Women and Motorbikes (Ellie’s Story)

Girls riding on the dyke road in hanoi vietnam

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Motorcycles aren't just for Men !

Women and motorcycles are two words you don’t often see in the same sentence. The thrilling activity of travelling at high speed on two wheels is generally associated with men. And often with the woman clinging on behind. But is that really the way it should be in our day and age? At Rent A Bike, we certainly don’t think so.

Rentabike welcomes women drivers

Hundreds of women visit our store every year looking for a motorcycle to rent. Some of whom have experience, some of whom who don’t. However, we always do our best to support our customers to ensure they have a safe and enjoyable riding experience. We acknowledge that riding a motorcycle for the first time can be daunting and nerve racking. And we try to help our customers overcome this.

two happy rental customers
two happy rental customers

Women should feel confident when riding a motorcycle. That’s why we have asked one of our long-term renter, Ellie, to write this post. Looking at the fears she faced before mounting her motorcycle. And how she managed to overcome them.

We hope this post will encourage female riders to take the leap and give riding a motorcycle a go!

Motorcycles aren’t just for Men !

Ellie on Two Wheels

Ellie on a bike trip in vietnam
Ellie and Friends on a bike trip in Central Vietnam.

I arrived in Hanoi just over two years ago. From the moment I landed, I was in awe of the number of motorcycles on the roads. In fact, motorcycles pretty much own the roads in Hanoi (and all of Vietnam). Not only was I in awe of the sheer number of motorcycles on the road, I was also surprised to see who was riding them.

In Vietnam, a motorcycle is the main mode of transport. As a result, almost every woman in the country rides, or has ridden a motorcycle at some point in their life. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many women embracing what I considered a predominantly male way to get around.

Not only do women ride motorcycles in Vietnam, they ride them with confidence. Looking pretty badass too.

In Vietnam, it is not uncommon to hear the rumble of a large motorcycle engine, followed by the sight of a woman cruising by. Sitting proud on the back of a nice pair of wheels.

Totally amazed by this display of female confidence, I decided that I too wanted to look that good on the back of a motorcycle. So I headed to Rent A Bike to choose a trusty pair of wheels to start my motorcycle journey in Vietnam.

However, confidence on a motorcycle doesn’t come naturally. It’s not quite as simple as that…

Common Fears Faced by Women with Motorcycles

I arrived at Rent A Bike having never ridden a motorcycle alone before. My only experience being on the back of my Dad’s motorcycle as a child. Never had I ever taken control, and I’m certainly not alone in this. As a result, the moment I was handed the motorcycle key, I was faced with fear.

My palms began to sweat, my heart began to beat out of my chest and my stomach was in my mouth. Not ideal when you’re about to be in control of an engine and two wheels. However, Rent A Bike showed me how the bike works and how to control it…..gently. Then, little by little I went through the training and my confidence grew and grew. Of course, my first ride up and down the road was shaky to say the least. A thousand and one things running through my mind. ALL completely unnecessary. Pretty soon I could control the bike, in a manner of speaking, and felt quite confident that I wouldn’t crash and burn on the way home.

Over the following weeks, my confidence began to build. With the reassurance and support I received from Rent A Bike, I was able to grow as a rider and began challenging myself. I moved from and automatic motorcycle to a semi-automatic and soon became attached.

Now, I can call myself a confident female rider! I have ridden some of the most challenging routes in Vietnam, and felt completely unstoppable doing so. I have embraced some of the best things to do in Vietnam on a motorcycle, and am grateful I let my fears subside.

In this post, I will highlight the fears I had riding a motorcycle for the first time as a woman. Including how I overcame them and how they helped me be the confident rider I am today.

This Motorcycle is too Heavy

It’s true, motorcycles are pretty damn heavy. It’s not that women are weak, it’s the fact that an engine is a heavy piece of equipment. And when added to the suspension, break system and wheels, a motorcycle isn’t light. Something I found very daunting at the start of my motorcycle journey.

