Buying a second-hand motorcycle can be a nightmare under the best conditions, but throw in language barriers and cultural differences and only the luckiest (or seriously hard bargainers) have any chance of getting a good deal. That’s where Dom Rushton comes in. Originally from Wales, he’s been buying and fixing up motos in the Kingdom for four years and started up Deals on Wheels Cambodia with his Cambodian girlfriend’s family to cater to expats who feared paying too much or buying a lemon. Will Jackson had a chat to him about his new business.
What should people look for when buying moto in Cambodia?
Cambodia’s quite brutal on bikes because of all the dust and the heat. It’s not just how people drive them; it’s the weather and conditions. Basically, if you don’t have any mechanical experience the first thing I’d do is find a mechanic that you trust. And be prepared to pay them up to $20 to go out with you because it might save you hundreds in the future.
Why did you decide to start selling bikes to expats?
It’s almost impossible for a foreigner to go alone to a market and buy a motorbike for a fair price. It’s a bit difficult for foreigners to get their head around that serious bargaining thing. It was hard for me and that’s why I started the business.
Tell us a bit about your first experience buying a moto in Cambodia.
The first time I bought a bike it was an older Honda Dream and it was a bit of a headache. It took me about two weeks to find one that I was happy with and that was running and, even then, after I bought it I found out all the parts were Chinese and it was a nightmare. After that I bought a bigger motorcycle. I lived above a police chief, which was quite handy, and had a housemate and we both needed motorcycles but neither of us had any experience [in buying them]. So we went downstairs and asked if the police chief could get us a couple. He just called his friends and they rocked up with about 10 and were just like “take your pick”. And they were a lot cheaper.
What sort of bikes do you sell?
I’m offering standard motorcycles with warranties, which you won’t really get anywhere else. What we do is sell the customer the motorbike and they get a warranty for X amount of weeks. If they have any problems we repair it for free and even after that warranty ends we support the customer. We will literally go to your house, give you a bike to drive for the time being and fix your bike. That’s what we’re selling. Not amazing motorcycles, because there are quite a few foreigners doing that already dealing with big bikes. A lot of people that come here don’t want to have to deal with big dirt bikes, they just want a little scooter to get to work and back. We also get bikes that aren’t fashionable, because fashionable bikes get stolen. If you have a Scoopy or a Fino or something like that and you leave it outside a bar for an hour – it’s happened to me and it’s happened to three friends of mine – you’re likely to lose it. We like to deal with Suzuki Steps a lot. They’re pretty cheap to fix and reliable and they’re not fashionable.
What can you do that people can’t do for themselves?
We get our bikes from all over the place and we buy them when they’re broken. When we get a bike in we strip it and rebuild and fix it and after that I’ll drive it personally for a week and to iron out all the tiny little problems.
Where do you see things going for your business?
I don’t have a premises at the moment and I don’t really want one. Because this is still a small thing and stealing’s a big issue , especially in central Phnom Penh, I can’t keep too many bikes at home. But if things go well we might consider opening a shop.
What do you like about running the business?
Although it’s sometimes stressful, running around finding parts, arguing with people all the time, it’s quite fun. It’s quite exciting. When you finally get what was once just a bit of metal on the ground running, it’s a good feeling. I enjoy the hunt. The satisfaction of finding the right part for the right price.
Check out Dom Rushton’s motos at www.facebook.com/pages/Deals-on-Wheels-Cambodia