It’s no lie that the main mode of transport in Hanoi/anywhere in Vietnam is a motorbike. I would say on average the bike to car ratio is around 6 bikes to every car (idiots guesstimate). It’s probably even more extreme than this, with 2 motorbikes for every man, woman and child.
If you’re staying in Vietnam for an extended period, one of the best ways to explore and generally get around is by motorbike. If you’re planning on living here, I’d say it’s an absolute must.
Finding a bike perfect for you can be a challenge. Especially if you’re like us and have never actually ridden a motorbike before in your life.
I’ve summarised a few questions we had and what we considered before we embarked on our daunting Viet-bike journey.
Rent or Buy?
One of the main things you need to consider is whether you should buy a bike out right or whether you should rent one. Some of our friends have chosen to buy and others still rent. There are pros and cons to both options.
- The most flexible option. You are able to rent a bike for however long you need, as short as a few hours to as long a year.
- Safest option in terms of repair. Depending on where you rent your bike from, you will generally have ongoing care included in your rental cost.
- Option to change your bike if needed. If you find yourself outgrowing your bike or deciding you don’t like it, you will generally have the option to discuss changing it.
- Less likely to be scammed. This is mainly because the bike is still the owners’ property; therefore you’re less likely to be given a bike that’ll just break down.
- Cost very much depends on the bike you are renting and where you are renting. You can expect to pay around $40-100 a month or $7-30 a day.
Tip: Be wary of where you rent. Research your rental to make sure you’re not being scammed. Speak to your hotel or friends to find out where they would recommend before making a decision.
- The cheapest option if you’re here for an extended period. The cost of buying a bike can be anywhere between $200-1000, which is sometimes far cheaper than renting for a year.
- The bike is yours! If you’re planning on doing a long journey in Vietnam and don’t want the restraints of driving a rented bike, then it could be the one for you.
- They’re easy to sell. Many expats in Hanoi will jump at the option of buying a bike. It’s unlikely you’ll find yourself with a bike you can’t do anything with when your time to leave has come.
Advice for First Time Buyers
If you do decide to buy, take into consideration the fact that all repair costs are on you. If you break down, it’s up to you to find repair.
Also, really research the bike you are buying and where you are buying it. You can easily be scammed and we know many people who have been.
I came across two backpackers in Tam Coc who were sold two retro bikes for $200 each to drive from Hanoi to HCMC. That very evening those bikes were stolen, which is not a very common occurrence in Hanoi. Arguably by the guys who had actually sold them the bikes in the first place.
If you don’t know your stuff about bikes, it’s highly likely a Vietnamese salesman will be able to tell. And trust me, they will take every opportunity to get as much out of that sale as possible.
Automatic or Geared?
A high proportion of expats or travellers who arrive in Vietnam probably haven’t ridden a bike or moped for some time (or at all), and when facing the decision between an automatic or a geared bike you might want to take this into consideration.
Just so you have time to adjust to the roads in Vietnam.
- Ideal for nipping around the city and for short journeys.
- Good for new drivers and those that are used to driving an automatic car.
If you’re new to riding a motorbike and have never driven on Vietnam’s roads before, then an automatic is probably best for you. You’ll already have 101 things to think about, let alone when you should change gear.
You can always move up to a semi auto when you’re more comfortable.
- Heavy bikes and not comfortable to drive with someone on the back. (Eddie is a nightmare passenger when he’s had too many beers and his vast weight sways everywhere)
- Not practical for fuel consumption.
- Don’t handle long distance journeys well.
- Good for long distance journeys.
- Better for fuel consumption.
- More practical for more than one rider.
Personally I find riding a geared bike easier than an automatic. I drove a geared car in the UK for over 10 years so I’m used to them. I find I have more control over the speed I’m going, particularly when I’m moving through slow traffic.
- Gears are an added thing to think about when driving.
- Can be difficult to grasp for someone who is used to driving an automatic car.
Idiots Recommend: RentabikeVN
When we arrived in Hanoi we looked at a few different options for renting/buying a bike. We spoke to a few different people suggested by friends and tried our best to haggle with some locals over the cost of a terrible bike.
The short of it, we know very little about motorbikes and aren’t about to get clued up in time to be able to effectively haggle with a local who’s been riding since he was 3.
After a few unsuccessful trips to some local garages we came across RentABike on Google, based in Hanoi, DaNang and HCMC.
Our Experience with RentABike
The company itself is well branded and is an easy find in Tay Ho, just off West Lake in Hanoi. When we arrived at the shop we were greeted by a local lady who spoke very good English. I think she could tell by the lost looks on our faces that we didn’t have a clue what we were looking for, so she showed us our options.
The prices at RentABike are clearly set out and can be seen on the wall of the shop. It’s comforting to know you’re not being ripped off and are paying the same as everyone else.
They have a wide selection of bikes, all in very good condition. We rented an automatic ($75 pcm) for our first month. We soon realised it wasn’t the ideal bike for us and exchanged it for a semi-automatic ($65 pcm`). A bike we absolutely love!
Value for Money
We do pay a little over what some of our friends pay to rent, but we choose to and really don’t mind. The service we have there is second to none and something that is hard to come across here in Vietnam.
The company also offers a complimentary service when you’ve clocked up so many miles and will always check over your bike if you take it in. I had a minor incident with the car-park floor during our first week of rental. It resulted in a smashed light and wing mirror.
When I took our bike into the shop, the staff were very understanding and were only bothered about my wellbeing, not the bike. They fixed the mirror and light for a very small fee. They’re used to seeing westerners after an accident.
The shop itself also has helmets, pollution masks and ponchos for sale at an affordable price. It has everything you need to get you set up with your first bike!