It’s not just a problem for women either, it’s equally as daunting for men! Motorcycles come in all shapes and sizes, much like men and women. You’ve just got to find balance.

In addition to weight, turning corners on a ‘heavy’ motorcycle scared me most. Constantly feeling as though I’d drop it.

Riding round corners at any speed is really scary at first. It’s easy to feel as though you don’t have control of the motorcycle. But this is just a feeling, and in reality, you definitely do have the control. It’s all about trusting yourself and not letting the nerves get the better of you!

a yellow 50cc Honda Super Cub at the side of the road
The Honda Cub or Dream are great bikes to begin on; very light and easy move.

Another challenge with weight, is simply parking the motorcycle. I have to admit, I have dropped my motorcycle when trying to park it at least 50 times. Due to the nature of parking a motorcycle in Vietnam (up a deep kerb in front of a busy street), it can be pretty challenging. However, overtime I have realised, it’s all about balance, and letting the parking attendant do it for you if you really need to. They are often willing to help.

How to Manage the Weight of your Motorcycle

  • Consider choosing a lighter motorcycle. For example, Honda Blades are extremely popular in Vietnam, with locals and expats alike. These nifty little semi-automatic motorcycles are fairly light and easy to maneuver.
  • Try learning to ride a semi-automatic motorcycle. The reason being, automatic motorcycles have complex engines, which can be heavy. Whereas semi-autos are less complex, and therefore not as heavy.
  • Try learning to ride a semi-automatic motorcycle. The reason being, automatic motorcycles have complex engines, which can be heavy. Whereas semi-autos are less complex, and therefore not as heavy.

This Motorcycle is too Fast

Reaching speed on the back of two wheels with nothing but your helmet to keep you safe is both thrilling, and terrifying. For us women, at first, this is generally the latter. Controlling the speed of your motorcycle can be challenging at first to say the least. It is hard to know how much acceleration you’ll need, and how much brake is required to stop.

Getting on a motorcycle for the first time and turning on the engine is enough to make anyone a little nervous. This is why it is important that you try this on a quiet road, with little traffic first. DON’T head out into the centre of Hanoi without trying out your motorcycle first.

Take the time to build your confidence before you head out. There is nothing more daunting that thousands of eyes on you in a country where EVERYONE can ride. However, that being said, locals in Vietnam are always on hand to help you with your motorcycle.

If you do find yourself struggling to park, getting the motorcycle going or dropping it ever so slowly at some traffic lights. Don’t worry. Viet’s are always willing to help and will enjoy showing you how to handle your bike.

The team at Rent A Bike will encourage you to test your confidence on the motorcycle before renting. A simple run up and down the road is enough to help you become familiar with the motorcycle and it’s speed. You can even book to get complimentary training with every motorcycle rental.

How to Manage the Speed of your Motorcycle

  • Remember, there is no need to go fast when riding your motorcycle. Yes, not everyone rides slow in Vietnam. However, the vast majority of riders in Vietnam take things easy, and rarely drive too fast. In built up areas, the speed limit is generally 40km per hour. And on open roads, it is 60km per hour. Adhering to these limits will help keep you safe on the roads.
  • Always use your accelerator gently. The accelerator on every motorcycle is extremely sensitive. And everybody has a tendency to be too heavy handed with it. Remember: You only need to turn your accelerator by 1mm to gain speed!
  • Generally, you should always use your back brake to slow down. This will help you slow down with ease and help you avoid skidding on corners.
  • Lastly, but most importantly, DON’T let other vehicles make you feel as though you need to speed up. In Vietnam, 90% of motorcyclists adhere to the speed regulations, whist others go much slower. There is no need to feel as though you need to go fast. Slow and steady wins the race!

What If I Break Down?

