Not long ago, a new bike rental service opened up in Chiang Mai. Rather than renting from a store, you can now unlock bikes with the Mobike app. They’re cheap, they’re available all over the city, and they’re ready to break down at any moment. Here’s my review on the pros and cons of the Chiang Mai Mobike.
Dirt Cheap Bike Rentals with Mobike
During my first two visits to Chiang Mai, the only ways to get around town were by songthaew (covered pickup trucks with two benches in the back) which were supposed to charge about $0.90 per ride (but usually charged foreigners whatever they felt like), and Uber which, while more reliable, was also relatively inexpensive ($2-5 per ride). This time in 2019, two new modes of transportation are available: the city bus – costing a flat $0.67 cents and following three routes around the city – and Mobike Rentals.
Mobike is a Chinese bike-sharing company founded in 2015. As of March 2019, they have spread to over 200 cities in 19 countries across the northern hemisphere. These bright orange bikes can be rented by scanning a code on the bike. You can either pay per ride or buy monthly passes with a credit card through the app. Many universities also partner up with Mobike to give their students free rides.
I’m assuming the rental costs change for each country. In Chiang Mai, Thailand the rides are ridiculously cheap. Currently, five 20-minute rides cost $1.67. I purchased the three-month pass which, with a 20% promotional discount, was a whopping $6.18! The monthly passes give unlimited 2-hour rides all around town. Many bike rental companies in Chiang Mai charge about $1.50 per day.
The way Mobikes are rented is easily the best part of the system. You download an app, register with your SIM card and then just unlock the bike by scanning the QR code on the bike. Unfortunately, it seems you need to have a SIM card for the country that you want to rent the bikes in. When I tried to register in Thailand with my UK SIM card, it said my account would only be valid in the UK. The bike can also only be paid for with a credit or debit card, not with cash.
The app has a few other functions, including being able to locate a bike near you (since all the bikes are equipped with GPS), reporting a bike damaged (which I’ve had to use several times…but more on that below) or seeing how far you can ride (as the bikes have to be parked within a limited zone or you will get fined). One disadvantage of the bikes is they don’t remind you to lock the bike after a ride. If you forget, you’ll get charged for however many hours the bike sat unused until it’s locked.
Quality of Bikes
In Chiang Mai, there are four different styles of bikes. The two oldest versions have gray frames and orange trim. A newer model is all bright orange and feels a bit more comfortable in the handles and seat. The newest model can be recognized by a two-tone bike frame where silver gradually gives way to orange. This model is also the only one with three gears instead of one.
The bikes feel very lightweight. The single gear on the first three models is set very low so you can’t go very fast. Several of the bikes I’ve ridden have had a clicking sound. Many of the handlebars are out of alignment and you have to hold them slightly askew. If that wasn’t bad enough, quite a few of my bikes had very weak brakes, and one had a completely disconnected brake cable (which I reported instead of riding). Not having good brakes in Chiang Mai is just asking for a disaster.
Broken Chain = Eating Pavement
Disaster struck for me while riding the newest model of the bike, but the brakes weren’t at fault. A couple weeks ago while riding the bike, the chain slipped off the gears and I was forced to stop my ride, report the bike as damaged and walk the rest of the way to my destination.
A few days later, the same thing happened again. Only this time, I had been standing on the pedals instead of sitting on the seat. When the chain came off the gear, the resultant lack of resistance to the pedal caused me to lose my balance and I went headfirst over the handlebars, bashing my forehead on the concrete, taking a good chunk of skin off my arm and hand, and tearing my chest and arm muscles. While my body is generally blessed with a short convalescence period, I was in pretty bad shape for a few days. I also lost a pair of my best pants, but material loss for me is immaterial in these circumstances.
Over the next few days, I inspected other Mobikes around town. Five different times, I found other bikes sitting on the side of the road with their chains already slipped off the gears. I’ve written a letter directly to Mobike informing them of the incident and asking not so much for compensation but rather to know what they plan to do to increase the safety of their bikes, especially in a city which is known for its staggering figure of vehicular accidents, injuries and even deaths. So far, they have failed to respond, but they did send me a customer satisfaction survey for their handling of my letter. As they ignored my letter completely (except for the survey), I had to give them a “0” rating and an excerpt from this article.
Would I Recommend Mobike?
Honestly, I would say to avoid Mobike rentals. If you’re on a budget, they’re the cheapest way to get around town. Don’t use them in any extreme conditions, always remain seated, avoid busy streets…basically take all the fun out of getting to ride a bike and just use it to get to your destination.
If you can afford any other mode of transportation or a decent local bike shop, skip the Mobike…at least until they start putting some quality bikes on the road. Granted, I haven’t tested all the bikes in all the cities where they are available, but far too many of the bikes in Chiang Mai are low quality and in bad repair. In fact, of all the Mobikes I’ve ridden around town, none have made me feel really comfortable.
When in Chiang Mai, go for the new city bus, try to find the right songthaew, hire a Grab or just walk (since the city is actually quite small and most important attractions are just a few minutes from each other). There are also the new Neuron electric scooters, but I think those are too dangerous to ride around Chiang Mai. I was riding those at 30 mph down the empty mountain roads in the Czech Republic and that was dangerous enough.
So to recap.
- Cheap rentals
- Rent the bike with a credit card and the app
- A massive selection of available bikes
- The ability to quickly find an available bike
- Bikes in bad repair leading to potential accidents and injuries
- Inability to pay with cash
- The necessity to have a local SIM card
- A limited zone for parking
- No customer service
As you can see, the cons outweigh the pros. So no, I don’t recommend them.
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