R & R in Saigon and all our broken bits

27 02 2011

Vietnam-Cambodia border... high-tech...

We are back in Vietnam! We have cycled from Hanoi to Saigon via Laos and Cambodia.Woo.

Saigon will be our last cycle-in-to-able city as from here we turn right and head for the Cambodian coast and out to Thailand. Saigon is an exhilarating place to cycle – the wide streets are thick with whirling whizzing mopeds; always on the move, always on the move. We are finding it, however, a dull place to visit. Its key tourist streets sell the widest range of mediocre food, its market vendors are aggressive and needy, and its museums are full of blatant propaganda that sadly serves only to undermine their impact. ‘Where you from?’ one market seller calls out to a passing khaki short clad middle aged American ‘Pizza hut’ he replied sarcastically.  This is the relationship. One sees only dollars the other only greed. Neither sees the other.

A list – Liz’s broken bits

Gloves – Her first pair wore through in India. She is now on her second pair; bought in Mumbai.

Chain – Her first one broke off in India. She is now on her second one; bought in Mumbai.

Front pannier rack – Her first one snapped in two places; bought in Kathmandu.

Cycling shorts/trousers – we just keep sewing!

Rear wheel rim – Her first one cracked around 4 spokes; new one sent out and fitted in Saigon.

Rear tyre – Her first one wore down; new one sent out and fitted in Kathmandu.

Sunglasses – flip-ups brought after her prescriptions were stolen in Iran. They snapped; sticky tape now doing the job.

Bungee. We have others – phew.

Will we get her there in one piece?……

B List – Cath’s broken bits

One almost broken tyre



Update on our thumps and cracks

12 02 2011

(see yesterdays blog for the intro re bike damage..s)

Having reached the southern Laos city of Savannakhet calamity free and intact we rendez-vous with our parcel of crucial cassette removal tools. We then scanned the town for a decent bicycle mechanic… there are many motorbike ones but scant few bicycle ones. We stumbled upon one with pictures of race teams plastered all over the walls – a sure sign of interest if not quality – Holien Bike Center (041-213190 / 020-55250782).  Where upon Liz’s cracked rim was dismissed as they didn’t have a 32” replacement. When choosing this size we were aware that they are harder to come by in this part of the world than 26” – ho hum. Nevertheless the mechanic confidently set too on my (Catherine’s) bearings. And what a beautiful act of maintenance it was to behold – we shall call it the Dance of the Bearings. With clarity and tenderness he moved through the steps, meticulously cleaning the socket and inspecting the little balls.  He settled upon a change for one set and a general loving of the other.  All told the job was complete in little over 20 mins and cost a whopping £1.  Unfortunately the rear ‘thump’ still remains as does Liz’s rim crack. Our second thump suspect is a thinning patch on the said same rear tyre…. new tyre? ‘Right!’ Liz exclaims, ‘we are only a boat ride over to Thailand. I’m going to go there!’  Extreme measures! This is a risk and a cost but if needs must so must we. After checking the dwindling pages in her passport, stacking up on biscuits, pocketing enough dollars she was sent on her way.  Not 200m down the road Liz spied another bike shop and decided to give it a try – where upon she was duly convinced that her crack will probably last the last 1500km’s to Thailand (the Southern bit – not the bit a 20 min boat ride away) and to not worry about it. This is a bit of a “time-will-tell” solution. With the rim out of the running we decided to scrap the Thailand dash and switch my (Catherine’s) front and back tyres instead. This should take the weight pressure off it and *fingers crossed* help it last the distance!!!  If anyone is close to any wood – if you could touch it for us – it would be much appreciated!

Losing our bearings and cracking up

11 02 2011

‘What do you do if your bike breaks?’ this is one of the most common questions we get asked, everywhere, always. ‘Well’ we confidently reply ‘we can fix most things; a puncture, a broken chain, a snapped cable etc. And for anything bigger than that, why, there are any number of bicycle shops lining our route.’ Brave words.

We are bike maintenance careful, we keep our bikes as clean as we can, we toothbrush our chains regularly and keep them well oiled and debris free. But this trip has taken more of a toll on our poor bikes than we could ever have envisaged. The roads have been rougher, the way bumpier. And now we are into problems beyond any learning accrued on our 8 hours of bike maintenance training. We are into wheel truing (which is surprisingly easy), bearing maintenance and rim cracking. The latter two are of significant concern as there are two tools we didn’t bring that we seem singularly unable to find; a chain whip and a cassette removal tool. Though these may sound like kinky sex toys they are in fact what you need to take off your rear bike cassette (the rear gear cogs) and thus get access to your bearings (they are small balls that live in the centre of your rear wheel).

After days of being plagued by an unidentifiable ‘thump’ from the rear of Catherine’s bike we turned to the great interweb. Whereupon BIGTOOL, ROADMAMBA and other such bicycle experts helped us to the conclusion that her rear bearings must be wearing out or worn out. While knowledge is a wonderful thing we are still left somewhat stumped as we can’t actually get to the bearings (because of the lack of cassette removal tools – in rural Laos no bikes have gears….) and are still hazy on the long term affects of cycling on wearing bearings. Thus Catherine’s, somewhat cautious approach to hills, has become a crawling ginger paranoia; ever terrified of the rear wheel spinning off or locking and throwing her onto verges littered with unexploded ordinance (UXO), carelessly left every which where, by the US in the Vietnam war, to be blown into a thousand smithereens! We take hills moderately now.

Thankfully we have what every long distance cyclist needs; a Mothership, or, in this case a Fathership, who has cast a few tools in our direction to be collected in approximately 200km time. … *gulp* .  On top of this a rim inspection (again, not a kinky sex game) has revealed cracking on Liz’s rim (see pic). …. God (and maybe BIGTOOL and ROADMAMBA if we could get close enough to a web connection to ask them) alone knows what this means….. anyone?

ps – we have turned Right and are now cycling through Laos to get to Saigon… if anyone is interested..