Last updated May 2020 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
INTRODUCTION | CONTENTS | RELATED POSTS
A week ago, in late May 2020, my motorbike (known affectionately to me as ‘Stavros’) turned 13 years old. Synchronously, almost as if the events had been scripted, the odometer ticked over to 200,000km. My motorbike, Stavros, is a 2007 model Yamaha Nouvo 115cc automatic. Over the last 13 years, Stavros and I have been everywhere together: all of the 250 or so travel guides, motorbike routes, food and drink guides, and accommodation reviews on this website have been produced on the back of Stavros’ efforts to get me there and take me back again. Together, we had visited all of Vietnam’s 63 provinces and municipalities. What’s more, to the best of my recollection of riding 200,000km over 13 years in Vietnam, we’ve never had to turn back. Stavros has been a worthy companion and a veritable workhorse: I am astonished by Stavros’ achievements.
MY MOTORBIKE, STAVROS
This page is an ode to my motorbike, Stavros. Below, I’ve written brief summaries of several aspects of my motorbike and my relationship with it over the years, including lots of photos. Click an item from the contents to read more:
- Introducing ‘Starvros’
- The Birth of ‘Stavros’
- The Life of ‘Stavros’
- The Future for ‘Stavros’
- Related Posts
54 Images of My Motorbike, Stavros
Stavros is a gold-painted, 115cc, 2007 edition, Yamaha Nouvo, and I love it. Now 13 years-old, and having clocked-up over 200,000km, Stavros has taken me all over Vietnam. Back in 2007, my motorbike was new, shiny, gold, and a relatively coveted model in Vietnam. I called it ‘Stavros’ as a kind of joke, because the bike had a masculine, macho arrogance about it: I imagined Stavros as a self-confident (perhaps self-deluded), tanned Mediterranean male, who thought of himself as a bit of a ladies’ man, and who wore his shirt unbuttoned to reveal a hairy chest and a gold medallion.
I confess to having very limited mechanical knowledge of bikes: I’m more passionate about motorbiking than I am motorbikes. But, although I can’t claim to have personally nursed my motorbike to this milestone, I have paid for Stavros to be maintained as regularly as possible at Yamaha garages throughout Vietnam. Indeed, the older my motorbike gets, the more diligent I become about taking Stavros to be checked over. Additionally, I have always treated Stavros with a certain level of respect: my motorbike is the most essential piece of equipment I own – in many ways it’s my livelihood and, to some extent, my life is in its hands on a daily basis. On the other hand, I have also been rough and demanding with Stavros: there have been many occasions when I’ve ridden over 500km in a single day (a lot on Vietnam’s roads), or ridden in deep mud or up steep goat paths or on rough roads made entirely of big, sharp boulders – none of which are conditions that Stavros was designed for. And yet, everything I’ve asked of it, Stavros has done. Stavros has never really let me down. And, as far as I can recall, I’ve never had to turn back. In this way, over the years I’ve forged a relationship with Stavros in much the same way as you might with a horse: I care for it and love it and reward it, but I ask and demand a lot from it in return.
I’m under no illusions: Stavros is not a glamorous bike; it’s not a powerful bike; it’s not a rare bike; it will not become a collectors’ bike. But it is my bike: I know its history, its heritage, and its heroics. It has been a workhorse of a machine, and I couldn’t have done what I have with this website, or have been where I have in Vietnam, without Stavros. Stavros has taken me to some sublime places, most of which I would never have seen or even known existed, were it not for the independence and freedom that my motorbike has given me in Vietnam.
The Birth of Stavros:
I bought my motorbike brand new in Saigon’s Chinatown (Chợ Lớn) for 30 million Viet Nam Đong. In 2007, that was equivalent to about $2,000, making it the single most expensive item I’d ever purchased. At that time, my Vietnamese bank only allowed customers to withdraw 2,000,000VNĐ per time from their cash machines, and the highest denomination note was 100,000VNĐ. This meant I had to insert my bank card 15 times to reach the total cost of my motorbike, and, by the time I’d finished – after exhausting the supply of two ATMs – I had 300 bank notes stuffed into my pockets. It was a nervous walk from the cash machine to the motorbike shop. Bought new, Stavros was guaranteed for 2 years or 50,000km. Now, in May 2020, Stavros has been on the road for 13 years and over 200,000km.
