Since April we had been noticing some epic shots of riding in Vietnam that we saw coming through our Instagram feed. The story goes, 5 Chicago riders - Dave Mucci, Juan Francisco, Cat Pham, Laura Heindenreich & Chris Force, sick of the cold & missing their rides - found their escape from winter with the help of Ducati Vietnam. On April 1st, 2015 the five riders flew out to Vietnam, met with Ducati and with the company's support & a fleet of their bikes (Scramblers, Diavals, Monsters) they rode from Ho Chi Minh north through the mountains & back to Hanoi - all under the name HILO Project.
We were stoked when Chris contacted the shop to see if we would be interested in hosting the HILO Project and provide them with a space to show some prints of the photos they shot on their trip. Sounded like a rad idea to us so we're pleased to announce that our July Ride-In this month we'll be pairing up with the HILO crew who will be riding down from Chicago to to show off some of their work, hang out and chat about the trip!
We thought we would ask Chris some questions about the trip and share some of their photos to give you an idea of what their ride was all about. Keep reading below and make sure to come out on July 26th to see more photos & meet the HILO crew now back from their adventure in Vietnam!
TM: Would you say that you and the crew had Vietnam on your riding bucket lists before the trip? What would you say appealed most to you guys about riding in Vietnam?
Chris Force: Dave and I had never rode internationally before, so we were really looking for any international riding experience we could get. Laura had recently rode through Thailand and had an amazing trip. We were really excited about the possibility of riding in Vietnam because relatively so few people have done it, and no one had yet on a Ducati. We really didn’t know what to expect!
TM: 21 days sounds like a great amount of time to explore a country! Do you feel like you guys got to hit all the spots you wanted to ride through / see everything you wanted to see?
Chris: It’s hard coming back from any trip and feeling like you had enough time. We hauled ass on our trip! We rode pretty much the entire length of the country, and often through twisty mountain passes. We had a lot of road to cover, and not a lot of downtime. It takes a while to unravel any foreign place, but we definitely did that traffic-wise--I think we are all Vietnamese traffic experts now. But as far as truly meeting the people and understanding the land, we only just barely scratched the surface.
TM: So who did the route research & planning for the trip? Was there a method to the routes or were you trying to cover a certain number of kms a day? Did you schedule in rest days? How did you decide where they would be?
Chris: I would like to take credit for route and plans, but honestly besides just high level route planning, the locals from Ducati Vietnam guided us the whole way, tailoring our moods and interests as the days went on. The only real choices we made each day was if we wanted to try to make good time, or ride the scenic twisty routes. We chose the twisty route every time! We had, I think, two rest days and then a few days off when we arrived in Hanoi. We had two days in Sapa which was plenty, but I think we all would of loved an extra day in Da Nang. It was a brutal ride there, so we got in late and left for an event early that morning. We also loved the coastal beach town of Nha Trang--an extra day swimming in the ocean would of been amazing.
TM: What does riding through Vietnamese feel like on day saaaay, 18?
Chris: Damn tiring! We woke up excited every day to ride, but we really put on the miles. We normally were on the road by 7am-ish, and would ride some days for 12 hours. Our group was really supportive though, and we swapped bikes often to stay comfortable and keep things interesting.
TM: So gear-wise! What was your gear choice for riding in the warmer climates of Vietnam?
Chris: This was a tough trip to pack for. We had some cold wet days in the mountains, several layers, hoodies, leather jackets. Then we had some super hot days. Riders in Vietnam wear full leathers for everything, and it’s the right choice.
TM: Oh yeah? Why would you say that?
Chris: As far as leather jackets (and preferably even pants) you’re taking all kinds of stuff from the road against your body. Bugs, peoples, greasy spray from trucks, cow poop, everything. You want a good barrier between all of that. Also, it’s a mental game. When you really start diving into the twists, you’re trying to get comfortable leaning was over, and knowing there is something protecting you from the pavement helps you focus.
