How to buy an offroad motorbike

How to buy an offroad motorbike
Reading Time: 10 minutes

What kind of offroad motorbikes are there?

The main categories of offroad motorbikes are Adventure bikes, Dual-Sport Bikes, Enduro Bikes, and Motocross bikes.

Any motorbike can do any terrain. What you are looking for is the motorbike that is the most fun for the style of driving that you are doing. A 250kg adventure motorbike is no good in narrow and difficult forest terrain, whereas a 90kg motocross bike is no good at a long-distance journey with panniers and a wife on the back.

If there is one thing you take away from this article, let it be this: Adventure motorbikes are horribly misleadingly marketed and despite the amazing offroad looking Instagram pictures they are 90% road with 10% offroad. Potholes and gravel tracks at best.
Dual-Sport motorbikes are 50/50 road and offroad, they are trying to do everything and for the most part, they succeed at doing everything, but whilst doing everything badly.

Enduro motorbikes are for technical singletrack terrain. However, They have the abilities and comfort to be driven all day long with your buddies. Enduro motorbikes are probably what most people are looking for when dreaming about offroading. Ironically it’s the bracket that has the smallest choice available, this is mostly down to the cost of these machines.

Chrunix Rally to Lagi, 25 dirt bikes attended

Motocross bikes are designed for the track. Very high service intervals with harsh and rough rides. Aimed at winning races, not for comfort. Even in the forest with your crew, motocross bikes are likely to be too uncomfortable for an all-day drive. Not talked about is the problem that motocross motorbikes are very bad at going slowly. Waiting for your crew or slowing down for the rocks is not really an option.

What styles of driving are there in Vietnam?

Vietnam is best setup for casual ADV or technical and narrow offroad. For ADV, a long-distance road journey with plenty of potholes. The ADV motorcycle has the ability to venture off down some back lanes into farmland to witness some spectacular countryside.

For technical terrain, Vietnam has tarmac road speeds that are slow enough for a Dual-Sport motorbike or Enduro-Motorbike to reach a forest. From there it is possible to go deep into forest jungles where the driving can be as difficult or as easy as you want it to be. It is possible to find yourself miles from civilization in places where no foreigners have been.

Driving to our muddy location

How do I know which bike type is for me?

Recognize that no motorbike can do everything. In Fact the more you try to compromise and do “everything”, the worse “everything” becomes. The aim is to get the motorbike that is best set up for the activity that you love and enjoy. This brings maximum value to the discipline that you are trying to do.
Instead of having one expensive motorbike that is attempting to do everything, you should have three cheap motorbikes that are specialized in the discipline you are tackling. A road motorbike, an offroad motorbike a motocross motorbike, and a scooter.

People are full of misleading information, claiming that their beloved motorcycle can do everything. It probably can, but it will be doing everything badly.

Decide if you are an ADV rider looking for a road journey or an offroad enthusiast that is looking to get stuck in the mud.
From here, you can narrow down the model that is appropriate.

Fun is the aim of the game, and a motorbike that is designed for the road is not going to be fun offroad (ADV). Unfortunately for many, they give up on offroading before even trying to do it on an actual offroad motorbike.

Food for thought: A motocross motorbike can go on an ADV journey around the world… but would anyone take it?

Dirt bikes at Tigit

How much does a dual-sport motorbike cost and which one do you recommend?

In Vietnam a second-hand dual-sport costs around 3000usd-4000usd. Mixed into the equation is a large rabbit hole of legal papers or fake papers which will be explained later in the article.

I recommend:
The Honda CRF 250L for a learner driver who doesn’t need a motorbike with legal papers. The Kawasaki KLX 250 for learner drivers who need legal papers.
The Suzuki DRZ 400 for experienced riders or people wanting to take their driving to the next level.

off-road motorbike Vietnam
The amazing Suzuki DRZ 400

How much does an Enduro bike cost and which one do you recommend?

In Vietnam, second-hand enduro bikes cost 4000usd and upward to around 8000usd (high-end KTM’s). On a “budget”, the Yamaha WR 450-f is an affordable Enduro motorbike for around $4000 and has parts that don’t completely break the bank. Its performance is closely combating KTM’s for a fraction of the price.

With “no budget”, then the KTM EXC series is my main recommended Enduro motorcycle but basically, any working KTM or Husqvarna are the answers to the Enduro question. They will break your bank account though. Starting at around 6000usd second hand, but that is mostly irrelevant in relation to your ongoing servicing costs.

KTM XCF-W 350 doing wheelies in Lagi

What is the cheapest way to own a dirt bike in Vietnam?

For people wanting to get into offroading then the XR 150 is an amazingly diverse motorbike. It has great dual-sport capabilities in terms of being appropriate for a long-distance journey across the entire country to a motorbike that is comfortable being stuck in the middle of a jungle.

It is now popular enough in Vietnam that servicing it has become easy and cheap.
The Honda XR 150 will need the wheels changed to standard offroad wheels which is an extra $200, but apart from that, it is basically ready to go.

The XR 150L will do everything but as your skills progress the motorbike will eventually hold you back. An absolutely amazing starting platform though!

The Honda XR 150 will do everything.

How do I choose the model based on the letters on the end?

Decoding the enigma code of manufacture model names and numbers is perhaps one of the most important parts of buying an offroad motorbike.

Take the Honda CRF 250 series

Honda CRF 250L – Honda dual-sport, very casual riding, and long service intervals
Honda CRF 250X – Enduro Motorbike designed for getting stuck in mud.
Honda CRF 250R – Honda Motocross motorbike

They might all be CRF 250, but these three machines are completely different.

When you see adverts for offroad motorcycles online, it is important that you check the codes on the name to make sure it is the correct model of motorbike for the driving that you want to be doing.