I still remember my first road trips with Stavros. Initially, I enjoyed riding around Saigon late at night (when the roads are quiet) with my girlfriend at the time on the back, or with one of my friends riding pillion for company. But my first ride outside the city limits was to Tay Ninh, a province northwest of Saigon, near the Cambodian border. It’s only a hundred kilometres and not a remarkable ride. But I remember how green the rice paddies were that reached to the sides of the highway and all the way to the flat horizon. And I remember the rains that fell with dusk on the unlit highway during the return journey. My next road trips were along the Ocean Road to Mui Ne and into the Central Highlands on the mountain roads to Dalat. These were the first of many hundreds of road trips that Stavros and I would undertake together.
The Life of Stavros:
Stavros’ life has not been easy, but it has been adventurous, hard-working, and exciting. Over more than a decade on Vietnam’s roads, Stavros has endured the traffic-clogged, exhaust-choked streets of Saigon’s rush hour on thousands of occasions; stood up to the driving rain, gale-force winds, and biblical lightning of monsoon season typhoons on the central coast; survived the mud-filled mountain roads and landslides of the extreme northern highlands; suffered the potholes and red dirt roads of my many ill-conceived ‘short-cuts’ in the Central Highlands; and withstood the oppressive heat and humidity of the Mekong Delta baking in the late dry season sun. Stavros has crossed the country many dozens of times on its own two wheels, but also on trains and buses, and crossed the seas and rivers and lakes of Vietnam on boats, ferries and wooden rafts. Stavros has been camping in cold pine forests and on empty beaches and by mountain rivers. And Stavros has even met with one or two minor collisions. There have been some breakdowns (including a bizarre puncture on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road – one of the most deserted stretches of road in Vietnam – that was caused by a bamboo toothpick, which somehow entered the inch-thick tubeless back tyre at a 45° angle), but never any meltdowns: I’ve never lost my temper with Stavros, which is more than I can say for my other personal equipment. As a part of my life for over a decade, Stavros has made acquaintance with, and even transported, most of the people I know or have known. My family and friends visiting from the UK, my expatriate friends (who come and go, as is the nature of expatriates in Vietnam) and my young Vietnamese friends (who also come and go, as is the nature of Vietnamese youth, many of whom leave to study or work or live abroad), and my romantic partners (who also come and go). Stavros, however, has been a constant in my life since 2007.
Reaching 200,000km means that the odometer has rolled over to zero on two separate occasions: when the dial reads 99,999km it starts again from 00,000km. The first time this happened (the first 100,000km), I was riding on the Ho Chi Minh Road somewhere in Thua Thien Hue Province, roughly 20km south of A Luoi in cold, rainy conditions, with my good friend Sam, who’d joined me for a three-week road trip from Saigon to Hanoi, in August 2013. The second time the odometer rolled over to zero (200,000km), I was in Saigon, just metres from my home in Binh Thanh District, on a hot and humid afternoon on my way back from teaching English, in May 2020.
Now, however, Stavros is surely entering old age, and signs of wear and tear are starting to show. The plastic lamination, which I covered the entire body with when I bought the motorbike to protect it from scratches, is now blistering and flaking off, making it look as though Stavros has a rare skin disease. Various pipes on the underbody have turned a rust-brown and the square, Transformer-esque body looks boxy and heavy compared to the sleek and slender designs that are available today. But, I don’t care about any of this. In fact, the more worn, unfashionable and used Stavros looks, the more unyielding, rugged and tough he seems to me. I’m suspicious of bikers whose motorbikes are too ‘precious’, always looking pristine and virginal, as if they’re fresh off the showroom floor: where’s the evidence of all the epic journeys it’s made, all the road it’s eaten, the weather it’s endured, the adventures? It’d be like seeing a rugby team at the end of 80 minutes’ play with all their shirts still as crisp, white and unblemished as when they were fresh from the laundry. In fact, despite his bedraggled appearance, Stavros even made it onto the GIVI display stall at the 2015 Vietnam Motorbike Festival in Ho Chi Minh City. Other motorbike enthusiasts at the show may have scoffed and sneered as they passed Stavros by, but he’s still going strong today, even after 13 years and 200,000km.
I once bumped into someone I know on Highway 1 during the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday. He pulled up alongside me on his big, white, expensive motorcycle and couldn’t help but laugh at the state of my mud-caked, flaky-skinned, old Yamaha Nouvo. But Stavros is thick-skinned (well, metaphorically, at least) and he can take this teasing because he’s been up and down, side to side, round and round the country dozens of times, and he’s still purring away, eager to do it all over again. Stavros has matured and grown into himself. When young, he was overly concerned with outward appearances and what other people thought of him; now, he realizes, what really counts is what’s on the inside: in this case, the engine, and Stavros has proven his to be robust, strong, determined, and long-lived.
