Things To Check Before You Buy



Before you make the decision to part ways with a chunk of your travel funds for a trusty steed, you need to make sure that it’s not going to fall apart on you a couple of days down the road. If, like us, you choose to buy a motorbike in Vietnam you will have no problem finding bikes for sale. There are plenty of travelers and dodgy second hand bike dealers everywhere in the backpacker areas of Saigon (District 1) or Hanoi.


Both have their pros and cons. The biggest pro to buying from a traveler is the price, you should be able to pick up a bike from a traveler for in the region of about $200. Their adventure is over and they have a rapidly approaching flight outta there so they will tend to sell them for cheaper. The downside is you have no idea how it’s been ridden and if it was looked after. If there’s something wrong with it, you have to then find someone to fix it and even though mechanics are cheap over there, major problems can still be expensive. 


On the other hand, if you buy it from a Del Boy they will change and fix everything you want, like new tires, new battery, new lights, change the oil, the works. But that comes at a price. Expect to pay around $300 for a bike from a dealer. It makes things a lot easier and you didn't have to worry about being ripped off by a mechanic. If you have some mechanical knowledge, buy from a traveler and invest some of your savings on a tune up but if you’re like us with zero knowledge on the subject, buying from a dealer give you a little more piece of mind.


We made a deal with our guy that we would stay in Saigon for another day and that if anything obvious was wrong he would get it fixed or buy it back from us for what we bought it for. That extra day give us a chance to actually get a proper chance to ride it and look for problems with it.


If you're buying it from a dealer dude on the side of the road though, make sure you dial in a price before they start fixing stuff, cos once they’ve started, you don't have any ground for negotiation on the price! 



Phi, the dealer we bought our bikes from in Ho Chi Minh. He was just sat with some bike on the side of the road in a backpacker area. 


So here are the things we looked for, and a few things we should of looked for in hindsight:


  • Tires - Make sure you’ve got plenty of tread, the roads are hot here and the rubber will wear a bit faster. You want a nice deep tread and to make sure they are nice and firm.


  • Dripping - Does it leak oil when it’s parked up. Just one drop now could be a lot of drops along the road. It could be nothing, but it could be the beginning of something…


  • Spark plug - Get them to pop it out and have a look at how dirty it is, if it look ancient, it probably is. Mine broke down on day 1, fortunately a little old guy on the road sorted it for me by giving me a spare he had in his pocket. As you do.


  • Lights - Make sure all your lights, head light, tail/brake light, and indicators all work well. Not only that but make sure your headlight on off switch works properly. In Cambodia it’s illegal to have your headlight on during they day (just another way to get money from white people) and it turned out mine didn’t always switch off. That could get expensive after a while.


  • Starter - Try starting it and stopping it a couple of times. Does it sound like it’s struggling or making a weird noise? Mine was being a bit temperamental and i asked them to change it but they insisted it was the battery and changed that instead. Yeah it made it a bit better, but by the end of our second day the starter was totally screwed. Stick to your guns!


  • Neutral - If you're going full manual with a Honda Win, make sure you can find neutral. I had a nightmare with Justin, no starter and it was a pain in the ass trying to find neutral each time for a kickstart. Apparently it’s a common problem with them. If it’s difficult, walk away! Trust me, you don't want these 3 minute battles each time you try and start. It gets real annoying, real quick.


  • Speedo - You’re joking right?! Speedo’s just don't work in this part of the world. If it works when you buy it, it wont when you sell it. Mine worked, but again, by the end of the second day it shot off the scale and just went mental and snapped the needle off. I wouldn’t worry too much. By all  means ask them to fix it, but it’s not the be all and end all


  • Speed Test - Easier said than done in a busy city, but you really need to open it up a bit on a stretch of road just to make sure it doesn't shake and to make sure the engine doesn't start making weird noises.


  • Suspension - Get some one to jump on the back with you and take it for a spin. Justin felt great at first but the moment I strapped my 10kg bag to the back, he got real wobbly and anytime i went over rumble strips, the back end felt like it slid out a little bit.


  • Luggage Rack - Bikes come with a luggage rack as standard but make sure none of the metal on the bike has any stress fractures where the rack is attached. Mine snapped off after a few days as I went over a bump. You can reduce the chance of leaving your bag in the middle of the road by strapping your bag as far onto the seat as possible.



  • Helmets - Chances are you will be offered a free helmet with your bike, either from the traveler you bought a bike off or from the dealer. Don't take them, go and find a helmet shop and buy a new one because you just don't know how often it’s been dropped or run over. Just dropping a helmet can damage its integrity and stop it working properly in the event of an accident. For the sake of £15 it can be the difference between life and death. There are better ways to kill yourself than in a road traffic accident because you scrimped on a helmet. Get a good, solid, thick helmet, the more of your head it covers the better, not one of the asian dustbin lid hats they all wear that offer zero protection.

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter who you buy it off, they are just going to fall apart anyway somewhere along the road, but that’s what adventure travel is about! Hopefully by the end of your trip you’ll hopefully have a bit of mechanical knowledge as a result, the road is the best teacher after all.





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