A lot of people travelling through Vietnam by motorbike have never rode a manual bike before and even the experienced rider may of only rode in Europe, America, Australia etc, countries that are very different to ride in compared to Vietnam. For this reason it is very important to understand how different it is and get as much advice as you can.
Here we have provided some basic advice but you can always message us via email or facebook if you have any questions.
Learning to Ride
If Vietnam is the first place that you have rode a manual bike then it is very important to get lessons before you buy a bike. While most people can learn quickly to ride not everyone can and you don’t want to end up with a bike you can’t ride.
If you are looking to buy from a backpacker make sure that they are a safe and experienced rider. If they have only rode through Vietnam themselves then maybe they aren’t the best person to give lessons, after 2 weeks or even 1 month riding no one is going to be the best riding. So try to make sure that you are learning from someone with plenty of experience.
Paying for lessons from a shop is always an option, most motorbike shops will offer this service if they aren’t too busy and they will have more experience of motorbikes and Vietnam than anyone.
Most shops now also offer free driving lessons if you are looking to buy a bike. We always take people for lessons before anyone buys a bike to make sure that we are happy you can ride safely and that you are comfortable on the bike.
So try to learn from someone with plenty of experience and make sure that you can ride safely and that you feel comfortable before purchasing anything. This might sound obvious but we see plenty of people making these mistakes.
How to Ride Safely
Speed – The speed you will travel in Vietnam is going to be much slower than you expect. If you are travelling on a highway which when you are travelling south will mostly be the case you will be averaging 50 – 60 km/h maximum but in the far north riding through small gravel and dirt mountain passes you might average 20 km/h!!!! For the whole day!!!!
There is a few reasons for this, the obvious one is that at times in the north the roads will not allow you to travel fast, lots of mud, gravel, holes and anything else nature can throw at you.
In the south as well as the north you will also encounter unexpected things in the road such as animal, children playing or just someone slowly turning with no warning and for this reason you want to be able to react in time, this means riding slower.
For most people they will be travelling on a cheap bike, this means that they were not designed for the punishment of taking a heavier western with a heavy bag all day everyday at maximum speed. If you do this and push the bike as far as it can go then you are going to break to that much faster.
Travelling Together or Alone – Some people ride the whole of Vietnam together while others want to ride alone. If you do travel alone then it is just worth noting that if you do break down or run out of fuel then you are relying on someone else passing by and helping you out. While Vietnamese people will help you out whenever they can in these situations someone might not come past for a while and it is much better to have someone else able to drive and find a mechanic.
It is just more fun to travel with other people as well and you can easier find people travelling on motorbike all over Vietnam.
Riding at Night – This is important, you shouldn’t ride at night. At night all the buses and trucks will still be on the roads, they will not care if they have to force you to the edge of the road but at night you will not be able to see where the edge is and if there is a drop afterwards. The light on most Wins is also not that strong and can often break, if this happens that you will have big problems.
Sometimes you will have to ride at night to make it to somewhere you can sleep but never plan to ride during the night.
It is important to take care of your bike while you have it. There are many horror stories about the bikes in Vietnam breaking down all the time. Not maintaining bikes will mean that they break down more often and the costs will be higher. Anyone who has owed a bike before will know that they need general maintenance and a cheap Vietnamese bike needs this more so.
Once you purchase a bike from us we go through all the maintenance that you need to do on the bikes in particular on the new bikes. As there are so many mechanics through out Vietnam you will easily find a mechanic to do this for you and we will give you a translation to show to a mechanic to ensure that you can communicate what you need them to do.
Oil Change – The oil changes for these bikes are very regular. Every 400 – 500km for an old bike and 500 – 700km for a new bike. The reason is that you will be pushing these bike harder than they should be push and rode every day with more weight that they should have. Plus the oil in Vietnam can be good new oil or old recycled oil and it is unlikely that you will be able to tell the difference until it is too late so it is better to regular oil changes to minimise the risk.
If you don’t do the oil changes then it is likely that you will very quickly break the cylinder and the inside of the engine and this will be very expensive to repair.
The Chain – The chain will often need to be oiled and tightened during your trip as well. This is easy and cheap for a mechanic to do and can be done when you get an oil change. You will easily see the difference between a tight chain and loose chain and feel the difference when you ride. It is worth checking every day to see if the chain needs tightening.
Brakes – Over time the brakes might feel weaker, this doesn’t always mean that they need to be replaced. Often they will just need tightening which is easy and takes only a few seconds. You will notice a difference over the course of your trip and whenever you feel like this needs doing you can stop at a mechanics.
Spokes of the Wheel – On the new bikes it is very important to check the spokes of the wheel. When the bike is new these are tight but will definitely become loose so should be checked every time you are getting an oil change. If one of these breaks and goes unnoticed then more can easily break.
The Nuts and Bolts – Similar to the spokes on a new bike the nuts and bolts on the engine should all be checked and tighten when getting an oil change on a new bike. This is all done quickly, easily and cheaply but if it is not done then you can feel a difference on the performance.
Cleaning the Carburetor – With an old Win it is very hard to say specifically how often a carburetor needs to be cleaned. It depends on the age of the carburetor and how clean the tank is. If these are both okay then every 2000km should be fine which for a lot of people will be the whole trip.
Mechanics in Vietnam on the whole are terrible. They either don’t know how to properly repair a bike or over charge for repairs.
