Buying a Motorbike in Vietnam. Chinese VS Real Honda Motorbikes

Jon Tigit

Buying a Motorbike in Vietnam. Chinese VS Real Honda Motorbikes

Buying Motorbikes in Vietnam.

How does a Chinese Motorbike compare to a “Real” Motorbike?

Chinese Honda Win showroom

Chinese Honda Win showroom

        Vietnam has two very distinct types of motorbikes. The genuine motorcycle, like a Honda Winner and the Chinese, built motorcycle, like the Honda Win. To the untrained eye of the hasty foreigner, these might both sound like excellent options. They both bear the name Honda logo, both have two wheels, and both can be seen driving around Vietnam. The difference is one will take you around the country without issue and ensure your time spent in Vietnam is enjoyable. The other will take you into central Vietnam where you’ll then spend most of your time at a mechanics shop while your fun holiday disappears.

The Chinese motorcycle in Vietnam explained. 

       The Chinese motorbike market is a phenomenon we do not have in the west. It takes time and experience to understand the purpose of this market and why it exists. Typically you can purchase a brand new Chinese built Honda Win for around $500-$700. To the backpacker who could hardly buy a decent bicycle in the west for under $500, this seems like an incredible deal. A brand new motorcycle for $700, how is it possible? It is not strictly possible to buy a $700 motorcycle because South-East Asia is such a “cheap” place to live and build products. We’ve compared the power of a Chinese and authentic motorbike, you’ll be surprised with the results. It’s because the motorcycles they are selling are made to an unbelievably low standard. Anyone of these bikes would not pass the most basic health and safety standard in the west. A standard that you probably haven’t even noticed was keeping you safe while you drove.

      The Chinese motorbike market exists for the extreme countryside locations that find themselves isolated from general safety or find themselves in a grey area of legality. This grey area is not where you want to buy a bike, then test your luck riding down the highway. The people that live in the isolated North are buying these motorcycles for the following reasons;

 

  • They do not have the money to buy authentic motorcycles
  • Use the motorbike as a cheap freightliner (mostly illegal) to cut down costs. Having the bike confiscated by police doesn’t really matter
  • Don’t have access to authentic service centers, so servicing an authentic motorbike would be impossible

 

     If you venture up into the North remote regions of Vietnam, you’ll see the locals are driving around on new or next to new Chinese bikes. The farmers of this area tend to use the bikes in a way that they will last several years. Then, once the bike has run the course of its short life. The farmers will replace them with a new bike and repeat the cycle again. In these regions, the lack of available parts or knowledgeable mechanics means it’s easier just to buy a whole new motorcycle! Consider if you feel confident riding a motorcycle that could not be sold in the western world, and only has a three-year shelf life.

Old Chinese motorbike in Vietnam

This will become a “no breakdown” for some backpackers in the next year, after being smashed to pieces by the locals

Old fake Honda in the Vietnam forest

the vehicle to the left, is what they use to transport wood around in the muddy forest.

Buying a Chinese motorbike in Vietnam. Maintenance costs

    The Chinese motorbike is not one that is built to last. It’s like a pair of socks, you buy them knowing that you’ll get a few years out of them as they slowly fill with holes. If you happen to buy the cheapest socks you can find, you might only get a few months before they become more holy than a sock. After purchasing a Chinese motorcycle, you are going to run into a cycle of breakdowns and relatively expensive repairs. These repairs alone will probably double the cost of your purchase price in a short time. Even basic maintenance won’t take long to add up. On a Chinese motorcycle, it is recommended that the oil of the bike is changed every 500kms, roughly every second time you get fuel. You will slowly occur more and more costs that start to leak money from your dwindling bank account. At an average price of around $15usd for two tanks of fuel, you can add to the cost $5usd for the oil. An instant 33% increase to your price at the pump!

