Buying a motorbike in Vietnam and exploring the beauties of the country sounds like the adventure you'd like to jump on? If you think that it's nearly impossible, just stop a bit and continue reading! Finding a bike in Vietnam is very easy since the country has around 45 million registered motorcycles on a population of roughly 90 million people! It roughly means that every second person has a bike, or better said - every bike serves (at least!) two people! How crazy is it, right?
Don’t get excited too soon, as finding the reliable motorbike that will be your true companion around the country can cause few headaches! Locals around the city mainly use motorbikes as the mean of transportation as they don’t usually travel long distances, so the bikes are in better condition than your average ‘backpacker’ motorbike.
We have the experience of buying and maintaining three different bikes and driving a few other bikes. Nothing is certain on the road except one thing - BREAKDOWNS!!!
There were many breakdowns in the middle of nowhere, oil leaks, flat tires, you name it!
We want to share bits of knowledge we gathered from driving 5,000kms around this stunning country and help you in picking the suitable motorbike for your trip! …because a breakdown in the middle of nowhere isn’t funny at all!
Where to Buy a Motorbike in Vietnam
You will most likely start your trip in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and these cities are the biggest hubs of backpackers and also the major starting point for travelers who’re about to travel Vietnam by motorbike. The motorbike market in these two cities is huge which can be very tricky as you can choose between million bikes! We didn’t have any prior mechanic experience when it comes to motorbikes, so it was a bit tougher to pick a reliable bike. We had a bit of luck to have prior experience in Vietnam with motorbikes and many local friends, so we were poured with a dozen of advice when it comes to buying the bike.
The usual advice is to buy a motorbike in Hanoi and sell it in Ho Chi Minh city. The reason is that China is nearer to Hanoi and many bikes are coming from China, so the price is lower as there are not as many logistics costs as in Saigon. People will tell you that you can even earn money by selling the motorbike in Saigon. It wasn't our case! A bit of money was lost, but nothing significant! We didn’t have much trouble when buying a motorbike in Hanoi, and it took us one afternoon to do a test drive and close a deal.
We posted on the Facebook group called Vietnam Backpackers Travel and Sales that we’re looking for a motorbike, and we were showered with deals in a few minutes. We decided to check a Mr. Leo agency as the guy had one automatic and a semi-automatic motorbike at the time. We spent around 3 hours checking the bikes and doing test drives since David never drove anything except a bicycle.
Anyway, it was a successful afternoon as we got two bikes and we were ready for our motorbike trip around Vietnam! So, to answer the question of where to buy a motorbike in Vietnam - it really doesn’t matter as you’ll probably going to start your journey from Saigon or Hanoi. The market is enormous in both cities, and you shouldn’t have any struggle while finding a motorbike in these cities. The best advice we can give you is to never to believe people who say that they never experienced a breakdown on the road!
The chances for that are close to zero!
Reliable Motorbike Types in Vietnam
There are so many different types of motorcycles in Vietnam, so sometimes it can be very confusing when picking a suitable motorbike for you. Here are the most usual motorbikes travelers get for the Vietnamese trip:
Backpackers usually go for ‘Honda’ Win. Please note that the original Honda Win is rare to find since Honda stopped to produce these bikes almost ten years ago. They sold that series to Chinese and Vietnamese companies, so now, you have many different versions of Win motorbike. None of these bikes is Honda since real Honda Win will cost you around $1000.
Funny fact: Antonio got his bike as a gift in Hanoi!
A ‘Honda’ Win’s usually goes from $150 - $500. We advise you to not go for the cheapest one since these bikes have so many kilometers under the belt and you can expect many breakdowns on the road with the cheapest ones. Instead, aim for the bikes that are in a $300 price range. You can get a decent manual bike in that range! There are many different brands of Wins now, but from experience, we think Sufat and new Detech (2016+) are the most reliable. Antonio was driving Sufat from Hanoi to Saigon without any significant problems on the machine. The only problem he had was the electric, so he had issues with starting a bike sometimes.