Too many brands to decode, but do be careful

How do I decide on engine capacity?

Engine capacity is relative as the Honda CRF 250R (motocross motorbike), would have similar levels of power to a Honda CRF 450L. For this reason, it is more important to get the model name correct and make sure you are getting an Enduro motorbike (if you can afford it), or a dual-sport motorbike.

In general, though, anything above 450cc is getting “too large” for Vietnam’s technical and narrow tracks. A 450cc owner is likely to wish they had something smaller (350cc).
Similarly, a 250cc owner is likely to wish they had something bigger (350cc).
The ultimate Enduro weapon is a 350cc motorbike, but they are rare.

Suzuki DRZ 400 going through a puddle

Do I buy a two-stroke or four-stroke offroad motorbike?

Two-stroke motorbikes are not designed to be driven long distances. If you do not own a pickup truck to get you past the road, then the two-stroke motorbike is out of the equation.
Two strokes are supposed to be easy to maintain, but in Vietnam, no mechanics will service them.

Food for thought: There is plenty of myths and confusion surrounding the two-stroke motorbike and it is often recommended to people wanting a “lighter” or “smaller” dirt bike. They really are not an option in Vietnam.

Tigit Vera on a CRF 150L

How do I maintain an offroad bike?

All offroad motorbikes in Vietnam will need parts importing from abroad. Most mechanics will not touch a dirt bike, and the few that do are likely to be using hack job local fixes to get you through the door as they don’t have the parts for it.

It is important to check that the motorbike you plan on buying has parts on websites such as partzilla. From here, a good company (Tigit), will be able to maintain the motorbike and get parts.
If it is an unknown motorbike or a heavily modified motorbike then finding parts becomes impossible.

Download the service manual from online and study it in detail as this will save money down the line. Understand that maintaining a dual sport motorbike is expensive and maintaining an enduro motorbike is very expensive.

An expensive resort has expensive food, expensive spa, expensive everything
A cheap resort has cheap food, cheap spa and cheap everything.

Motorbikes are no different and it is important the motorbike that you are buying is well within your budget. If you are stretching on the purchase of the motorbike, then you won’t be able to afford the upkeep.

Offroading will push you and your motorbike to the limits. This is part of the fun. Both you and your motorbike are likely to break in the process.

Suzuki DR 200

Are offroad motorbikes street legal in Vietnam?

These are the models that are street legal in Vietnam:

  • XR 150
  • CRF 150
  • WR 155
  • KLX 250
  • Some CRF 250L

There are plenty of motorbikes out there with claims to legal papers. A motorbike lost in time with the paper reassigned to a new motorbike which is now legal. Whether the story behind the motorbike that you are looking at is true or not, I wouldn’t pay any attention to it.
Unless the motorbike is in the very short list above I would be assuming that every motorbike is illegal. Don’t go paying a premium for something “legal”.

There are horror stories all over social media about people getting motorbikes confiscated by the police. In reality, I have never met a person who has had a motorbike confiscated. I happily drive around on an expensive offroad motorbike and don’t even bother having a number plate on it.
There are risks associated and theoretically, the police could take the motorbike, but I haven’t seen any tangible evidence that they will.

A bit like with the ongoing maintenance, a dirt motorbike needs to be well within your budget, and you should be able to afford to lose it. This may be to the police, or to a river that you accidentally fell in.

Note: I drive slowly and respectfully on the road. I never speed and I never drive revving my loud bike. When I am stopped, I have a big smile, a Vietnamese driving license and a very fake looking bluecard. I have never had to pay “coffee money”.

sunrise view camping dalat
View from my tent in the sunny morning.

Where to buy an offroad motorbike?

There is no set place to buy an offroad motorbike. The best advice is to follow the facebook pages and scene to learn who is flogging old motorbikes and who is a genuine seller. Craigslist is not a good idea as it is full of dodgy companies and tour agencies flogging off old machines. Try popular groups such as:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/motocrossvietnamclub/
And
https://www.facebook.com/groups/XRXTZSAIGONMARKET/

Once you do buy an offroad motorbike, use Tigit to maintain it.

We are a nice team most of the time

How do I not get scammed when buying an offroad motorbike in Vietnam?

Offroad motorbikes are usually sold when the owner is hit by a mechanical problem that no mechanic can diagnose, or a mechanic issue that they don’t have the budget to fix. Vietnamese mechanics are incredibly good at making a motorbike temporarily work for a test drive. Leaving the new owner with a mountain of problems shortly after acquiring it.

  1. Dirt biking is a discipline of regular maintenance and replacement parts regardless of model. The first thing to look out for is a seller that is carrying spare parts. An owner that doesn’t have spare parts has either never driven their motorbike or has never maintained it. You just have to decide which category your seller falls into.
  2. Look for a motorbike that doesn’t have any modifications. Mods nearly always reduce reliability and it also makes buying spare parts for the motorbike harder. There are exceptions to the rule, and if the motorbike is showing signs of modifications then you need to make sure the seller fully understands what has been done. From here, you need to google the modifications and make sure it is a common mod that isn’t damaging the motorbike or affecting your ability to get parts.
  3. Don’t buy a motorbike based on the number of KM or hours driven. This falls true for any motorbike, but especially true for offroad motorbikes. The number of kilometers on the motorbike means absolutely nothing.
  4. From experience watching others buy offroad motorbikes in Vietnam, a new owner should be expecting to sink around $700 into a new purchase. This is to cover the mechanical problems that the previous owner couldn’t resolve. 
  5. Run the engine number through google to try and figure out the year. Motorbikes are rarely sold with the correct age.
  6. Don’t worry about the paperwork, they are all illegal.
    Expect to spend another $700 on a new purchase

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