    Chinese motorcycle maintenance costs overview

  • The bike will need to be replaced every several years $500-$700
  • It will be in constant need of repairs $50-$100 each time
  • Add in the price of oil changes and the math equals a 33% increase to your fuel costs

 

 a Chinese motorbike taken apart

A trash bike, collected from a bike graveyard, can be revived with chinese organs

Boy motorbiking in North Vietnam

Missing a number plate is common among those “freight-carriers”. Who cares? It’s gonna be thrown away soon anyway.

Backpacking Vietnam. The truth behind buying and selling Chinese motorbikes

    Anyone should know that purchasing a NEW motorbike for $700 means you aren’t getting much for your money. All costs aside, the Chinese motorcycle drives like a toy car. Try putting an adult in a toy car and drive it around the block to see what happens. If you’ve looked around online and seen posts by backpackers or expats looking for a “cheap and reliable motorbike for $300”, you know these people are just asking for trouble. It’s just one of the reasons we don’t test drive bikes for people. The posters have misunderstood delusions about South East Asia being cheap. You’ll find food and accommodation inexpensive, but quality motorcycles will come with a quality price.

    Everyone knows that when you look at social media and see how someone’s holiday is going, all you are going to see is how happy they are and how great their life is. No traveler is going to go online and promote that they had all of the information in the world about where to get a quality motorcycle and they still chose to buy a crap one. They’re not raving about how they are spending their vacation time and money at a greasy mechanic shop. These people will be far too embarrassed to advertise that they made a failed purchase and had a failed holiday. All of the correct information is publicly available on the internet, and we are happy to tell you truths behind the stories.

Chinese sales in Vietnam. Facebook is a deceptive place to buy

    When searching online in Vietnam for one of those mythical unicorn motorbikes, that are both cheap and reliable. Travelers deceive one another and allow themselves to be deceived in the hopes of finding one of these motorcycles that do not actually exist. If you search long enough you’ll start to notice copied and pasted advertisements that are full of false information. The Facebook advertising space has created a platform where backpackers have become arguably even more dishonest than the backstreet dealers!

    The main selling point of the advertisements are the keywords “no breakdowns.” The question you need to ask yourself is if every motorcycle listed had never had a breakdown, why would they all need to make it their bikes selling feature? You don’t see car classified full of vehicles that advertise “no breakdowns,” and you should be suspicious of ads that are using this approach. Unfortunately, backpackers then pass along the purchase that failed them, to the next unsuspecting victim. The seller fell for the deceptive sales pitch that they were given, and now they are using it to do the same. Around and around the circle goes, and tourists leave Vietnam to tell others that “All motorcycle in Vietnam are garbage.” When in reality they are just trading the garbage amongst themselves.

     The photo below is a prime example of a motorcycle you should not purchase, as it will likely lead to a long list of problems. The bike is clearly of Chinese build, its old, and the seller notes that they have NEVER had a problem with the bike in 8000kms! I doubt he even made it to the Ch Chi tunnels without problems. To top it off they will include a “Free Beer” with the sale. This is probably the same ad they read when they bought the bike and knew it would work to sell on to another backpacker. When you see ads on Facebook and Craigslist that look like this, you should replace the word no with many, “no Many Breakdowns” and the word beer with problems “Free beer Problems.” This advertisement would be a more honest description of what to expect.

instagram ad for Fake Honda Chinese Motorbike

8000km and no breakdowns?

Buying an authentic Honda motorbike in Vietnam. What to know

      If you are going to motorbike Vietnam you’ll be much better off to rent an authentic motorbike during your stay. If you are an expat who plans to live or visit Vietnam for more than three months, financially, you are better off to buy a genuine motorbike. Honda motorbikes are the best option to purchase. Hondas have minimal depreciation, and as long as you did some research and purchased a quality bike, reselling it will be similar to what you bought it for.

      When purchasing a quality and authentic motorbike like a Honda, your ideals from the western world about reliability and quality will actually apply. Then you will actually be able to re-sell it honestly and for good value just like you bought it. Advertisements for these quality motorbikes look more authentic than the backpacker advertisements. Typically, the ads will not include “No Breakdowns,” and you definitely won’t see the suspiciously included “Free Beer”!

