Bikes in Vietnam
Welcome to our blog about bikes in Vietnam and bikes in general :)
My name's Mike and I'm the owner of Top Notch Bikes Saigon. Click here for more about me :)
We often hear a lot of people talking about which bikes are the most reliable and which are better to buy or rent, so we thought we'd express our fairly qualified experience into the picture to help people understand more about bikes and make better informed choices when deciding which one to rent or buy.
So lets start
There are basically two types of expat riders here in Vietnam
1. Those that rode bikes in their home countries
2. Those that first rode or learnt about bikes here in Vietnam
1. Riders that rode in their home countries
Riding in the west is quite different to here. Almost all motorbike riders have a car for their daily commute or when raining/cold. So the motorcycle is really just an extracurricular passion or hobby. Riders ride for numerous reasons from the love of motorcycles, to the comradery with other riders, or for the adrenalin rush when leaning around those twisty mountain roads, track days or to cruising the countryside on a Harley or other cruisers and listening to that beautiful twin cylinder engine purr. Even just to save fuel or commute easier in the city traffic. There are lots of reasons bikers ride in the west, but they generally also have a car for when needed or for family time and outings.
These riders love riding their motorcycles for numerous reasons and have a fair amount of knowledge regarding different brands, styles and general maintenance of their bikes.
2. Riders riding for their first time in Vietnam
This category of motorcycle or scooter riders first started riding bikes here in Vietnam. Most likely in the west they were driving cars (if over 18) and have lots of experience driving and with the road rules. This type of rider will have most likely learnt about the brands and styles of bikes from their experience here in Vietnam.
Here in Vietnam, a scooter is not a motorcycle for taking on those mountain twisty's or weekend track days, or even for the purr of that twin cylinder cruising. It is a family vehicle used for daily commuting to and from work or visiting family and traveling to your hometown (if not far) and so on. It's basically the equivalent of a car for westerners.
Deciding on a scooter or motorcycle
Nowadays, most name brand bikes are reliable enough to not need any discussion about which are better or which are more reliable. Yes you can debate which are more reliable and which will still be reliable after 5/10 years and even debate how they have been maintained (dealership or street mechanic) but generally any Japanese brand bike (Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki) as well as others like Harley, Benelli, Triumph, Brixton and so on are reliable enough (if regularly serviced and maintained) and have dealerships in the big cities here for maintenance and repairs.
Rule number one is ALWAYS TAKE YOUR BIKE TO THE DEALERSHIP for service and repairs, or a reputable mechanic.
This all brings us back to the typical conversation we hear about which are more reliable. As stated, all name brand motorcycles are reliable enough if maintained and serviced properly.
In our opinion there are also other factors that are just as, if not more important that should be considered.
Sure a Toyota might be more reliable than a Ferrari but which would you rather drive?
1. Do you like the look of the bike?
Are you really going to ride something every day for a certain number of years that's ugly or just acceptable to you just because you heard it's more reliable? This should be one of your first considerations when choosing a bike.
2. Is the size of the bike right?
Does it have a comfortable sitting position? Is it large enough for your body size, or are your legs hitting the handlebars? Are you leaning at an awkward angle that could give you a sore back? Most scooters in Southeast Asia are not made for taller sized riders. If you're taller, try looking for the larger sized scooters like the SH, NVX, Shark, Piaggio and others, depending on your budget.
Some bikes we ride just because we love the bike. It doesn't even have to be reliable. It's a bike full of character, excitement and just fun to ride.
COMMON SCOOTERS AND MOTORCYCLES IN VIETNAM
One of the cheapest bikes that can be purchased on the Vietnamese market. These scooters are now close to 20 years old and were one of the first automatics to enter the Vietnamese market.
Unless you're on a really tight budget, these bikes should be avoided. Not because they're Yamaha (Yamaha are a Japanese internationally famous world leader of motorbikes) but because as stated above, they were one of the first automatics to enter the market and the street mechanics had no idea about CVT transmissions (changing the gear oil) or servicing them. They were only familiar at the time with cubs and waves using semi automatic transmissions.
Actually the fact that there are still so many on the roads and running after so much lack of maintenance and disrespect is a testament to the durability of the brand :)
Thankfully they learnt years later and got better with the next models of automatics.
SUZUKI HAYATE 125cc Manufactured (2009-2014)
Medium sized older fully automatic scooter with more than enough power to travel all paved roads in Vietnam 2 up. Fairly comfortable for both rider and pillion passenger for long distance travel, while also being zippy and agile.