Also, the indicators usually don’t work on these bikes, so be careful when it comes to checking the fuel. His Sufat left him without the gas in the most remote areas a few times! Don’t be like Antonio and always fill your tank!
Honda Waves are very common bikes in Vietnam. This one is a crazy good bike and also, it's a real Honda so you should expect to pay a bit more. We didn't have much trouble with this one on the road.
We found out that semi-automatic bikes are very reliable but slightly more expensive than manuals. Lovel was driving Honda Wave, and he didn’t have any major breakdowns except a broken chain and few problems with a gearbox that he changed on the road. The bike cruises like a charm, and you can easily reach 90 km/h which is ideal for many roads around the country.
The indicators work, so you don’t need to worry about fuel consumption. Also, the bike has a lot of strength so climbing the steep mountains won’t cause obstacles to a well-maintained Wave. The Waves are delightful and comfortable to drive, but be careful that you’re buying a real Honda since there are many versions of Chinese waves as Lifan.
Yamaha Sirius and Taurus are another good to go semi-automatic bikes, but they will cost a bit more, and their fuel consumption isn’t as good as Wave. So if you’re thinking about buying a semi-automatic, definitely go for a Wave.
An automatic bike that was the most reliable bike of our crew! Not a single breakdown on the road. Just put the new oil every 1,000 km and tightening the chain.
An automatic type of motorbike is the most suitable for total beginners who never had any experience with the bikes or people who don’t want to think about changing the gears while focusing on chaotic traffic around. Automatic bikes aren’t the most comfortable bikes and there is not much space, so prepare for a bent back and be ready to put some money for a massage here and there.
Also, when hitting the hills with an automatic, you will obviously have a much harder time as you have no control over the transmission. Driving on the challenging Ho Chi Minh Trail was really slow on this bike. David was driving SYM Atilla along the way and he passed 3,500 km with the bike without a single breakdown! Without a single breakdown, you heard it right!
He even didn’t have a flat tire or broken chain. Literally nothing except changing the oil every 1,000 kilometers. Here and there, you may end up with some slight issues with the electric starter, but that's not a permanent issue. Also, scooters have a kickstart for situations like this. If you’re thinking about getting an automatic bike, then we advise you to go with SYM Atilla or Honda Lead (a bit more expensive) as these bikes are very reliable, but once they break down, you will have a hard time to find a mechanic who can help you!
Checklist Before Buying a Motorbike in Vietnam
We didn't have any mechanic knowledge before buying our motorbikes, but there are many things you can check on your own; even without any knowledge or experience about the bikes!
These tips will definitely help people without any mechanic experience since we’re the same, but it turned out these things can save you a lot of time and money on the road, so let’s start:
- Check the condition of both tires. You can put the price down if the tires are well-used and you should change the used tires as the roads can be very slippery in some sections.
- Are front and rear signals working?
- Are front and rear lights working? Does the brake indicator on the back work?
- Always check out the condition of your horn and loudness level of it! It’s one of the most important things on your motorbike!
- When doing a test drive, try out your brakes and get a feeling of tightness.
- Try an electric starter as well as kickstarter.
- Drive a bit and leave the motorbike on the stand. When the engine gets a bit warmer, you shouldn’t see any oil leaks below. If you notice any leaks after a short ride, it’s the sign that the engine isn’t in the best condition.
- Put the bike on the center stand and rotate the rear wheel to see if it’s centered.
- Drive in all gears and check out if there is an anomaly when changing the gears. The gears should change without much effort and you can also put in the neutral gear once you’re in 1st and 2nd gear (manual bikes).
- Check out the suspension when you’re braking and also see if there is any rust or cracks. When you’re driving everything should be smooth without any wobbling and vibrations.
- The bike shouldn’t have any sprayings on the machine since it can be an indicator that the seller is trying to hide a broken part from you.
- Double-check the numbers on the blue card. Both numbers should match the machine and the case.
