While watching a late nighttime bike race in Thailand Steve Thomas came across Jonas Fischer, a German fixie racer who was on a long-haul mission to ride without gears through Southeast Asia, hooking up with fixie communities throughout the region and racing in the biggest and baddest one gear races on the continent. He spoke to Fischer for Cycling Central.
Steve Thomas: This seems like a whole new take on bike travel – tell us what it’s all about?
Jonas Fischer: Well, my personal aim was to get out of my comfort zone. I quit my job and my apartment and left Germany with a backpack and my bike. My plan was to start at several races around Asia, to meet local riders and visit local bike shops. I wanted to get to know the fixed gear communities in different countries.
I'm so happy I made this difficult decision to leave, because so many new and interesting things were waiting for me. The cycling and fixed gear scene in all of Asia is growing and therefore it was really interesting to get to know these people, who are totally into cycling - people who follow the same passion as I do.
ST: Which countries did you race in, and which were most interesting?
JF: I raced in Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan. But I also travelled in Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. It’s really difficult to say which one was the most interesting, because each country had its specialties. It was great to see that they are all very different, not only in cycling terms.
Different landscapes, different cultures, different religions, but I guess it’s mostly about the people. If they are open minded, they are willing to show you their own culture. In Taiwan I was sitting two hours at a friends place while his uncle explained me how to make tea. That was such a wonderful moment.
ST: How were you accepted?
JF: It's amazing. All the guys were super open-minded. We raced together, trained together and spent some time together. With some of the guys I became friends and we tried to meet at different races in different cities again, and some of the guys even invited me to stay at their places.
When I was moving to another city or country they called their friends and said: 'Jonas is coming to your place. Please show him around.' That's genuine hospitality, which isn't so common in the western world. I was surprised, very happy and thankful for that experience. I will adapt that.
ST: How different was the fixie compared to Europe?
JF: The cool thing is that the scene in each country is very different. You can’t just compare the Asian scene with the European scene. In Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Korea the guys hang out at night, do night rides, form crews, have their own jerseys - and most importantly they want to race.
In Indonesia most of the bike messengers ride fixed and they dominate the scene. For example the guys of West Bike Messenger from Jakarta travelled to the Cycle Messenger World Championship (CMWC) in Paris this year. In Vietnam fixed gear riding only became popular a few years ago. But, all of the children and teenagers have a fixed gear. They are mostly the very cheap no-name bikes, but at least they ride.
They do night rides, and quite often you see them doing tricks on their bikes. And the fixie shop in Ho Chi Minh City also formed a racing team. If you’re into bike porn then visit Taiwan and Japan. The fixie guys here have got brilliant bikes, and are more than happy to show them.
ST: There was a huge uproar recently over the illegal HolyCrit race in Singapore, which ended up with the organisers doing prison time. What was your experience of riding there?
JF: I really enjoyed my time in Singapore. But to be fair, I have mixed feelings about the country itself. All of the fixed riders were super friendly. We spent so much time together. We ate a lot of different food, and they showed me all the important things I needed to see, and one night we cycled once around the whole country. Super cool memories. But, if you think about the organisers of HolyCrit, who have to go to jail, because they organised a cycling race, then you realise how strict everything is.
ST: What were the most interesting takeaways from the trip?
JF: I guess that’s the most difficult question. I started this trip, because I wasn’t happy with myself . I used the time to clear my mind, and to open it and feel free and happy again. I did what I wanted to do most at that time - to see the world with my bike. That trip was an adventure and self-therapy at the same time.
ST: What were the most impressive and unusual races in Asia?
JF: In Thailand, the guys of Bangkok Criterium organise races in four cities. It’s always a big event, with big sponsors, a closed racetrack and with races for fixed gear, road bikes and mountain bikes. They do everything very professionally, and riders from all over Asia travel to these races.
The race I did in Taiwan was a bit more like an Alleycat race. It was a race from A to B through the whole of Taipei. There were huge streets and lots of cars – it was massive fun. In Malaysia, the number of races and Alleycats is growing rapidly. But all of them are illegal. The guys meet in the middle of the night in an area with not so much traffic.
Some of them block the roads with scooters for the duration of the race, and afterwards everybody disappears.
Eric and Zul from Fixup Yourgear in Singapore organised the illegal race HolyCrit for a few years. Unfortunately last year they got caught by police and due to organising an illegal event they need to pay a fine and go to prison for a few weeks.
Crazy, isn’t it? They moved the race to Kuala Lumpur and it was a big honour to race there - and to win it. I think that's a moment I'll never forget.