If you’re not an experienced biker, the idea of doing the Ha Giang Loop with an automatic bike might be tempting. It’s true: an automatic bike is easier to ride, but is it a proper option for the Ha Giang loop? Let’s find out!
So you’ve come all the way to beautiful Ha Giang, Vietnam. You’ve heard everyone talking about how amazing nature is here, and you are ready for take off! But maybe you aren’t 100% sure about your motorbike-driving skills. If that’s the case, then an automatic bike might be a great option for yourself. But the question remains: can I do the Ha Giang loop with an automatic bike?
Before answering that question, let’s find out what are the main differences between an automatic and a semi automatic bike [This section is specially dedicated to those wondering what we’re talking about AT ALL!].
Differences between an automatic and a semi-automatic bike
The design on an automatic bike prioritizes comfort. You sit with your legs on a flat surface and don’t have to do anything with your feet. The control of the bike lies in your hands only. Whereas the semi-automatic is more designed like a motorbike. You sit wider with your legs across the vehicle and have the control in both, your hands and your feet. Reason being, a semi-automatic have gears that need to be changed when driving, and this takes us to the next point.
Obviously, a semi-automatic has gears, while an automatic has none (that you are in control of, at least). The gears in a semi-automatic work the same way as they do in a manual motorbike, except the semi-automatic doesn’t have a clutch. With a semi, you start in a low gear and then work your way up to a higher gear the faster you go. But you can also use the lower gear when the engine needs more power. This happens when you’re driving up hills, when you’re taking someone on the pillion, etc. That’s why it’s can be crucial when doing the Ha Giang loop, but not so much when riding in Cao Bang area. But we’ll come back to this.
Semi-automatic and automatic motorbikes have in common that you can start and stop in any gear. This makes it easier for you to handle the semi, as you don’t have to think a whole lot about the gears and when to change that much.
The engine is stronger in a semi-automatic bike than it is in a fully automatic. This explains why you have to be able to switch gear depending on how you drive. With a semi, you change gear with your left foot and control the break with the right one. Since a semi-automatic has a stronger engine, it’s required for the bike to have an extra break that can take more resistance. Sounds logical, right? So, while you only have a front brake (managed by your hands) in an automatic, you have both, a hand brake and a foot brake in a semi.
Its stronger engine also makes the semi-automatic bike more suitable for more passengers on one bike.
Automatic motorbikes have smaller and thicker wheels than a semi-automatic. This makes the automatic motorbike less suitable for rough surfaces, since the ability to grip the ground is poor. That’s why it’s better to use automatic bikes when driving in cities and on more plain surfaces.
Automatic bikes have more storage to put underneath the seat, and they’re also wider than semi-automatics. This means automatic bikes are great for storage, both inside and outside.
So… can I do the Ha Giang loop with an automatic bike?
After this brief description of the differences between automatic and semi-automatic bikes, you might have a good idea of what I’m about to tell you. Technically, you can do the Ha Giand loop with an automatic, but I do NOT recommend it. However, even if you start the loop in Ha Giang with QT Motorbikes & tours, you’ll see there are a very few automatic bikes (about 3-4 in a fleet of more than 250), and you can rent one. If you do, the QT team will explain to you what you can and what you cannot do with it, and what precautions to take.
The thing is, in Ha Giang mountainous terrain, an automatic bike is not as safe and environmental as a semi-automatic or manual. The roads here feature a lot of ups and downs and rough turns. And the engine of an automatic bike simply has a harder time managing to adapt itself to the road, which eventually ends in a broken bike. Another main thing for an automatic being less safe here is that, since they don’t have any gears, the bike won’t be able to engine break.
To sum up, it’s technically possible to do the loop with an automatic but, as mentioned before, at QT Motorbikes & Tours in Ha Giang, they’ll strongly recommend a semi-automatic instead. However, if you choose to rent at QT Motorbikes & Tours in Cao Bang, there are around 40 bikes in total, and around 10 of those are automatic. Why? Because the roads around there are way flatter. That’s why it’s much easier to ride in Cao Bang, which is a fact to consider if you don’t have that much experience with motorbikes.
In order to make it easier for you to make up your mind about what bike to ride, here comes a list of Pro’s & Con’s of using an automatic bike:
Pro’s & con’s with using an automatic
- Easy to use if you aren’t experienced;
- Ideal to use in town and plain surfaces, where you don’t need more features than the ones this bike offers;
- More space under the seat than the other motorbikes;
- More comfortable.
- The wheels are smaller than any of the other bikes. This makes it less suitable for the rougher parts of the road, and for any unexpected issues on its surface (wet, sand, gravel);
- The engine is less safe since it has no gears: the engine will not automatically break for you.
- It wastes more fuel than it would with an engine break. Since you can’t shift gears and the roads are shifting up and down, the engine can’t adapt. Thereby, you can’t choose the most optimal gear for the road, speed and tilt.
So even if you’re not super experienced, the QT team will strongly suggest you ride a semi-automatic in Ga Giang -in Cao Bang, you can easily go for an automatic one. Bear in mind if you don’t feel confident enough, you can try any bike you choose for as long as you want before starting the loop -no extra costs. And if you don’t feel ready yet after your trial, you can always opt for sitting in the back of one of QT’s drivers.