  • Renting an authentic motorbike in Vietnam will actually be cheaper overall than a Chinese one
  • Staying in Vietnam more then 3-months, it’s cheaper to buy a motorcycle
  • A quality Honda has minimal depreciation
  • “No Breakdowns” and “Free Beer” advertisements should be avoided

Buying an authentic second-hand motorbike in Vietnam. Easier said than done

    Once you’ve scanned through the ad’s online and flushed out what you feel is an authentically used motorcycle at a fair price. There is still the unknowing factor of how it has been maintained through its life. There is a possibility that a perfectly good Honda motorcycle has been maintained with Chinese parts. The parts are designed to work in the bike, but they will soon ruin it. Picture putting a piece of chewed gum in the hole your bike oil drains from. It will eventually leak, and you’ll spend money on excess oil. Then one day when you’re driving down the highway the gum will fall out, you’ll lose all your oil and cease your engine. What do you think the resale value on your motorbike is going to be then?

    To know if the motorcycle you plan to buy has been authentically maintained or is full of Chinese parts will require a bit of knowledge on how the bike should feel and run. If you’ve driven an authentic motorbike of the same build for even a few weeks, then hop on the same motorcycle filled with Chinese parts, you’ll quickly notice the difference. Unfortunately when a foreigner takes a motorbike for a test drive in Vietnam, they are not likely to have the knowledge of how the bike should feel vs. how it actually feels. If you were to take a $200 children’s bicycle for a ride around the block, then take a $2000 Schwinn bicycle for a spin around the block, you’ll quickly notice the difference. Though you’ll need some time on both bikes to know if either has had any alterations, cover-ups, or fixed accidents that make it run differently than it was designed.

  • A quality looking motorcycle may have been maintained with Chinese parts
  • To know what a motorcycle should feel like, you’ll need to spend time on a quality one
  • You can fix a quality motorcycle with inferior parts but expect more problems
  • If you don’t know what you’re looking for you won’t find it

Vietnam motorbike sale. Also, easier said than done 

      The constant confusion among foreigners about Chinese motorbikes means they create problems for themselves. Foreigners are unaware of what they should know about Vietnam motorbikes and the Chinese motorcycle market. This means that the average foreigner in Vietnam is driving around on a Chinese motorbike or a very old scooter such as the Yamaha Nouvo, unaware they are on a bike they have no business being on. This lack of knowledge then creates a naive assumption that every motorbike in Vietnam is a low-quality motorbike. This statement is in fact not true, and the lack of understanding can often be seen where bloggers claim, with misinformed information, that “no motorbikes in Vietnam work.”

The large blogging platform behind this useless piece of content does not deserve a mention.

       Uninformed statements like the one in the screenshot of the blog post above, paint a damaging picture of the country and scare off real bikers from coming here. It’s a shame these bikers are missing out on a great country with an entire market of great motorbikes. Re-selling a motorcycle is even more difficult as there are only a small number of buyers that are actually putting in the time to research for a quality motorbike. On top of this, these ads are running side by side with low-quality Chinese builds or maintained bikes. So we have an uneducated buyer looking for a motorcycle in a market that pits a quality bike against a poorly maintained bike. In this market, the buyer can only see the price difference, not the quality. The buyer thinks that what he reads is right, he then rides the bike around the block and is happy. The bike proudly has Honda written on it. He then hands over the money and buys the motorcycle. Sadly he has been mislead on this purchase, and now assumes all of the problems that are sure to arise as he drives it around Vietnam. This buyer will leave Vietnam feeling the country has no good motorcycles.

       If you want to sell your motorbike to a local opposed to a foreigner, you will also run into some problems. Trying to sell to a Vietnamese person, that person will want to have the paperwork in their name. Unfortunately, as a foreigner, it is not possible to transfer ownership papers to a local. This means the value of your authentic motorbike on the Vietnamese market is lower than it should be. These are all things you will want to know well before you start shopping around to buy a motorbike for your travels.

