. Two 10" adjustable wrenches.

5. A plier.

6. A spare pair of rear derailleur.

7. A spare pair of break/derailleur cables.

III. Bike Carry-along Items:  Beside from Group Items, each rider should carry along personal bike items.  In times when a rider is isolated from the group and encountering problems such as a flat, the rider should be able to alone repair the flat with the basic tools and carry on items so that the rider can get back on the road with the minimal down time.

1. A portable pump.

2. 3-4 spare tubes.

3. A spare foldable tire.

4. A set of tire levers.

5. A tube patch kit.

6. A compact multi tools kit.

7. A spare pair of brake shoes.

8. A spoke wrench.

9. A chain tool.

10. spare spokes.

11. individual bike lock.

12. bike computer.

IV. Panniers:   Bike panniers are bags that fit along the bike.  Without them, there is little or no room to place carry-on items for traveling.  We recommend using waterproof panniers such as those manufactured by Ortlier (or any other pannier manufacturers).  Panniers can be fitted to the front and/or back of the wheel, depending on the biker’s choice and amount of carry-on materials.  Vietnam weather is tropical, so it is unlikely that rain can easily be avoided during the trip.  Expect rain and heavy down pours at times.  A waterproof pannier is therefore essential in keeping carry-on items dry.  Another necessary item to carry along on any trip is a small seat pouch that fits behind the bike seat.  This pouch allows storage of small tools and spare tubes for fixing flats.

V. Individual Carry-Along Items.  When biking long distances without van/car support, it is important to carry only the utmost basic necessities.  Lugging a 50 kg luggage on the bike would be considered… unwise!  Below is a list of what our group found to be the most essential for a trans-Vietnam bike trip.

1. Shoes:
 - One pair of bike shoes.
- A pair of sandals.

2. Preventative Measures:
- Bike helmet
- eye wear (sunglass).
- Sun Block.
- Headband or headsweat.

3. Hydration Systems:
- Use two water bottles or a combination of one water bottle and a hydration backpack.

4. Nutrition:  Just carry enough for the trip.  Don't overload.
- Nutrition bars or gels.
- Nutrition drinks, electrolyte drinks
- Nutrition supplements.

5. Clothes:
- 2 padded bicycle shorts.
- 2 short sleeve jerseys.
- 2 pairs of bike gloves
- A pair of Leg Warmer and Arm Warmer.
- A light rain jacket.
- Four pair of socks: Enough to last for several days.
- Undergarments: Enough to last for several days.
- Shorts and T-shirts.
- Windbreaker: For cold and windy weather conditions up in the highland and mountainous areas.
- Light and formal clothing: For a night out in the town.  Light fabric helps cut down drying time.

6. Miscellaneous :  Other important items to carry along on the bike ride.
- A travel wallet/pouch to place passport, visa, and money.
- A toothbrush, a small tube of toothpaste, and floss..
- Medicine for stomach aches, headaches, flu, etc …
- Travel size toilet paper pack.
- A washcloth.
- A small size camera.
- Bike light combo for rides in the dark.
- Money/credit card...etc.
- A pair of multi-purpose gloves (keep your hands clean on dirty jobs)

In addition, having a cell phone to contact other members in group.  Cell phone is also a good way to keep in contact with family and friends during your two wheel journey.

We wish you success.