In Vietnam, tour guides with fat Harleys keep asking tourists “You want Easy Rider?”. Fuck Easy Rider. An ode to the dirty feeling of the Ruff Ryders. For attunement to the following text please enjoy this epic meditation on masculinity by the grand American master of sentimentalism, DMX:
I could never understand bikers. I’ve always regarded it an expensive, dangerous, pseudo-masculine nonsense. Indeed: It is expensive. In Vietnam not as much as elsewhere, but still. It is dangerous. In Vietnam even much more than anywhere else. But if you are not just an old rich man on the backseat of a Harley, if you toil your Minsk through all of Vietnam on your own, it is not pseudo. It’s manly. It’s tough. It’s fast. It’s dirty. It’s frustrating. It’s wicked. And nonsense.
When we bought our two Minsks in Nha Trang I had romantic delusions a la Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Sure, the bikes were old and faulty, but we had the maintenaince manual, everything repaired we could find in our naivety and the idea that we could take apart the faulty parts of such a simple machine bit by bit, then perfect them and put them together again. Until the bikes would be as new.
In reality the biker’s life with a Minsk in Vietnam is a nightmare. Though an arousing, adrenaline fueled nightmare. I have never in my life sworn as much as in the first days with our bikes. We could not ride 30 km without something breaking on us. All the time one of these things was breaking down. All of this in unbearable heat and deadly sun which scorches you in no time, even when everything is working well for once. Everytime we had just spent hundreds of thousands of Dong for a total renewal of such important things like a gearbox or clutch with the feeling everything is going to be all right now, we stood at the roadside again little later. The tricks of the mechanic had some unforeseen side effect, he simply didn’t do anything, or there was simply a new source of trouble. Eventually you give up on the belief that you could improve the state of the machine by maintenance. Thank Cod that there are not only beautiful landscapes in Vietnam, but more importantly there is a gara(ge) every 50m. Even if the competence of most of them does not go beyond changing sparkplugs and they all think you are stupid.
Yet after a few days already an extremely satisfying emotional mix of physical exhaustion (Ever bump-started a 200kg-bike 50 times a day because the starter is kicked down?) and self-assertion kicked in. It’s beautiful like war. One more day survived! Completely worn out, but happy. A similar feeling like you get after skydiving or surfing in potentially deadly circumstances. Just dirtier, sweatier, more burnt and with an extremely painful ass. A kind of disgusting catarthis.
During the act itself (when you actually do get to ride for once) the feeling can vary a lot. It can simply be boring, loud and exhausting if you have to do 300 km on one day. That is because you can hardly make more than 50 km/h on average. Attemting to listen to music while driving proved particularly awkward. In doing so you neither get anything out of the scenery nor the music, and afterwards you are simply deaf. But if you are completely resting in the moment, it can be very intense indeed: The acceleration, the curves, the scenery, the noise, the feeling of your own effectiveness and power. Particularly wicked in the mountains (racing down slopes) and in lethal traffic on dirt tracks: In order to wedge through between buses and trucks over huge potholes in dust and heat and slowly but surely overtake everyone else on the road you have to be completely in the moment. Otherwise you are dead for sure when once again a bus coming towards you is overtaking a truck, taking up the whole of your lane, just when you have fully accelerated to finally overtake someone yourself. The bus is honking horribly loud and adds some flasher for effect but does not even think of going slower or evading you (whereto?), so that your only chance is an emergency stop and evading into the dirt beside the “road”. That is if there’s no bicycle coming towards you on your side of the road. Yes Sir, reaction is king. Which requires total attention. Flow. Merging in the moment. A wicked feeling.
However, the biker’s life is really demanding. When you have risen at seven, struggled 9 hours through heat and dust and disaster and actually made 300 km for once, things like eating, taking a shower and sleeping seem more urgent than writing another article. Fundamentally incompatible with life as a digital bohemian. I can barely await selling those death bikes and enjoying long bus rides with AC, reading, and writing. Not being disgustingly dirty every day. Not totally burnt. But I am glad to have made this experience and somehow I can’t get away from Betsy and Juanita. I would miss their wonderful two-stroke-drone. Now I can understand bikers. They are idiots, but I am one of them.