The fact that you like nothing more than heading for the horizon doesn’t necessarily mean you’re also a skilled mechanic. When tackling something new it pays to know what to expect and when touring Vietnam ‘Finding the Right Mechanic for your Motorbike’ will give you the confidence you need to set off on your tour.
Many of us have sufficient mechanical aptitude to handle the basics or successfully deal with a roadside quick-fix, but when it comes to delving deeper, it’s a non starter.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing as, let’s face it, your riding buddies generally know a good spanner man. Even if they don’t, Google will find dozens of local mechanics. That’s great when you’re on home ground, but if you’re riding overseas will you be able to source spares for your particular model, or find a mechanic you can trust with your pride and joy?
In a country such as Vietnam with over 45 million registered motorbikes, if you thought mechanics would be hanging out on every corner, you’d be dead right.
Unfortunately though, with state taxes crippling everything over 125cc, the vast majority of bikes are step-thru chicken chasers. The bulk of mechanics, therefore, fall into the minimalistic ‘anything to keep it going’ category.
Let’s explore this problem in more depth, and delve into the real nuts and bolts of the subject.
All Motorbike Mechanics Great and Small in Vietnam
Basically there are two types of mechanics and a number of sub categories in each type, but let’s begin with the most common; the back street mechanic.
As mentioned previously, there is a staggering number of bikes in VN. Although there’s no breakdown on engine capacity, I will put my neck on the line and say that around 90 percent will fall into the under 125cc category.
Why? Anything over this capacity results in the government slapping on 120 percent tax. This puts a motorcycle like a Kawasaki Versys 650 in the $14,000 bracket! Add to this the need for an additional riding test for any ride over 175cc and you’ve got the small bike equivalent of a perfect storm.
Incidentally, thanks to reciprocal trade agreements, the VN government has promised to lower import tariffs. This eventually resulted in phasing them out altogether within six years, so watch this space.
Don’t get too excited though! They have also promised, due to pollution issues to completely rid the capital’s roads of two-wheeled transport by 2030. Confusing? Certainly. Contradictory? Absolutely. Ironic? Totally! Welcome to Vietnam.
Back to the point
With so many small capacity bikes, it stands to reason a visitor is going to be overwhelmed by the number of small bike mechanics. The city streets are littered with them and even in the remotest countryside, throw a stone into the bush and in all likelihood you’ll hit one.
As with everything in life though, there are different rungs of the ladder ranging from skilled to enthusiastically competent, to back street butcher. Obviously, the latter should be avoided at all costs, but thankfully they’re pretty easy to identify.
Needless to say, if you see a guy stripping an engine with a pair of vice grips and over-enthusiastically saying he can fix your bike without even knowing what make or model it is, let alone what’s wrong with it, run.
Beware The Spanner Mangler
Don’t panic though; this type of spanner-mangler is thankfully quite rare. The vast majority of one-man bands will be totally upfront with you and let you know if the problem or make and model of your bike is out of their remit.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean they’re not capable of an oil, filter and brake pad change, just tell them to use OEM parts and keep an eye on the grade of engine oil.
Depending on the time of year you ride, you will have to contend with either lots of heat and dust (April–May) or torrents of rain (May–July). To keep yourself rolling it’s wise to adopt the preventive maintenance state of mind.
Rule one of the PM handbook says oil is your engine’s lifeblood so don’t wait for it to turn to froth covered treacle. For this type of work and engines under 150cc, as previously mentioned, a side-street spanner man is generally up to the job.
Always ascertain the price first though, and use a calculator to work out the exchange rate (usually VND to US$). As a rough guide, a change of oil, filter and a squirt of chain lube should set you back around 100,000 VND (around $5 US).
Motorbike Mechanic in Vietnam – Ride Through Servicing
Apart from the neighborhood mechanic, you’ll find motorbike shops that specialize in ride through servicing in Vietnam. These guys are trained, take their job very seriously, and do this a hundred times a day so you should be in and out in no time.
As for riding in the rainy season, don’t forget to check out your tires. If they look like a couple of racing slicks, ditch them immediately. Again, shops offering servicing will undoubtedly be able to supply and fit tires. That goes for fixing a flat too in most cases.
As for prices, the average size tires for bikes such as a Honda/Sufat/Detech Win, is around 130,000 VND (6 US$) for a front and approximately 150,000 (6.5 US$) for a rear. As for fixing a flat tire, you’re probably talking less than the price of a can of beer.
As a final word on small engine mechanics, bikes take one hell of a kicking on the roads of VN and giving your ride the once over on a more frequent basis is highly advisable.
Pay particular attention to things such as suspension and wheel bearings, also check the frame for any signs of fatigue especially if a rack has been welded on the back.
Motorbike Mechanic in Vietnam – Bings Bongs And Donks
Last but not least, run a screwdriver lightly around the spokes. They should all ‘bing or bong’ and if you hear a ‘donk’ it means the spoke’s come loose. Once again, don’t worry about any of these issues, replacement shocks are dirt-cheap and even a wheel bearing should come in at around 60,000 VND ($2.60 US).