I rode the Rev’it Red Hook Leather jacket. I rode the shit out of it. Everyday, in crazy hot heat, in chilly mountain weather, and doing highway miles in the rain. It is fantastic. The fit is good, although at 6’ 1” I find it (and most other moto jackets) a bit to short in the waist. The arm length is perfect. The cut is retro, looks good, and feels good. It’s become my go-to jacket. It’s nice and thick, and feels like its built to last 100 years. I own a lot of Rev’it gear, but this jacket is one of their best.
TM: Gear-wise was there anything you were thankful for having or anything you would recommend bring on a trip like this?
Chris: Our leather jackets were critical. There were a few brutally hot days where a vented jacket would of been comfortable, but overall leather was the way to go. Super sturdy boots are a must - on most of these bikes your feet and ankles end up resting on things they probably shouldn’t. Just from the amount of hours and positions we were on the bikes, your feet end up against burning hot exhausts and other parts of the bike. So having sturdy boots was essentially. We also, well, used our feet a lot riding, if that makes any sense. Taking turns in the dirt, running on all kinds or rocks and rugged roads, so reliable traction and protection was really important. And my Rev’it rain suit was a lifesaver. I wish I had armored and / or leather pants--something I’ve never wished for before. I rode Levi’s, but I was jealous of Juan’s Ugly Bros big time. Something with some extra knee protection would of been really nice.
TM: You get to Vietnam and everyone gets on a Ducati, is this a huge change of pace for anyone in the group? What do you all ride back home?
Chris: Huge change of pace! Only one us was a Ducati owner. Dave rides a 450cc Honda, and Laura a vintage Suzuki. I’m on a modern 67 horsepower Bonnie, and my first day there I rode the 162 hp Diavel! A massive difference.
TM: How did the bikes hold up throughout the trip? Did you run into any mechanical problems?
Chris: We were very fortunate to travel with a mechanic who kept up basic maintenance for us. The roads are really dusty, so he was cleaning air filters and lubing the bikes up. The Diavel clutch gave out once in the middle of a roundabout (we think due to an over zealous power washing), but our mechanic was able to fix it at a local shop. Overall no problems at all! So, when in doubt, travel on brand new bikes with a mechanic, ha.
TM: What were some of the funnest roads you got to ride?
Chris: Riding through the mountains into Sapa was the best ride of my life. It was amazing. On the following day we rode a similar route and actually back tracked to ride it twice!
TM: What were some of the sketchiest roads you got to ride?
Chris: Pretty much all the roads are sketchy! The very first day outside of Ho Chi Minh city was the sketchiest. We were jet lagged, and on new bikes, so that didn’t help. We were also riding with actor Johnny Tri and his partner Kate--both of them are lightning fast, and the local crew we were riding with wanted to keep up.
So we were also going blazingly fast.
The mountain passes are wicked. The roads turn foul suddenly, there are no guide rails in places, and animals of all sorts (dogs, chickens, cats, piglets, cows, goats, you name it). To make matters worse, they don’t allow trucks to use the underground tunnels, so they all race around the mountain passes. And, since laws are lax, they all way overloaded past their brake rating--so in order to be able to stop anywhere near properly, they rig these oily water bathes to constantly run over the brakes. Which, of course, leave oily streaks all over the road.
Super sketchy! But fun.
TM: What landscapes still stand out for you now that you are back in Chicago?
Chris: Watching the sunset in mountains in the north. Just gradients of gorgeous mountains with terraced rice paddies. Unbelievable.
TM: What was navigation like once you'd arrived? Is it fairly easy to stay on course? Gas up? Get help when you needed it?
Chris: We had local guides, but even with them we got lost pretty often--we actually ended up at the border to China by mistake once. Locals are helpful with directions, but we rarely ran into anyone that spoke English. Fuel is easy to find, and always full service.
TM: If you had to finish this sentence for anyone looking to head on a similar trip, what would you say. Vietnam, be prepared for:
Chris: The trip of a lifetime. Hi Lo Project Team Pic (left to right): Read more about each member on the Hi Lo Project Bio page.