Breaking down is common in Vietnam. Over the last two years, I have had at least 4 flat tyres. I have also found myself with a flat tyre in the middle of the North Vietnam mountains! The main thing to do in this situation is stay calm and don’t panic. Help will eventually arrive.

a local mechanic removing the rear tyre from a Honda XR 150
Even in the most remote places, we can usually help you find a mechanic—Just don't expect too much

On all of these occasions I called Rent A Bike and they either sent out one of their mechanics to help me or spoke to a local Vietnamese person over the phone. Both methods were equally effective and got me back on the road again in no time.

I know that’s easier said than done. However, on each and every occasion I have broken down, I have somehow found a way around it.

Luckily, the Vietnamese are extremely resourceful and helpful people. If a local spots you with a flat tyre, you can almost guarantee they will be able to help! Whether that’s by fixing it themselves, calling a friend to come and fix it for you or pointing you in the direction of someone who can help.

How to Manage a Break Down in Vietnam

Let’s face it, most of us women aren’t particularly knowledgeable when it comes to riding motorcycles and handling motorcycle engines. Personally, I didn’t have a clue where to start when I encountered a flat tyre on my motorcycle! In fact, I’m pretty sure I cried.

However, it doesn’t need to be that way. My biggest tip when it comes to renting a motorcycle in Vietnam, is to simply rent a good motorcycle from a trusted company. Easy really.

Trusted, and well established rentals, may be a tad more expensive. However, they are definitely worth the extra cost. At Rent A Bike, the team are always on hand to help. With staff members speaking excellent English, you will never find yourself in a difficult situation.

In addition to this, all motorcycles are serviced regularly and are well maintained. I never broke down and the only issue I had with my bikes were flat tyres; acts of God really.

If you do however find yourself breaking down in the middle of nowhere, below are a few steps we suggest you follow:

  • Contact your rental company and seek advice (it might be an issue you can resolve yourself) It is also important to let them know what is being done to the bike and so that you can avoid being overcharged or fooled.
  • Flag down a friendly local who will be able to point you in the right direction, or can contact someone who can help.
  • Look for a shop full of tools and old bike parts, 9 times out of 10, they can get you back on two wheels.

TOP TIP: Avoid cheap rentals at all costs. Motorcycles are often old, overused and not maintained well. Which means breaking down is a common occurrence. And as a result, they can end up being more costly. 

Vietnamese Traffic is Crazy !

one of our customers taking a Honda Vision from our shop in hanoi
one of our customers taking a Honda Vision from our shop in hanoi

Yes, it is no secret. The traffic in Vietnam is some of the craziest in the world. The simple fact that there are more motorcycles in the country than people, is testament to this. However, this shouldn’t put you off. In fact, the huge number of motorcycles in Vietnam is a good thing.

rush hour traffic in Vietnam
rush hour traffic in Vietnam

There are tonnes of people on the roads in the cities in Vietnam, and it seems there are very few road rules. And whilst this is often the case, it is not something you should let put you off becoming a female rider. Despite the apparent mayhem, actually riding on Vietnamese roads is more simple than you might think.

Once you’re on the back of a motorcycle, the road rules do in fact become apparent. You will begin to see the flow of traffic and understand that the incessant horns aren’t used out of aggression. They are in fact there to help and simply say “Hey, I’m here, watch out”.

How to Handle the Traffic in Vietnam

There are a few very easy steps to follow in order to stay safe on the roads in Vietnam. In fact, they’re all pretty obvious and a lot of staying safe is down to being sensible. Thousands of expats ride motorcycles on the roads in Vietnam every day with no issues.

Yes, minor accidents are common. However, they can be avoided and they are generally small bumps at 10km per hour.

My Tips for Staying Safe on the Road

Do I need to say ‘Don’t drink and drive?’ I don’t think so. However, you may not be aware that the legal blood alcohol level for driving is ZERO. Yes, ZERO, so you can’t even have 1 sip of Chardonnay, let alone a G and T, and then drive. 

