Fixed gear bicycles have grown from a cheap, simple conveyance to an obsession for Ho Chi Minh City's growing community of fixie fanatics.
At least ten fixed gear rider clubs have popped up in recent years creating a veritable cult that occasionally manifests in Ho Chi Minh City's downtown neighborhoods.
The groups usually zip their bright brakeless bikes up sidewalks and against traffic, defying the limits of pedestrian and traffic laws.
Fixed gear bicycles, or "fixies," are so named because the rear wheel and the pedals are connected by a single gear anchored to the rear wheel.
The riders can't coast and can only stop by applying reverse-pressure to their pedals--though hand brakes can be affixed to the bikes by those who want them.
Le Quoc Tuan, 21-year-old member of Fixed Gear Hung (roughly "Improvised Fixed Gears), told Tuoi Tre newspaper the bike's attraction lies in its operating principle: They don’t stop and keep pulling you ahead.
The word “improvised” describes a flexible approach to the bicycle, Tuan explains before mounting his bike to lead a handful of bikers around the Saigon Central Post Office and then down along the river.
After assembling on Nguyen Huu Canh Street the crew broke into tricks – popping wheelies and riding without hands.
Members of the club said the bikes are simple enough that they can fix all the problems they encounter by themselves.
“It's the simplest possible design,” Tuan said.
He said most learn to control the bike in a few days and can easily skid to a stop in a week.
Nguyen Thi Trang, 18, a college student, backed him up by saying she learned to sort of slide to a stop in a few days.
“It’s not so terrible as I imagined,” she said acknowledging that she came to that conclusion after taking a number of spills.
“We often watch fixed gear videos on foreign websites to learn new tricks,” Tuan said as his club member Le Minh Phong stood on his pedals before rising up on one wheel.
“We want more people to use this means of transport, for physical health and stress reduction,” -- Le Van Luan, a fixed gear rider in Ho Chi Minh City
Pham Quoc Huy, 29, who founded the club last year, said he has been riding fixed gear bicycles for a long time and started the club after noticing he wasn't the only one in town.
“We now have around 300 members,” Huy said.
The members meet every Wednesday and Friday evening in the city center before bicycling to popular suburban youth destinations like Anh Sao Bridge in Phu My Hung, eight kilometers away.
Huy said practicing fixed gear riding helps one learn to be patient and overcome challenges.
Riders become inseparable from their fixies once they can control them and stop falling, he said.
Le Van Luan at his fixed gear bicycle factory in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre
Trang confirmed that: “The more I practice, the more I Iove it.
“It’s extremely exciting anytime I learn a new trick.”
Tuan, who rides a fixed gear to school, said the constant challenge to master new tricks is at the heart of his passion for the bike.
Members of Fixed Gear Saigon, another club, say they aim to accomplish more than just having fun.
The club leader's Le Van Luan, 36, owns a fixed gear factory on Tran Cao Van Street, Phu Nhuan District, and sells each bike for VND4-5 million (US$190-236).
There are other shops like Fixed Gear BinBin on De Tham Street, Fixed Gear BonBon in District 3 and Fixed Gear Ho Chi Minh City in Phu Nhuan District.
Luan's club holds an open ride across the city on the last Friday of every month.
“We want more people to use this means of transport, for physical health and stress reduction,” Luan said.
Those who come out for the rides aren't just teens.
Tran Van Kieu, 57, said he joined several times.
“Riding like that is a very good kind of training and it’s less dangerous than motorbikes.
“It feels good to hang out with kids who are excited about something.”