Most of us are still sleeping off the previous night’s excesses at 9am on a Saturday, enjoying a much-needed lie-in following the end to another work week. However, there are others who prefer to forsake this luxury in favour of embracing the age-old Latin aphorism carpe diem.
One such group of people meet outside the Riverside Serviced Apartments complex in An Phu most Saturdays, emerging bleary-eyed yet ready to enter the high-octane world of motocross racing.
“When you try it you realise how addictive it is,” enthuses Florence “Flo” Maginier, en route to Vietnam’s first and only motocross track at Mango Garden Resort (Vuon Xoai) in Dong Nai. “The rush of adrenaline you get is incredible, it’s such a buzz!”
Opened in 2010, the earthen track was designed by a Thai motocross expert and financed by a Vietnamese benefactor. It’s since seen two redesigns and now incorporates multiple berms and jumps, taking just over a minute per lap to complete.
And though motocross in Vietnam is said to be at least 10 years behind the likes of Cambodia and Malaysia in terms of development, Aussie biker Trent Tolkien describes the track as “amazing”, lauding its international-standard quality, safe jumps and lack of potentially hazardous gaps.
Local chop shop owner Hoan Nguyen, who also runs one of the most popular motorcycle clubs in Ho Chi Minh City — dubbed Con Cao Cao because dirt bikes are said to resemble grasshoppers to the Vietnamese — organised the country’s first official motocross race there last June, an event that attracted a crowd of thousands, 50 competitors of multiple nationalities and caused quite a stir among the local media. And though there hasn’t been another race hosted since, this hasn’t stopped lovers of the sport making the hour-long journey to Vuon Xoai most weekends to hone their skills.
Trent, Flo, her boyfriend Ken Tran-Nguyen, and fellow motocross enthusiast Monty Truong are all members of Con Cao Cao and regulars of the track. Having discovered the club through online forums and good old-fashioned word of mouth, they also frequent off-road trails through jungles, forests, rivers, rubber plantations, sand dunes and even construction sites around the likes of Cat Lai, Long Thanh and Mui Ne. “There’s usually around 20 people that go,” Ken says. “Vietnam is the perfect place for it.”
After the quartet unload their bikes from a van they’ve rented for the day, everyone changes into their race gear. It’s all pretty heavy-duty stuff, not to mention expensive. Monty reveals the cost can range from VND10.5 million for equipment such as crash helmets, gloves, protective goggles, body armour, knee and elbow pads, neck braces and boots, up to VND21 million, depending on the brand and needs of the driver.
Wheelin’ & Dealin’
Unsurprisingly, the bikes themselves also fetch a pretty penny. “You can expect to pay between VND63 million and VND252 million depending on the year, brand and model of the bike,” says Monty, who advises on shelling out the dong instead of renting. “It’s better to own your bike as a lot of time needs to be spent getting used to all the idiosyncrasies, tweaking the settings, and discovering how it reacts to different terrains and conditions.”
Once they’re on the track it’s easy to understand the sport’s appeal. Trent revs off on his 2007 250cc Honda CRF in style, pulling off an impressive wheelie before sliding undauntedly through corners and taking off into the air like a leaping salmon. Monty grabs an impressive amount of hang time on each of his jumps, especially over the 25m triple, eliciting gasps of astonishment from a growing crowd of intrigued spectators.
Cries of “You’re on fire!” and “You’re in the zone!” are shouted at different intervals, though Monty’s daredevil approach also results in several crashes that eventually render his bike unusable for the rest of the day. Luckily he’s not hurt and is soon back on the track as if nothing had happened.
And bar a short period of torrential downpour, which temporarily turns the track into an oversized mud pit, ceasing the action, the gang spends literally all afternoon perfecting their jumps, turns and general driving techniques, only letting up for brief pit stops to rehydrate and enjoy an ostrich meat lunch.
To a large extent it takes a fearless attitude, combined with an insatiable thirst and unbridled passion for extreme thrills, to fully embrace motocross. A case of learning by doing, not teaching. “The Vietnamese are really quite talented,” says Trent. “They’re naturally good on a motorcycle so it’s just about honing their skills. Maybe within a year of two, I think they’ll be quite competitive with other Southeast Asian riders.”
Dedication is also paramount. Since taking up the sport seriously two months ago, Flo says her riding has already improved significantly. Though with only one other woman involved in the sport, Flo is somewhat of a rarity within the motocross scene. So, does she feel at all marginalized or is she considered one of the boys?
“I actually prefer being with the guys,” she claims. “They’re fun to be around, they’re happy to coach me and they look out for me. I started off by watching and taking pictures, but after a while that bored me. So I found a little two-stroke 100cc Kawasaki, which is perfect for a girl of my size. I’m always telling my girlfriends they should try it.”
And therein lies perhaps the greatest aspect of motocross. It’s open to anyone and everyone (as long as you can afford it). Men, women and children of all ages and ability are all welcome to join the fun. So long as you can wake up in time.
For more information on motocross, trail treks and the Con Cao Cao Club, go to Hoan Nguyen’s shop at 91/14 Tran Quang Dieu, Q3. Alternatively, visit the Motocross Vietnam Facebook page or email email@example.com