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Vintage motorcycles drive Southerners wild

Update: April, 14/2013 - 15:48
Wheel of fortune:A vintage Honda 67, convenient for dealing with the city's heavy traffic.

Drivers in HCM City are rediscovering the thrill of antique motorbikes. While affluent customers buy flamboyant vehicles, more creative types prefer to show off by customising their own. Tran Nguyen Anh reports.

For decades, the vintage motorbike has been an iconic symbol in HCM City culture.

Among current owners of vintage motorbikes, who invest significant time into upgrading their beloved vehicles to suit their own tastes, two main sub-groups seem to have emerged: the affluent and the artists.

The affluent

For Nguyen Thanh Long in District 7, his antique German motorbike has been his closest friend for the last seven years. He resembles a knight straddling his huge "iron horse" as he dashes down the road, catching the stares of many curious passers-by. The total cost of his vintage motorbike, which has been upgraded, is a soaring one billion dong (US$48,000) which equates to two apartments for workers.

"Other than me, many of my friends own even larger customised motorbikes. Once, a funeral ceremony was held in my home, and two of my friends came by on two giant vintage motorbikes, whose total cost was the same as four small apartments. People from the funeral, as well as other residents of the apartment block, rushed out to see these special vehicles with their own eyes," says Long.

Nguyen Minh Hai, another avid collector, has upgraded his proud pair of motorbikes. The two share the exact same features, down to every cog and bolt, and look so much alike that his friends cannot even tell them apart.

Rumour has it that Nguyen Trung Thanh loves his motorcycles more than his beloved partner. However, he says it would be wrong to compare the two.

"My heart is divided in two: half for my wife and half for my motorcycles!" he said. Feasting his eyes on the collection of vintage motorbikes is now part of his daily routine.

Trinh Van Mien, a neophyte when it comes to vintage motorbikes, tells a story related to his neighbour, who is a seasoned pro in this specialised hobby. "One time I saw a magnificent vintage Honda 67 and I could not help myself from taking a closer look at it. And then, the owner told me that looking was free but touching it is impossible. I thought that he was just being spiteful, but then I realised it truly came from his heart. The bike is part of a legendary tale, as it is said that its former owner was found dead in the war so he never had the chance to ride it. Some others say that he was a wealthy man who bought so many cars that he did not have any time to ride it. The current owner usually sits for hours watching the bike with admiration, even when he has lunch or other meals. He also bought four replacement petrol tanks for his so-called beloved bike, as he does not dare refill its new tank. Some bike owners like him never fill up the petrol tank. Instead, they tow them home," Mien says.

Street style: Guitarist Trac Ngoc Linh's upgraded vintage motorcycle. — Photos by Tran Nguyen Anh

The artists

The artists want to make their bikes unique. In the current industrialised world, every bike made has a hundred identical versions with just the serial numbers separating them from each other. Purchasing a motorbike is becoming easier and easier, so many well-known artists decide to upgrade their bikes, using them as a canvas for their creativity and sophistication.

Trac Ngoc Linh, a rock guitarist who has just upgraded his artistic bike, says its rear part has been replaced by a lighter component. He says he has found a way to combine his love for speed with his personality. Every time he rides, the whirr of his bike echoes through the streets like a helicopter seeking the right landing spot. Linh proclaims that, "as an artist, the bike is more like a musical instrument".

Phan Anh Tuan, bass player of rock band Microwave, says that it was a difficult time for him when he discovered that his vintage bike had lost an IC (integrated circuit).

"I will probably never be able to use it anymore, but I never want to buy another one. The IC is like the heart of the motorbike. Now I must be patient until someone donates one to me," he lamented.


Everyone else

Vintage bikes are also a treasure to ordinary people, but they generally see them as a means of transportation above all. Tran Van Nguyen, a motorbike repair man, has fixed hundreds of bikes, but all he's been able to afford is his 1967 Honda worth four million dong. Over four years, he has spent countless hours and a total VND12 million ($570) on upgrading his bike. "A cheap but genuine turn indicator usually costs 1.5 million dong, so all I've done is upgrade its starting engine system, although from outside it looks no different," he says. — VNS

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