Elijah Ferrian has a chat with the trailblazer of high-quality scooters and scooter parts in Ho Chi Minh City, Pat Joynt. Photo by Vinh Dao.
When was Saigon Scooter Centre established, and what was the impetus for having a shop in District 2?
We opened our first shop back in 1997, which was in Pham Ngu Lao. We decided to move into D2 about 7 years ago, as many of our customers were based there, and also it’s now quick and easy to access from D1. Our new workshop and service centre has also just opened in D2 near Mega Market (formerly Metro).
What got you into the world of scooters and accessories?
My first scooter was a Vespa P200 back in 1983 in the UK. When I was at school
I started to restore my own scooters, then for friends and it developed from there. I dropped into Vietnam in early ‘97 after traveling for four years overland from the UK and there was an untapped market of classic scooters on the road. I decided to stay for a few days.
Our main business these days is with parts and accessories, which we have been producing for export for over 15 years and we also rent bikes. We also stock a wide range of imported helmets, riding gear and anti pollution masks like Vogmask and Respro.
What’s some of the most important advice that someone could receive if they’re considering buying a “CLASSIC?” scooter in Ho Chi Minh City?
Well, how about that? Purchasing from a private seller in Vietnam versus a company like yours? What are the pros and cons?
I can’t comment on other bike makes/models, but certainly with classic scooters: buyers beware. For the unsuspecting buyer Vietnam is a minefield. Many times buyers get them home to find they are not only unroadworthy but death traps. As such, Vietnam has a bad reputation for this exact thing happening.
We’ve gone to great lengths over the past 20 years to build a good reputation and we currently export to over 20 countries. We also supply most of the top dealers worldwide with parts that we produce. We are also the only 100% foreign-owned and fully-licensed scooter business in Vietnam. At the end of the day there are so many different scooters on the road here, through pure necessity, not because all are considered a collectable classic. Local parts are very poor quality but they are produced for a local budget, not for the export market. We custom restore to order, import thousands of quality parts and carry out all of the work inhouse. We supply a full photographic history of the restoration and supply process with a no-quibble 12-month-warranty with a full backup service.
Do you have any memorable moments related to your time in the business?
My first scooter here. I was having a coffee in Kim’s Café in D1 the second day I arrived, when a guy pulled up on a really nice original Lambretta SX200. I asked the waitress if she would ask the guy if it was for sale, and she came back and said: “Yeah for USD500.00.” I said: “Offer the guy $300”, and he agreed. At that point I decided to stay for a short time… Time flies.
Or perhaps even just a few of your fondest memories cruising around Vietnam?
Yes, of course. There are many. I used to love scootering around Saigon in the 90s, as it had a real small-town French colonial feel to it and hardly any traffic. Recently with the traffic problems and influx of both cheap Chinese bikes and new cars I drive less and less.
I think my favourite scootering experience here was probably the last time I did a Saigon Hanoi trip in 2009 on a 60-year-old Lambretta.
That was a long haul, but great fun – especially over the Tet holidays.
In regards to helmets, we all know that there are a wide variety of them being used in Saigon, what would you like people to understand about helmets and their efficacy while riding?
First, it’s the law. Riding any motorcycle or scooter involves an element of risk. The basic principal of any helmet is its ability to absorb the impact of any collision, and therefore protect the brain which is the major cause of fatalities and long-term disabilities. Most insurance policies will not cover you unless you are riding “within the legal limits of the local law”.
The budget helmets which are flooding the market here are very low-grade, cheaply manufactured plastic helmets. They offer no protection, and in fact, a cheap helmet is worse than no helmet on many occasions – as they will just shatter on impact. Shoei helmets had a great advertising campaign in the 70’s: “A five dollar helmet for a five-dollar brain”. That about sums it up.
A lot of people come and go from the city, so what do you tell people that are unsure about whether they should purchase a scooter or motorcycle, or merely rent one? Is there a sweet spot where buying or renting makes more sense?
If it’s a short term placement then renting is an easy option, or if the customer is not an inexperienced driver then renting gives an opportunity to see if they can adapt to the driving conditions here. Not everybody can. I’d recommend for a stay longer than 2-3 months that buying is the way to go.
What’s going on with Scoota Cafe?
Neverending search for a suitable location for a reasonable price. I’m looking at another venue next week, watch the website…
Are there any interesting events, sales, promotions coming up that you could share information about?
Yes. In fact, this year is the Saigon Scooter Centre 20th anniversary. We have also just opened Bangkok Scooter Centre. We are also planning the SSC annual charity event for the end of the year and we have just restarted doing our monthly rides out. Keep an eye on our SSC Facebook page and website for upcoming events. The next ride out will be Sunday, 23 July. All are welcome.