Things I Wish I Knew Before Renting Bikes in Laos

Discussion in 'Laos - General Discussion Forum' started by smitty0476, Jan 3, 2012.

  1. smitty0476

    smitty0476 Member

    Forgive my long-winded-ness... this is a long flight home!
    This info was compiled from our own experiences as well as those of several other parties on rented bikes we met along the 2 week trip. I hope this covers some of the info you might find helpful before heading to Laos.
    Will be posting a trip report soon.

    There is only one option (Jules Classic Rentals)
    The bikes are mostly tired and past their service life.... although you might get lucky and get one of the couple newer ones in the fleet of 40 if they are in when you show up. There is a reason none of the speedometers and odometers work on any of the bikes.... the number of kms is staggering.
    There are only 250cc bikes available, although 450’s are advertized as available. Really nice guys there, just not putting the care into the bikes that is needed before sending people on their way into nowhere with no bike support options other than Vientiane.
    I am giving you the straight goods here... there is no competition, so they’re not going to lose any business by people going elsewhere. But info on how to get your bike back to Vientiane in one piece will be valuable.

    We brought our own moto boots, knee pads, jerseys, gloves, goretex jacket/pant layers, goggles with bright and low light lenses.
    We got two good helmets from Jules.... others were not so lucky. Just depends on your size and what they have in at the time you get your bike. We didn’t want to lug our own helmets around on the plane and after the bike portion of the trip. You can buy stuff at one moto shop in VT if you need to.
    Jules has some pant/jersey options and goggles but bring your own. I’d also suggest some dust masks from home. The 3M disposable ones. There are some roads that are horrendous for dust... not to mention if you’re following someone or in a group of riders. Your lungs will thank you on some days.
    In later Nov, in the north east of Laos (coming from ViengXai, Xamneua, Phonsavan) at elevation... very unexpectedly, I was wearing everything I had in my pack. 4 layers of smartwool shirts, goretex jacket and pants... and I was freezing my ass off at 1500m elevation. Until the sun comes out it can get cold there at that time of year, FYI.
    Jules also has some Gopro cameras for rent as well, if you don’t have your own and are into photography, it’s a cool addition to all your photos you’ll take.
    All the bikes has small racks on the back. They have bungee cords.|
    We ran small drybags (20L or so) stapped to the rack and wore 40L packs. I found this to be ideal with most of the weight on the rack, but not so much stuff strapped to it (like a 50L pack) that you can’t sit back on the bike in comfortable riding position. We saw lots of people with big packs strapped to the rear rack and their riding position jammed up forward onto the hard part of the seat. No thanks.

    Phones, money
    We didn’t do this... and looking back, it was stupid.
    Get a cheap cell phone and pre paid card in VT. Plug in embassy, hospital numbers (vientiane), Jules contact, GPS guy, Thailand medical helicopter, etc.
    You’d be surprised at the remote places some villagers were using cell phones!
    I used skype on my netbook.... but that’s not going to help when I’m lying in a heap in the ditch.

    Contrary to my research before I left, wi-fi/internet are available somewhere in almost every town over a thousand people. Same with ATM’s.
    Change your US $$ when you get into the country, useless outside of VT and only occasionally useful there. All Kip all the time. I wouldn’t bother with travelers cheques myself. ATM’s have found their way to most places.

    You had better be mechanically inclined
    Fortunately we are, but I am not a moto mechanic. You will 100% have mechanical problems on your trip. Maybe they will be of your own doing/crashing, maybe the bike will just break down... but it will happen, only once if you’re lucky.
    Take the Lonely Planet Laos phrase book and bookmark the page about car trouble.
    Learn how to say motorcycle mechanic in Laos... if you don’t learn it almost perfectly, they won’t understand you. And pointing to the Laos spelling of the words in the remote villages is not going to help you.
    There are no parts for your bike in Laos outside of Vientiane
    The only dirt bikes you’ll see in Laos are rented ones from Jules in Vientiane (or ones from Chang Mai or Vietnam). We needed brake pads (as in zero rear brake power), splines on the gear shift lever were stripped as well as on the shaft entering the gear box, one of the exhaust pipes on the manifold was crimped closed from a previous crash.... etc etc.
    If you can’t weld it or fabricate it in a basic metal shop... you’re f-ed.
    They will bus something to you if needed but you’ll be wherever you are for a couple days.
    There were no kick start options on our bikes, not sure if all are like that... but you’re married to your starter :thumbdown: Know how to jump start.
    Don’t waste too much time trying to find mechanics/parts in towns
    If you need something welded/ground down, a bolt, etc.... then have a drive around town and see what you can do.
    If you have something more complicated, just call Mr Thinga or whatever contact Jules gives you and let them figure it out. They have contacts in the larger cities (Luang prabang, Phonsavan, etc) and it will save a lot of your time.
    Get a toolkit together on day 1 in Vientiane. Although advertized, they don’t have them at Jules.
    We were under the impression we’d be given one to use when we picked the bikes up. It consisted of a spare tube and chain lube. We were told the kits came back incomplete sometimes so now they don’t send the bikes out with toolkits?!?!??!?:shock:
    We put together a long set of metric Allen keys, 7/8/9/10mm wrenches, crescent wrench (adjustable spanner), vice grips, leatherman tool, small cordage and zip ties.
    Ideally you would have a set of tire levers, patch kit and a pump as well. I’m sure you mechanics can think of something I’ve missed. I needed the vice grips to shift one day as my gear shift lever was stripped. Worth the extra bit of weight!
    Ride your bike for the afternoon in Vientiane before leaving the next day.
    Do I need to mention “fine tooth comb”? This is where that mechanically inclined thing will come into play. Brake pads. Oil leaks. Grips twisting, etc.
    I received mine with no fuel, on reserve tank and scary low on oil. The grunts at jules waxed all the plastic pieces for 30 mins while we did the paperwork though...

