|A 'Honda' Win 100cc. Photo courtesy of baoquangninh.com.vn|
While the number of tourists I’ve seen since the reopening of the border to international tourists in March has allayed any fears I had about the tourism ‘bubble’ being burst in Việt Nam, one thing is still missing, something that a few years ago went hand-in-hand with backpackers and tourists.
I’m talking, of course, about the (in)famous ‘Honda’ Win.
Lambasted by anyone with any level of motorcycling knowledge (Tigit Motorcycles in HCM City named it THE WORST bike you can buy in Việt Nam), these Win’s were usually backpackers' first choice for seeing Việt Nam under their own steam.
Cheap, customisable and available everywhere, it wasn’t hard to spot an overpacked model careering down the road, all backpacks and bungee cords hanging precariously. Even a few expats who ought to have known better couldn’t resist.
These days though, they are a much rarer sight.
I should clarify; chances are none of us have ever seen a legitimate Honda Win.
The first Honda Win 100cc rolled off the production line in 1986, though it was heavily based on the Honda CD90 from 1971. The bike went out of production in 2005, when several other unassociated companies jumped on the bandwagon, pumping out their own versions faster than they could break down – which, if you’re wondering, was pretty fast.
I had the (dis)pleasure of riding a knock-off Win for a while, and it was the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt on two wheels.
The seat is high and narrow, as are the pegs, leaving the rider feeling like their knees are around their ears – not ideal for maintaining your balance in rush hour traffic.
The brakes, a drum design that should have stayed in the 1970s, are woeful, and the suspension is so soft if you hit a pothole in the previous town you’d still be bumping as you reach the next.
Despite all of this, the ‘Honda’ Win was always a popular choice for backpackers looking to ride from Hà Nội to HCM City, or vice versa – perhaps because, unlike the much more popular and reliable scooters favoured by locals, the Wins look like ‘real’ motorbikes.
My running hypothesis is that, with the borders shut and a shortage of buyers, the Wins that should have been sold to their eighth or tenth owner to traipse back down the country simply ended up being cannibalised for parts or sold for scrap metal, while supply chain breakdowns with China meant no new models took their place.
Fast forward two years and all that is left of the problematic Wins is a rose-tinted view of a time before COVID.
COVID may have changed a lot of things but, perhaps, some of those changes are for the better. VNS