A month of cruisers: borrowed bikes in Laos

As you may know, I’ve been in SE Asia for much of the last month (which explains my absence from this blog;) It wasn’t a biking trip–that is, I didn’t go there for purposes of bike tourism or anything–but there was certainly a fair amount of biking that transpired.

Most of it was on rented or borrowed single-speed cruisers like this one:

Nong Khiaw biking(though this one was much fancier–i.e. newer–than many. And check out how it matches my sweatshirt! :)

It seems like most of Laos is single speed country–which at first doesn’t seem to make sense (there are so many hills! don’t people want gears?), but it does mean fewer moving parts. Which I think is clutch, ultimately: Functionality, not performance, is the key word here.

And it’s a pretty big word. Everyone rides bikes in Laos. (Okay, maybe not everyone, but a huge huge number). Check out what the school in Nong Khiaw looked like:

Nong Khiaw school(And that’s not even all of them!)

Every day, four times a day, the streets would be mobbed with kiddos of all ages riding to school, home for lunch, back to school, and home again. Seriously, mobbed. Often they’d ride two to a bike, which James and Sarah did a nice job of demonstrating on our super shitty rental bikes in Vieng Xai:

Vieng Xai tandem(though generally the back person would ride sidesaddle)

But seriously, bikes and motorbikes were by far the dominant means of transportation.

biking home(and when the hill got too steep, everyone would push)

Of course, transportation is a much different thing in Laos than it is in the US. In many places, there’s just the one road, often not even wide enough for two big cars, much less a bike lane. Traffic “laws” are more like an unspoken understanding that people (and livestock) might be anywhere on any road moving in any direction. And I don’t think that most people go all that far. In general, the roads aren’t that great, and I got the sense that most people stick close to home.

Vieng Xai biking(not the main road in Vieng Xai, but not atypical, either)

We weren’t biking much for real transportation either, but I had a fantastic time riding around as often as I could, rocking the single speeds. When we first got to Laos, Sarah reminded me of something I’d written earlier this year about how the kind of bike I have, especially when I’m somewhere new to me, is less important than the fact that I have a bike at all. (You can read that initial post here if you’re interested.) That’s definitely how it felt in Laos. The bikes were, on the whole, pretty rinkety, but it was so rad to be able to ride around and take everything in. Even more than that, it was awesome to ride around on the kind of bike that basically everyone else in the whole country was riding.

I’m super thankful to James and Sarah for hooking us up with loaner bikes in Phonsavan and then being willing to rent bikes with us through the rest of the country. Laos is definitely a place I could imagine going back to with a slightly more tricked-out (with gears!) bike for some super beautiful touring.

(Okay, one last Lao bike picture because I can’t resist. This may be my favorite picture ever, from a school we stumbled across in Vieng Xai.

Vieng Xai school bikies(I also have many more pictures, not all of which are bikey, that you can see here.)

When I got back on my real bike in Portland a few days ago, it felt so big after a month of cruisers, like I almost couldn’t reach the pedals. Of course, it took all of about 2 minutes for it to settle in and feel just right again. I loved the Lao cruisers, but it sure is nice to be back on my own bike too:)


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