Thursday, 1 September 2011

How I stopped worrying and learned to love the motorbikes

I don’t know anything about motorbikes, and I don’t really like them. I don’t even like to touch them. When my bicycle gets parked in by one, I gingerly prod the offending vehicle, then look around, like a meerkat, for a parking attendant to rescue me.

But since living in Hanoi is like living inside an enormous motorbike swarm, I soon realised that I had to learn to enjoy at least one thing about them. And I did. Their names.

The motorbikes here all have English names, which makes it easier, but sadly, they’re all proper words. You don’t get to see the likes of the Hyundai Terracan, which is my favourite-ever car name, conjuring up, as it does for me, the image of a TERRIFYING TOUCAN.

In the absence of made-up words, the pronunciation can sometimes suffice. I remember the day I found out that the Honda Super Cub was pronounced “Honda Sooper Coob”. It was a great day. Ever since then I have made sure to say it outloud whenever I see one, which is often.
 Sooper Coob!

The most common Vietnamese motorbike is the Honda Wave, which is a “splendid mover”:
And then there’s its cousin, the Future Neo, which is a “splendid cruiser”. 
There’s an awful lot of splendour in Hanoi, just thanks to these two models. Jolly good show, you splendid cruisers and movers!

Taking things up a notch, you have the Yamaha Exciter, which is a great name for both a motorbike, and a marital aid. In fact “The Exciter: Splendid Mover” would be a best seller in this category.

My favourite thing about the Exciter is this advertising campaign:
It reads: “It’s exciting! Exciter 2011”. Don Draper himself could not have said it better.

Also sharing its name with an electrical appliance is the Honda Airblade:
I remember when I first used a Dyson Airblade electric hand-dryer, in the toilets of a hotel in London. It was 2008. July, I think. As I watched the loose skin of my hands tossed about in that hot jet of air like the flapping jowls of a high-speed basset hound, I felt like I was truly alive for the first time.

If riding a Honda Airblade is anything like that, then wow, maybe I don’t hate motorbikes after all.

From my personal scientific research, I would say the second most popular motorbike in Hanoi, after the Wave, is the Dream. Honda has obviously come up against some difficulties with naming subsequent Dream models. I think they should have gone with: Dream, Still Dreamy, Dreamier, Totally Dreamy, and Dreamiest. But they didn’t. They went with:

Dream II:
Super Dream:
And Dream Exces (sic):
There is a range of motorbikes which, like the Totally Dreamy, is targeted at women and designed specifically to allow for an elegant mount while wearing skin-tight miniskirts and enormous stacked high heels. These bikes have names like this: 
Or this:
Or, in the case of gender confusion, this:
(Doesn’t that just instantly fill you with love for that motorbike? The Berty! Berty and I are just popping into town!)

Strangely, the Elegant is not one of these lady motorbikes:
And yet one of the most ladylike of all the lady bikes is the Attila:
The Attila. I would love to have seen the focus group which hit upon that name. “Yeah, we’re thinking Huns, we’re thinking plundering, we’re thinking barbarians, slaughter, rivers of blood, we’re thinking lots of room for a large handbag…”

Absolutely the most awesome thing about Vietnamese motorbike names – and the thing which keeps me always scanning the traffic – is that, like everything else in Vietnam, you can get one custom-made.

[EDIT: Since first publishing this post, a few people have mentioned that I'm actually wrong about this. The following bike names are not customised one-offs, they're actually legit model names. Well, they're legit, Chinese rip-off model names. As Nga noted in the comments, this actually makes them EVEN MORE HILARIOUS.]

What would you call your motorbike if you could call it whatever you wanted? If Exciter just wasn’t EXCITING! enough? Maybe you’d start at the top at go with this:
Or maybe you’d start at the bottom, with this:
Or maybe, you’d look to the heavens:
Or maybe, just maybe, for no reason that I can possibly think of at all, you’d go with this:
When I saw the Weasel, I thought I had reached the absolute pinnacle of motorbike names. Surely there could be nothing better than having a Weasel (A WEASEL!) as your mode of transport.

But then my friend Ed alerted me to his very own bike, which came already re-named when he acquired it. Behold in all her glory…
… The Fairy Horse.

