The Kalashnikov among motorbikes
So what is the best way of touring the countryside in Vietnam? A motorbike, without question. But this being Vietnam, you need something simple. Sturdy. Reliable. You need the Kalashnikov among motorbikes. A bike that you can ride on mud, gravel or the street. Something you crash with on the street, get up and just continue riding. You need the Minsk!
Minsk used to be quite common in Vietnam. Vietnam was an alley of the Soviet Union before it fell apart. With Minsk being produced in the Soviet Union, they found their way to Vietnam where they became the common choice for transport. Now, however, Japanese bikes take over. Mainly because they are more reliable.
The Minsk is a 125CC two stroke motorbike and based on the pre-world war (yeah, we’re talking late 1930s) DKW RT 125. The Minsk we rode in Vietnam though were modified and featured a four-stroke engine, electric starter and a de-funct speedo. What else do you want?
Even today, the bikes are still being manufactured in Minsk, now the capital of Belarus. Given they’ve been selling the same motorbike for 70 years, it comes as no surprise that the company is loosing money. A 70 year old design isn’t any match to cheap Chinese bikes or reliable Japanese bikes.
In Vietnam, the Minsk has a loyal fan base with “Minsk Olympics” being held in Northern Vietnam. There’s even a Minsk Club Vietnam, members being predominantly expatriates in Vietnam.
So why is this bike so special? It has the sophistication and engineering of a Lada. It breaks down on a regular basis and apparently you can fix it with tape, grass and cow dung.
And that’s exactly what makes it special. It’s not the most sophisticated bike, it’s not a BMW 1200GS, but it’s just brilliant!
We rode through rain, fog and sunshine on gravel, tarmac and in 30cm deep mud. We rode up a hiking trail in the mountains. We crashed multiple times. And at the end of the day, this little machine just works. No matter what you do, it keeps running. Yes, the speedo doesn’t work, there’s no computer telling you your average speed, how many miles to the next fuel stop or the remaining days to your wife’s birthday. But honestly, who needs that when you’re riding through the most beautiful scenery in the world? All that matters is you, the scenery, the people and the bike.
And for that, the Minsk is just the perfect bike.
In Minsk we trust! Thank you Minsk for riding through Vietnam with us!