The Future for Stavros:
As a road cruiser, Stavros still performs brilliantly: it glides along the straights, purrs through the corners; it’s smooth and reliable with a range of 140-170km to the tank (depending on the terrain); it’s still a great bike for long, on-road journeys through Vietnam, eating up 300km+ on a daily basis. And even when I recently took Stavros along hundreds of kilometres of steep, dirt roads through highland forest on an extended camping trip, I was amazed by its toughness and endurance.
However, despite these remarkable achievements, I know that Stavros is old and tired and more prone to wear and tear than previously, and it costs me more and more money to maintain. In particular, Stavros has significantly lost power going uphill and especially struggles when loaded down with the extra weight of luggage or a passenger. The engine gets very hot after a couple of hours riding in the tropical sun and I have to change the oil after every trip. Ultimately, I accept the fact that I will have to buy a new motorbike soon. If Stavros was to break down and die tomorrow, I would need to consider my next motorbike. I’d have to give this a lot of thought, of course: Would I buy another automatic or a manual? another Yamaha or a different manufacturer? a larger capacity bike and a model that can go off-road or another on-road cruiser? I don’t yet know the answers to these questions. In fact, what I’d really like to do is replace my petrol-powered two-wheeled transportation with an electric one. Indeed, there are already some interesting options for this in Vietnam. However, I hope that day won’t come any time soon: for the time being, Stavros is still alive and doing (almost) everything I ask of him.
Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free & independent. I have no affiliation with Yamaha whatsoever. I’ve written this article because I want to: I like my motorbike & I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here
I would love to do the trip. Thinkinh about doing it in september.
My issue is that i dont have a motorbike driverlicens, but are experienced in scooters. Is it possible to drive the distance by scooter?
Yes, you can ride Vietnam on a scooter – that’s what ‘Stavros’ is.
For details about licenses, I suggest you contact the reputable motorbike rental companies that I recommend on this page.
You are an engaging storyteller with a clear talent for the written word. From a traveller preparing for a month on the roads of Vietnam – your site is a well-organized treasure of valuable information. Thank you for this.
Thank you for your kind words and I hope that your one month motorbike road trip in Vietnam will be a memorable one.
Have you been on QL 14C from Dak Mil to Plei Can ?
Yes, in general it’s best to avoid it because almost everyone gets stopped by border authorities and either sent back or escorted to the nearest town. Also borders are particularly sensitive right now.
I hope this helps,
Thanks Tom for infos about the guards.
There is a commercial bus accident recently near Plei Can, I thought I would try 14C this time on the way to Prao instead of AH17(QL14) to see how it likes.
May have to wait for the better time then.
Wonderfully sentimental write up of your bike. It just goes to show with care an attention a small automatic can be just as reliable as a manual. They’re more comfortable than a Wave etc and they carry a lot more which comes in tremendously handy. I’ve been taking my Hayate up and down the country when possible for a few years now, it’s only been with me for 3 years so far but never let me down.
Thanks, Simon. And I hope your Hayate continues to run well and takes you on many more road trips across Vietnam.
Hi Tom Congratulations to both you and Stavros on a remarkable 200K achievement. Also thanks for your great routes and advise on motorbike travel in Vietnam. Having followed many of your routes over the years from Mekong Delta travel to Ha Giang and many other up and down the country they are 2nd to none and a testament to your knowledge and support for other riders. Keep it up….I’m looking forward to reading about the next 200K…thank you Nick
Thanks, Nick. Glad to hear you’ve enjoyed travelling Vietnam too, and have followed some of the routes on my site. I will try to keep my bike going for another 200,000km….but it’s unlikely 🙂
I am not a big fan for motorcycle. When we are in Da Nang with a baby, I even hated these motorcycles parked randomly on the pedestrian lane. But I do like the way how you describe your Stavros, as if its your long term friend. He witnessed your 13-y adventures in Vietnam. He is your Best loyal friend that you could rely on. I hope you could keep him as long as possible! Bravo!
Thanks, I will try to keep Stavros on the road as long as possible 🙂
Congratulations STAVROS!! ????
Congratulations to you and Stavros, 200K Kms is incredible, you chose a fantastic bike and a fantastic country to ride?
