Cyclists cyclists everywhere (Southern Laos)

19 02 2011

‘Helloooooooo’ we wave raucously at the two fellow cyclists that glint in to view on the other side of the road. We all slam our brakes on and swing round, grinning shiny sweaty grins into the hot midday sun. It is a wonderful thing, and up until now quite a rare thing, to meet other cyclists. For the majority of our trip we have gone days, even weeks, without seeing any other ‘farang’ (foreigners) and it has been many weeks since we bumped into another cyclist! Until we hit the lower Mekong.

The cycling pair we bumped into yesterday morning were a German man and woman in their early thirties. They were perched upon wonderfully rickety bikes that they had brought in Cambodia; they had small backpacks balanced on the rear pannier racks with not a cycle helmet or sniff of lycra in sight. The whole image looked slightly Mad Max-esq every bit as if they and their bikes might fall apart at any minute. We passed the usual pleasantries; information on the state of the road ahead, distances between stop-offs etc and they were relieved to know that, though rolling, there were no major hilly surprises on the horizon – their bikes only had a very limited gear range! This was a rather refreshing meeting for us as in the whole of the past 7 months not once have we met such .. shoe-string cyclists, in fact this may have been the first “bikepackers” we have ever come across. No way would their bikes stand up to the rigours of long distance touring but that was not their intent, they were very much part of a Mekong (thus quite flat) adventure that would see them utilise a whole range of transport modes.

The second set of cyclists we met, not an hour further on, were a most delightful American couple who were whizzing along on the tiny wheels of their fold down bikes. These crazy kippers were on a world tour to celebrate the chap’s 70th birthday. They had two tiny front panniers which held their essentials and were bedecked with a wild array of gadgetry clipped, strapped and tied to their bodies and cycling hats. With their little bikes folded neatly away they basically flew into an area they were interested in, toured around on busses etc and then whipped the bikes out for any sections they felt inclined to cycle!

The THIRD set of cyclists, (please bear in mind that we hadn’t seen another single cycling soul in almost a month) didn’t stop. Though we did exchange large waves and huge whoops of ‘helloooooo!’ . These where two boys, on decent touring bikes, and probably on a bit of a testosterone-fuelled-distance-cruncher of a trip.

And these were only the beginning! As we continue towards Cambodia we are practically falling over an absolute glittering tiara of bicycling bunnies. We have chatted to Thai, Russian, and German (lots of) pedal pushers; gone are the long distance purists of India, Iran or Turkey.  Over the past few days we have met people who are using bikes for journeys that last for as long as 2 years and as short as two days. It has been both an education and a real little heart warming pot of diversity. Wheel on the revolution!

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