A new motorcycle sports club promotes safe riding and gives enthusiasts a place to test their skills. By Chris Mueller. Photo by Nguyen Anh Khoa.

Even in this land of motorbikes, big and proper motorcycles are still a rare sight. But on a recent cloudy Sunday morning in District 7, a line of super sport bikes lined up and revved their engines for Moto Gymkhana, a time trial sport, usually held in empty parking lots.

There were big Hondas, Suzukis, Yamahas, and even a couple of very expensive Ducatis thrown in for good measure. These bikes are not only meant to go very fast, but are also meant for tight turns and precision handling.

So I was expecting an impressive show when the first bike, a 1,200cc Honda, prepared to enter the course. But to my surprise, the expensive bikes with big engines were actually the slowest to make it through. The rider with the smallest bike — a 50cc HondaCD — had the fastest time for the day.

Moto Gymkhana began in Japan over 40 years ago, and from there has spread all over the world. The goal is to run the course, indicated by traffic cones, in the correct way and with the fastest time. Although the majority of people use powerful motorcycles, most of the time they never get above 70kph, and when they do that’s only on short straightaways.

This means that while the sport does require a lot of technical skill and superb riding techniques, anyone can give it a go. And at the course in Ho Chi Minh City, riders of any skill level, with any type of motorbike, are welcome to try it out. On my visit last month, there were the big bikes, but also typical Honda Waves, small 50cc bikes, and even a couple of automatic scooters.

The course is set up near RMIT in District 7 in an abandoned area where roads were built, but houses never went up. The Moto Gymkhana Vietnam club pays a fee to use it, and since it is far enough away from any public roads, they don’t have to worry about traffic rules.

The club is an official branch of the franchise and was founded in 2012 by Tran Dong. Now, Dong says, the club has over 45 members in Ho Chi Minh City, including four women, and has also spread to other cities such as Vung Tau, Bien Hoa, and Buon Ma Thuot.

Dong, who is in sales and marketing, decided to set up a branch of the sport after seeing it in action in Japan.

“When I saw Gymkhana in Japan and watched videos online, I noticed the skills and techniques would be more useful in Vietnam than anything like stunts or drifting,” he says. “I thought, why not make it a sport here?”

Although Dong set up Gymkhana in Vietnam as a hobby for motorcycle enthusiasts, it has had some unintended benefits.

“Most people drive much more carefully after they leave,” he says. “They drive fast here, so they don’t drive fast on the road.”

After seeing how much his members improved their driving skills, Dong realised that Gymkhana could do more good than just provide a place for people to ride their bikes. He recently helped put on a safety course with a Vietnamese motorsport magazine, and has more in the works. He’s hoping to work with motorbike clubs, dealerships and the media to help set up more of these courses.

“We’ll make them fun events,” he says. “We will make it so Vietnamese want to go, and they’ll also learn about riding techniques and safety.”

While nursing his recently broken collarbone, Dong explained that they try to keep everything as safe as possible. As part of the official Moto Gymkhana Association’s rules, the club requires all members to wear leg, arm and torso pads, as well as helmets.

Despite his recent injury from riding the course, Dong says anything more than scrapes or bruises are rare.

Viet Anh, a 20-year-old student, was the first member of Moto Gymkhana Vietnam. He, too, says he has not only seen a noticeable difference in his own skill level, but in others as well.

“A lot of big bike riders don’t have the right techniques,” he says. “But here they can improve their techniques. I can now ride any bike easily and it also helps a lot riding around Ho Chi Minh City.”

The club is also attracting a handful of expats. Like many expats, Mik Stockden didn’t pick up motorbike riding until he came to Vietnam. Now he rides a Ducati, and likes to visit the club because it challenges his riding skill.

“You really learn what you’re capable of,” he says. “You think you can only do so much, but here you learn you can do much more. Plus it’s just a good Sunday out.”

The Moto Gymkhana Vietnam club meets every Sunday at 9am in District 7 and is open to anyone with any type of motorbike. The fee is VND 150,000 a month. Visit Facebook.com/motogymkhanavn for more information and contact details.