What commuter is best for me?
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Most often when customers come to me to buy or rent a bike they have some idea of what they like the look of but little idea of what will suit their physical size, intended use, experience and budget the best. We sell and rent everything so without bias I take pride in matching people with a bike they will be happy with ongoing and not just the day they pick it up. Here's a basic overview of type and some of our preferred sales and rental models for your perusal.
Generally preferred as a commuter at least by less experienced riders. Front and rear brakes both on the handlebars and its basically twist the throttle and away you go. I've been riding and racing all of my adult life and still have an auto for short local commuting.
These have gears but no manual clutch. Front brake in your right hand and rear right foot as with a full manual. Easy to get used to and more fuel efficient than an auto particularly if the commute involves longer highway stretches. Choose the right one and also quite a capable out of towner. I don't recommend these however for anyone with a view of going to a full manual.
Generally this is a motorcycle rather than a commuter. It's only in the last 6 or 7 years that manufacturers have offered full manual underbone scooters and certainly not for everyone around the city. They are fast and nimble and mostly preferred by the boy racers or as a starting point for those wanting to take the step up to a motorcycle. You are required to manually disengage the drive from the engine with the clutch lever in your left hand. New riders will find this tiresome in heavy traffic.
Yamaha Nouvo Generations 1, 2 and 3
These, in their glory years were previous to my tenure in Vietnam though I have over the years used them as a budget rental and set countless numbers of them up with luggage racks to head North for the motorpacker also with tight purse strings. They get a pretty bad wrap these days which isnt completely fair. Gen 1 dates back to 2002 and are now pretty rare. Gen 2 and 3 though cosmetically a bit nicer and with the inclusion of dash pockets are still around in their thousands and given the last one rolled off the assembly line over a decade ago its fair to argue they have indeed stood the test of time. Most likely fuel or electical issues will be responsible for a breakdown. Many can be easily identified by the sound of transmission bearing noise due to lack of maintenance. Mostly the motors despite often being neglected also tend to be reasonably bullet proof.
Yamaha Nouvo Generation 4
This bike changed the whole perception of Nuovos for many. Yamaha made a major marketing error by keeping the Nouvo name at this point in my opinion as it is unlike the first three generations which were bit lacking in so many ways. Firstly the 108cc engine of its predecessors went to 132cc, they improved the transmission and changed the geometry. In short a spritely and powerful commuter which poses very good value for money and became a favoured choice for companies hiring out bikes to tourists and expats alike. One of these in good order still poses good value to someone on a budget but still wants a good performer with reasonable reliability.
Yamaha Nouvo Generation 5 and 6
Yes I put these two together as other than cosmetics there isnt too much between them. A small reduction in engine size from the Generation 4 but going to fuel injection was the right move forward and power delivery is at least equivalent with improved fuel economy. The handling and agility in traffic is at least as good as anything in its class and comparitive to the Honda Airblade which here amongst the locals is its favoured competitor although it doesnt hold its value quite as well so is a good option at the price point second hand.
Finally after 15 years of Yamahas iconic Nouvo the NXV made its debut in 2017 and I was a big fan initially. On the plus side it had a great new look and the geometry if under 180cm tall is okay. Where Yamaha let themselves down was braking and suspension. A rear suspension upgrade on the early ones was a big improvement but the front end is soft out of the box though can be cheaply stiffened up. A rear drum brake on the 155cc model at least is just wrong. The passengers seat is thin and though I never ride pillion I imagine not too comfortable long haul. The 125cc version is bit slow out of the hole as the bike is considerably bigger than the Gen 6 Nouvo before it so the 155cc is better matched to the bike in my opinion. I had one of these as my personal town bike for a while and had my engine builder take it to 250cc. That certainly made it a fun ride but reliability was compromised long term. Worthy of note if you are 180cm tall plus, the leg room behind the dash is insufficient unless riding with your legs splayed which compromises safety and posture.
First seen in 2016 these were no doubt introduced to compete with the hugely popular Honda Vision. With a 125cc engine against the 110cc Vision that should have been easy but sales would not reflect this. It took me a while to take them seriously too. In recent times though I've bought a few and been very happy with them as have their new owners. Definately worthy of consideration as a lower priced ladies commuter.
