This week, I did a bad job of trying to write about Velo De Piste—a self-styled “bicycle coffee” shop on the gloomy riverfront end of Pasteur.
The cafe is the ambitious brainchild of Ken Huynh—a Saigon native who says he was driven to open the 24-hour bicycle-laden cafe by his passion for “fixies.”
Those of you reading this in America will no doubt roll your eyes at this point—given that fixed gear bicycles have come to epitomize the ironical affectations of the feckless bohemians better known as hipsters.
There’s nothing ironic about Huynh—a guy who keeps a battered tin T-ball bat in his back room as a memento of his days fighting Chinese toughs in Toronto. Covered in tattoos and small scars, his face folds into a calming grin when he’s not talking.
There’s really nothing ironical about Huynh, who has adopted everything about the West’s top-end bicycle culture with a sincerity that borders on mania. In this spirit, he’s risking a lot of time and money trying to create a kind of communal church dedicated to resurrecting the bicycle in a city that desperately needs it.
He spent two hours tinkering with my neglected Cannondale to convince me to start pedaling to work again and anyone who shows up to his place on a bicycle gets a 10% discount at his shop.
He’s slowly assembling a back room workshop and offering its use to anyone who wants to use his tools. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Velo De Piste is Saigon’s only hope of turning the bicycle back into something other than a last resort.
Most agree that the biggest threat to public transportation now is the pervasive desire to move beyond things like bicycles and busses. It’s easy for white privileged people to sneer at the developing world’s fetish for nice things. But this is dumb and counter-productive. Huynh’s shop taps into the desire to own something nice, to help people feel like they’ve transcended desperation and powerlessness while still riding home and to work.
It’s not gonna be easy. Last night, Huynh told me that he doesn’t really believe it will work and on the second night of Positive Mass he noticed that the different rider/consumers weren’t acting like a community.
"Fixies don’t like touring, road bikes don’t like fixies.." he said saddened.
Minutes later, while Hunyh was walking his russian bulldog, Stradivarius, the animal was hit by a passing car which didn’t even slow down. The tiny creature sputtered and shook and let out a plaintive wail. Hunyh and his wife took the him up in their arms and drove to an all night veterinary hospital where they were told that the animal had blood in its brain and would either recover or die from a stroke in the next 24-hours.
I can’t pray, but I also can’t stop trying to will the survival of the dog and the shop.