Day 191: Meet the new steed: Donkey
She's no power horse, but the engine runs well and the tires spins. Photo: Leh
ACROSS the Red River Leh and I end outside of house number 71, Lane 66, Ngoc Thuy, Long Bien, which is Trang Dinh's motorcycle shop.
A sliding gate opens up to a mess of motorcycle parts. A nice dirt bike is in pieces, as three young mechanics pull apart some scooters under a corrugated metal roof behind the cement block wall.
I call Trang to let him know we've arrived.
Trang's an older, middle-aged man who speaks great English. I found him through one of the Hanoi Buy and Sell Facebook groups.
“Wait a couple minutes. One of the boys is going to get a bike to show you,” Trang says.
Earlier, Trang promised that his shop had both the cheap Chine Win's for $260 - $280 dollars and the Vietnamese made Win Sufats for closer to $350 dollars. Even the Chines cost more than I want to spend on a bike, but I'd read a couple good things about online Trang and am confident I could trust any bike he sells me.
Trang as a solid business established with hooking backpackers up with bikes. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
There's a bit of awkward silence. Leh and I slip over to some steps to sit down. I brush off the step next to me for her, before pointing out that it's the gesture that counts.
The first bike that arrives looks pretty good. It's a Win Sufat that Trang's willing to sell for $300.
“If there are any changes you want to make to the bike, tell me and we'll make them,” Trang says.
“I get on the bike. I putt down the road, shifting through the four gears. At the far end of the lane, I kill the bike. The electric starter isn't working. Well, he'll have to change the battery at the very least.
I pull in the clutch and try to kick start the bike, but the kick start doesn't catch on anything. I kick it several more times, but there's nothing. Not a good sign.
Trang pops down on the other bike to rescue me.
“Can't kick start it?”
“No, doesn't seem to work.”
He watches me try.
“Don't pull in the clutch.”
I kick start the bike without holding the clutch in and it jumps to life.
“I had no idea,” I say with a sheepish smile.
Riding the bike back, it's pulling to the left. It's not bad, but it's consistent, and, over a long distance, would be tiresome to say the least.
The second bike roars to life. I can't believe this one is the cheaper Chine.
This is the bike. It handles well and is full of life.
“So how much is this one?” I ask.
“It's 350 dollars.”
“Oh, I thought it was the Chine.”
“No, one of the boys took the Chine and I don't know where they went. So these both are Sufats. A Sufat is better anyway, better to spend the money now instead of having to put more and more money into the bike when it breaks down,” Trang says. He goes on to narrate a fictional story of me getting stuck with a broken bike way up in the mountains with no mechanic down hill from me.
After being on the second bike, the poor performance of the first is even more obvious. I don't want the first bike, but then again, do I really want to spend $350 on a bike that I'm going to use for a month. At that price, I'm guaranteed to be losing money when I attempt to re-sell it.
“I feel like the wheels aren't balanced right on this one,” I say, referring to the cheaper bike.
“It's not that. It's the handle bars,” Trang says.
He tries to explain. I don't get it.
“Either way, don't worry we can change and make it however you need.”
Leh waves me over.
“Someone just posted a bike for $120 dollars,” she says. The bike looks good.
Based on the description of what's been recently replaced, it's hard to imagine what's old on the bike. The bike, being sold by a guy name Garth, is worth a look.
This description comes in a wild mess of people trying to polish turds on Facebook:
"I'm selling it for $250, PM for more info!
Comes with the whole package:
If necessary, manual bike driving lessons" one person posts.
BARGAIN!! HONDA WIN FOR SALE AT $200!!
“Lap it up guys, here is a good example of a Honda win... This bike is the ideal road trip transport, it's done me incredibly well and I feel it still has a lot more to offer,” one reads.
“Ever feel like there's a caged animal trapped inside you? Only one cure for that, get a fucking sick motorcycle. A 125cc Custom Daelim Off-roader. This Black Beauty will you get you to work like a full blown go-hard, it'll transport you and your shotgun through the zombie apocalypse and give you a new platform for barreling down the road with the wind tearing at your clothes screaming "I AM ALIVE!" On the way to fucking bikram yoga,” reads another
“Looking for two solid travel mates to do Vietnam with? Look no more! We are selling our friends that have traveled with us for three weeks without any complains!” reads a third.
Moments ago, I was teetering toward buying the nicer of the two bikes from Tran. Leh caught me within minutes of biting the bullet and coughing up the cash.
That was yesterday, today we're waiting for the guy selling the bike, Garth, to drop off his Vietnamese girlfriend, wash the bike and meet us near Leh's place.
Garth's a English teacher in Hanoi. When I got online last night, I discovered we had a mutual friend: a girl I met on Tinder in Chiang Mai.
I dropped her a line: “How well do you know Garth? He's selling a motorcycle. I want to buy it, I think.”
“Well enough to know he's a great guy who wouldn't screw someone over,” she wrote back.
That pretty much settled it. Based on the description of the bike, the price and my Tinder friend's confidence in Garth as a person, it seems like his bike will be mine for a token fee.
“Hey Garth, my friend Leh has been in touch about buying the bike. She said we could give it a test ride and pay after you wash it this morning. What time were you thinking? Kinda of eager to get my bike situation sorted out :)
“If it rides smoothly, I'm pretty planning on giving you cash on the spot,” I write in the morning.
Garth confirms the meet up at 2pm. Leh and I finish up our errands and head back to her apartment.
The long-haired South African ramps the curb in front of Leh's place. Donkey isn't as beautiful as she looked in the pictures with a cracking, thick black paint refevealing an akward blue paint job sotime in her distant past.
Garth takes the $120 dollars cash and leaves me the key to Donkey. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The reason she's so cheap is because Garth lost the registration. Technically, he can't sell it without the registration, but as a backpacker – I don't need the official paperwork. The vast majority of bikes owned by foreigners – at least those passing through Vietnam – are never registered in their name anyway.
“Careful with her in first, she's got some kick,” Garth says in his heavy South African accent.
It takes a second to find where neutral is on the bike, but with Garth's help, I manage. On the road, the bike handles fine. The engine is strong, the suspension is new. She's cheap as chips.
“Perfect mate,” I say, getting off the bike.
I hand him the $120 cash he gives me the key. There is the awkward moment where we both seem to feel like their should be some paperwork to certify the transaction. But there's not. It's a cash for goods exchange.
The this bike, dubbed Donkey, is nothing like my old Honda CB500X, Rocinante, she'll do.
That'll do Donkey, that'll do.
I have my new steed. Let's see where she takes us. Photo: Leh