Tips For Riding a Motorbike in Vietnam

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Riding a motorbike in Vietnam is a daunting prospect for even the most experienced of riders. For those who’ve never actually ridden a motorbike before, it can be simply terrifying. At Rentabike we understand how it important it is for you to feel as comfortable as possible when riding a motorbike on the roads in Vietnam.

Roads in Vietnam are extremely dangerous for those who are unfamiliar with them. Despite the fact that the roads simply look like utter chaos, there are actually various different rules and regulations in place to help you stay safe on the roads. We feel it is our duty to do our best to ensure your safety when riding a motorbike on the roads in Vietnam. 

Riding a Motorbike in Vietnam

In this post we will look at a number of different ways you can stay safe on the roads in Vietnam. Firstly, we will look at how you can check your motorbike prior to riding to ensure that it’s suitable for the roads. Secondly, we will explore general aspects of riding a motorbike that should be taken into account at all times. Finally, we will look at how you should position yourself on the roads in Vietnam and stop safely when needed.

Motorbike Set-Up

Being on the bottom of the pecking order you must take every opportunity to reduce the risk of accidents. The first step is to ensure your bike is set up for YOU and you are comfortable with it. The following checks should be done whenever you set out, or if not, at least weekly:

  • Tyre Pressure. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Most tyres will state the recommended pressure on them. It varies between the front and back and often gives a range.
  • Tyre Tread. As a rule of thumb once a tyre tread reduces below the diameter of a match head (1.5mm), replace them. The roads in and around Ha Noi are often covered with a fine layer of dirt or oil, even more so after prolonged dry spells. As it is the contact between bike and road that helps you stop, do it right.
  • Brake tension. As shown during the course it’s important to ensure both front and back brakes have the correct amount of play in the cables. Braking ability is severely reduced if there is too much slack. Also have your levers/pedals adjusted to suit both your riding position and size.
  • Mirrors. DON’T RIDE WITHOUT THEM. Make sure your mirrors offer the best rear vision possible and they are correctly positioned so you can easily see without the need to move your head.
  • Lights. In many developed countries motorbike headlights are ‘hot wired” i.e. there is no on/off switch but they are on all the time. There is a very good reason for this and it applies more so in Vietnam as visual awareness often has more effect than the constant use of horns. Check all your lights are operational before you set out. Head lights, tail light and indicators.
  • Horns. They are often ignored here but once again every little bit helps.
  • Riding position. Be comfortable in your seating position. Try to sit as far forward as is comfortable. This also applies to your pillion. The aim is to have as much weight forward as possible to allow you to both steer and stop. It’s not a good idea to have your pillion wrap their arms around you (although nice). It’s better to hang onto the hand grips supplied or relaxed on your thighs. 

Top 5 Key Points to Remember When Riding a Motorbike in Vietnam:

      1. Sit well forward
      2. Keep your head up and point your chin in the direction of travel
      3. Relax your arms and keep minimal weight on your wrists
      4. Keep your back relaxed and support your weight with your stomach muscles
      5. Grip the bike firmly with your legs and knees (sometimes a little difficult with motor scooters but try to keep your legs together)

Getting Underway: Riding a Motorbike

It is important for each rider to take the following into consideration before they start riding a motorbike on the roads in Vietnam. Once you’ve gotten over the initial fear of embracing the roads in Vietnam, there are various different aspects you should consider whilst riding. Although this may seem like a lot initially, we promise it will soon become second nature. As they say, it’s like riding a bike!

  • Mounting/Dismounting. Always get on and off your bike away from the traffic. In Vietnam they drive on the right so get onto your bike from the right hand side.
  • Head Check. Make sure you’re visible to other riders before riding a motorbike in Vietnam. 
  • Stabiliser (Rear Brake). As you have learnt, the rear brake on a bike is poorly named. As far as stopping goes it accounts for about 10% of your ability to do so. Think of it more as a stabilizer than a brake. By dragging your rear brake when taking off you will be able to maintain a straight line and avoid those embarrassing bumps into surrounding bikes when taking off from the lights.
  • Speed When Turning. The faster a motorbike travels the harder it is to turn. Reducing speed before turning is essential. During very low speed turns, such as doing a U turn, the gentle use of the throttle combined with the use of the rear brake (dragging) will allow you to complete the manoeuvre with confidence.  
  • Steering. Initially, it is important to take corners slowly to avoid any accidents. A motorcycle can be steered in a number of ways. Handle bar pressure, body weight and changes in speed all have an effect on a motorcycle’s direction of travel. Experienced riders will use a combination of all three to achieve a smooth turn.
  • Head Position. Always keep your head up. Focus on the road ahead and not on your front end. Remember your head acts as a spirit level and if it stays up, the odds are you will to.

