Guide to Buying a Honda Win Motorcycle in Vietnam

2015-05-01 08.07.45       Here it is, my guide to buying a Honda Win motorcycle in Vietnam. With the popularity of this mode of travel in Vietnam, when I decided to dive in and buy one, I was surprised at how little information there was on the web. Hundreds if not thousands of people go to Vietnam every year, buy a motorbike and tour the country for varying amounts of time. It’s not hard to imagine why, it’s an experience, these bikes are everywhere, and they are affordable as hell.

Early in 2015, while I was backpacking around SE Asia, I  bought a Honda Win 115cc in the north of Laos from a fellow traveler. I had almost zero riding experience but I jumped on it, headed south and traveled the entire length of the country. I then entered Vietnam and rode it all the way north visiting several small villages, towns and cities going all the way near the Chinese border. During this time I got to stop in villages where there were no other westerners. I met some amazing locals and had some amazing experiences. Every week I got better at riding and felt more comfortable on the bike. I only crashed once, riding on a rainy day on a street of mud going less than 20 kph.  Luckily I was just a little banged up and I learned a lot from my little mishap. All in all, riding through the backroads in mountainous areas and zipping back and forth through the switchbacks were some of the best moments of my life. I put over 5,000 km on that Honda Win. I became addicted and I have ridden a number of other motorcycles since then.  Now that I’m back in the US (temporarily), I currently own a Honda Shadow and love to ride as much as weatherly possible. In my future travel plans I can’t imagine traveling any other way. So…if you’re thinking about it, take the plunge, and GO FOR IT!!!

2015-05-24 11.10.07

The Good:

  • Buying and traveling by motorcycle in SE Asia will completely and utterly transform your travel experience, mostly for the better. It slows down your pace of travel, you’ll see more and experience more. You’ll stop in towns and villages that get little or no foreign visitors, which will make you somewhat of a celebrity. In general, people in these towns and villages will be much more friendly and genuine than those in touristy cities. This will make your experience more authentic.
  • Everywhere you go you’ll have complete freedom. While others are haggling with tuk tuk drivers and taxi’s, you’ll be able to just pick up and go at the drop of a hat whether it’s around town for the day or to another city.
  • You’ll rack up major cool points with other travelers for being adventurous enough to travel by motorcycle. Plus you’ll be in a position to give rides to others, especially attractive individuals.
  • Gas is cheap. Including the small repairs you’ll have to do to the bike, in the long run you spend less than you would have traveling by buses and trains, not to mention all the tuk tuk rides.

The Bad:

Just like anything, it’s not all a bed of roses. But to me the ‘bad’ just toughens you up and is by far outweighed by the ‘good’.

  • It gets tiring. Your butt and legs will get numb very quick and even just a few hours of travel can sometimes be downright exhausting, especially when it’s also hot and humid.
  • Your bike WILL need repairs. At some point it is likely that it will refuse to start, or break down on you, leaving you stranded somewhere remote. Although money-wise most repairs are under $10, it’s a hassle and inconvenience. On the flip side, whenever I broke down some friendly local would stop to help me within 15 minutes and I was never really stranded anywhere for very long. Also, in any given city or town, you are never far from a mechanic.
  • If you’re new to riding you’ll probably burn your leg on the exhaust before you learn to avoid it.
  • Some SE Asian drivers are crazy. Even if you ride extremely safe you’ll have several close calls that will make your heart beat so hard you’ll think it’s going to jump out of your chest.

& The Ugly:

Well, if you crash, things will be pretty ugly. Be careful and wear at least some protective gear.  At the very least always wear a helmet, pants and a long sleeve shirt.

Choosing a Bike:

BUYER BEWARE! There are a lot of other travelers or locals selling total lemons. These bikes will break down on you within weeks or days of buying it. If you want to buy a bike, take it to another mechanic who has no vested interest in whether you buy it or not and ask him to look it over. If it only needs a few small repairs and you like that bike, then it’s ok to go for it. Beware any seller who doesn’t want you to take it to another mechanic or offers for ‘their mechanics’ to look over it. Here are a few things to think about when looking for a bike:

  1. If you can, buy the bike in Hanoi from a mechanic shop and sell it in Ho Chi Minh. You’ll get it cheaper in Hanoi (don’t pay more than $225) and you can sell it for the same amount or a little more in the south.
  2. Don’t pay more than $200 if you buy from another traveler. He/She probably bought it for $225, rode it hard for a couple months and is trying to sell it for more than they paid. The bike will probably have more problems if you buy from a fellow traveler.
  3. Make sure it comes with the ‘Blue Card’. This is the ownership card. It will have a Vietnamese name on it but as long as you possess it you are the owner of the vehicle.
  4. Don’t buy one that has all the engine and parts spray painted black. It may look cool but the person may have painted it to hide something such as a mechanical issue or metal corrosion.
  5. Don’t buy a bike that had the engine rebuilt. Many people try to use this as a selling point but it’s bad news.
  6. Don’t buy the first one you see. Don’t get carried away by your excitement to buy a motorbike. If you pass up on one bike, another better one will be right around the corner.
  7. Ride the bike and listen to how it sounds. Make sure it shifts smoothly up and down and especially into neutral.
  8. Make sure there is no oil or gas leaking. Look for drops on the floor.
  9. Check that the Headlight, Indicators (front and back), and Break Light are all working. Don’t worry if the speedometer doesn’t work, none of them do.
  10. Honk the horn to make sure it works. You’ll need it a lot, especially in Vietnam.
  11. There are 110 cc and 115 cc versions of this bike. Make sure you get the 115 cc. It really makes a difference. A friend of mine had a 110 cc, his luggage was lighter than mine and he had to go up most hills in 2nd gear and mine made those same hills in 3rd.
  12. Ride the bike in a straight line and let go of the handlebars. Make sure it still goes straight and doesn’t pull you in one direction or the other.
  13. Put the bike on the repair stand and spin both tires with your hands. They should spin for a couple seconds before stopping.
  14. Rev the engine in neutral and make sure no smoke comes out the exhaust.
  15. All these bikes have luggage racks. Look for a bike with the luggage rack welded on verses tied on with bungee cords. This is optional and not really a big deal, but the welded racks are just more secure.

 

Riding Tips:

If you already know how to ride and have a license in your home country, some of this may be elementary. However, if you’re experienced, you’ve still never rode in SE Asia, which is a different animal altogether, so I think this section can benefit everyone.

  • Ride like you’re invisible.
  • In Vietnam, the bigger vehicle always has right of way. Remember that you are at the bottom of the totem poll and ride accordingly.
  • On many larger highways there are separate but parallel roads for motorbikes and cars. Don’t ride on the cars’ side or you’ll get pulled over and most likely have to bribe a police officer or two. Yes I had to do this…
  • Ride like the locals. See how they negotiate their maneuvers and do the same, but be even safer about it. It’s safer to adopt a ‘when in Rome’ attitude to driving there. Your riding-habits from your home country may get you killed.
  • Shoot for riding about 200 kilometers on any given day. It’s enough to make it to another town but not so much that you’ll be too exhausted to do anything once you get there. That’s usually about 4 to 5 hours including stopping for a meal.
  • Lock your bike up when not riding. Once after spending only 5 minutes in a camera shop I came out and could tell that someone tried to roll my bike away but my chain lock on the back tire stopped it from going any further than a few feet (1 meter).
  • Use traffic signals as a guideline rather than a rule, look for how others are driving.
  • Never, Never, Never ride around in flip flops. If you have to stop suddenly and put your foot down you’re probably going to break something. I saw way to many westerners, especially near beach towns, riding around with flip flops, shorts and tank tops. If skin meets floor it’s going to stay there.
  • When you go to a mechanic for any reason, even just for an oil change, ask him to check other parts of the bike. Preventative measures are always safer and cheaper than waiting til something goes wrong.
  • Most likely the mechanics you go to won’t speak English, or any other western languages for that matter. You can communicate what you want by pointing to your own eyes then waving your hand over the bike for a check-up, or by pretending to pour something into the oil cap etc…
  • If you want to ride the bike into Cambodia or Laos, understand that whether you get through the border checkpoint will depend upon the mood of the customs agent. I got through just fine, without even paying a single fee, but I know others who were told they could not bring the bike into their country and they had to sell it at the nearest border town before crossing over. Be prepared to deal with this. Either sell the bike or try the next closest border crossing. You can even offer a bit of money to the border agent, you won’t get locked up like you would for trying that in the West.
  • Buy a rain coat
You can even sleep on your bike in a pinch
You can even sleep on your bike in a pinch

That’s about the bulk of it. If you are in Vietnam or going there, and considering buying a Honda Win, don’t overthink it, just do it. Write me if you have any questions. I can honestly say It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made while traveling. As the guy who sold me the bike said: “You’re not buying a bike, you’re buying an experience.” So my advice to all of you reading this: Ride with confidence, Be safe, and Have the time of your life!!!

IMG_9638
Not a Honda Win, but just an example of the beautiful places any motorcycle can take you.

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