Vietnam is known for its bustling city streets filled with swarms of motorbikes. For many tourists, renting a motorbike offers an adventurous way to explore the country’s lush landscapes and experience the local culture. If you’re planning a long distance trip across Vietnam, you may wonder whether renting a bigger motorbike would be better suited for covering long distances compared to the smaller models commonly found in cities.
This article will examine the pros and cons of bigger motorbikes for long trips in Vietnam, looking at factors like:
- Comfort and luggage capacity
- Safety and handling
- Costs and availability
- Route planning and road conditions
- Licensing requirements
- Alternatives for long distance transportation
By the end of this guide, you’ll have a better understanding of whether upgrading to a larger motorbike is recommended for your Vietnam journey.
Overview of Motorbikes in Vietnam
Motorbikes rule the roads in Vietnam. With over 45 million motorbikes registered in the country, they are the preferred method of transportation for locals and tourists alike.
Popularity of Motorbikes for Transportation
- Motorbikes outnumber cars by 10 to 1 in Vietnam
- Offers door-to-door convenience and ability to navigate dense city traffic
- Allows access to areas unreachable by car
- Provides independence and flexibility for travelers
Common Motorbike Sizes Used
- 50cc – Very small and lightweight. Best for city use.
- 110cc – Light and nimble. Common rental size for city travel.
- 125cc – Larger but still lightweight. Capable for some longer distances.
- 150cc – Heavier and more powerful. Used for carrying heavier loads.
- 250cc – Large, comfortable for 2 passengers. Used for long highway trips.
Benefits of Bigger Motorbikes for Long Distance Travel
Larger motorbikes over 125cc offer some advantages when covering long distances across Vietnam:
More Comfortable for Long Rides
- Bigger seats – More cushioning for your bottom on those 8+ hour ride days!
- Higher weight capacity – Avoid feeling squeezed with a passenger and gear.
- Adjustable suspensions – Tuned for stability and absorbing bumps in the road.
- Larger wheels – Provide a smoother ride across uneven terrain.
Capable of Carrying More Luggage
- Rear racks – Built to handle loaded bags without compromising balance.
- Bungee straps – Help securely fasten unwieldy camping gear.
- Top case – Waterproof trunk provides ample space for day supplies.
More Stable at Higher Speeds
- Heavier frames – Lower center of gravity improves stability on highway riding.
- Higher displacement engines – More power to maintain momentum at faster speeds.
- Dual rear shocks – Keep the rear wheel planted over bumpy roads.
“I felt much more secure riding the busy highways from Hanoi to Sapa on a 150cc motorbike compared to the 110cc I started with in the city.” – Mike D., traveler
Drawbacks of Bigger Motorbikes for Long Distance Travel
However, bigger motorbikes also come with some disadvantages to consider when traveling long distance:
Harder to Maneuver in City Traffic
- Wider handlebars – Make filtering through narrow gaps more difficult.
- Longer wheelbase – Reduces nimbleness in crowded streets.
- Heavier weight – More exhausting to continually balance at low speeds.
Use More Fuel
- Higher displacement engines – Consume more gasoline to produce more power.
- Greater weight – Requires more energy to accelerate and climb hills.
- Lower gear ratios – Run at higher RPM and burn through petrol quicker.
More Expensive to Purchase and Maintain
- Higher base cost – Big bikes easily cost double smaller models.
- Increased wear on tires, brakes, fluids – Prone to higher maintenance costs.
- Specialized parts – Replacement parts can be rare and pricey.
“The 250cc motorbike had way more power but guzzled gas and was a pain to park anywhere busy.” – Alicia T., traveler
Safety should be a top priority when choosing a motorbike for long distance travel in Vietnam. Larger bikes have some advantages but also risks:
Handling and Control
- Heavier weight – Harder to maneuver at low speeds and fully stop.
- Faster acceleration – Can make the bike get away from you if throttle is twisted too hard.
- Narrower steering – Requires more lean angle to corner at speed.
- Dual disc brakes – Provide strong stopping power from higher speeds.
- Increased weight – Makes braking distances longer.
- Sensitive ABS – Can be triggered early by inexperienced riders.
- Upright riding posture – Gives a better vantage point in traffic.
- Larger frame and cargo – Creates bigger blind spots around the bike.
“I opted for a 125cc motorbike in Vietnam as a precaution since I was still a beginner rider.” – Lucas F., traveler
Alternatives to Bigger Motorbikes
If you have concerns about handling a large motorbike for your Vietnam journey, smaller bikes or other transportation options are good alternatives to consider:
- 50cc-125cc – Light and easy to ride for novice riders.
- Automatic – Removes need to shift gears.
- Electric start – Starts with a button rather than kick start.
- 4-seat sedans – More comfort and safety at higher cost.
- SUVs – Capable for rugged roads but require local driver.
- Camper van – Provides rolling accommodation.
- Buses – Affordable and accessible way to travel between cities.
- Trains – Offer overnight berths and transportation for motorbikes.
- Planes – Quickly covers huge distances across Vietnam.
“I decided to take the train from Hanoi to Hoi An and then rented a 110cc bike locally to explore the central coast.” – Isabel K., traveler
Let’s break down the costs between smaller and larger motorbikes in Vietnam:
- 50-125cc – $800 to $1,500 USD
- 150-250cc – $1,500 to $3,000+ USD
Expect to pay a premium for larger, high-displacement bikes from international brands like Honda or Yamaha.