So now, when I’m stuck in a motorbike swarm, breathing in the exhaust and worrying about my toes getting run over, I just pause, and imagine myself in a field of fairy horses, and everything’s okay.


  1. Uncle Ho and Martin Luther King met one day in a bar, up in heaven.

    King, slowly sipping on a beer, leans over to Ho and says "I have a dream"

    To which Ho looks at him askance and responds "A dream? That's nothing. I have a Super Dream"...

  2. Leanne, that is an awesome dad joke. I'm impressed.

  3. Weasel and Fairy Horse? I LOVE IT!

    Maybe they could use other unglamorous animals the Skink, Sloth, or Capybara?

    I think the Beaver would be a good fit for a ladies model...ahem....

  4. I thought the name of the last bike when I saw the picture was Farty Horse, which of course would be much better. I would ride that every day.

  5. Mention of the Dyson airblade reminds me of my father's quest to find the ultimate hand-drier - Hand-driers and motorbikes must have something in common - also featuring cool names such as the "Air Towel"

  6. AFAIK, the Suzuki Smash is actually a genuine model. That name probably got through as many committees as Attila did.

  7. ... I mean as the name 'Attila'. I don't think the real Attila went through many committees.

  8. The incongruous juxtaposition of fairy and horse (enhanced by their typefaces) just makes up for the fact that there was no actual weasel in this post.

  9. I want a fairy horse! but I had an Elegant, Mark II. And I loved it. Much better than Mark I. It's nickname was 'the racehorse', no doubt in comparison to Brendon's old Vespa which was the other weekend riding option.

  10. Maybe the Weasel is somehow meant to convey the same sort of superiority that Weasel Coffee has in Vietnam. But I'm sure that bike has never passed through the digestive tract of a weasel, so maybe not.

  11. Vickie: If there was a motorbike called the Capybara, I'd immediately toss my bicycle into the lake and take that giant guinea pig out on the town.

    Alison: I wouldn't be too sure that there's not a motorbike in Hanoi somewhere that is actually called the Farty Horse. I'll keep my eyes peeled for you.

    Beth: This is yet further evidence that the awesomeness of your Dad knows no bounds.

    Nicholas: Oh, I KNEW I'd make a mistake in this post somewhere, and I'm glad this is it. Because the fact that there is a whole range of Smashes out there makes me very happy indeed.

    Karen: There will be weasels in next week's post. I promise. 100% guaranteed.

    Jodeska: Nathan informs me that your SCHWINN bicycle is actually a famous bicycle brand. Who knew! I just thought it was an awesome sound: SCHWINNNNNNN!! (Still is an awesome sound.)

    Emeline: Well, you are one small customised decal away from owning a Fairy Horse. You can have the very first Vespa Fairy Horse in Australia! You will be instantly famous.

    Buster: Maybe the coffee actually passes through the engine of the Weasel, and plops out the exhaust pipe. This is actually reasonably likely. More likely than Vietnamese weasel coffee having been anywhere near a real, live weasel.

  12. great discovery :) haha.

  13. Hi lady, I am really impressive with this topic! i admire your effort to spend time on taking photograph of all these bike. And thanks for mentioning mine (even i know it is not my bike, but the "trade mark" is still acceptable). Again, we star on your blog!!!

  14. Where is the much sought after Spacy in all of this???

  15. The most hilarious thing is, Tabitha, all of those names but the last one are, well, legitimate. Best, Smash, Angel, and Weasel are all brand names (probably) Chinese motorbikes. There are plenty of them everywhere in Vietnam. I haven't seen a Fairy horse when I was in Vietnam, but I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out to be a real brand name as well.

    I thought of mentioning the Spacy too. Was the brand manager high on herbs when he named this poor motorbike?

  16. Nga: Thanks for commenting! I'm so glad you mentioned this mistake, because I've been meaning to update the blog with a correction. I've since heard from a few people that these are in fact legit names (well, as legit as rip-offs can be). Unbelievable! And as you said, somehow even more hilarious! How does Honda Wave become the Honda Weasel?! And does this mean that there's a whole herd of Fairy Horses out there somewhere?


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