I met a traveller outside a café in Saigon who was strapping a variety of tools and parts to the back of an antique motorcycle. He told me it was a 1957 Minsk and he was riding it to Hanoi over the next few weeks. He had just bought it for $300 (USD) and had it overhauled by a local mechanic for the equivalent of $20 and he was heading out for a day’s test ride.

I’ve seen a few old Minsks since then and it makes me wonder how he’s getting on. Antiques aren’t known for their reliability, but I imagine these are relatively easy to fix and well known by the local mechanics.

This all brings to mind Jas’s stories of East German motorcycles (though to be clear, the Minsk is made in a different former Soviet republic.)

Vietnam might be a good place to do motorcycle touring, but I’m not sure. I’ve seen western motorcycle tourists (sometimes on Minsks) driving into town in the early evening, and they never look happy. Traffic is absolutely crazy and there’s a high death toll on the roads. The rules of the road (as practiced by the locals) seem to be:

  1. Don’t hit anyone.
  2. Don’t get hit.
  3. Use your horn at every opportunity.
  4. Wear a helmet.

The helmets are the one nice thing.. in other countries, I’ve had to beg for helmets (even when renting motorcycles as opposed to getting a ride across town) but in Vietnam, a moto driver will hand you a helmet after your negociations as if to say "OK, I will take you to your destination at the agreed upon price."

As a cyclist, riding through mostly 2-wheeled traffic feels safer and easier than riding through mostly 4-wheeled traffic. The big downsides are the noise and pollution. The little 100- to 125-cc engines on the motorcycles used in Vietnam put out a lot of both, and the constant horn use doesn’t help with the noise either.