- Mandatory insurance – $10-20 USD per month
- Third party coverage – Extra $100+ USD per year recommended
Larger motorbikes often cost more to insure due to higher value and engine size.
- 50cc – ~60 mpg
- 110cc – ~55 mpg
- 150cc – ~45 mpg
- 250cc – ~35 mpg
Bigger engines consume more fuel, so plan for more frequent petrol stops.
What are the options for renting a large motorbike for long distance travel in Vietnam?
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Availability of Larger Motorbikes
- Major cities – Wider selection of 150cc+ bikes from rental shops.
- Rural areas – Often limited to mostly 110cc bikes.
- Booking ahead – Reserve specific models in advance when possible.
- 110-125cc – ~$7-10 USD per day
- 150cc – ~$10-15 USD per day
- 250cc – ~$15-25+ USD per day
Expect surcharges for drop-off at a different location.
Condition and Reliability
- Reputable shops – Offer newer, well-maintained bikes for rent.
- Inspect thoroughly – Check tires, lights, brakes, oil, mileage.
- Ask about repairs – Avoid shops that appear dodgy.
Test drive any motorbike before committing to a long rental.
Route Planning Factors
Route conditions should influence your decision when choosing a motorbike size:
- Paved highways – Ideal for covering distance quickly on bigger bikes.
- Provincial roads – Can be rough and poorly maintained in rural regions.
- Mountain passes – Sharp switchbacks favor smaller, nimble bikes.
- Major highways – Higher speeds make stability important.
- City centers – Scooters and crowds favor smaller bikes.
- Rural roads – Looser driving norms require defensive techniques.
- Dry season – Good visibility for two-wheel adventure.
- Rainy season – Slippery roads increase risk with larger bikes.
- Cold winters – Northern Vietnam favors bigger windshields.
Pick a motorbike size suited for the predominant conditions on your intended route.
Packing and Luggage Considerations
How much luggage capacity do you need? Big bikes allow you to carry far more gear.
- 50-125cc – Roughly 25 liters max (rear rack only).
- 150cc – ~50 liters (rear rack and top case).
- 250cc – 80+ liters (panniers, top case, sissy bar).
- Distribute weight evenly – For stability around curves and braking.
- Lower center of gravity – Keep heavy items like tools down low.
- Tie down loose items – Avoid shifting cargo while riding.
- Locked top case – Discourages grab-and-go theft.
- Remove valuables – Don’t leave helmets, phones unattended.
- Use multiple locks – Deter backpack or bag slashings.
A bike with more storage capacity reduces the need to travel light.
Routine maintenance helps avoid breakdowns far from help. What steps should you take?
Availability of Parts, Mechanics
- Carry spare items – Fuses, bulbs, brake pads, spark plugs.
- Learn basic repairs – Adjust chain, change oil, patch tubes.
- Ask locals for tips – Where to access parts or find a mechanic.
DIY Repairs on the Road
- Basic toolkit – Wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, tape, zip ties.
- 12V tire inflator – Quickly fixes flats without removing wheel.
- Duct tape – Improvised roadside repairs.
Emergency Roadside Assistance
- Motorbike repair shops – Found in most towns. Wave someone down for help finding.
- Hire a mechanic – Pay a local to help complete repairs roadside.
- Evacuation service – For major breakdowns far from help.
Carry the knowledge and spare parts to get back on the road quickly after a breakdown.
Ensure you have the proper license and paperwork before renting a big bike:
License Class for Larger Motorbikes
- 50-125cc – Basic car license is usually sufficient.
- 150cc+ – Separate motorcycle endorsement often required.
- Local license – Obtain a Vietnamese license if staying long term.
International Driving Permits
- IDP strongly advised – Legally ride most bikes as a tourist.
- Home country license – Technically required but rarely checked.
- Vietnamese license – Expensive (~$300 USD) and time-consuming to obtain.
Avoid legal issues by carrying an IDP and passport when renting bigger bikes.
Understand the local Vietnamese attitudes towards different motorbikes:
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Social Status of Large Motorbikes
- Wealth symbol – Big bikes signify having money for recreation.
- Macho image – Particularly for young Vietnamese men.
- Attention grabbing – Locals will stare and take photos.
Common Local Practices
- Whole families – Seen riding on a single small bike.
- Overloading – Vietnamese bikes often carry improbable loads.
- Relaxed road rules – Locals may drive on sidewalks or both ways on one-way streets.
Leave ego at home and ride cautiously – the locals aren’t there to impress!
Conclusion and Recommendations
In summary, while larger motorbikes over 150cc offer benefits for long distance travel in Vietnam like added comfort, luggage capacity, and highway stability, they also come with significant drawbacks for novice riders.
Smaller 110-125cc bikes provide a better blend of portability around cities with the power to cover moderate long distance journeys for average riders. Or, consider alternative transport options like trains or buses for the longest legs.
Focus on route planning and packing light to make the most of whatever bike you end up using in Vietnam. Ride defensively, and don’t forget to stop frequently to enjoy the scenery! With the right preparations, Vietnam promises to be an amazing motorcycle adventure.