Bikes in Thailand are widely used, more so than cars are in some areas. For the self-sufficient expat they are a must-have for getting out and about. They allow a great deal of independence from public transport and allow you to strike out on your own to discover things for yourself, additionally they are (second only to walking) the cheapest way of travelling in Thailand.
Types of Bike in Thailand
Town and City Bikes
The small 50 - 125 cc motorbike in Thailand is the most popular throughout Thailand. It's cheap, ultra-economical and is a handy way to get through heavy traffic conditions. They often come with a metal basket attached to the front of the frame for carrying the shopping.
Typical Price Range: 30,000 to 50,000 baht brand new.
Next up the food chain of bikes are the 150 - 400 cc bikes. Not as popular with the masses as the smaller cc bikes, mainly due to the increase in price and speed. A touch more exclusive and faster yet still quite economical. Bikes which are more performance orientated start at this level, they are distinct in usually having no basket on the front frame. Cruisers and Sports Bikes made in Thailand tend to be in this bracket, imports also become apparent.
Typical Price Range: 60,000 to 300,000++ baht brand new.
Big Bikes in Thailand
The four-figure cc superbikes / Sportstourers that are common in the west are rarer than dancing unicorns in Thailand. More common is the 'Mid-Range' 250 - 600 cc sports bikes, scramblers, tourers and cruisers.
One of the downsides of Thailands biking scene is that currently the government has extortionate rates of import tax on foreign motorbikes above 200cc (now 250cc). Hence the reason why a bike that is above 200 cc (now 250 cc) is potentially an imported one. At least half to three quarters of these will be 'gray' imports. This has created a cottage industry of 'gray' imports (some stolen) that are smuggled into Thailand, assembled 'under-the-counter' and sold on the black market.
In the North of Thailand this is quite common as many of these bikes tend to be ridden there. They are easy to tell as they tend not to have number-plates fitted. The ever laissez-faire Thai police usually turn a blind-eye to these bikes, even in the provincial cities. However if the bike is loud enough and big enough you will likely be pulled over at a police check-point.
If the police do impound one of these 'gray' imports they will often demand proof of registration otherwise a hefty 'fine' is imposed.
As as a result of all these variables bikes of this caliber are few and far between apart from in Bangkok and they are usually expensive. Ownership of one can be considered a status symbol. Almost always second-hand, you never quite know what the service history is. Legitimate paperwork is also scarce (unless you register the bike and pay mega-baht in import duty). There can be maintenance complications due to scarce spare parts availability. It usually takes from ten to fifteen days to import parts from Japan / Singapore to Thailand. Generic parts that are compatible can alleviate this but they are usually only available in large towns and cities. They also may not be as reliable or safe to as a bona-fide part would be.
Typical Price Range: 150,000 (Usually second hand only and without full legislation) to in excess of 1,000,000 baht (legit).
Island and Village Bikes
Although town and city bikes are still evident in the thai rural and island communities is it is off-road bikes (usually 'gray' imports) that are more commonplace. Rough roads and poor weather can combine to make riding a small bike very uncomfortable and hazardous.
Known examples include: Honda Sonic (offroad version), Yamaha DT 200, Honda GTX, Honda AT and hybrid combinations (pictured below).
For tourists in Thailand the first port of call is often the bike rental shop. They are everywhere tourists are so finding them is usually easy enough. They may ask for a passport or credit card as a deposit.
The prices charged for a bike can vary on where you are in Thailand and what cc engine size the bike is. A rough benchmark in a tourist city for a 100 cc honda wave is typically 150 baht per day or 3500 - 4500 baht. For added extras like electric starter and more performance rated bikes the price will go up. Many frequent visitors have commented on how the price of bike hire is a lot higher than it was five years ago, if you negotiate and haggle enough the price will come down.
Buying a Bike in Thailand
Buying a Bike will save you money in the long run, renting bikes is great for the two-week farang tourist but a big no-no if you're staying in Thailand long-term. Just take a look at this typical price list in a major tourist destination:
Make sure you've a trusted place to store it if you have to go back to your home country.
If possible buy a bike brand new. If you do this insurance for the first year is usually thrown in free and you know its highly unlikely to break-down. Second-hand bikes in Thailand are usually in bad-condition owing to the typical Thai mentality of zero-maintenance on bikes and thrashing them. Unless you specifically know the history and trust the seller and feel lucky be wary of second-hand bikes. There are some corkers out there that you'll snap up for a bargain, but make sure you are 100% before putting your money down.
To buy a bike brand new from a dealership you will need: A letter of residence (available at your nearest consulate) stating your address in Thailand OR a photocopy of property ownership details.
You also may need a non-immigrant 'O' visa stamp in your passport.