I completely overlooked this bike until around a year ago when a very nice matt black one was offered to me and I test rode on looks alone. I couldn't believe how comfortable it was and although a bigger bike than the Janus adequately powered by the fuel injected 125cc engine. Great under seat space as no doubt its direct competitor the Honda Lead has but also with smaller circumference wheels than i like. This has got a 12 inch rear though so for some would be enough to get the nod. As a local shopping or family run about worth a look.
This is a great little semi-auto which many love for its light weight and manoeverability. They are super fuel efficient ridden right and also very reliable. No underseat space makes it a pain as a commuter though so hence not super popular with expats. Look around though and like the Wave, Honda's equivalent the locals love them.
Where to start with these? Im going to start at the end by saying I think out of the box the latest Exciter is the best manual underbone Ive ridden. Its a SOHC, 5 speed so sure the Honda Winner on paper has the edge around claimed horsepower and top end but unless your racing it doesnt mean much around town. Keep in mind Yamaha have had this market in Vietnam pretty much to themselves until recently so their decade of experience should have it right. Prior to 2015 these were 135cc and they are a good little pick up if looking to get onto a manual at the lower price point. As with all the manuals no under seat carry space so its a back pack or top box fitted as an effective commuter.
Honda Airblade (2011- 2012)
This is as old as i go with Airblades and not because there was anything wrong with the earlier fully imported models but more the fact its hard to know what your getting. The Chinese produced a lot of, in that day, sub standard replacement parts which to the local mechanics posed a far healthier profit margin. These bikes have a 110ccFi engine and I simply can't get enough of them as a great all round budget commuter to buy or rent.
Honda Airblade (2013 - 2015)
These are without doubt our most popular sales bike and as the prices come back a little adding loads to the rental fleet as well. I guess popular because they have proven their reliability too me and are also well balanced and practical so i steer customers to them for sure. Went to a 125ccFi engine with good underseat space, fuels in the front so good weight balance and pretty much bang on what most have as a budget.
Honda Airblade (2016 - Current)
These are everything the previous one was so an amazing bike but in the market command 8 - 10M more investment. With the same basic running gear I'm not sure its worth the extra spend but as time goes and with a new shape not too far away that will change. For sure there are some refinements, LED lights most notably. Otherwise though its cosmetics, lower k's and better condition that would justify the extra money.
This is hands down my favourite scooter for smaller ladies. Hit the streets in Vietnam in 2011 and has taken a big chunk of the ladies market. Its an aircooled 110cc so light weight but still has plenty of punch. The cut away style makes it easy to get on and off and even wearing a short skirt or dress allows you to keep your dignity. Theres a hook for shopping bags and ample underseat space for a decent helmet and rain jacket. Lovely little bike.
The earliest ones of these Ive seen here are 2009 and they have 110cc engines. In 2013 we started to see the water cooled 125ccFi versions and a big surge in popularity. On the positive side they have a smooth, strong power delvery, loads of under seat storage, a big wide floor space and a low seat height. In short seen as ideal for the family shopping vehicle or the Transit Van of scooters if you like. For me the down side is the smaller wheel circumference. The tyre is wider than many scooters so braking efficiency is still pretty good but the handling on our less than perfect road surfaces here and particularly in flood water can be an issue. Also for smaller ladies a bit of a lump to manouver in and out of parking. All in all though a good practical bike.
New to the market in 2018 these are basically little rockets. They run a 150cc fuel injected and water cooled engine in a bike physically not much bigger than a Vision. It would be hard to argue against this as the quickest and possibly also most agile full auto bike for city commuting. If I had to find a down side it would be that it has a drum brake and only a single pot front disk caliper. It seems to pull up pretty well but I get the feeling as it ages braking efficiency might be lacking compared to the speeds it is most likely to be ridden at. Having said that there is already an aftermarket rear disk kit available so it really isnt a deal breaker. It short it puts a big grin on my face riding it and thats a lot of what riding is about. Thumbs up!
