Vietnam officially allowed imports of brand-new (no second-hand, except foreigners with valid working visas import for their personal use) in May 2007. However, 90% import tax, 10% VAT plus 20% excise/luxury tax for motorcycle from 150cc and a huge fees on registration in Hanoi generally make a large displacement bike twice as expensive as it would cost in your country. Here are prices of some popular models:
- Honda CBR 1,000cc: over 22,000$US.
- Honda XR 250cc: over 12,000$US.
- Honda CRF250L: about 11,000$US.
- Honda XR 400cc: over 15,000$US.
- Yamaha YZF-R1 or R6 600cc: over 20,000$US.
- Kawasaki D-Tracker super motard 250cc: over 12,000$US.
- Agusta F4 1000R 1+1 998cc: over 44,000$US.
- Harley V-Rod 883cc: over 18,000$US.
- Harley Heritage Softail Classic 1,600cc: nearly 50,000$US.
Will you be ready to pay that much for one of these bikes to ride in a country where speed limit is from 25 to 80km/h, mostly 60km/h? The answer is no doubt a big “NO, NO”. Enough explained and said.
We don’t want to use big bikes. Why?
Vietnamese speed limit for motorcyclists is from 25 to 80km/h, with 60km/h on most roads we have ridden. Crowded traffic and strange way of riding (no rule!) cause much more difficulty than you can expect. With these in mind, what is the advantage of a big bike? Nothing than a big WASTE!
Bike Options. From 2007, we used only modern HONDA 4-stroke 125-250cc trail bikes and real road motorcycles, no Suzuki, no Yamaha and no Kawasaki and of course NOT vintage MINSK 2-stroke 125cc motorbikes unless you request a Minsk. We put performance on top of everything else!
We are the first and only motorbike / motorcycle tour operator in North Vietnam (region: Indochina, Southeast Asia) providing the widest selection of touring bikes to suit your personal preference. A good bike can make the difference between a good motorbiking holiday and a great motorcycling voyage. Offroad Vietnam owns a fleet of unique Honda GL Pro Neotech 1600 156cc motorcycles, step through (semi-automatic) moped scooters, Honda dirt bike XL 125cc and 250cc Honda Baja or XR motocross (enduro bikes) but does not own Minsk. If you request a classic Minsk, we hire Minsks from Mr Cuong (also known as Master Mechanic or Minsk Doctor) who owns and operates Cuong’s Motorbike Adventure (CMA) shop at 1 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street in Hanoi. Minsks still handle the jobs but we just can’t use the same bikes for 20 years. An upgrade to Honda dirt bikes or MX (Honda Baja250 or XR250 Baja or AX1 250, Honda SL230cc) is also available at an additional cost. Our own bikes are supremely serviced and well equipped with quality parts and accessories. You may check how reliable our bikes are.
By your standards, these bikes are not anything special but by Vietnamese standards, they are ideal touring bikes. Even in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand you do have better choices than in Vietnam. Traffic is crazy, therefore a big bike is a real big waste in Vietnam.
The special (funny) things about Minsks are their lack of battery and speedometer, gear shifting is a bit tricky and the kick start is on the left side while the chain is on the right. Some people refer Minsks as dirt bikes but if you know that both wheels are 18″ then it’s hard to believe that they are dirt bikes! A good distance for each rider is about 20m if you don’t want to inhale smoke, so you can imagine how difficult for the guide to handle his job. From our customers’ experience, a Honda Wave 100cc is even more powerful than a Minsk 125cc! Technology is the reason. All Hondas have working speedometers and batteries which make things much easier and they are of course an international standard. Hondas are far much more reliable than Minsks and provide a better braking system. Honda riders can ride closely and the guide can have better control of the group and provide more information. So what will you choose? More about Minsk? click here.
The price will be different if you select different bike options, please include this in your request to have a correct quotation. The default bike we provide is #3 (Honda 160cc). We own these bikes and they are exclusively for our clients only, we don’t use rental bikes from any company.
- Option 1 (Honda XL motocross 125-250cc): Great suspension, front and back drum brakes, kick/electric starter, 4-stroke engine, 11-18 hp, full spare parts support, imported brand new from Japan. These bikes have new engines 125-250cc with electric starter installed in late 2011 and are now working almost as new.
- Option 2 (Honda Baja, XR enduro 250cc or SL 230cc): The best shocks, front and back disc brakes, electric starter, 4-stroke engine, 20-28 hp, full spare parts support, imported second hand from Cambodia or Hong Kong. After major upgrade in late 2011, many new genuine parts or even engines were installed, they are in very good conditions.
- Option 3 (Honda road/dirt bike 125-160cc): Very smooth shocks, front disc brake, kick starter, 4-stroke luxury sport, 13.8 hp, very powerful bike, full spare parts support, imported brand new from Indonesia, the most reliable bike. After the major upgrade and fine tune in late 2009, all bikes were replaced with a new 160cc piston. Spare parts price is also uploaded to give you an idea of replacement fees.
- Option 4 (Honda moped scooter 100-125cc): Good shocks, drum/disc brakes, no saddle bags, front basket, electric starter, 4-stroke engine, ~9-11 hp, full spare parts support, made in Vietnam, very reliable.
- Option 5 (Russian road bike Minsk 125cc): Very basic bikes, smooth shocks, drum brakes, saddle bags, kick starter, no battery which means everything works only when the engine starts, even no speedometer, 2-stroke underpowered engine, 10 hp, full spare parts support, imported brand new from Belarus (Russia), not really reliable. None of our clients has chosen to ride a Minsk since May 2007!