      Because of all these hassles, the information you don’t know, reselling, and so on. Backpackers are far better off to rent a quality motorbike for the duration of their stay in Vietnam, especially if they don’t have a large amount of time. If you are an expat who has the time to do the research, understand the market, then buy and sell in a calculated way. You would be in a better position to buy an authentic motorcycle. It all depends on what part of the market you are part of.

  • Not all motorbikes in Vietnam are low-quality
  • A foreign motorbike buyer and seller should do plenty of research before they make a transaction
  • A foreigner can not transfer legal motorcycle documents into the name of a Vietnamese person
  • If you don’t have time or patience to do all the research, rent a quality motorcycle rather than buy

Renting a motorbike in Vietnam. Backpackers should always rent an authentic motorcycle

    For the backpacker on holiday, renting an authentic motorcycle has countless benefits. Compared to a Chinese motorcycle. The authentic bike will be considerably safer and handle much better, all saving you plenty of problems you don’t want to have. To add to the benefits a quality bike shouldn’t have breakdowns, this will keep you away from dodgy back-street mechanics who are likely to rip you off. As well, your overall fuel consumption will be better, and you will require fewer oil changes. All of these benefits will add up throughout your motorcycle adventure, and the total value will quickly overtake the purchase and sale of a Chinese motorbike.

Expats living in Vietnam.  The benefits of buying an authentic motorbike

    As an expat in Vietnam, renting a motorbike while you are here is very popular and has its advantages. Going with a rental company means that they take care of the bike for you, and when you are done, you can just give the bike back to the rental company and walk away. Going the rental route is easy, however, from a financial standpoint, it makes much more sense to just buy one!

       Official service centers are amazing in Vietnam. The service center, Honda Head, is the backbone of the Tigit operation. However, this center is often scared to work with foreigners. This is again due to this misunderstanding that foreigners have about Chinese parts. Foreigners are quick to attempt a negotiation with the service center, despite Honda being a large corporation with a long history of quality, they still try to compare the service to that of a low-end Chinese motorbike mechanic. It’s like comparing the authentic motorbike to the Chinese motorbike, the quality and knowledge are miles apart.


    For official mechanic shops and service centers, it is often easier to turn the foreigner away, then it is to spend the time trying to explain what we have described here. There is a long list of reasons why Tigit Motorbikes won’t test drive motorbikes for foreigners. We hope with this post, to inform as many people as possible about what it takes to buy, sell, and rent a motorbike in Vietnam. Much like the official service centers though, we don’t want to try and personally explain it to each person who fails to see the value.

Renting a Chinese motorbike in Vietnam. Remember to pack health insurance

       The renting of Detech Honda Wins for nearly exactly the same price as an authentic motorbike is a market built entirely on “image.” The classic look of the Honda Win being chosen above the safety and reliability of a modern scooter. The Honda Win drives like a toy, a broken toy. A toy that never should have been built in the first place. A laughable joke of a motorbike to anyone who knows anything about motorcycles. Ask us how we feel about the Honda Win

Did not make it far out of Saigon!

       The flourishing Detech Honda Win rental market shines a light on the inexperienced backpacker and first-time riders who are less informed about motorbikes. People who have motorbike experience will quickly see through this joke of a motorbike and start searching for options through reputable companies. Once you start researching you will see there are only a handful of companies that rent out genuine motorbikes.

       The actual costs of renting a Honda Win are hidden in breakdowns and maintenance that will add up throughout your journey. The Win comes with hidden problems like; inferior fuel consumption, regular oil changes, and you are likely to take a loss when reselling as most backpackers need to leave the country in a hurry. All of these factors add up to the Chinese motorbike being similar, or on many occasions, a more expensive choice than renting a quality motorcycle.

