Improvements & Maintenance
New cables make loads of difference to the ease of applying the clutch and front brake. At a buck a piece they're worth it. Oil them first.
Seat: If you have a Minsk with a lower, rounded seat then you make your ride much more comfortable by getting someone on Ha Trung street to put extra padding ($10) in it.
Back Suspension: Get either a pair of black heavy duty Chinese suspension springs (US$50) or long thick Russian ones (US$65) fitted to the rear wheel – they're stronger than the standard ones and will rarely bottom out. Although the result with the Chinese ones is a little stiffer, it is still worth it – most Minsks in the mountains are fitted out with a pair – especially if you plan to carry a pillion passenger. Note that the point where the back suspension is bolted to the frame (the brace) is higher on some Minsk models than others. If you fit a pair of the long Chinese suspension springs to this model then the seat will be raised high above the wheel and the seat will slope downwards. This puts extra stain of your back and leads to premature stretching of the chain. The best thing is to get Anh Cuong to cut off the brace and reweld it a little lower.
Front Suspension: It is possible to replace the standard Minsk front suspension with stronger and more comfortable Bonus or Husky suspension. Price for second-hand Bonus suspension sets you back about US$ 50.
Pannier racks: Useful for stopping pannier bags getting destroyed on a tour and also great when picking up H'Mong hitch-hikers with 50kg bags of rice. The racks cost US$25 and the bags cost US$45.
Basically all you have to do to maintain a Minsk is to ensure that everything going into the engine is clean – clean petrol, clean petrol-filter, clean air-filter and a clean sparkplug – so you need to stay on top of these things. Then keep an eye on your driving partner's bike to try and spot any problems with the back tyre, suspension and bearings before it gets the chance to cause a problem. Out in the wild you're going to have to take an attraction to your bike by regularly going over it, kicking occasionally for loose bits and listening to its sound and the feel of the steering and gears. Otherwise, follow this maintenance regime.
Make sure all the bolts are tight. The brace on my back brake came off once causing the connection rod from the foot pedal to the brake to wrap around the wheel's axis, bringing it to a very sudden stop.
Keep the sparkplug clean – always carry some sand paper and a bit of wire.
Make sure the sparkplug is the right colour – that is brown – i.e. the carburettor is adjusted properly.
Clutch Oil: Make sure there is enough oil in the clutch. The Minsk takes from 500-700 ml of oil to fill the clutch and gear box. It's a good idea to change it every two months or 2,000 kilometres.
Clean any mud off the engine as it is a heat retainer.
Make sure dirty oil never goes into the petrol tank.
Keep an eye on your bearings. They normally hold for 5000 km and more but a rough 10-day Bao Lac-Bac Ha trip can kill them easily as well.
Keep the air filter clean.
Keep the petrol filter clean.
Have a preference for petrol from petrol stations.
Check for loose and broken spokes.
Wash the bike regularly to inhibit rust build-up.
Tools & Gadgets
Problems do occur when you go driving out of Hanoi, so the better prepared you are, the easier time you will have. The club highly recommends that you take with you the maximum amount of equipment possible. That is everything that is listed below. The whole kit will only cost you around $20. Go to the hardware store at 5 Trang Tien street for fixed prices on tools (or any of the other Government stores) and the Hoa Binh market (Cho gioi) at 26 Thinh Yen for bargains on everything else.
What you need:
a spare spark plug or two and sand paper
a pair of pliers
a sparkplug remover (it is a size 22 so it can also be used to remove the bolt on the back wheel's axle)
a screw driver flat head (for removing the casing on the alternator and drive cog, the casing on the clutch, the top to the carburettor, the front head-lamp casing. Also can be used to remove the large rubber seal between the carburettor and the air box and for banging out the axle from either of the two wheels. Note that some bikes have had Phillips screws unofficially put on them so check if this is the case and carry one accordingly
spanners – sizes 8 (for removing some alternators), 10, 12 (for removing the petrol tank, side panels, exhaust pipe and some alternators), 13 (the most important – engine brace bolts, carburettor, some suspension bolts, chain tightening screws), 14 and 17 (for suspension and the back wheel) , 22.
monkey wrench (adjustable spanner) for removing the petrol filter and the wheels either one prong of an eating fork or the tweezers commonly found on Swiss army knifes (to remove the male clip and the end of the wires from the female plugs)
gaffer tape (electrical tape) for wrapping around compromised or newly made wiring
a bit of thin wire for sparkplug cleaning and a larger piece to tie down anything that might break off
the tool with the strange shape which comes with all Minsks. Used to: tighten the screws at the top of the two front forks; tighten the lock screw at the top of the steering column; adjust the stiffness of the back suspension springs; tighten the exhaust pipe to the engine; tighten the screws half way down the front forks; and tightening the bolt on the back wheel – make sure you have one
tyre repair kit – glue and patches. Before you head out squeeze some of the glue out of the tube as it is prone to breaking open. Then put the tube in a plastic bag just to be safe.
tyre removing tools – you need a set of three. It is worth buying the flat, more expensive type as they are stronger (about $5 a set). Can also be used to tighten the spokes
air pump (can be stored under the seat)
Digby's Repair Manual
While on a mission also carry the following
spare bulb for the front head-lamp
spare clutch cable
spare accelerator cable – it's thinner than the clutch and brake cables
spare brake cable
spare petrol tank tube.
Maybe a spray can of RP7 lubricating oil
A loud horn is one of the cheapest (VND150,000) and best ways of staying free of accidents. Replacing the very substandard horn on the Minsk with a stronger and louder horn is highly recommended. All that is required is a capacitor and some other piece of gadgetry to make it work – you do not need to use a battery. The Minsk runs off 12 volts. There are many horn shops in Hanoi at the southern end of Hue street while in the countryside most mechanics know how to rig one up. Next time you go to Cuong, get him to make one for you.