Road Positioning in Vietnam

Before riding a motorbike in Vietnam, you MUST familiarise yourself with the correct road position in Vietnam. Maintaining it is not always the easiest thing to do. Despite this, it is one of the best ways of protecting yourself from potential dangers. 

The tactics you employ outside the hustle and bustle of the city are very different. As a result, the underlying principle is to always give yourself somewhere to go should the unexpected happen.

There are THREE things you need to consider when choosing your position on the road. 

  • Space. As a motorcyclist, you have very little to protect you in a crash apart from your protective riding gear. The more space you leave between other vehicles and pedestrians, the better. Creating space from hazards is known as buffering. Keeping well clear of hazards also increases others ability to see you.
  • Surface.  Paint, oil, water, sand, gravel, pot holes and debris are all examples of different road surfaces a rider needs to manage. Although it’s best to avoid riding on such surfaces, sometimes it is impossible. A good example in Vietnam is when you try buffering from oncoming vehicles even though the road surface is terrible. It’s best to slow down and keep your buffer space. 
  • Sight. A good road position can allow you to see further and gather more information about what is happening up ahead. Try to choose a road position that gives you good vision without compromising your buffer from hazards.

By actively managing space, surface and sight, riding a motorbike in Vietnam is ultimately safe. When on the road, you must never let any of the above slip and they should be present in your mind at all times. 

Safely Stopping a Motorbike

During the motorbike riding training session we explained the physics behind stopping, i.e. the friction between the bike and the road surface. In order to get the best possible amount of friction you must prepare, or set up for it. By correctly setting up the bike for braking you can almost double the friction footprint available.

Braking is a two stage operation NOT one.  

By taking up the slack in the brakes, braking;

  • Moves the weight forward
  • Compresses the suspension
  • Places the brake pads against the disc and
  • Flattens the tyres (increases the friction)

Put light pressure on the brake levers and pause (set up the brakes) then progressively apply the necessary braking pressure (squeeze). This two stage braking (set up and squeeze) vastly improves braking effectiveness, reduces the likelihood of skidding and provides better control.

Applying the front brake in a curve can make the bike run wide, or skid.

The majority of motorcycle accidents are caused by over-reacting to a dangerous situation. It is human nature to react to danger but with practice your braking technique will reduce this percentage. In effect, it works as your own ABS (Anti-lock Braking System).

Balance When Riding a Motorbike

Finally, it is important to ensure your balance when riding a motorbike. Head position is extremely important, more so on the smaller motorbikes you are most likely to ride. Looking through a corner will help your coordination and balance when cornering. Use your peripheral vision to scan the road surface while keeping your head pointed in the direction you want to go. 

Remember, look where you are going. If you look away from the road and at an object, you’re likely to veer off course toward it. 

Motorbike Training With Rentabike

Riding a motorbike in Vietnam is scary. We fully recognise this and want to reassure your safety on the roads. When renting with us, we are happy to provide you with a 20 minute training session prior to rental.

In this session, we will give you a break down of everything we have discussed in this post and give you guidance. You will have the opportunity to learn from our expert Danny, who has 20 years experience riding on the roads in Vietnam. By riding a motorbike with him, you will be able to understand the workings of a bike and how you can stay safe on the roads.

If you’re interested in taking part in a motorbike riding lesson with us, please feel free to get in touch. We will make sure that you feel confident before riding on the roads in Vietnam.

We hope that you have found our tips for riding a motorbike in Vietnam useful! Please feel free to share this post with anyone you believe may find it helpful.

To read more about riding on the roads in Vietnam, consider reading our post about safety gear for riding in Vietnam.

Safe riding from Danny and the team at Rentabike!