Coworking Villa in Hanoi, Vietnam
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What Kind of Motorbike to Buy in Hanoi? (Part 1)

By Scott Homan

Hanoi may be the quintessential motorbike city of the world. How can you join the daily racetrack with style, efficiency, safety and reliability? Which bike should you get?

Here are a few common affordable options to get you started on your bike shopping:

MANUAL BIKES: 

Win 100/110: $200 – $500

Avoid!

These are toys made in China and you’ll be shocked by how often it fails to do the one thing you’d think it was made to do. As it turns out it was designed to make you late. Most foreigners here on holiday and new English teachers are quickly mesmerized by the now famous “Honda Win” but in 4 years I’ve only ever seen 1 real Honda branded Win. They are very rare. The appeal is that they look like a proper manual motorbike of your countryside bike trip dreams and they cost around $250.00.

If you can’t handle the sound of that combo plus the fact that a shop will magically change the color of it in 10 minutes using a $1.00 can of spray paint then definitely go for a Detech brand Win or a Sufat brand Win. Those are at most only 7 years old with some kind of quality control assembled in Vietnam. The rest are old, worn out, crashed plenty and dangerous. They will break down so often you’ll curse your decision. Sufat and Detech are slightly better mainly because they are newer. One last bonus is that all Win’s can be easily fixed by seemingly anyone on the road everywhere in Vietnam.

Recommended modifications:
1. Replace the headlight with a round metal vintage looking one. (300K) The square plastic one will pop off on it’s own requiring tape or a screw to hold it on.
2. Take off the electric start the first time it causes problems. Those problems just get worse and will strand you.
3. Replace the speedometer and gas gauge with pretty much anything else or remove it. They break super quickly.
4. Replace the entire bike with anything that isn’t made in China. These are real pieces of garbage. You’re going to crash from mechanical failure and poor handling.

SYM Wolf 125: $700 – $1500

This is the most affordable motorbike with bike big style and Honda level reliability. Honda commissioned this Taiwanese company for decades to make all small bikes branded as Honda. Now they make their own bikes, which handle well, look pretty good stock and are very reliable. For those who enjoy semi-automatics this bike shifts the same but has a full manual clutch.

There is one unsafe thing about shifting: Semi’s have a stop point at Neutral and this doesn’t. When at high speeds you can shift from 5th to N and also one more position to 1st, which will almost certainly cause you to crash. Just remember that and everything will go swimmingly. Because these are rare, they cost a lot. Most are already customized in some ways as well. They have a cool tear-drop long tank which gives it a head start looking pretty cool stock.

Recommended similar options:

SYM Bonus 125: $200-$500

This is the predecessor of the Wolf. The Bonus looks and handles similarly yet they are getting difficult to find parts and they are getting old so you’ll need them. In the city mechanics can find every part you need but in the countryside serious repairs wouldn’t be possible. Simple repairs are. These are a decent cheap option for making customizations.

Suzuki GN 125: $300 – $900

Suzuki makes great bikes as well; however, these came in starting in the early 90’s and stopped imports well over a decade ago so they are all old and often have reliability issues. The right mechanic can bring them back since they are quality bikes. There is one downside to the design: no kick-starter. They only have an electric start. This is only a problem if the electric start fails. If it does you still have the option to push it and drop the clutch, which takes some practice. These come stock with cool wheels and higher end front disc brakes. These are often customized because they are cheap and if well serviced can be a reliable bike. The tank is also pretty cool stock.

Not recommended:

Daelim brand from Korea are decent but difficult to get parts.

Husky 150 are another option. Mostly what you’ll find are cruiser and low-rider style bikes like in Sons of Anarchy yet they can be plagued with problems.

Minsk: $200 – $800 

Designed and made in Minsk, Belarus during the Soviet era these bikes were the countryside work-horse in Vietnam for decades. In the 90’s and early 2000’s these were quite popular to customize and take on long trips because everywhere were parts and mechanics to work on them. In the last 10 years that has all changed and they’ve been supplanted in Vietnam with the Chinese Win (Honda copies of much poorer quality).

Minsk’s can be serviced in Hanoi easily and parts are available but long trips are probably not a good idea. They have a 150cc 2-stroke engine which burns oil making it have the power of a 175 or 200cc bike but adds to the air pollution as well as the noise pollution with it’s chainsaw sound. They are comfortable and the geometry is classic. They are great to drive. You might compare the feel of it to a 70’s Honda Rebel, Yamaha XS, or Suzuki GN but they look more bad-ass.

(To be continued)

 
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