Is it easy to rent automatic bikes in Vietnam, are they popular?
I can ride an automatic confidently but haven’t ridden a semi-automatic or manual yet. Also, can the automatic ones run 200+ kms per day?
Yes to both of those questions 🙂
See this page for suggestions of rental companies.
Hey Tom i read the older Nuovo (like Stavros) are much better than the later models. Is that so, and if so what would you recommend as a new purchase that would live up to Stavros stsndards. Happy with semi-auto as well, either way
There’s lots to choose from.
I think the new Nouvos are fine, also the Yamaha NMX is very good. For semi-autos, most of the Honda models – Future, Wave, Winner – are all very good. Also the Yamaha Exciter is good.
Any of those bikes bought new should be excellent.
I can’t believe you have covered the distance you have on the ugly foreigner bike! The hideous Nouovo! You really should advise your readers that the semi-autos are about half as heavy and far more fuel efficient than the automatics.
Love the site
Haha! Yes, that’s what lots of people say about the Nouvo, but in my experience it’s been quite tough, reliable, does about 200km to a tank of gas and weight isn’t an issue – plus I like its retro transformer-esque bodywork 🙂 Very un-cool, which is cool.
Couple months back I rode from Hoi An to Hanoi then up around the Ha Giang northern route. Trip of a lifetime and I have actually just moved to Hoi An. I plan to take more epic trips on your suggested routes. I am struggling with what to buy. I am thinking I will go buy new, since I plan on being here for a while. I have a few questions for you:
1. If you had to go buy a new bike today, what would you get?
2. Do you have a favorite Honda? These seem to be the preferred maker for Vietnamese and hold value well.
3. Many rental shops recommend manual bikes for Ha Giang travel. You go with automatic. I rode Click automatics on Mae Hong Son loop and Thakhek loop and loved it. Any second thoughts by you for taking on the Northern Vietnam mountain ranges with an automatic?
If I was going to buy an automatic today I’d buy a Yamaha NVX. If I was going to buy a manual I’d get a Honda Winner or Yamaha Exciter.
Which you choose depends on what kind of roads you’ll be travelling on. For example, all my routes stick to sealed roads as much as possible, so it’s never necessary to use a manual if you don’t want to, unless of course there’s been a major landslide or roadworks.
I ride an automatic because I don’t go off-road, but I also like the ease of it, but many riders much prefer manual bikes for the feeling and the potential handling off road.
I hope this helps,
A benefit I have found with semi autos and manual bikes is their ability to engine brake using the lower gears in the mountains. It takes some strain off the brakes.
Yes, I see what you mean. I haven’t had any issues with the brakes on my bike so far. For me, it’s the years of strain on the engine go up steep hills, especially in the northern mountains in Vietnam, where everyday you make dozens of hills starts – with lots of luggage weighing it down too. A few years ago, something gave, and the bike has never been the same going uphill again.
Cheers for the amazing blog mate! Really enjoying reading through it. Quick question. Me and my girlfriend are in the process of purchasing a bike. A nouvo.
So we wanna travel from Saigon to Hanoi. Secondly we have loads of time to do the trip. Alright so, do you think it’s doable on this one bike? Both of us and one big backpack?
Yes, it’s doable on that bike, as long as it’s in good condition. Personally, I would recommend renting over buying, because the rental bikes are almost always in better condition that the ones you buy. For more details about this check out this post.
I hope this helps,
Thank you so much. I’ll have a look at the post. Appreciate it!
Hi Tom! Love your website – so glad I was directed here by a friend. My fiance and I are wanting to do a month-long motorbike tour, renting from one of the companies you suggested. Neither of us know anything about motorbikes, though! Any models you’d suggest for us? I drive a manual car, but neither of us has ever driven a bike.
We also haven’t decided whether we should both ride on one or each rent our own bike. We’ve got a 6’3″ 250 pounder and a 5’6″ 125 pounder on our hands, if that matters!
Automatic motorbikes, like mine, are the easiest to learn how to ride, because there’s no changing gears, no clutch etc. However, if you’re used to driving a manual car it wouldn’t take long for you to get to grips with riding a manual motorbike, like a Honda Wave, for example. But with automatics there’s definitely less to think about.
I would recommend renting a motorbike each for comfort and for safety. If you have no riding experience it can be difficult to get used to the weight distribution when you have a pillion. Also, riding long distances in hot and humid weather is not so comfortable with a passenger behind you.