    Fuel n Oil
    Bikes were going through oil at a decent rate (1/2 quart per day). You need to check the oil after 5 or so minutes of running the bike so the pump has a chance to circulate the oil. Checking cold or too quickly will always show no oil.
    Forget what they tell you about range. There are no fuel gagues (other than the piece of grass you stick in the fuel tank). Just plan for every 100km-ish and you’ll be fine. You might be able to get 150km in ideal conditions, but we ran out day 1 at 145km after being told we had 175 to 200km range. Fortunately 1km from a station.
    You’re never more than 100km between fuel spots.
    All the fuel we saw in the bottles in little villages was clean. Everywhere has oil.
    Know about proper air filter cleaning. They will tell you not to touch the air filter. If you are following people for a few days on dirt, your air filter will need cleaning. My buddy’s was f-ed after 650km on dirt. I was in front most of the time and mine was fine.

    Use a GPS and get the Laos GPS micro SD card
    Mentioned on GT Riders.
    I used a Garmin Oregon 400t with handlebar mount, zap-strapped the handlebar mount to the bars (with some cut up mountain bike inner tube wrapped around the bars to prevent twisting). Worked like a charm. I have used my Oregon on lots of snowmobile/mountain bike, alpine trips, so I know my way around the machine... had no issues.
    The amount of information they have included in this GPS map is staggering! It was all accurate and invaluable. Kudos!:D
    Including guest houses, points of interest, attractions, every dirt and paved road in the country it seems.
    Don’t get the GT Rider map.
    Do get one of the other maps available, and use a map case. The GT riders map doesn’t have much detail and the scale is too large to be very useful. The regular German (i think) driving maps we saw some people had were much more useful.
    It’s tough to look at routes in large scale on the GPS obviously, so a good map is really helpful to plan out your overall route for the day and look at options, just follow the GPS the rest of the time.
    I also use Lonely Planet guidebooks in all of the countries I travel in. The book for Laos was a great tool here, in my opinion, and again... LP has never let me down.

    Route decisions
    Use the GT Riders forum to get some ideas, and bounce ideas off the experienced peeps you’ll find there. Check on the status of the dirt routes with guys there, some of the more technical routes aren’t necessarily labeled as such on the maps.
    Leave yourself some wiggle room for time and a couple flex days to get back to VT and to your flight.... shit happens here. My daily moving averages were anywhere from 30km/hr to 55 km/hr depending if I was on more technical stuff or straight-ish paved roads. You won’t be making time like you expect on the twisty northern paved roads.
    Most days on my trip were 200-250km.... so start early and allow yourself room for an incident and still time to get in before dark. You don’t want to be riding here often in the dark if you can avoid it. Market breakfasts get you on the road early, every town has one.
    Know how to properly cross a creek/river and know the limits of how deep it can be. I probably crossed 20 or 30??? The locals always want to see you try, so don’t take their word for it ;-)

    Hope that helps a first-timer get the most out of your trip... stuff we didn’t know, or didn’t dig deep enough for before heading on our first moto experience in Laos! It will be a trip to remember and you will meet some of the kindest, most genuine, authentic and happy people anywhere in the world!
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  3. brian_bkk

    brian_bkk Ol'Timer

    To be fair there are a few others you can rent from :-

    I have never hired from Jules but have not heard any complaints.. only praise for the help provided

    My friends have usually rented the bikes from Jim (remote asia travel) so far so good.. The bikes are old but in general well maintained.. we did have one last time that used a lot of oil and the bikes came with no mirrors in Luang Prabang.. Other wise all good.

