Friday, July 4, 2014

Buying a Motorcycle in Vietnam

When I decided to travel to Vietnam I didn't know exactly how I would get around. I thought it would be a combination of planes, trains and buses. Well, my negative experience with the organized tour to Ha Long Bay convinced me that following the typical backpacker trail around Vietnam was not for me.

Of course, I always think about traveling by two wheels. I have always wanted to try an epic long distance bicycle tour. But realistically the longest distance I've ever riden a bicycle is probably 10 miles. 

However, when I was in Hanoi my friend Quy Nho let me ride her motor scooter. That experience provided me with a taste of motorcycling in a busy city like Hanoi and what it might be like to ride a moto in Vietnam.
So I began researching online for some information about buying a motorcycle in Vietnam. I came across a few resources regarding motorcycle shops or repair shops that were selling motos. I decided to check out two shops in Hanoi that were in close vicinity to one another.
I took a bus and then I had to walk a while to reach this neighborhood. I hadn't visited this part of Hanoi - it was quite different from the old quarter or tourist areas of Hanoi. 
It seemed like the neighborhood was made up of mostly houses and shops and was just a very normal neighborhood void of tourists. 
One shop that I visited was called Viet Motorcycles. As I walked up to the shop I could see a collection of various motorcycles outside and inside. There were two or three mechanics working on different bikes, tools were scattered about the floor, and as I walked in I could feel a thin layer of oil covering the floor. It definitely was not the tidiest of shops. There were various motorcycles in states of repair or disrepair.
This is a Honda Win, it is a typical motorcycle that is driven in the countryside of Vietnam. Many backpackers choose the Honda Win because it's known to be a reliable, serviceable and practical motorcycle.
This is a Honda Dream, Honda Cub and a Honda Wave. These are very typical motorcycles that many Vietnamese ride around the city. They are actually part of the lineage of a classic motorcycles that started with the Honda Cub in the 1960s. The Honda Cub, Dream, Wave is actually the most sold motorcycle in the history of motorcycles. I saw many of these Honda Waves when I was traveling in Latin America. I have always wanted to try to ride one, but for some reason these motos are not sold in the United States. 
However, after spending just a little time in the shop I began to develop the impression that this was the type of shop where motorcycles went to die. I just didn't feel comfortable that one of these motos were in good condition or had been repaired with original or quality parts. I was looking for a moto that I could ride around without worrying about it breaking down. 
The second motorcycle shop that I visited was called VIP bikes. Their website is www.vipbikes.org. When I visited their website I actually learned that the shop was set up as not for profit. The idea behind VIP bikes is to provide on-the-job motorbike mechanic training for young trainees from disadvantaged background. The aim is to ensure that the skill will eventually provide them with a living as well as a means to support their families. VIP bikes principally offers long term leases of motos to expats and then provides full service maintenance. 
What I noticed when I walked into the shop was that it was clean and orderly. The tools were placed on a tool board, there was a proper workbench, the floors were clean, and motorcycles were being serviced on proper stands.
The mechanics themselves seem to be organized as well. They appeared to be working on the motos, rather than just tinkering on the motos.
What also struck me when I walked into the shop was that there were a number of classic motorcycles being worked on. A old Russian moto being customized. 
An old Honda Dream being customized. 

I talked with the owner Andrew and he just happened to have a moto that previously had been leased that he was preparing to sell. 
He showed me the moto. Kind of looks like the headlight of a Honda CRF or Kawasaki KLR. 
No nobbie tires... street tires. 
Pretty standard throttle. 
Wow, look at the fancy instrument cluster - speedometer, gear indicator, signal indicators and a fuel gauge. 
Front disk brakes... and mag wheels!
Rear mag wheel, drum brake, dual shock suspension and a low street exhaust pipe.
An electric starter and a kick starter. 
The moto is a SYM 110R motor scooter!
I bought it... and thus... the adventure begins.

P.S. I bought the moto for $400 in Hanoi and sold it for $300 in Ho Chi Minh City. Maybe I overpaid a little and undersold it a little, but I think that it was worth $100 for a month of use and 4000km. 

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