Unlike the incessant beeping of motorbikes and cars, the jingle from the bicycles bells are quite relaxing.
It’s 8am on a spring day and a group of over 40 locals are gathering on the corner of Thanh Nien Street. An old man in an army uniform steps forward and starts to rally people’s attention.
We are told his name is Nguyen Hop Ngoc, the club’s 75-year-old leader. Ngoc dictates the direction the cyclists will head. This time it’s along Mai Xuan Thuong, Phan Đinh Phung, and Nguyen Tri Phuong. The first pit stop will be at Lenin Park.
Hanoi Xua & Nay Old Bicycle Club was set up in 2007 by five old bike lovers, Nguyen Van Tuan, Hung Nuoc, Hung Beo, Hung Quat and Cuong Jon. Tuan’s eyes mist over when he recollects on its first days. “I first dreamt of owning a bicycle when I was a small boy. My parents were very poor and their most valuable asset was an old bicycle. Our seven brothers and sisters were never allowed to touch it. So when I grew up and got a job, I invested a lot of money on collecting old bicycles."
To keep fit, Tuan would take his bike to Thanh Nien Street every morning to exercise, where he rendezvoused with four other fellow bike enthusiasts. After three years, the club has 43 members, mostly retired officers aged from 40 to over 80.
One club member, Tran Nhu To, proudly shows us his silver-coloured Aviac, made in the 1930s and bought during a business trip to France. “At the time I just needed it as a way to get around,” he says. I bought it for 200 Euros from a friend in 2005. I grew very attached to it and spent a lot of time learning about old bicycles."
So far, he has managed to collect ten old bicycles with different brand names. His Aviac is now the oldest bicycle in the collection of the club. It’s also the most valuable, worth a pricey USD 2,500.
The oldest member of the club is 86-year-old Nguyen Danh Dien in Le Dai Hanh Street. Once known as the country’s best “courier”, he was chosen by the French to represent Vietnam in a bicycle race in Paris in the 1940s. He is still brimming with energy. “I have arthritis but I always try to take part in all the activities at the club,” says Dien. “Cycling is also a way to keep myself fit and healthy." Dien is cycling on an Aviac A Duravia made in 1960.
Another esteemed member, founder Hung, owns the largest collection of push bikes in Hanoi. His collection of nearly 40 bikes consists of almost all old French brand-names like Marila, Follis, Joang Fonix, Sterling, Mercier, Peugeot, and Aviac.
The club is looking to the future, holding trips and activities they hope will encourage people to look after the environment.