I hope this helps,
Amazing blog, used it a lot traveling from Saigon to Hanoi and going to follow some of your routes in north vietnam !
I’m riding the same nouvo bike as you, little older, mine is from 2006, had some maintenance to do on the way but there is something I have difficulties to get rid of. The transmission is making quite a lot of noise, especially when driving aroud 50/60kmh, mechanics do not seem to want to work on that problem. Seem to be quite a common issue on these bikes, still I would love to get it sorted out, any advice on that ?
Thank you in advance
Great to hear you’ve enjoyed riding through Vietnam.
Yes, that does happen on Nouvos. If you’re in Saigon, try to take it to Yamaha Town on Nguyen Van Troi Street, not far from the airport – they’re the only ‘real’ Yamaha garage in town and can be trusted to deal with your bike’s issues responsibly.
I hope this helps,
I’m in the north now.
I went to what seems original Yamaha garage, they where able to fix the strange behaviour i had since yesterday : engine cutting of when going up the throttle.
Also asked them to check clutch and transmission but they told me the parts do not exist anymore (at least what I got from google translate), can that be true ?
Thanks for your help
I think they probably just didn’t have the parts at that particular garage. That model of the Nouvo is relatively old now, so perhaps they just don’t stock as many spare parts for it than they used to do.
Great blog Tom!
I’ve been to VN quite a few times and the first solo trip I ever rode on was on a Nuovo too! (though it was just from Danang to Hoian lol)
I was wondering if you’d think that one of the newer Honda cubs would be alright to make a journey from Saigon to Dalat and back? I’m looking to buy one and keep it there with a friend as i do visit the place quite often and it’ll make sense financially instead of renting.
Yes, I would think a Honda Cub could do the journey, providing it was in good condition. I think they do struggle on steep hills like the Prenn Pass just before Dalat and the Bao Loc Pass just before Bao Loc, but I would still think a Honda Cub would make it up there, perhaps just rather slowly 🙂
Your website is indeed a labor of love!
I came to Vietnam for the first time in 2008 and have been trying to come every two years since. 2016 here I come:-) I did something that looks like the North Eastern loop over 10 days on a Honda Wave and have the most unique memories from that trip. I was advised to try a Yamaha YBR 125cc this time, for comfort, but seeing your postings and great photos I am reconsidering “just” getting a Yamaha Nouevo or Honda Future. Is it pretty easy to get a custom top case rack like you have on the back of Stavros? It looks way more solid then what I have seen so far. (I’ll be between Hanoi & Hoi Ann).
Thanks, Yes, indeed it is a labour of love, and therefore not a ‘labour’ at all 🙂
Personally, I think a Yamaha Nouvo is comfortable and strong enough to handle the vast majority of road riding in Vietnam (off-road is different, obviously). Lots of people just prefer the look of large motorcycles, and the driving experience (the idea being that an automatic is just too easy).
My rack is from GIVI. They have a store in Saigon. There are boxes of all sizes. But it depends how much you’re going to load it up – if you have a lot of weight, you’ll need the reinforced rack (which I’ve got). Contact GIVI Vietnam (you can mention Vietnam Coracle, they know me) before you travel and see what they can do for you.
Hi there! We love your blog, it’s providing us with so much valuable info. Question: we just purchased two second hand Yamaha Nouvos, like yours. They are automatic transmission. The receptionist here at our hostel has said to us that these bikes will not get us up the steep gradient to Dalat. Is this true? From your blog it looks as though you have an automatic Nouvo and it has taken you basically everywhere (although you bought yours brand new). We’re thinking that all we need is a little faith…what do you think?
Yes, your Nouvos will definitely be able to make it up to Dalat, and far beyond (unless, of course, they are in absolutely horrible condition).
Nouvos are excellent road bikes – everything single place listed on my website I’ve got there on my Nouvo. However, they are not so good when it comes to off-road, but that is rarely a concern for most bikers in Vietnam.
Have a great trip,
I’d follow your trips…impression & intresting, your most favorite photo is on the “Starvos” with your Mom in HonGiao pass. Wish you good health to continue the journey meaningful!
On December I had planned to tour the survey bow-Dalat-Nha Trang route SGN-Qui-Nhon-QuangNgai-HoiAn by Vespa. All along the road from Nha Trang-Hoi An is the coastal road away from highway 1.
You still have to go on Highway 1 from Ninh Hoa to Van Gia, and from Chi Thanh to Quy Nhon. But all the rest of the route can be done of coastal back-roads.
Enjoy your trip!