These tips can help you so much in filtering bad bikes! If the bike passed all the checks, then there is a huge possibility it’s the right bike you should buy for your trip. Another great tip when buying is to have a local friend who knows people and who can help you with negotiating the price. Believe us, the language barrier can be a deal-breaker here!
Bike Accessories That Will Make Your Life Easier
There are some things that will save you a lot of time and hustle on the road if your bike has it. It’s not a major deal breaker if the bike doesn’t come with these things, but always ask for it, or bargain the price.
- Bungee cords are necessary since you need to tie down your luggage to the rack. Head to local markets and get the strongest ones. Also, keep in mind cords tend to break, so always go for more. One cord costs up to 20,000 VND on the market.
- Many sellers will usually give you a helmet with the bike, but the quality won't protect you at all. Invest in a proper full-face helmet!
- A luggage rack is essential since you'll most likely carry luggage with you. Double-check for the rust and strength of the rack! You can get a new one for about 300,000 VND.
- A cell phone holder comes handy since you can fix your phone and navigate without constant stopping. This is a major time saver!
- Chain and a lock for the safety of your bike. This comes in handy when you’re doing day trips and you don’t park your bike in a safe place. In the big cities, thefts are common, so always secure your bike with the lock or park on the secured parking.
These are just some of the things that will ease up things a bit when you're on the road!
Maintenance Before and On the Road
Always be sure to have your oil level checked and don't forget to change the oil. It's cheap and it will give your bike enough juice to drive you through the most intense terrains around the country.
Remember one thing when getting second-hand Vietnam motorcycles - these bikes passed the same trip you’re planning to do hundreds of times! Many bikes didn’t have proper maintenance and you want to be sure that you start off your trip right and check everything on your bike. Here are the things we advise you to check and change before starting your epic ride:
- Change the oil and clean the engine (500 - 1,000 km)
- Check out the mirrors and all the screws/bolts on the engine and frame
- Test your brakes and adjust them if necessary. Also, changing the brake pads will help a lot!
- Change plugs
- Tighten and lubricate the chain
TA-DA! Your motorbike is ready for the trip! Once you hit the road, you don’t want to torture your ride. You should always take good care and visit a mechanic every once in a while. Here are the maintenance things you should consider doing once you hit the road:
- Change the oil every 500 - 1000 km
- When you change the oil, always tighten the chain and adjust the brakes
- Put extra air to the tires and check out the condition of your tires
- Check out the bolts and loose parts and tighten them
That’s it! Do these things and you are totally ready for this trip! Here are the costs of common repairs:
- Oil change with chain lubricating, tightening and brake adjusting - up to 120k
- Spark plug - 70k
- Flat tire (inner tire) - 100k
- Changing the inner and outer tire - 300k
- Battery - 250k - 350k
- Suspension - 300k
- Brake pads - 100k
- Exhaust - 250k
- Front light - 200k
- Backlight - 100k
- Chain - 150k
- Carburetor - 250k
- Cylinder - 400k
- Brake or clutch handle - 70k
- Set of mirrors - 90k
- Changing the clutch - 500k
- Front rim - 300k
- Back rim - 500k
- Complete new gearbox - around 1 mil
- Alternator - 200k
Always ask for the price upfront as a mechanic won’t be able to manipulate you on your ignorance. Once the price is set, the Vietnamese people respect it and they won’t change it. Just take a look at the prices above so you know what’s the usual price for the parts. With that knowledge, you’ll have a good starting point for bargaining.
We hope that the tips you've seen above will help you with your decision on buying the right bike! It may seem that there is a lot to do, but when you tick off the things from that list, you realize that maintaining your bike isn't so demanding after all! Follow these tips, and the bike won't leave you hanging in the middle of nowhere. Still don't have an idea for a route you'd like to cover around Vietnam? Why not take a look at the motorbike route we took?
Have any more tips to share while buying a motorbike in Vietnam? Don't hesitate to write a helpful comment!