       Companies like Tigit, base prices around what we believe to be competitive against the real costs of a holiday on a Chinese motorbike. We attempt to stay competitive with the rental markets average price. The idea that people have about rentals being a “rip off” is simply naive and short-sighted. Once you’ve had the opportunity to spend a week of your two-week vacation broken down on the side of the highway and handing over your party money to a shady mechanic. We feel incredibly confident you’d be happier investing in a quality bike and traveling around the country safely and confident you’ll get where you want to go.

 

The real costs of buying a $250 Honda Win in Vietnam

       To give you are a realistic overview of what the actual costs are going to be on “cheap” Honda Win, let’s take a look at the probable costs you are going to occur on a standard 2000km Vietnam road trip.

  • 2000km/300km (suggested oil changes) = 6 oil changes at $4usd each time. Total = $24
  • The cost of a breakdown (realistically) from $50 to $100. Will choose $50 to be conservative
  • Expected sale value (leaving country quickly) = $150. Purchase value ($250) minus sale value ($150) = $100
  • $100 (loss on sale) + $24 (oil changes) + $50 (maintenance) = $174 total expense

      This example is excluding the maths on excessive fuel consumption you should expect of a Chinese motorbike over a 2000km, versus a more fuel efficient journey on an authentic motorbike. The example also doesn’t account for how much value you place on your time while you are on holidays. The majority of people out there would rather be having fun on a beach!

       For the sake of argument for those who take extreme value in the phrase, “but I spent less.” These numbers are definitely on the generous side for the Win, and I think it’s hard to dispute these costs in favor of the Honda Win. If you take a $174 holiday on a Chinese toy motorbike that may or may not work, VS $250 to rent a genuine motorbike by a reputable & proven company. The $75 difference should without question speak for itself. These numbers show that the argument of ” small budget” from backpackers isn’t worth the breath it was used for arguing with. The information we are providing is from years of experience and understanding the country and market we operate in. Tigit hopes this article will make for more educated decision making for the purchase or rental of your Vietnam motorcycle.

       If you don’t feel you can afford a $250 motorbike rental, then consider all the risks involved that come with an adventure holiday on a vehicle that completely exposes you to the elements. In our opinion without some money in the bank to deal with unexpected costs or even personal injury, you should not be on a motorbike at all. Motorbiking is no joke, and it needs to be taken seriously. The very basics of safe driving, and using a motorbike that is built to a quality standard are essential. Travelers buying off each other when they do not understand these elements can be extremely dangerous, let alone costly. The locals do not want to be involved with riders who don’t know how to drive or be hassled with uneducated foreigners any more than you would at home. In Vietnam, the delusional Honda Win market is frowned upon.

Never buy a motorbike for less than $500

“If you put 4 million on top of a motorbike, you’ll also have a motorbike under 4 million”.

      $500 is the magic number that separates the authentic motorbikes from the Chinese motorbikes. If a motorbike drops below this magical $500 mark, then it has fallen into the unfavorable “Chinese” category for bikes. A motorbike falling below $500 is a motorbike that locals do not want, such as the commonly seen Yamaha Nouvo among expats! If the locals who live here and understand the motorcycle market don’t even want the bike, you definitely do not!

      When you buy an authentic motorbike for $500+ that has been maintained properly with genuine parts, when you are ready to sell, it will still be worth $500. Do the math on this example and see if you can find any reason not to buy, maintain, and sell this way?

       If you’re looking to buy a semi-automatic motorcycle, there is really only one choice. The safest and most stable investment in this market is the Honda Wave/Blade. In Vietnam, the Wave is Honda’s mainstream semi-automatic motorbike. If you are looking for a fully automatic motorcycle, the cheapest working scooter is the Suzuki Hayate. However, you’ll find that automatics are much older for the same money and tend to develop more problems. If you can afford the difference, the Honda Airblade is the best long-term investment for a fully automatic motorcycle.

