All Photos by Mark Green / The Urban Country
Our Asia correspondent Mark Green snapped some lovely photographs of bicycles in Vietnam on his last visit to that fascinating country. These photos show how bicycles are used by normal people in normal clothes as transportation – the way bicycles were meant to be used when the current form of bicycle was invented 125 years ago.
We can learn a lot from developing countries. People there use bicycles because they are affordable, useful, efficient and convenient. They don’t worship their bicycles, or even admire their bicycles – rather they see them as a tool that serves a useful purpose.
There are no logos or brands – just bicycles, and people going about their daily business. They don’t need any special gear, and they aren’t racing to their destination.
Unfortunately here in North America, bicycles are seen by many as pure recreation – hence the passion that is ignited whenever we talk about helmets. A common argument for helmets is “I routinely ride faster than 50km/h. I wouldn’t be caught dead without my helmet”.
Nobody on this website is talking about racing bicycles, or bicycles as a sport. That area of cycling is healthy and it’s not in anybody’s best interest for us to advocate for more sweaty men in lycra.
What we’re promoting here is bicycling as transportation. Bicycling in your regular clothes – going about your regular business, saving some money, and getting exercise in return.
Just last night I was told by a suburban Toronto Tweeter that bicycles are for ravines and valleys – not for roads.
“Toronto aint 19th Century France. #velomadness”, this Tweeter quipped.
I suggested that this person stay in his suburban town and enjoy his SUVs, four car garage, and bumper-to-bumper-five-km/h-traffic-congestion. Toronto doesn’t need another ignorant buffoon telling us bicycles shouldn’t be allowed on roads. We have enough of those here – one of which is leading the race to become mayor.
Over in Asia, although car use is on the rise, governments are still doing much more to provide safe routes for bicycles to be used as transportation than most cities in North America.
While exploring China’s bicycle infrastructure earlier this year I discovered special parking spaces for handicap bicyclists in Shanghai. Simply amazing.
Similarly, while touring Vietnam, Mark discovered a wheel-chair-bike being used to transport an elderly lady. Fascinating.
Mark also captured photos of these kids doubling up on their lovely little bikes with front baskets (Here in Toronto, it’s against the law to have two people on a bicycle):
In North America, we look at the automobile as “moving forward”, but in reality the automobile has moved us backwards. It has created fat, stressed out, heart-disease-ridden, gridlocked nations.
Sure, we may have much more material wealth than the average Vietnamese person. But while they are happily enjoying their trip to their destination, most North Americans are staring at the bumper of the car in front of them.