First published May 2016 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle [Tiếng Việt]
This is the Story of my GIVI Bike Box, bearer of my Baggage on all my Road Trips:
Over almost a decade of riding in Vietnam, two pieces of equipment have remained constant on my road trips: my motorbike, Stavros, and my GIVI bike box. Having accompanied me on more than 130,000km through all of Vietnam’s 63 provinces, they have proven to be both indispensable and inseparable: everywhere Stavros goes, my GIVI bike box goes too. Having already sang the praises of Stavros in a previous article, I think it’s about time I give my GIVI bike box the eulogy it deserves.
My motorbike, Stavros, and My Bike Box are inseparable on all of my road trips
Unlike my motorbike, I’ve never given my GIVI bike box a name: I’ve always referred to it simply as, ‘My Bike Box’. Purchased not long after I bought my motorbike, My Bike Box has been the bearer of my baggage for nearly 10 years of riding. It’s endured the heat and humidity of southern summers, and the typhoons of the central and northern rainy season; the slick, muddy highland roads, and the bumpy, potholed surfaces of highways under construction; and even, on one or two occasions, minor collisions. Throughout these testing conditions, My Bike Box has kept my belongs safe, secure, dry and intact.
Along the way it has received some minor cuts and bruises, but it has never even hinted at breaking or failing in any way. Even when I’ve condemned My Bike Box, on several occasions, to the luggage hold of aircraft – at the mercy of airport baggage handlers, with a ‘Fragile’ sticker plastered to it – it’s always arrived unscathed on the baggage claim carousel at my destination. Although there are other essential items which accompany me on all my road trips (my camera and my laptop, for example), over the years these have all had to be replaced, on several occasions, due to wear and tear. My Bike Box, on the other hand, has remained constant; never having needed any maintenance whatsoever.
The Birth of My Bike Box:
After I’d bought my motorbike from Saigon’s Chinatown, I needed a way to carry my luggage on my road trips. Vietnamese people famously carry anything – small or large, fragile or robust, alive or dead – on the backs of their motorbikes. Squealing pigs, window panes, bales of hay, whole families; they all balance in varying degrees of comfort and security on motorcycles in Vietnam. I couldn’t see myself doing the same thing. Nor did I want to wear a backpack: that, for me, would spoil the freedom of motorbiking and, in a country where humidity usually hovers around 90% and daily temperatures regularly reach 35°C, it would be unbearably hot and uncomfortable to have several kilos of stuff strapped to my back. I also wanted something waterproof, to protect my things from the monsoon rains.
Backpackers riding through Vietnam tend to fix a rudimentary metal rack to the backs of their motorbikes, and tie-down their baggage (wrapped in bin bags to keep the rain out) with bungee cords. This is fine if you’re on a one-off road trip, but not if you’re going on multiple trips for long periods of time. I wanted something secure, convenient, easy to use but also durable, and I wanted it to look good too. What’s more, I didn’t want to sacrifice my seat space for my luggage: I wanted room for a pillion and all my stuff.
I’d seen some GIVI bike boxes on motorcycles in Saigon, so I found the GIVI store (which happened to be located just a few blocks from where I’d purchased Stavros) and bought my own. I chose the second largest model they had in stock at that time: a 35 litre box, with a secure lock and a reflector on the back. I also chose a heavy duty rack for My Bike Box, so that I could fill it with all my things without compromising the stability of the bike and the strength of the rack. It cost me around $50 which, even then, seemed reasonable but now, having ridden so far and carried so many things without a single incident, seems exceptionally good value.
The Life of My Bike Box:
It wasn’t long after I bought My Bike Box that I started to make multi-day road trips from Saigon. At first, I’d spend just a few days and nights on well-trodden loops covering the Mekong Delta, the southeast coast, and the Central Highlands. But, soon I began to realize that I could make much longer trips and get further off the beaten path thanks, in part, to how much I could conveniently and securely carry with me in My Bike Box.
Motorbike road trips are, for me, all about the potential for exploration, and the sense of freedom, independence and excitement you get when riding on a new route, going through new landscapes, trying new food, and meeting new people. Because the lid of My Bike Box has a secure lock, and because it is securely fastened to my bike, I am able to confidently do things like: stop for swims at deserted beaches and rivers, take small treks to waterfalls, visit historical monuments on hilltops, walk up slippery paths for tea and tobacco in minority villages, without having to worry about the security of my belongings on my bike. In this way, My Bike Box stays with my motorbike, so that I don’t have to.
Vietnam’s complex climate means that it’s on the receiving end of two separate monsoons: any rider in Vietnam will, at some point, encounter large storms and very heavy rain. But, as far as keeping my belongings dry through these weather conditions, I’ve never had to worry: My Bike Box is 100% waterproof – I’ve ridden straight through storms and even skirted a couple of typhoons, and come out the other side with not a drop having penetrated My Bike Box.
My Bike Box has also enabled me to camp. I think of camping as one of the greatest expressions of the freedom of travel, but it does require a lot of extra equipment. However, with the exception of my tent, all my camping gear simply fits into My Bike Box – my sleeping bag, cooking stove, food supplies. At night, when I’m asleep in my tent under the trees or on a beach or by a river, I can rest easy knowing that Stavros is safely locked up outside with My Bike Box sitting securely behind it. This has given me total freedom on my trips: now, when I look at my motorbike fully loaded for a road trip, I see it as my transport, my belongings and my home, all safe and secure. Some of my most memorable nights on the road have been camping.
Many of my road trips are solo, but the best ones are always with other people. Over the years, my parents, my expat friends, Vietnamese friends, visiting friends from the UK, and girlfriends, have all accompanied me on road trips. Since My Bike Box is elevated above and behind the passenger seat, I’ve always been able to comfortably accommodate a passenger, and this has made my trips that much richer.
My Bike Box looks good too: it’s curvaceous and smooth; sleek and aerodynamic, as if it had been designed in a wind tunnel. To my eye, My Bike Box complements Stavros; so much so that Stavros looks naked without it. I’ve come to see them as inseparable: on my road trips they are always together and, when I’m back in Saigon, if I don’t need it, I simply detach My Bike Box from the rack.
Convenient, secure, durable and stylish, my road trips would not have been the same without My Bike Box. An absolutely essential piece of equipment, I don’t consider My Bike Box an accessory; I consider it a part of my motorbike. Everything that I hoped and wanted motorbiking in Vietnam to be – exploration, independence, the freedom to go anywhere and see everything – My Bike Box and my motorbike have, together, made possible. The two pillars of all my road trips, they have been with me since I started riding in Vietnam, and I hope it will continue that way in the future.
Stavros, My Bike Box & I safely back at home in Saigon, after a 2 month road trip
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• Saigon to Hanoi: Suggested Routes: five fantastic routes from south to north
• Weather in Vietnam: when & where to go according to Vietnam’s climate
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