Cycling is good even if there is pollution

It is no secret that Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City start have a problem with air pollution. It’s not that bad in the South these days thanks to the rain, but there are times when it can be worrying to get out there and breathe the fumes of the thousands of cars and motorbikes that flock the streets everyday. Yes, we can use masks despite the heat, but it is reasonable to wonder if the harm of pollution will be higher than the benefits from exercise you get when you cycle. Our slogan is “Climate change, ride a bike” for a reason, we want  a cleaner world, but not at the expense of our own health. Fortunately, it looks like cycling (exercise) is always good, despite the polluted air. At least this is the biggest finding by a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge.

However, according to their research, there is a point after which the benefits of cycling don’t increase even if we keep cycling and another breaking point, when they become smaller than the harm that the air can cause. In Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world (much more than Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City) after 30 minutes the exercise will cease bringing benefits and after one hour it would become more harmful than good. In Hanoi or Saigon the pollution is usually about half the one in Delhi, so cycling in the city would cause more good than harm after two hours.


graphic benefits bike pollution

And there is another factor, wether you cycle or not, you are in the city, you breathe the same air. One of the authors of the study said in this interesting piece in Quartz magazine, “we are not disputing the fact that air pollution kills,” said James Woodcock, one of the authors of the study. “[But] it would do so even when you are sitting at home. What we find is that being physically active, even in polluted cities, can cut that risk. So it’s a win-win.” In short, get on your bike, it’s always better than not doing it. And anyway, we would always advise to get tours or ride outside the city, the countryside is way more exciting for cyclists! 


Ten tips to ride a bicycle in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi

It may appear like it’s not advisable to ride a bicycle in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, and to some extent it is if you are not an experienced rider, but if you are able to ride a motorbike, there is no reason why using the bicycle should be more dangerous. And for distances that are not so long, it can even be faster. Here are ten tips to avoid problems riding in major Vietnamese cities.


1) Wear a helmet

Well, this should be a must wherever you ride, even if there is no traffic at all because we are never completely safe from falling down. In a tropical weather like the one in Vietnam this may seem to be a nuisance but it’s worth it to avoid bad injuries if you happen to fall.

2) Follow the rules

Some cyclists tend to think rules don’t really apply to them. This is very wrong and it gives arguments to people who want us out of the road. If we want to be respected as cyclists and stand for our rights, we should start following the rules to deserve this respect.

3) Wear a mask

As it happens with the helmet, the climate doesn’t encourage wearing a mask, but if you are going to ride your bicycle often it is worth to avoid breathing all the motorbikes fumes. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City’s air are among the most polluted in Asia and it’s not getting better. If the masks sold by peddlers make you feel too hot, you can check some of the special ones made by I can breathe! for people who do exercise in polluted environments.

4) Don’t be shy

As a cyclist you will be the weakest animal in the traffic jungle and the others might want to take advantage of that. Don’t let them (as long as you don’t take risks). Defend your position and don’t let them abuse you. One of the advantages of the bike is that you will be higher than motorbike riders, so they can see you easily.

Photo: Kordian

5) Don’t take anything for granted

If you are used to driving in Vietnam you may know that you can never assume other drivers are going to do the right thing. On the contrary, you should always be prepared in case they don’t respect traffic rules or they don’t look back when they join a main road. Be extremely careful with cars, specially taxis, as passengers don’t feel it necessary to look before opening the door to step out.

6) Use small roads

As much as you can, try to use smaller roads, it may add a few meters to the total distance if you ride to work or school, but it will be worth and much less stressful. It’s worth getting a map and check the best options before going.

7) Avoid rush hours

Riding a bicycle in Saigon or Hanoi when the traffic is not so heavy is a pleasant experience, but as much as you can, avoid the peak hours when people are going or coming from work. Unless you are really in a hurry, it’s worth waiting in a coffee shop until the traffic storm is over.

8) Bring an extra shirt (and shorts)

If you are using your bike to move around the city, it is advisable to bring extra clothes as it is very likely that they will get soaked in sweat. Even if you do a city tour like the ones organised in vietnambiketour, it is a good idea to bring extra clothes, as the weather can change very quickly in Vietnam.

9) Don’t listen to music

It shouldn’t be necessary to say this, but it is common to see cyclists with their earphones on. Listening to music might make your ride more pleasant, but you will miss a lot of information necessary to drive safely. Horns are an essential part of driving in Vietnam and you don’t want to miss them if you cherish your life.

10) Be quick in traffic lights

If you are riding a bicycle it will be easier for you to find your way to the head of the queue when there is a red light. As soon as it turns green (and after checking nobody is doing anything wrong) start pushing the pedals and enjoy these few meters in which you get rid of all the polluting vehicles.