Authentic motorbikes never go below $500

Motorcycle safety Vietnam. Driving a safe motorcycle is top priority

        To a large number of people, motorbiking around Vietnam is considered a dangerous activity. To some, it may even be regarded as a suicidal activity. When safety is mentioned, the standard concepts of getting a good helmet,  wear appropriate clothes and drive carefully all get mentioned. These are standard things to consider with any motorcycling activity but rarely do people explain about getting a proper motorbike. A motorbike that is going to carry you over a 2000km + journey, in a controlled and stable fashion where you feel safe and confident in what you are driving.

      Much like automobiles, motorbikes have a range of capabilities. Like the vehicle’s stopping distances, different power, and different handling. This will again change if you plan to put two people and their luggage on the bike and take it on highways or down the scenic route. The side by side comparison of the engine power of Chinese motorbikes against a genuine motorcycle is incredibly different. Chinese motorbikes have no power, no stability, and no control. It is a $700 (when new) unbranded motorbike built by a random Chinese company that is so bad that it does not exist anywhere else in the world! There is a reason for you’ve never seen this driving down the street at home.

Foreigner driving naked

Literally nothing

“But the Detech Honda Win is made in Vietnam!”

      Now let us explain: Before Detech it was Sufat, before Sufat it was Ferroli, before Ferroli is was Mekado before Mekado…. well it was real bikers, and this Chinese stuff didn’t exist until the top gear Vietnam special came along.

      As the brand gets tarnished for being the useless garbage that it is, the Vietnamese shops must look to re-brand and introduce the “new and best thing.” Standard marketing tactics used in industries around the world. A simple way to keep the models fresh and unique. Thus, a new brand of useless motorcycles is born!

      A Chinese motorbike may look the same as a genuine one, but test the brakes to compare the stopping distances. Oh dear god….what are you travelers doing to yourself? To save you from self-sacrificing your own safety, you can watch the differences in confidence displayed in the driving style between Tigit Jon on a Winner video compared to a Win video. You won’t see this link at the bottom of a “no breakdowns” advertisement.

Be a cynic and question everything

      Look beyond the backpacker to backpacker pact, there is a reason that you put your stuff in lockers at a hostel. It’s different than the reason you share rounds of drinks at the bar. You can all trust each other for a few drinks, but you shouldn’t give $300 to someone you just met in exchange for a good story on a bad bike. Question everything and trust no one. Backpackers are not traveling up and down Vietnam on $300 “reliable motorbikes” with “no breakdowns.” You are more likely to see them traveling this same route on reliable unicorns, it’s not happening.

     Take the free beer first, then while you’re enjoying it, you can question the leaking suspension, the wobbly ride, the missing wheel spokes, and the guaranteed oil leak under the gearbox. Then go back to your dorm and Google around on the topic of Honda Wins. You’ll notice the multiple, reputable sources at the top of Google which are displaying words of caution. Do yourself a favor and dive deeper than backpacker Facebook groups. Go directly to local expats pages, motorbike pages, or even Reddit pages. These sources will give you a more honest look into what you can expect from the $250 “no breakdowns” advertisements on the previously mentioned pages.

     The information is out there and very transparent. Read it, understand it, and then do the sensible thing. Rent a quality motorbike!

Why we feel compelled to give you the truth

      Tigit is a company that deals on a mass scale of a select few motorbike models. We choose a select few models that we believe to be the best performing motorbikes in the country. With our three small offices spread across Ho Chi Minh, Danang and Hanoi and over 350 motorcycles on the road at a given time, breakdowns are not an option. From dealing with thousands of people, the most common question backpackers ask is; “can mechanics fix it everywhere?”. This question is nothing but a misunderstood concept of motorbikes not working in Vietnam. An excellent rental motorcycle, just like a good car rental, should not need random mechanics on a journey and will not break down. If a quality motorcycle and an enjoyable vacation are what you are looking for, we’re here to help.


By Jon.

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  1. Katrin Mikeska says:

    Hello, I would like to do a one-month motorbike tour through Vietnam with my daughter. We would like to rent or buy 2 Honda Wave or similar. We are in Hoi An from the 1st of March. Can you make us an offer. Best regards Katrin