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Archive for September, 2006

Minsk Shopping – part 1

Myself, Lien and Minh went out today to look at some of the ‘new’ Minsks available. It seems that the factory went bust last year, and that any Minsks being sold as ‘new’ are simply unsold stock that can often be a few years old.

The first Minsk we saw was fully assembled and had OK paintwork. My concern for it centred on the age of the ignition barrel and the condition of one of the electrical connectors to the lights. This is the cheapest one we have found, for 7.4mD:

We then went to look at a further two more ina different shop. These were being sold for 8.5mD and still had their batch production numbers on them. As you can see, they are in the same state as they were imported but my concern here was they were around two years old, had scuffed paintwork, both had oil weeps from the engine and one had a chewed-up drain plug.

I think it is likely that these bikes have been left in this state for a while and have been exposed to the weather as well as physical wear over their two-year wait to be sold. This treatment makes me question the condition of the seals on the engine.

Given these two bikes both require a little paintwork and preperation, I would purchase the red one and look to have it treated for rust and sprayed a different colour (my bike will eventually have sponsorship logos painted on it anyway, so the colour it comes in originally is not too important)

Getting a Minsk prepared

After to speaking to a few members of the Minsk Club VN, one mechanic in Hanoi seemed to have the best reputation. Myself and a friend went to visit Coung at his workshop in the Old Quarter of Hanoi where we spoke to him about my trip.

It seems that I should buy the cheapest new Minsk I can find; but only if the UK will accept it. Apparently some French guys had real problems importing Minsks a few years ago because of the smoke on start-up.

Once I have found my Minsk Counh will prepare it to my specification:

  • Tools – 500,000D
  • Electric box – 400,000D
  • Ignition Coil – 400,000D
  • Uprated front suspension – 1,300,000D
  • Uprated back suspension – 600,000D
  • Inner tube – 120,000D
  • Brake cable – 200,000D
  • 3x Clutch – 60,000D
  • 2x Chain – 120,000D
  • Electric wire – 200,000D

In total an additional 3,900,000D, which brings the updated cost of the motorbike to 11,300,000D (£376)

Importing a Minsk

I am currently trying to buy a brand new Minsk in Hanoi, Vietnam with the intention of importing it to the UK and register it with UK plates, tax and insurance.

Reasons for buying a new Minsk rather than second-hand:

  • A new Minsk should provide less paperwork as it will not need de-registration nor past history documents
  • A new Minsk should be exempt from MOT testing until it reaches its 3rd birthday
  • A new Minsk would only be subject to a MSVA test, which apparently only includes visual inspection of exhaust emissions for two-stroke bikes.
  • A second-hand Minsk costs 3.5-4m Vietnamese Dong; a brand new Minsk costs 7.4m Dong. In other words, at the current exchange rate of 30,000 Dong to the Sterling, a new Minsk costs £246.67 – only £130 more than a second-hand one.

Why a new Minsk has its drawbacks:

  • Whilst the cost step seems initially small, one must also factor in that factory new road ready! The vehicle will require uprated suspension from another brand to carry a heavy load, the carburettor and electrical system will need an overhaul, and panniers will need fitting. In other words, a used one will have all the factory faults fixed for free.

I have been in contact with the Minsk Club Vietnam ( and they have recommended a mechanic to me who may be able to prepare a new Minsk for my purposes and arrange the paperwork for export.

Once the paperwork is done, I must find an export company to ship the bike to the UK – providing the paperwork is OK customs should be moderately hassle-free (famous last words).

The biggest challenge will be getting the bike running in the UK:

  • Passing the Motorbike Single Vehicle Approval (MSVA) test will require conversion of Km/h to Mph, coil radio shielding, some filing of sharp bits, and making it look less smokey.
  • Getting insurance to cover the relevant regions. I am told that in most ex Eastern-block countries insurance is purchased at the border.
  • Passing the Cumpulsory Bike Training test to drive on my current car licence.
  • Taking the bike fully apart and reassembled so I know how the bugger works, so when it breaks I can fix it.
  • Doing all this whilst having the hassle of nowhere to keep the bike nor much spare time.

Why choose the Minsk?

The Minsk motorbike is famed for its somewhat sturdy design. Unlike modern engineering design, the Minsk shares the same war-time ethos as the AK47 and the Series 1 Landrover: the time between failures might be high, but you can always get it going again with a hammer and some WD40. And when the chances of mechanical failure on such a rally as the Mongol are so high (drawing in water, potholes, really bad gasoline etc) the owner must be able to maintain and fix the entire function of the bike without precision tools or even previous knowledge of the problem. This is the Minsk!

With a fairly agricultural 125cc two-stroke engine, the Minsk isn’t the ecowarrior’s first choice of transport; as the engine has no sump the lubricating oil must be included with the petrol, and due to the nature of the engine cycle it manages to not only burn off a fair amount of this oil but to also blow a small amount of unburnt petrol out the exhaust – which gives the Minsk a characteristic two-stroke smokey exhuast. The upshot of this suboptimal combustion is that the engine produces twice as many power strokes per revolution, gaining a significant power-to-weight ratio over conventional four-stroke engines, whilst also being able to operate at any angle. This is why the majority of chainsaws are two-stroke; which technically means a Minsk has more in common with a domestic chain saw than a lawnmower. Something to muse over whilst elbow-deep in engine grease by the side of a road.

As the motorbike is 125cc it should be classified by VOSA as a light motorcycle:

“A light motorcycle licence (A1) which restricts riders to any bike up to 125cc and a power output of 11kW.” A Minsk is somewhere between 10 and 14hp therefore at most 10.43kW. This means that I can legally drive it on my existing car licence if I pass the CBT (Compulsory Basic Training)and only have to display L plates (adds comedy value).

With a 12ish litre tank capacity, one can expect to travel slightly over 200km. That works out at roughly 45mpg. A full tank of petrol requires 500ml engine oil.

The Minsk motorbike is produced in Belarus, with 90% of their motorcycles exported to countries outside of former USSR. This should hopefully mean that the spare-parts availability and local mechanical knowledge will be high enough from the start of Russia, well into Mongolia, right across China and into Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia. Which is useful as the wheel-bearings need repacking every 2000km.

What is a Minsk?

From wikipedia:

Minsk Motorcycle, (Russian: Минск) or also known as Motovelo Corp, is a company that produces bicycles and motorcycles. The company produced a two stroke 125cc motorcycle based on a pre-World War II DKW RT 125 design made in Minsk in the former Soviet Union (now Belarus). ”


Things I need to do

  • Get sponsorship
  • Get a Minsk
  • Find some riders
  • Fudge a route
  • Sort political paperwork
  • Learn to ride a motorbike and pass my CBT (Compulsory basic training)

Watch this space…

What is the Mongol Rally?

The Mongol Rally ( is a charity event aiming to raise at least £1000. Motorcars and bikes will journey from London to Mongolia – the only catch is that the cars cannot exceed 1000cc nor the bikes 125cc. This is the Mongol Rally!

Blog installed and up

Right it seems that everything is installed OK and that the server hasn’t yet thrown a wobbly. Now to get a domain… cost so far £0 :)