The Minsk is a stylish, almost indestructible Belarusian two stroke dirt bike with absolutely no frills attached, made in the town of the same name since the 1950s and the most popular of motorbikes imported into Vietnam…
The Minsk is a stylish, almost indestructible Belarusian two stroke dirt bike with absolutely no frills attached, made in the town of the same name since the 1950s and the most popular of motorbikes imported into Vietnam from the former Soviet Bloc countries. There are a few 175cc versions about (like the ones still used in Cuba), but nearly all are now the 125cc model, which is ample for local road and trail conditions. Right up until 2002, Minsks were imported into Vietnam not as road vehicles but as farm machinery and are still widely used as such. Any Vietnamese city slicker would not be seen dead on a Minsk nowadays, so those that you see in town either belong to someone bringing a pig to market, or to a foreigner. Out in the country, particularly in the mountainous north of Vietnam, is another story: there are Minsks everywhere, along with people who know how to fix them and a good supply of spare parts. Here it is known affectionately as the old buffalo and carries impossible loads through some of the wildest of terrain imaginable.
Many experts and independent travelers find them the ideal multipurpose vehicle: cheap and easy to rent, buy, run and maintain, very stable if a touch heavy to man oeuvre in town, perfect for touring through the stunningly beautiful countryside. There’s even a fairly comfortable seat with room for a passenger and luggage. And if you buy your own, they’re very easy to sell when you leave Vietnam, probably for the same price you paid for it. If you catch the Minsk bug, DO remember that the two-stroke engine will soon seize up and die without at least one part oil to 25 parts petrol (4 percent): you should always be able to see smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe (which explains why the Minsk doesn’t feature in our section on eco-tourism…).
DO try kick-starting and stopping it several times over before you rent (or buy) a Minsk: once it’s going, there’s not much that will stop it, but you must be able to start it without too much hassle. DON’T despair if it does die on you: if you still have petrol, it’s probably only the sparkplug. Unscrew it with the special tool that came with the bike, clean it, check the gap with a penknife blade or similar (it should be around 7mm) and screw it back in. Still no luck? Put in a spare sparkplug. Nine times out of ten, this will get your Minsk going again. DON’T buy any motorbike without some form of paperwork: it doesn’t matter if it’s not in your name, but without these you have no proof the bike is yours and you won’t be able to sell it. DO contact the Minsk Club, a loose union of (mostly expert) enthusiasts, based in Hanoi. They can help with finding decent maps, mechanics and up-to-date travel information. In Hanoi, they also occasionally organize Minsk repair workshops and some of the best parties in town, a bar and restaurant in Hanoi’s Old Quarter with strong Minsk connections.