On our guided tours, we rent quality riding and rain gear at favourable rate but still advise you to bring your own as we may not have your size due to limited size availability in Vietnam.
We don’t use saddle bags as often as before since it’s very difficult to ride through towns on the road (crazy traffic!). We designed special luggage racks for bikes and with these racks you can bring a medium size bags of up to 15kg (GL160) and 20kg (XL125 and Baja XR250). Here are the pictures of the racks.
HONDA BAJA XR250 OR XL125 DIRT BIKES
HONDA WAVE 110cc
By Adam Bright, a freelance journalist. July 2008.
My name is Adam Bright, and I am a 27-year-old New Yorker. I work as a freelance journalist, I travel two to three months of the year, and I rent motorcycles fairly often when I’m abroad. This was my second trip to Vietnam.
I didn’t ride with Offroad Vietnam, so I can’t say anything specific about their tours – or for that matter the quality of their bikes. I simply don’t know. Most of my interactions with them were peripheral: I bought some protective gear from their shop and spoke with the office manager, Anh, several times before I left for my trip for advice about the journey and to refine my route. He was by far the kindest, most knowledgeable person I spoke to about motorbiking in Vietnam. (He also speaks fantastic English for what that’s worth.)
The reason I’m writing this is to provide one man’s independent, first-time assessment of the Minsk. If you’re reading this and considering a motorcycle tour in Vietnam, you’ve no doubt heard of the Minsk. It’s touted as the “classic” bike for touring Vietnam, and for a time was nearly ubiquitous on the roads. It’s made in Belarus, has attractive lines, a comfortable seat, and a simple construction.
Before I left, Anh suggested that I consider buying or renting a Honda instead of purchasing a Minsk. He said I may find that a Minsk to be more trouble than it’s worth. I did not listen to him. Instead, I bought a Minsk here in Hanoi.
I bought my bike from one of the most respected Minsk mechanics in all Vietnam, and I have every reason to believe that the bike he sold me was in very good condition (new pistons, new carburetor, new horn, electric box, and a fresh coat of paint) with some spare parts, a toolkit, a repair lesson, and a free escort ride out of Hanoi thrown in for free.
However, I have so far spent almost every morning or evening of my two-and-a-half-week trip in mechanics’ shops. I spent so much time trying to service the bike that I hardly had time to make it from one town to the next. My Minsk didn’t go up hills, often didn’t start, blew all its indicator lights, went through three horns and two highbeams. The petrol filter fell off. The carburetor could never be satisfactorily adjusted.
I don’t blame any of this on the guy who sold me the bike. Whatever problem my Minsk had getting up hills, there would have been no way for him to diagnose it beforehand because it performed perfectly on the flat ground in Hanoi. And when I decided to bring my Minsk back to Hanoi for a tune-up and inspection, he paid for the cost of putting my motorbike on the overnight train from Sapa. I didn’t ask him; he offered.
The problem, in my admittedly inexpert opinion, is simply with the bike itself. Russian Minsks are old and (as even the most fanatic Minskophile will readily tell you) prone to breaking down. In fact, this is a large part of their appeal – they are simply built and so theoretically simple to repair. And it’s true: I learned more about dealing with spark plugs, carburetors, and short circuits than I ever would have from, say, my Dad or my family mechanic.
What made my Minsk a nightmare upon a nightmare is the fact that there seem to be very few qualified Minsk mechanics left in the North. I was shocked to discover this, as Minsks were apparently still the bike of choice as recently as 2003, but these days it’s hard to find a mechanic who knows the bike well. I say this as someone who visited nine mechanics in nine different cities or villages.
It’s also exhausting to try to find spare parts. These days, most Vietnamese drive Honda Dreams or Honda Waves, or Chinese knockoffs of these 125cc scooters. There are scores of mechanics selling spare parts for these vehicles, but I had to search for hours to find a spare petrol filter for my Minsk, and days to find a replacement carburetor.
And even when your Minsk is running well, you will still putter up mountains that the smaller Honda scooters will whizz up – with livestock and extended family members riding pinion. I think most Minskophiles would admit to this too.
Right now, my Minsk is being repaired. I am fully confident that my mechanic will fix the problem and I am equally confident that I will have many more problems in the few weeks remaining in my trip. Not because, to be clear, I lack faith in my mechanic, but because that seems to be the nature of the beast from Belarus.
So, would I buy a Minsk again? I don’t know. I couldn’t have afforded a bike like the Honda Baja, but then I’m a writer of limited means. And there is an undeniable romance to telling your friends that you’re riding through the mountains of north Vietnam on a motorcycle made in the Communist bloc. There were as well times – rare times when I was on flat ground and my bike was working properly – when I absolutely adored my Minsk. But much more often I was either cursing my bike, puzzling over it by the side of the road, or worrying about the next break-down.
Should you buy a Minsk? Again, I’m no authority and I certainly wouldn’t presume to say. For all I know, I simply got unlucky. Maybe all Minsks don’t break down this frequently. Maybe mine will work fine from now on. Or, indeed, you may be the kind of rider who enjoys opening your toolkit and solving mechanical problems.
I’ll leave it at this: a Minsk is more a beautiful idea than a beautiful bike. Riding one through Vietnam was romantic, but it was one of the most exhausting romances I’ve ever had.