One of the best value for money bikes if you're after a super reliable bike on a cheaper budget. If you have any trouble with the Hayate, it'll most likely be the carb (due to lack of proper servicing and knowledge of jet tuning) or something minor. The engines on the Suzuki scooters are one of the only Japanese scooters with an actual real oil filter making them virtually bullet proof.
Unfortunately a lot of street mechanics either won't know there is an oil filter (because Honda doesn't have them) or change it which can cause major damage to the engine. They also don't have much knowledge of proper carb servicing and rebuilding. Either buy your own oil filters from parts shops or service your bike at a Suzuki dealership. Worth the few extra dollars.
HONDA WAVE 110cc/YAMAHA SIRIUS
Although technically not an automatic and Vietnamese call them manuals, these bikes are semi automatic and I put them in with automatics because to me, any bike you can just leave in 3rd gear, take off at the lights, and ride around stop/go again is the same as an automatic.
Smaller sized entry level semi automatic scooters (still in production) with gears but no clutch, making it easy to ride and still have more than enough power to travel all paved (even non paved) roads in Vietnam 2 up.
Mentioning the Wave and Sirius because they're some of the most common bikes found across the country and every street mechanic knows how to fix them with their eyes closed. These are the bikes you buy when you want a quality bike on a budget and concerned about fuel expenses.
Just remember they are smaller bikes with a narrow seat and can get very uncomfortable after half an hour of riding.
Cheaper entry level good quality scooter which Vietnamese usually upgrade to an automatic when wealthier.
HONDA AIRBLADE 110/125cc
Another medium sized fully automatic scooter with more than enough power to travel all paved roads in Vietnam 2 up. Fairly comfortable for both rider and pillion passenger for long distance travel, just like the Suzuki impulse.
The Honda Airblade is very reliable and is one of the most loved bikes for families in Vietnam and aspired to for those wanting to upgrade from the wave or Yamaha Sirius to an automatic.
Great bike for both the city and traveling the country.
SUZUKI IMPULSE 125cc Manufactured (2014 - present)
Successor to the Hayate and Suzuki's competitor to the Airblade at a cheaper price.
The same bullet proof Suzuki engine as the Hayate but upgraded with fuel injection therefore eliminating the carburetor problems of the Hayate. Easy starts, better fuel economy and new design and a more comfortable seat.
Comes with a larger, more comfortable seat than its predecessor and the same under seat storage space.
Great bike and one of our favourites here at Top Notch for both city and reliable traveling of the country.
This bike by far is one of the most loved scooters by Vietnamese women. Being a Honda, small in size, yet large seat with lots of under seat storage as well as storage at the front. This bike can carry the whole family and all of the shopping.
Good quality smaller sized bike for the city, but can get uncomfortable for larger sized westerners when traveling for longer periods of time.
SYM ELIZABETH 110cc FI
SYM's competitor to the Honda lead. Please note this is the fuel injected version we stock and are discussing, not the older 125cc carbureted motor that other companies offer and used a lot more fuel.
A cute looking retro styled bike that is also popular in Vietnam and with westerners alike. Cheaper to purchase new than the Honda lead being SYM
Larger seat than other scoters (like the lead) huge under seat storage space for shopping and the fuel cap is at the front, which is handy you don't need to get off the bike to fill up.
Can argue that SYM is not as reliable as Honda but they're still reliable enough and parts are much much cheaper than Honda parts, as well as being easy to find and simple to repair by most professional dealerships anywhere in the country.
Great bike for the city but smaller in size and can get uncomfortable on your back after some time of long distance trave.
YAMAHA NVX/AEROX 155 Manufactured (2017-present)
Yamaha's time to shine...
The Aerox has always been Yamaha's sports scooter as far as I can remember. When this bike finally arrived in Vietnam it was the first of its kind. Having a powerful 155cc engine incorporating its blue core engine with VVA (variable valve actuation) technology brought both super economy (at low revs) with a power boost when hitting higher revs.
Being a larger sized bike much more suitable for westerners than the average SE Asian scooter, makes this bike very comfortable for city and long distances. They come with USB charging ports, large under seat storage and a comfortable seat.
Very reliable bikes for traveling if maintained properly. And one of the most popular scooters for westerners.
Great for both city and traveling.