HOG Hanoi is one of four motorcycle clubs based in the nation’s capital and devoted to worshipping iconic brands, joining a Royal Enfield club, a Ducati club and the nation’s oldest club, Moto Hanoi. Aided by the 2007 loosening of restrictions on importing high-powered foreign bikes, it’s no surprise that a vibrant motorbike subculture has emerged in a country with around 37 million motorbikes.
And while typically a preserve of the wealthy, Vietnam’s fast-growing economy and progressively open market is paving the way for more motorcycle clubs.
HOG members share the creed of Harley-Davidson riders everywhere: they’re tough and they live on the edge.
For any normal person, piloting an 1,800cc Harley-Davidson (equivalent to the combined power of 15 Vespas) through the streets of Hanoi would be, well, terrifying. As such, it takes a particularly brave adrenalin junkie to roll with these guys.
Although one of the newer clubs in Hanoi, having only been founded in 2007, HOG Hanoi have seen a steady rise in members.
“The opening of a Harley-Davidson showroom in Ho Chi Minh City proves these bikes are becoming more popular in Vietnam,” says Tao. “In our club alone we have over 60 bikes.”
The club meets every Sunday and conducts monthly rides out of the capital. The weekend I talk to them, they are heading to Halong Bay to meet with other motorcycle clubs from around Hanoi.
“The relationship between motorcycle clubs is good here,” he says, although he admits it hasn’t always been this way.
Much to my own surprise, Tao explains Vietnam has a growing list of paved highways well suited to long-distance cruising. “It has happened over the past two or three years. Now, there are more beautiful roads to ride on than before.
He adds: “We often go touring on the big highways to places like Quang Binh, Bac Kan, Sapa, Son La, Dien Bien Phu and even along the Ho Chi Minh City Highway.”
The club is as authentic as any HOG chapter you will find in the US, with the same raucous enthusiasm for Harleys as their American counterparts.
The Harley-Davidson logo is proudly emblazoned across T-shirts and leather jackets, worn with reinforced Blundstone boots. To Tao, it is a thing of beauty.
“We’ve had visitors come to Vietnam and be blown away by the brotherhood we have formed here and even by the calibre of bikes that are available,” he says. “It is a great time to be part of a club in Vietnam.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Lan Van Nguyen, president of Vietnam’s oldest motorcycle club, Moto Hanoi.
“We were the first club to be officially recognised by the government,” he says fondly.
The club boasts a wartime history dating back to 1962. Back then, a handful of members helped to ferry goods and letters between provinces. Later, the club shifted its focus to performances, where members (both men and women) would perform tricks on their motorcycles as entertainment. The club’s website is a fascinating collage of images depicting members in a range of gravity-defying acts.
“We celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2011 and every year we have a party where we invite our old members back,” says Lan. “We have a very rich history.”
Now the club dedicates itself to charitable causes. Members form motorcades for cyclists and host a wide range of charity events including blood donation drives. Moto members can even be seen riding around the streets of Hanoi bearing the national flag.
“In 2010, we even provided a guard around riders who cycled from Ho Chi Minh City all the way to Hanoi,” says Lan.
The club now meets monthly to decide on group rides, occasionally linking up with other clubs in Hanoi. In the past, the club has ridden to Hai Phong, Danang, Ha Giang, Sapa and even toured the famed Highway 1 route from Hue to Hoi An.
The club welcomes anyone with a motorbike and passion for riding, and even claims a clutch of enthusiastic foreigners from Canada, the US and The Netherlands. Lan says that most of the club’s members are between the age of 25 and 30, but that ages vary from as young as 18 to well over 60.
“We also do a lot of workshops around safety and getting to know your bike,” he adds. “After 2007, when it became easier to buy powerful bikes, we got a lot of young people joining.”
According to Lan, younger generations are becoming even more active in motorcycle clubs, aided by the rising incomes that older generations didn’t have access to in the past.
“They have more bikes to choose from and more money to enjoy them. I’ve been able to share this passion with my children.”
While the authorities look to find ways to manage the increasing hordes of motorcycles cavorting their way down the roads, it seems Vietnam’s passion for two-wheeled vehicles shows no sign of slowing down.