Everyone has heard of how crazy driving is in Vietnam, especially in its capital, Hanoi. Yet it’s a popular trip to buy one in Hanoi and drive down to Ho Chi Minh City, or vice versa. Maybe you’ve moved to Hanoi. Well, here’s how to buy a motorbike in Hanoi. A GOOD one. On a budget.
Intro to Motorbikes
Here’s a short intro on motorbikes. You can see a more in-depth riding lesson here.
Types of Bikes
Automatic, Semi-Automatic, Manual, and actual motorcycle
What numbers mean
When you see CC, it’s cubic centimeter, meaning the power of the bike. A 70cc bike is much weaker than a 150cc bike.
Type of bike you should buy
If you’re not a seasoned motorcycle/manual driver, I highly recommend a semi-automatic bike. It’s what the locals use, it’s easy to get replacement parts, it’s easier to drive than a manual while giving you more control than a wee automatic.
Get a “real” motorbike (I outline how to spot the differences later in the article), like a Honda or Yamaha.
Here are the models:
- Honda Wave, semi-automatic, 100cc, USD $200-350 (the cheaper it is, the more certain it’s a fake)
- Yamaha Sirius and Taurus. “These will cost a bit more, and their fuel consumption isn’t as good as Wave. So if you’re thinking about buying a semi-automatic, definitely go for a Wave.”
Other important info:
- Technically you need an International Driver’s Permit to drive a motorbike in Vietnam
- If you haven’t driven a motorbike before, this isn’t where I’d recommend you start, but you can find some basic information online and rent a bike to test it out and usually get a free lesson included in your rental
What to Look for When Buying a Motorbike
There are a ton of things to know about a motorbike and here’s a relatively extensive list of what to check for when you’re buying one. It’s a lot, but save this page for offline reading so you can check it when looking at the motorbikes.
Check without driving
- Brand name on both sides of the engine and on the bike at least twice if you’re getting a “real” one
- All lights: headlights, high beams, indicators, brake lights, etc. keep your foot on the rear brake pedal and rev the engine a bit to see the lights
- Paint and sprayings – indication of hiding a broken part
- Rust on suspension (coiled metal towards back wheel)* (a little is ok)
- Ask about when the brake pads were changed – they should be changed every 3000km or so
- Ask about when the oil was last changed – this should be done every 400-600km
- Suspension – hit the hand brake and push down. There should be a lot of give so that you can handle the pothole-riddled roads
- Turn it on yourself with both the kickstart and the electric starter
- Horn – this is the method of communication on the roads
- KM on dash*
- 0-20,000km means low mileage
- 40,000km means high mileage -> indicates more wear and tear on the bike
- Blue card date of manufacturing
- Blue card numbers – check both on your bike
- “Put the bike on the center stand and rotate the rear wheel to see if it’s centered.” If it’s not, you’ll veer to the side each time you drive over any non-smooth road.
Check by driving
- Rear foot brake – sticky or too loose?
- Accelerator – sticky or too loose?
- Gear changes both up and down – should be smooth, without wobbling or vibrations or stickiness/difficulty pushing down
- Mirrors – are they in the correct positions? Do they move after you drive a little bit? (this indicates looseness or something inside is broken)
- How smoothly it feels when turning on, riding, and slowing down. Turning on there should be an accelerated hum.
- Turn it off for a while (at least 5(?) minutes) and see how easy it turns on after that
- Drive a bit and leave the motorbike on the stand. When the engine gets a bit warmer, you shouldn’t see any oil leaks below. If you notice any leaks after a short ride, it’s the sign that the engine isn’t in the best condition.
- Speedometer indicator*
- Fuel indicator*
- Condition of tires – you want to see more treads in the back wheel, too
- “Make sure your battery properly charges and holds a charge. This is the steady power supply for your headlight if the battery is no good you’re going to have a weak headlight.”
If any of these are missing you might not want that bike. You can ask to have certain items fixed before you buy it and notice an issue – reputable shops will do it for you. However, if it’s one of the items with an asterisk * then you can still buy the bike as it’ll still work, just be mindful when driving and you can barter about the price.
Real vs Fake
First of all, there’s almost no such thing as a “REAL” bike from Japan. What people mean by “real” is a Vietnamese made bike. A “fake” is a Chinese-made bike. The Vietnamese “real” bike has higher quality parts. Japan stopped making and selling bikes for Vietnam (and, from what I know, Southeast Asia) altogether due to the low margins, so any Japanese motorbike you find should be at least 2 decades old (don’t quote me on the number of decades!).
How to spot the difference?
- The engine on both sides should have the official logo of the brand
- Blue card should have all numbers matching up and should say the brand name
What Else You Need to Buy When Buying a Bike
These items may be included when buying your bike. If not, buy them – they’re key to having a good long-distance drive!
- Blue card
- Full head helmet
- Luggage rack
- At least 3 bungee cords
- Waterproof suit and cover for your bag – it’s almost always rainy season in one of Vietnam’s 3 sections
- Cell phone holder
- Body armor *highly recommended* (saved me a huge injury!) you can buy some at Fanfan or Phuot Store (see embedded map below)
A Map of Where to Buy a Motorbike in Hanoi and other notes:
Best Motorbike Shops in Hanoi
These are my top picks after visiting about 10 shops personally in search for the best one.