That pretty much takes care of your side street Vietnam mechanic in terms of what they’re capable of, and approximate prices for work and spares, but what if you’re packing some real heat like a 400cc or bigger motorbike?
The majority of bikes in this category will generally be fuel injected, and multi-valve and therefore a lot fancier in the electronics department.
They will also invariably have ABS, with some of the more exotic imports boasting electronic rider aids, all of which require slightly more than an adjustable spanner and a large hammer.
Now we enter the realms of the pro mechanic for motorbike and, like everything Vietnam related, it’s all there if you know where to look. For obvious reasons, you’re not going to find some pro-outfit with a fully stocked workshop out in the sticks.
It’s the big cities that generate the money and with it comes the must-have toys. Apart from the foreigners who’ve managed to get across the border with their BMW GS 1200’s and Harley’s from Thailand via Cambodia, nothing says status symbol for the locals more than a big slab of two-wheeled exotica.
Motorbike Mechanic in Vietnam – Service in the City
So, if we look at the three main cities of Ha Noi (in the north), Da Nang (central) and Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon as it’s also known (south), it’s here that you’ll find the professional motorbike mechanic in Vietnam.
Ha Noi is the most northerly of the three. It is the second-largest city in VN and the capital of the country. It lies close to the borders with China and Laos and here you’ll find some (but surprisingly few) big brand dealers.
Honda has an official presence here as does Yamaha, but both showrooms are packed full of small-bore scooters. Yamaha Town does have a glass wall in their waiting room though, that looks into the well-equipped workshop, which is quite cool.
The only big bore dealer appears to be Ducati and KTM. Out of the two it’s only KTM Sapa Ha Noi that appears to have large capacity bikes on the floor and a viable workshop.
Moving to the center of the country, Da Nang fares far better and with its French colonial influences and six university campuses, it’s also a colossal tourism hub. With the hint of money in the air, you won’t be surprised to find a Harley- Davidson dealer. However, the jewel in the crown is Two Wheels Da Nang.
Run by Kiwi father and son duo Tony and Ethan Meyers, the pair has a formal engineering background. They cover everything from Harley Glides to the latest all singing and dancing adventure bikes.
The shop has a full range of electronic diagnostics as well as engineering facilities. It also prides itself on keeping Da Nang’s big bore bikes well maintained and safe.
2 Wheel Backpackers
Last but definitely not least we’re heading south to Ho Chi Minh City; the largest city in VN. Formerly known as Saigon, this place draws 70 percent of the country’s tourists and is a favorite location for backpacking bikers.
Most finish here after their epic north-south tour, to offload the ‘’Great condition low mileage Honda Wave’’ they overpaid-for in Ha Noi. So if you’re in the market for a high mileage 100cc Chinese knock-off with no brakes and an engine that sounds like a dozen washers in a tin, this is the place for you.
The city’s small ads are full of bikes this size. As previously mentioned; the local backstreet mechanics will be able to unbend, weld and generally resurrect anything you care to wheel in front of them.\
For residents and locals whose motorcycle generates more horsepower than a food blender, thankfully there’s Moto Laurie. Located in District 3, owner Laurence How opened the full-service workshop in December 2017 and big bike owners across the city breathed a sigh of relief.
An Aussie from Adelaide, How is a Ducati-trained technician. He does, however, have the knowhow and right gear to service, repair, and beautify just about anything from UJM’s to the latest MV Agusta.
Speaking of exotic, if you do find yourself touring the country on a big export, remember that old saying about the gods helping those who help themselves. In other words, don’t just leave the fixing of potential problems to a third party.
Anyone who has ever put some decent mileage under their wheels will always tell you, it’s all about mitigating your loss. So with this in mind, be aware of your bikes service intervals. Remember, the sensible option is a full service before you set off for the great unknown.
It’s also a good idea to load a service manual on to your phone or at the very least on a USB. Although a lot of motorcycles come with a rudimentary tool kit, take a good look around your bike and add to it as necessary. You’ll be amazed at just how many bikes come without the odd sized Allen or Torx key needed to remove a body panel or fairing.
Wheels are another potential hazard when it comes to specialized sockets or tools to remove them. When you get a motorbike puncture in the middle of the Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam, don’t expect a local mechanic to have a pegboard of factory tools.
The Devil’s in the Detail
Take the basics with you, including odd-sized sockets for wheel removal plus tire plugs or spare inner tubes. Far better to not have the need to use them, then need them and be found lacking.
Vietnam is home to some stunning scenery and the vast majority of its people are genuine and friendly. The country is by and large impoverished, though. This translates to many of its back street mechanics being pretty innovative when it comes to getting you back on the road.
Just bear in mind that their technical knowledge of more complex machinery may be limited, so full-service bike shops like those mentioned are a must for big bore bikes.
Do your homework, pack the tools and spares that you may find difficult to locate on tour and you’re in for the trip of a lifetime. By including ‘Finding the Right Mechanic for your Motorbike in Vietnam’ to your reading list you’ll also go armed with the right information. Enjoy.