Last updated May 2020 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
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