Honda SH Mode
If you feel a strong, comfortable and reliable scooter is your fit this is definately worth a look. The middle sister between the Vision and the SH150i. They sport a 125ccFi engine and just feel a lot more solid on the road than most others though a little higher price range. They are a bike that i feel the other manufacturers have failed to produce a competitor to. This is surprising as they are very popular with Vietnamese ladies and seen somewhat as a status symbol. If your riding one of these you're doing okay!
Honda SH 150i
This has been my daily city bike for the last couple of years and the longer I ride them the better it feels. Based on what's available right now I wont change to anything else. Coming off the NVX 155 it felt rather strange initially but as I changed my riding style to suit it performs beautifully particularly when ridden a little more aggressively. What I really do love about it is its stature. Its high ride position helps read the traffic ahead better and the leg room and comfortable seat make it one of the best on the market for longer journeys. Far from a cheap bike but if your prepared to shell out the money it holds its value very well so over time works out pretty cost effective for a very nice big scooter. For men over 180cm its the king for sure and has no equal carrying the family.
If your going for a semi-automatic these are the standout best. I don't stock the very early ones but since 2013 a really well designed and balanced bike with a 125ccFi engine. The underseat space is equal to most automatics, wide comfortable seat and being a chain drive manual great fuel economy and reliability. We use these as a touring alternative to the Honda XR 150 for those not comfortable with a full manual and couldn't be happier with their performance.
Honda RSX Wave
I could just cut and paste what i said about the Yamaha Sirius here qand be done. This to me is which one you like the look of. The important thing though if choosing the Honda is ensuring it is a genuine Honda. So many knock offs of these its not funny and like the early Airblades even the genuine ones can often have sub standard replacement parts fitted. No matter what the engine casings say if its not Honda on the blue card, its not Honda.
The Winner came here in 2017 as Hondas entrant in the 150cc underbone manual race. By race I mean that quite literally. These 150cc manuals are now the most popular bike with the young and spirited riders amongst the locals and they find deserted areas at night to put their riding ability to the test. The Winner in true Honda form trumped the opposition at least on paper with a DOHC engine and 6 speed gearbox. It sits a little higher too so is favoured my taller riders. On the downside the seat is terrible particularly over any reasonable distance and slopes forward. It can be fixed for 650k and believe me this is a must. Surely they will fix this in future models. Fun factor its five star but with no under seat storage a backpack everywhere or a top box fitted is a must for it to be an effective commuter.
This for me of the budget end bikes for taller males is the winner. I have many as rentals and they rarely give problems and are very cost effective to maintain in any case. Even with a couple of crash damaged ones I was very surprised how cheaply they were repaired. The majority of these are 125cc but also were offered new with a 150cc and 170cc engine. You rarely see the 150s so I assume anyone who could afford the upgade went straight to the 170. Many dealers may not have even stocked the 150 option. The 125 is a solid bike but does lack power at the bottom end. Once its up and going the power delivery is adequate for such a big bike. The bottom end acceleration issue can be simply solved though with a cost effective engine upgrade to 175cc. Ive done this conversion countless times without ever having a problem and it improves the power considerably. This however does not equal the factory 170. The 170 is standard with a rear disk brake as it should be on a big bike with a strong power curve. The 170 as it is harder to find has held its value really well and for the same year and kms sits at least 5M VND higher in the market but in my opinion worth every dong!
The 50cc brigade
Yes I'm going to pile them all into one. They are of course lacking power but are a great option for students 16-18 years who don't want to spend an hour in a traffic jam to and from school everyday. The mums who don't have a bike licence and want to ferry the little ones for the same reason or the local run to the shops. I have heaps of options with these. Semi-auto and full auto. All are cute in their own way. Super fuel efficient and as long as your not in a hurry have proven very reliable.
Honda XR 150L Last but certainly not least this is the only motorcycle we offer as a practical commuter. Generally its people who are already motorcyclists or want to explore the country that choose to go this way. The clutch is light, the gearbox smooth and you can take it literally anywhere. It has adequate brakes and suspension which are the two areas where underbone scooters are found lacking for use out of the city. Unbelievably cheaper than the high end scooters and so much more bike!