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January 16, 2017
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January 30, 2017

If the majority of the roads in your country are green, as in lacking in tarmac, you would think that the availability of modern, big suspension, lightweight bikes would be abundant. Think again.

As Bristol TRF member Chris Barrable discovered on a recent trip to Vietnam, it's the age old reliable and repairable Russian Minsk that leads the way. Would it make for any less of an adventure though?

Run by Explore Indochina, this guided and supported 8 day trip from Hanoi skirted the Chinese border region of Vietnam for 8 days and some 800 miles, riding minor roads with many ‘goat’ tracks thrown in for good measure. The food was of excellent quality from the lunch stop picnics to the evening meals, which were all local dishes similar to Chinese food but way tastier without all the additives. The hotels were all of a very high standard and we mostly had a room each. A relatively straightforward description so far – there are many advertisements with similar themes to choose from in the media- however this is a tale of adventure…

Adventure: “an exciting or unusual experience; a bold, usually risky undertaking with an uncertain outcome”.

Explore Indochina has led motorcycle tours in the remote parts of Vietnam for over 20 years, and whilst exiting and unusual in itself, is made more ‘adventurous’ by choosing to use the Minsk motorcycle.

The Minsk has a very low and comfortable seat with a low centre of gravity and a very soft torquey engine. The conventional front and rear suspension feel rather springy and undamped with quite short travel at both ends but the ground clearance is enormous and we (mostly) failed to bottom anything out bouncing along the trail. By our standards they are crude and some would say not a very good choice for an adventure but I disagree.


Modern dirt bikes are so advanced and sophisticated, allowing the bike to cope so amazingly well with trail conditions, that you tend to ride harder and faster to get your thrills. You become focused on the bike and the terrain, less so on looking sideways at the scenery and the places you are passing through. It also means you become more reliant on the engineering technology to keep you in control. If you step back a few decades in technological sophistication, such as on a Minsk, you will find the same journeys need more rider care and ability to compensate, which makes for a more engaging and adventurous journey.

Admittedly ours were upgraded with Honda 200 4-stroke engines in place of the original archaic 2-stroke but otherwise these bikes with their dubious Russian build quality, doubtful brakes and seemingly undamped suspension only added to the “uncertain outcome” part of the adventure definition. That said, we 8 punters on this trip failed to break the bikes on the varied and sometimes challenging trails we rode; if you forgive a burnt out clutch due to too much clutch work up an hour’s gnarly boulder strewn goat track, and a holed crank case due to smashing into a boulder. Such trail side repairs being seemingly all within the stride of the following mechanic with a workshop in his panniers!

The northern Vietnam-China border region is a mountainous area; in the east of tall limestone outcrops rising vertically hundreds of feet from the flat fertile valley floors to high but more rolling mountains in the west. We rode small local roads most in a relatively poor condition by our road standards but there were also many of what we know as green roads; used by locals to access their fields, houses and communities but which have not had the tarmac treatment. In some cases these rocky dirt roads go on for a hundred miles or so. Think riding Strata Florida for 8 days! For me this trip involved some of the most amazing scenery and people I have come across and it has to be said, the most significant element in any travellers tales is not the where and how but the who. The people on the tour, both punters, tour leader and back up guys and more importantly the various locals we encountered humbled our lifestyles and brought me back a peg or two to what life and adventure means.

Ask yourself not why you should do something amazing but why should you not!


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