- Happy Zip Motorbikes – great service, lovely owner, cares about each customer. $400 for just an ok real bike with everything included AND foam for the butt. Names of brother owners: Duc and Luoan (whom I met). I would have bought from them if cheaper. Happy Zip Motorbikes official website.
- Tayho Motorbikes – just makes number two because good bikes at alright prices, but not customer-oriented as they’re more popular. They offered me $200 for a Chinese bike, $400+ for real ones, and $360 for a kinda crappy real one. If asked, they will include a 2-month warranty. Tayho Motorbikes Facebook
- Phung Motorbike – about tied for number 2, Phung Motorbike is not the *best* place from my experience, but they’re known for good bikes and decent service. Phung Motorbike official website.
Each of these places should include support on the road, a phone holder, armor, full-face helmet, bungee cords, luggage rack, blue card, lock, raincoat, and a new oil change. If they don’t, try to bargain down. You can negotiate based on what other shops are willing to offer you.
Quick note: a gas tank of 4L should take 80,000VND to fill and last you between 120-150km if it’s a decent bike. Other info like this should be shared with you by the shop you buy from.
The other shops I visited
Would NOT recommend these ones for reasons stated below
- Viet Adventure Motorbike – oh, where do I start with this one. I just won’t actually, this still makes me mad. PLEASE don’t go here. Basically, they sold me a piece of crap and tried to get away with it through lying.
- Custom Raggers – this one too, oh dear. There’s no professionalism whatsoever and the bike was a piece of garbage
- Linh’s Motorbike – rude and pushy, demanding
- Another one not seen on the map – only has manuals but very nice staff
- Dragon Motorbikes – on Facebook they kept insisting that they had a semi-automatic but the 2 times I went, that they didn’t have it out ready for me and said it would take 15 minutes to get it, unprofessional staff (online owner nicer)!
- Blue star 2 – sketchy, no selection, weird vibes
Where else to buy bikes
Just be wary, test them out just like at a shop, don’t give money in advance, etc. These bikes should be lower in price than those at a bike shop, as they probably haven’t been to a mechanic for a while and it’s most likely to have crashed at least once. If you’re buying from another traveler, do a full tune-up at a mechanic before heading on your trip.
You can find these at hostels – two are provided in the map above
Although it has many good references, their bikes were much more expensive than I wanted to spend. Hiep Motorbike official website
For those who want quality assurance with a very high price tag, Style is a well-known leader in Hanoi for motorbike everything. Style Motorbikes official website
Higher priced rentals with guarantees, it’s a safe bet if you don’t want to buy a bike outright. Tigit Motorbikes official website
Typical Motorbike Repair Costs
It’s inevitable you’ll have to change or repair something on the road. Go to a repair shop, either indicated by “Xe May” or “Hon Da” and usually a ton of other motorbike parts, and ask for a price upfront. If you don’t know what’s wrong, try to follow along then ask for the price before the fix happens.
Here are general costs so you don’t get ripped off:
From The Lost Passport, 2017 (a little outdated):
- Repair a tyre tube – VND 30,000 (USD 1)
- Change tyre tube – VND 50,000 (USD 3)
- Change an entire tyre – VND 200,000 (USD 9)
- Tighten chain – VND 30,000 (USD 1)
- Change engine oil and filter – VND 150,000 (USD 6.5)
- Repair cracked motorbike frame – VND 200,000 (USD 9)
- Replace rear swing arm bolt – VND 200,000 (USD 9)
From Vietnam Chronicles, 2019:
- Oil change with chain lubricating, tightening and brake adjusting – up to 120k
- Spark plug – 70k
- Flat tire (inner tire) – 100k
- Changing the inner and outer tire – 300k
- Battery – 250k – 350k
- Suspension – 300k
- Brake pads – 100k
- Exhaust – 250k
- Front light – 200k
- Backlight – 100k
- Chain – 150k
- Carburetor – 250k
- Cylinder – 400k
- Brake or clutch handle – 70k
- Set of mirrors – 90k
- Changing the clutch – 500k
- Front rim – 300k
- Back rim – 500k
- Complete new gearbox – around 1 mil
- Alternator – 200k
Other good stuff
Here are some reading materials to learn more about your bike, the routes available, etc. so that you can troubleshoot when something goes wrong, find where you’re going, and all that good stuff.
Basic motorbike riding lesson from Vietnam Motorbike Rental
All You Have to Know About Buying a Motorbike in Vietnam by Vietnam Chronicles
Considering to Buy a Motorbike in Vietnam? By The Lost Passport
Summary of How to Buy a Motorbike in Hanoi:
Buy a semi-automatic, check out your bike and blue card well, give it a test run, learn about some motorbike mechanics and driving, don’t be a total cheap-ass, it’s not as easy as you think to buy one, and it’s worth it to get good gear for your trip! I hope this helps you when investing in a motorbike.
Related posts (coming soon):
- Best places to motorbike in Vietnam
- Almost dying 3x on the Ha Giang Pass but you should still do it
- How to sell your motorbike in Hanoi
- 4-day Ha Giang motorbike loop on a budget
- Motorbike Accident in Vietnam
 All You Have to Know About Buying a Motorbike in Vietnam by Vietnam Chronicles