With the toss of a helmet into the air, two bikes tear down the empty stretch of sand, disappearing behind clouds of dust. It’s a Saturday afternoon and the racers are competing for winner’s spoils on a DIY racing circuit set up close to the Red River.
Only a few bumpy dirt roads away from the dyke road — Au Co — this area in Tay Ho often known as ‘The Beach’ has a quiet countryside vibe, with broad swaths of deserted sand flanked by paddy fields, banana plantations and palm trees. Already a gathering point for groups of local wrestlers, dog walkers and friends who just want to hang out over a beer or five, The Beach is now drawing in a growing crowd of motorbike enthusiasts who see their vehicles as far more than a way to get to work.
“We really want to encourage people to get out on their bikes and have more fun instead of just enduring the daily commute,” says Toby Stapleton, the owner of nearby KUB Cafe, which organised the drag race.
For the uninitiated, a drag race is simply a short-distance race that tests how quickly a driver can accelerate. Fortunately, because the drivers here are mostly using scooters with relatively low engine capacity, there isn’t much danger of crashing — even the term ‘race’ is mildly tongue-in-cheek. The first ‘meet’ two months ago was completely impromptu, attended by just a handful of enthusiasts. “It was just like, there’s a beach, we got bikes, let’s go for a drag race,” says Osh Williamson, co-organiser and DJ.
By the third race, there were dozens of attendees, prompted by a Facebook event and word of mouth. But while there are plans to have a race every month, the organisers hope to hang onto the casual vibe.
“The idea isn’t to become big. It’s an underground thing. Add a BBQ, some tunes. Make it a family event,” Williamson says. “We want this to be a place where people can come and bring their kids.”
Bring on the Bogan
There are few children in sight today, although the vibe is indeed more hangout than bike race. As the sun sets in a pink flush over the fields and trees, expats and Vietnamese linger around the BBQ, where local entrepreneur Aristotle Cabiles is supervising the grilling of his homemade sausages. Cabiles quit teaching to make sausages in flavours like garlic and apple-cinnamon; he often sees entire batches disappear in 30 minutes.
Tonight is no exception, as hungry racers surround the grill. Asked why they came today, they’re unequivocally enthusiastic.
“I’m from Australia and there’s this bogan element I love,” said Tom Rossiter, the principal of a local school.
“Bogan, what does that mean?”
“Almost like redneck. It means a lot for Australians.”
Though Rossiter has ridden motorbikes all his life and is a veteran of the Hanoi scene, he’s impressed with the racing community’s rapid evolution.
“It’s the birth of a sand race club in Hanoi,” he says.
And it’s only the beginning. Stapleton has planned several future KUB events, including a steeplechase, a Hanoian take on a 250-year-old racing tradition from his family hometown in Ireland.
“Instead of horses we’re doing it with motorbikes!” he says.
Could be a bumpy road.
For more information on future races, go to facebook.com/kubcafe or check in at KUB Café itself — 12 ngo 264 Au Co, Tay Ho, Hanoi