1. Don't Speed

As I previously mentioned, there are speed limits in force in Vietnam. Although they aren’t made obvious in many situations, they are in place. It is important as a rider to be aware of these and adhere to them at all times. In short, if you’re driving at an acceptable speed, you will be better able to monitor the roads.

2. Be Alert

Being alert is important when driving on any road in the world, and Vietnam is no exception. Watch the motorcycles and riders around you. Move with the traffic and be somewhat of a sheep. When driving at the same speed and following the same path as the local next to you, your chance of having an accident is greatly decreased.

3. Wear Protection

It’s common in Vietnam to see locals (and expats alike) taking risks and riding on extremely busy roads WITHOUT a helmet. When riding a motorcycle, the best way to protect yourself is to wear a trusty helmet at all times. It always baffled me how many locals and their families I would see without helmets.

A helmet is quite simply the best way to protect yourself in the event of a motorcycle accident. They save lives, literally.

Before you get on the back of your motorcycle for the first time, make sure you have a trusty helmet on your head. It’s the first step to surviving the wild ride ahead of you.

Pollution in Vietnam is also a growing issue. Masks are available at Rent A Bike and are a great way to protect your precious lungs.

4. Never Take Chances

Overtime I found myself becoming more confident on my motorcycle, and in return I became more cocky. While this isn’t always a bad thing, it is when you start to take chances. You might think you can nip around a truck, ride at 80kmph on a highway or take a corner at speed. For sure, you can have a good go and you might get away with it; what if you don’t

don't argue with trucks on the wrong side of the road
Do your really want to argue Right of Way with this guy? credit: Hoi An Now

Sadly, whilst riding a motorcycle in Vietnam is generally safe, there are also a large number of deaths on the roads everyday. Expats aren’t exempt, accidents do happen and people have been known to be badly injured for life or, sadly, lose their lives.

Often in these cases the rider has taken a chance, ridden irresponsibly, or was simply not wearing any protection.

In short, you should NEVER take a chance. Be sensible and be safe.

How I Found Riding a Motorcyle as a Woman in Vietnam

Over the last two years living in Vietnam, I have been a proud female rider of a semi-automatic from Rent A Bike. During this time, I have gone from being shaky on the back of two wheels, to being completely confident. As I have previously discussed, there were a number of different fears I had initially. All of which have now diminished.

a girl driving a guy over the Hai Van Pass
a girl driving a guy over the Hai Van Pass

Me and my motorcycle are now at peace. In fact, I am even confident riding with my 6 foot husband on the back! Despite the initial fears I faced, I stuck with it and opened up my experience of living in Vietnam ten-fold.

If you’re considering learning to ride whilst living in Vietnam, I would completely suggest that you do so. Riding a motorcycle in Vietnam is a truly magical thing. The roads in this country are vast and surrounded by some of the most incredible scenery I have ever seen.

Over the last two years I have found myself cruising in the shade of palm trees along the Mekong Delta. Winding along the border of China in Ha Giang. Weaving through rice paddies in the province of Pu Luong. Meandering along one of the worlds most beautiful ocean roads in Da Nang. And speeding through the limestone valleys of Ninh Binh.

Vietnam is truly the most mysterious and beautiful country to be explored by motorcycle by both men and women.

Girls and Motorbikes DO belong Together

female motorbike rider vanessa ruck the girl on the bike
vanessa ruck aka 'the girl on the bike' shows you how to do it

One step beyond

Vanessa Ruck, aka The Girl On A Bike, pictured above, is a shining example of a female motorbike rider. Her story is quite compelling and probably quite different from yours. But, by the same token she is someone that shows you it is possible to take the bull by the horns and do what you previously never thought possible. Once you have gotten used to the smaller bikes like the Leads and the Blades, let’s say, take a look at her site for ‘tips for your first month of riding a motorcycle‘ and a whole lot more for some serious encouragement. 

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