Growing numbers of Hanoians bicycle to work

By Quynh Nguyen   June 23, 2022 | 09:33 pm PT
While other commuters moved at a snail's pace under the scorching sun, Nguyen Huy Phong used his bike to escape the traffic jam in a matter of minutes.

"It takes situations like this to realize the value of cycling to work," Phong, 30, a travel agency employee in Hanoi who has been cycling to work since the beginning of last year, says.

He used to suffer from neck, shoulder and back pain as a result of his office work, but they gradually subsided and disappeared after he began bicycling to work.

"Some people think I'm insane to cycle in the humid summer weather, which causes sweat and body odor," he says. However, it is not a problem for Phong since his office has a bathroom.

Nguyen Huy Phong sits next to his compact folding bike at his company on June 20, 2022. Photo courtesy of Phong

Nguyen Huy Phong with his compact folding bike at his company on June 20, 2022. Photo courtesy of Phong

Every day at 7 a.m. he leaves his house in Hoan Kiem District and travels more than five kilometers to his workplace in Tay Ho District.

But on his compact folding bike that is easy to maneuver he rarely gets stuck in traffic, and even reaches 10 minutes earlier than on his motorcycle.

After seeing Phong cycle to work for six months, some of his colleagues also started doing the same, hoping to improve their back and shoulder pains caused by prolonged sitting.

Over the past year some have been cycling three kilometers to work while others cycle more than 10 km.

No one intends to go back to using a motorcycle, Phong says.

"I believe the number of cyclists will grow."

Besides the desire to improve his health and avoid traffic, Phuong Dung, 35, in Hai Phong has been cycling to work for a month now also because the price of gasoline has gone past VND30,000 ($1.29) a liter.

Her house is seven kilometers from her workplace, and she leaves for work at 6:30 a.m. and takes 30 minutes.

"Normally, I spend more than VND500,000 per month on gasoline.

The 35-year-old, who works in the logistics industry, says people think she will soon get tired and stop cycling to work, but has no plan to do so considering the money she saves and the environmental good it does.

Ha Xuan Nam, a bicycle dealer in Hanoi, says cycling to work has grown in popularity and his shop has been attracting lots of customers.

"Before the outbreak we sold 10-15 bicycles per month, and now we sell three or four times as many.

"Customers are not only buying for them but also for their wives, children and friends."

He sells bikes costing from a few million to several tens of millions of dong, he says.

Men and women buy in equal numbers, and there is little variation based on age, he says.

Ha Xuan Nam rides his bicycle to work in June 2022. Photo courtesy of Nam

Ha Xuan Nam rides his bicycle to work in June 2022. Photo courtesy of Nam

Typing "cycling to work" in the search bar on social media throws up nearly 50 suggested groups, each with tens of thousands of members.

People share their experience in selecting a bicycle and tell newcomers how to use one safely.

Tran The Nam of Hoang Mai District, who manages a folding bike online group that has over 1,200 members, says 10 to 15 people join each day mainly to inquire about the trend and how to use a folding bicycle.

"In addition to sharing their passion, old members teach newcomers how to use a bike and set up a maintenance team and a free maintenance consulting group for those in need."

According to statistics from Japanese retailer AEON, which has a bicycle store at each of its six malls in HCMC, Hanoi, Hai Phong, and Binh Duong Province, as of last year there were over three million bicycle users in the country, mostly in Hanoi (one million) and Ho Chi Minh City (2 million).

Peter Nguyen, CEO of a bicycle distribution company, says there are three factors that contribute to the bicycle market's long-term viability: growing attention to health, development of road traffic infrastructure with bicycle lanes and improvement in public transportation and resultant reduction in the number of motorbikes in central areas.

Cycling to work may be a new trend in Vietnam, but it has been around and thriving elsewhere. According to data published in 2014 by the U.S. Census Bureau, 786,000 Americans commuted by bicycle, a 60 percent increase from 2000.

There is a growing trend in Hanoi of combining bicycles and public transportation to go to work.

Tran Manh Lam, 39, of Dong Da district, devised a new transportation plan as soon as the Cat Linh - Ha Dong metro line began operation.

Since he lives near Cat Linh station, he rides his bicycle to it every morning and takes a train to Nguyen Xien station, from where he walks three kilometers to his office.

The eight-kilometer commute takes only 20 minutes, or half the time he used to take on a motorcycle.

"I avoid the kilometer-long traffic jams, especially on rainy days," he says.

He says few people bring their bikes into trains though the number has been increasing in recent months.

A man and his compact folding bicycle on a metro line in Hanoi in June 2022. Photo courtesy of Ngan Natto

A man and his compact folding bicycle on a metro train in Hanoi in June 2022. Photo courtesy of Ngan Natto

Vu Hong Truong, director of the Hanoi Railway One Member Limited Company, says there are strict rules on the size of items that can be brought on board.

"Bicycles are usually not allowed because they are bulky. But compact folding bicycles are permitted."

The company does not have statistics but acknowledges that an increasing number of people are carrying folding bicycles on trains.

Truong thinks combining bicycle riding and public transportation should be promoted to ease the traffic congestion in the city.

Knowing the health benefits, Phong recently gifted his wife a bicycle so that she can ride to work.

"My wife and I cannot give up our motorcycle and car for a bicycle, but we will try to use it as much as possible."

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