  4. smitty0476

    smitty0476 Member

    thanks for the reply Brian.
    There seemed to be more rental options when we first started looking, but there was little info or websites on them. The good mechanic Furak? in VT wasn't renting we were told.. and operations in LPB were not an option anymore.
    That was also what we heard from other riders on route.
    Seems that Jim may be a good option... his link was broken when I tried it just now.

    As for Jules Classic, he was very nice. Great to deal with.
    The condition of the bikes was the problem... This wasn't just our experience.
    I met at least 8 people on the trip with rentals from there or experience from before that echoed the same thing.
    As a first timers in Loas, I'm not pretending to know all... just telling of our experience and that of the other we talked to while there.

  5. Hudsonian

    Hudsonian Member

    My two cents worth, having hired bike in Laos a couple of times now, they tend to keep the best/ newer ones for the accompannied tours they do, so they have less hassle, once you're out of sight you're on your own, book in advance, so they can prepare a bike for you in Laos style,( mechanics don't do apprenticeships here,)and take it out for at least a days ride, theres a national park in the hills north of VTE, roads are a bit knarly so a good test, and when/if it gives problems go back and get em to sort it. Oh Yeah and learn some Laos or at least get a decent phrase book for emergencies.
  6. jimoi

    jimoi Ol'Timer


    I'm not sure why you didn't find me - I have ads on the board and have contributed a few hundred posts, odd.I rent loads of bikes in Laos and when I do, riders get:

    - Pre trip planning via email
    - Lao sim card for the phone to call in for advice or help
    - Full tool kit inclusive puncture repair kit and kits range depending on where you ride in the country
    - Access to my full line of rental gear including GPS, maps, protective gear, cold weather clothes, cameras and so on.
    - My custom written Ride Guides - detailing where you are thinking about riding, conditions, ride times, suggested accommodation, fuel distances, food and assorted off track locations worth visiting.
    - Secure advanced booking via email and Paypal
    - Secure luggage storage while on tour
    - One on one time if you come to Vientiane to pick up the bike - I go over mechanics and tour route with a map, helps a great deal
    - Pre-trip mechanical instruction PDF's sent to riders that need a refresher or it's all new to them.

    Tool kits include all needed spanners, allen keys, tire bars, pump, replacement innner tubes and for remote riding the kits get larger and depending on the season, brake pads. The tool kits come in a custom made pleather bag and while bits sometimes don't come back, I just keep replacing them.

    In Brian's post, his bikes went up to Luang Prabang. In the previous rental his group had, they were doing some good off road riding and looking back over his rental, saw they broke all the mirrors so instead of billing them, just took them off. Normally bikes come with mirrors. Oil usage depends on the bike and the one Brian's group had went out after on a milk run to Vang Vieng with no significant oil consumption. It's a hard one to pin on why or why not but the valves are checked between each rental and rings looked at from time to time as per schedule.

    I didn't see that you enjoyed the ride in your post. I'd say we run about a 95% happy rider average but things happen and when they do, we provide service.
  7. smitty0476

    smitty0476 Member

    Hi Jimoi

    I did really enjoy my ride, you can read about it in my post in the trips section of the Laos forum. My intention was to inform people who haven't rented in Laos of some things to expect/avoid before they find out in a less than ideal way.

    The reason I didn't find you may be that your link is broken on the "renting in Laos" sticky and most of the posts there are several years old, odd.

    We decided on this trip a month before leaving and things were very hectic between then and leaving town... therefore our research time was limited. Jules has a website where you can see the bikes and was recommended by several member as the best place to get real dirt bikes. On further digging, i see you have a site as well.... too bad nothing came up when I clicked the link.
    Others we ran into along the way were also under the impression that Jules was the only place with dirt bikes in VT.

    That's great that you provide all those services, sounds like you're a great choice. I'm also pretty sure I wasn't attacking you in my post.
  8. nikster

    nikster Ol'Timer

    Hmm... I wasn't too happy with the shape the KLX250s were in we got from POP bike rental Chiang Mai but that post certainly puts it in perspective. The only thing that kept failing was the battery but these bikes are really easy to push-start so no biggie. Even on a flat, one person pushing and one sitting on the bike, it's easy to start.

    speedos and odo were certainly working, as was everything else...

    Only complaint was POP overcharging us for genuine Kawasaki clutch levers.. they're BHT 90 from Kawasaki, but POP charges 400 for one, and he has an "Official Kawasaki Price List" (tm) to prove it!

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