The two stroke, single cylinder Belorussian Minsk is a 125cc dirt bike capable of getting you anywhere in Vietnam. In its manual it says: "These motorcycles are especially suitable for service in the country-side with bad or no roads." If you tinker with it, keep it clean and make regular inspections then the Minsk will become a true friend. You will not see many of these bikes in the Hanoi as the locals consider themselves above such an ungainly, oil billowing reminder of past Russian dominance. In the mountains and hills, however, the Minsk rules supreme. Every mechanic knows how to fix a Minsk, and there are places everywhere selling spare parts. You can buy it new for around US$700 (including registration), or second hand for around US$400 (contact the Club for an offer). It's got a top speed of around 85 kilometers an hour, its tank's about 11 liters which will get you around 200 – 250 kilometers – the reserve will get you around 15 kilometers. In Hanoi there are shops which sell every single spare part for the bike. The bike has a simple design and has no battery. We have heard of one guy using a coke can as a clutch plate. You can open up the engine and have a look in side as there is no pressure seal. The tyre's traction is excellent and capable of covering clay, rock or wet and its suspension is great. The bike is ideal for any trip into the mountains of the north of Vietnam. Its drawbacks are its lack of speed on the strait and its Russian heritage which doesn't like the heat. In hot weather you really need to keep the engine from overheating. Like other former Soviet classics like the Voxhod, Isch, Ural or Jawa, all you need to do is get a spark, a puff of air and a splash of petrol all together in the same place and you have an engine up and running. It's satisfying to be confronted by a minor problem somewhere up in the middle of nowhere which after inspection you realise you can fix – it feels great. That's why we love the older bikes. They go wrong – you learn how to fix them – you go.
For an early history see: Minsk-historical.pdf
The 1996 model
In 1996 two versions of the standard Minsk were made. They look exactly the same but on the inside one is better because its alternator is stronger and easier to fix. If you buy the bike new then for an extra US$10 they will put in the better version. The weaker alternator is easily recognised because it has a number of round holes drilled through its cover. Both the 1996 models have a more economical carburettor which is fine on the flat but a little short of power in the mountains. This carburettor is easy to recognise because the top of it is circular and can be unscrewed. Again, ask the dealer to put in the older, rectangular-tube shaped one for better performance in the mountains. Also opt for the round shaped head-lamp rather than the square one – it's easier to remove and replaced if smashed.
The Sports Minsk
In addition to the two standard models in 1996, a more expensive, sports version of the Minsk was also released. It has a larger petrol tank, higher front suspension, its seat is higher (but harder) and its more quiet due to a muffler stuffed with glass fibre. Its fourth gear is larger than the normal Minsk so this bike will go faster on the straight and the engine block is bigger so it handles the heat with more distinction. A good option for taller riders.
The easiest way to spot an older Minsk is that the control panel – where the speedometer is – comprises of two round tubes whereas the newer ones just have one rectangular box. The serial number stamped onto the steering column of the left hand side of the bike has a code to say how old the bike is. The eighth last character – its a letter – denotes the year of manufacture as follows. 'L' is 1990, 'M' is 1991, 'N' is 1992, 'P' is 1993, 'R' is 1994, 'S' is 1995, 'T' is 1996, 'V' is 1997, 'W' is 1998, 'X' is 1999 and 'Y' is 2000. The engine is easier to date as the last two characters inscribed on it on the left hand side are numbers like '94' or '96'.
A new version appeared in the US (sold at US$1,350!!). It seems to be a new development of the Sports Minsk (same tank and side covers). Engine looks the same but frame and suspensions got a new look. The bike looks worth a try in Vietnam although, unfortunately, the mud cover for the driving chain has gone. Front suspension has been changed as well. Available at Cosmopolitan Motors.
Based on a normal Minsk model a trolley was developed. Nobody has seen it yet. Doubts exist about sufficient power to pull the trolley. The front suspension seems to have changed (probably to make it stiffer). The Club will investigate the possibility to construct such a machine in Vietnam. Currently max speed of the trolley is only 30 km/h!! You would be the lady killer on this thing in Lao Cai!!!
BEWARE: There are bikes out there pretending to be Minsks. They are easy to recognize by their wrong spelling of the tank logo. Don't trust them!
The Minsk lives on
The factory is currently re tooling and making new minsk check out their site.
If you have heard of, seen, or even driven any other Minsk models, please, drop us a line