Cycling road etiquette and style in Hanoi is a revelation. The apparent chaos of cars, scooters, bikes and pedestrians is in reality ordered and benign. Two wheeled vehicles easily out number all other modes of transport, and because of this, there is a much better sense of traffic flow and movement. The roads are a little like slow meandering rivers, winding their way around obstacles, correcting speed and direction but always importantly moving. Nothing appears to rush overtly, except when jumping lights, as speed is useless in the density of vehicles travelling so closely together. Holding on to our cycling nerve, as we pedal along, the approaching and oncoming cars and scooters slow and turn to avoid collision. Once this miraculous lesson is learnt, that space is given by other road users when needed, there comes an easy joy of navigating the busy roads.
To learn ‘how to ride’ here we simply followed other cyclists and discovered another style of riding altogether. Hand signals are a necessity both for riders and pedestrians, with arms stuck out to indicate the change in direction and angled backwards from the body, with the hand and fingers fluttering and trailing behind to implore the traffic to slow to allow manoeuvre. The hand moves in away as if to gently push the traffic back and, like the flow of a river parting around a rock, the traffic adjusts its course of direction.
Riders both on scooters and bicycles wear very different riding gear. Helmets for scooters are now compulsory and are open sided without a visor. They are brightly coloured, typically branded with Chanel or Gucci logos, or with a Burberry chequered strip down the middle. They look very cool with big sunglasses, despite appearing ineffective in a collision. Cotton hoodies are worn by almost everyone, to keep the sun off, and have extra long sleeves to allow for the rider’s extended reach to handlebars with thumb holes to keep the hands covered. Men wear indigo blue and black denim versions and women brightly coloured and flowered cotton hoodies which hang longer to help cover the legs. Women on scooters often wear a wrap around sun apron, again brightly coloured cotton, to further shade their skin. Almost everyone covers their faces with big sunglasses and cotton face masks to try and protect themselves from pollution and sunshine. Small children are lassoed with a purposely designed padded belt to their seated scooter driving parent and stand between their legs behind the steering column. No one wears riding gloves except to protect themselves against the sun and are a full arm length in white cotton.
Yasmin and I stand out from the crowd and must look plainly ridiculous in our ‘day glow’ cycling tops looking bright, hot and shiny. Perhaps this is a good thing, being so conspicuous, as everyone sees they should give these riding novices an extra wide berth!