For this reason it is very important to agree a price before anyone touches your bike, and if they start to tell you other things are broken which you didn’t feel before then you can always walk away. The problem is that most people know very little about bikes so how do you know if a mechanic is telling the truth or not? Well that’s very hard. When you buy your bike you can ask about the cost of common repairs and if from a shop you can ask them for a helpline. For instance we offer a 24 hour helpline in case you need help and we aren’t the only place that does this. Its very common now. But if you have the helpline then you need to ring before anyone does anything to the bike. If we tell you the mechanic is bad and the engine is now open you can’t really drive away.
Parking your Bike Safely
In the major cities it is very important to park your bike in the right place. In the day this will be outside the shop you are at, they will usually have a security guard for the bikes if its a busy place. At night you will have to put your bike inside a hotel, house or parking lot. These are cheap and secure. You might have some minor damage when you pick up the bike as the staff at the lots aren’t too careful with Wins but it won’t be stolen.
In the country side there is more space so anywhere you sleep should have secure parking for your bike and for free.
But with a manual bike it is easy to just push it away as there is not steering lock so we provide a lock to stop this happening and it is easy to find one for yourself in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh.
Normally in Vietnam these police don’t bother foreigners but this is not always true, especially in Mui Ne.
By law you need a driving License (Vietnamese) although if you have an International License then they will accept this. You also need the blue card. But if you have both of these then they can still say that you have done something wrong. Normally this will be speeding, driving in the wrong lane or not indicating when turning.
This means that unless you have the right license, blue card and are filming they can fine you but this is unlikely.
If they do stop you then they will be looking for a bribe which is normally 200K VND ($9). But they might try asking for more at first, maybe 2,000K VND or more! But the real fine for anything that you have done would be less than this and they are just trying to scary you.
So if they stop you stay calm and don’t be rude. You can call us and we will speak to the police for you and try and help. Once they know you are speaking to someone Vietnamese they will realise that they can’t get a big bribe from you and will likely accept 200K VND per person.
Unfortunately we can never know for certain what they will do but we have experience dealing with them and will do everything we can to help you.
Buying a Bike
If you are an experienced rider then it is much easier for you to choose the right bike. You can simply test ride so many more bikes than an inexperienced rider with the knowledge about what makes a good bike.
If you are not an inexperienced rider or don’t know enough mechanically about a motorbike then it is very important to buy a bike from someone you can trust. A lot of people think this means a western or fellow backpacker but often they will be leaving the country tomorrow so once they have sold the bike they are done and you won’t be able to go back to them the following day if the bike is falling apart and need repairs straight away. So be careful not to believe everything that they say, obviously there are plenty of honest backpackers who will tell you everything about the bike but not all of them will.
The other option is to buy from a motorbike shop like ourselves. Unlike backpackers we will all still be here tomorrow but maybe if you go back with your bike that already needs repairs they won’t help you. It’s your bike now so your problem. This is where a shop having an online presence is important, if they sell a bad bike then over time they will get back feedback and lots of bad reviews. Our reviews on Trip Advisor mean a lot to us and we do everything to ensure our bikes are good, the customers have a good experience and we hopefully get good reviews at the end. Maybe you are not sure if you can trust the staff but you can trust the reviews that previous customers have been left. If a motorbike shop doesn’t have an online presence where you can read reviews now then this is suspicious. For us the feedback from our customers is a large part of our business and we love our customers to leave reviews. The only reason a shop wouldn’t want this is than the bikes have problems and the reviews are going to be bad.
There is a few things you can look out for when buying a bike, the obvious thing is if there are new parts. You will be able to tell if something is new because it will still be shiny chrome. You also need to check how the bike handles at high speeds so take it onto the highway not the small streets around a city where you will never get to high speeds. When you are at high speeds you will also be able test the brakes properly to ensure at high speeds you will be able to stop safely.
A few warning signs of bad bikes are that everything is painted black, this is normally done to hide old or broken parts although some people like the bike painted all black so this isn’t always the case. If they don’t let you test drive the bike on the highway then this is not good as they probably know that this is where you will find all the problems with the bike.
Selling Your Bike
Once you have finished your trip you will have to sell your bike and you definitely won’t be the only person doing this so you need to make sure that you advertise plenty and talk to lots of people as the bike won’t sell itself.
You will always get more money for your motorbike by selling to another backpacker over a local or a motorbike shop. Most good motorbike shops don’t need to buy bikes often as they have a good supply in stock and often buy from around the countryside so they don’t need to buy it as much as you need to sell it. This means that they won’t pay that much for it.
You can advertise on the internet before you need to sell the bike to create some interest. There is lots of Facebook groups for motorbikes in Vietnam as well as motorbike sections on craigslist and travel swop. These are all useful and people do search them for bikes but the best way is to speak to people and put up adverts in hostel. Most big hostels now have free beer for an hour everyday and all the backpackers are normally in the hostels at these times so it is a great chance to sell the bike.
When you buy a bike from us we give you a receipt with our name on it and it is good to advert that you brought your bike from our shop so that people can check online and see the reviews and know it was a good bike and you didn’t buy off another backpacker and that the bike has been serviced recently.
You can also ask us to write down all of the new parts that the bike has had so you can mention this when you sell it.
It is worth mentioning any problems that you have on the way, this makes you sound more honest and believable. Most adverts list all the new parts that they changed on the way but say that the bike had no problems which doesn’t make sense.