Smol wheels, big fun

Photo of a Xiaomi M365 scooter

A few months ago, I got a Xiaomi M365 electric scooter, but hadn’t gotten much of a chance to ride it. Now that spring’s come, though, I’ve actually gotten some miles on it, and have enough experience with this thing to have informed opinions on it.

There’s plenty of backlash against scooters nowadays.

Dockless scooter companies like Bird and Lime have blitzed cities across the US, dropping scooters off and expecting the cities’ people to figure things out. In many cases, they… haven’t, with renters riding and parking the scooters irresponsibly, and others deciding to vandalize the scooters.

And, the scooter companies don’t seem to have a viable business model. Their pricing – historically, $1 to unlock the scooter, $0.15 per minute the scooter is rented – may be appealing for quick one-offs, but when the Xiaomi scooter I purchased (and which formed the backbone of Bird’s original fleet) only costs $450, it doesn’t make much sense to rent if you’re using it every day, in my opinion. Worse, even at that pricing, the scooter companies are losing money, due to the high failure rate of their scooters in rental duty, and costs of getting people to charge the scooters at night.

Myself, I’ve used Bird a grand total of one time – specifically to ride a M365 before I bought one. The first scooter I rode was broken – the throttle did nothing, and worse, the rear brake did nothing – but the second one I rode was… fine. Perfectly fine.

But, we’re not here to talk about rental scooters. We’re here to talk about the scooter that I paid my own money for. It’s not getting vandalized, it’s not getting ridden by people with zero mechanical sympathy, and it’s not getting ridden at speed into crowds of people or being parked in the way.

Let’s start out with a quick overview of what this scooter actually is, for those unaware.

So, what exactly is a Xiaomi M365?

It’s an overgrown kick scooter – think like the Razor scooters you had as a kid, or maybe your kids have today – with a couple of 8.5 inch diameter tires, a “250 watt” electric motor on the front wheel, a 280 watt-hour battery, a throttle for controlling it, a disc brake, a folding handlebar, a bell, a headlight, a tail light, and not much else. Xiaomi claims 25 km/h (15.5 MPH) top speed from all of this.

The scare quotes around “250 watt” are because they seem to have designed this around European electric bicycle regulations (even though, as far as I can tell, it’s not actually legal under those regulations), which require a maximum of 250 watts continuous power… which is only measured after 30 seconds of full-power operation. As a result, Xiaomi claims 500 watts of peak power. I have no way of testing this.

What is it good for?

If you believe those that hate scooters, absolutely nothing, and it should be thrown into the nearest body of water, or failing that, off the top of a building, immediately.

What it’s actually good for, on the other hand, is quite a lot of things.

Given that it folds up fairly small (although not as small as some other scooters), it’s an excellent last-mile solution for multimodal transport. While mass transit is essentially non-existent where I am, you could reasonably carry it with you on any kind of transit that allowed folding bikes on-board. Myself, if I’m dropping my car off for service, I’ll stick it in the car and ride it from the shop to work. Or, on the last road trip I took, I wedged it between the front and rear seats, to have something to get around when I was at my destination.

But, with a 25 km/h top speed, it’s useful for more than just last-mile. That’s bicycle speed we’re talking about, but without sweating my ass off. Really, anywhere a bicycle can go, this thing has the performance to go there, too, as long as it’s not too far away. I’d be comfortable with going about 15 km (9.3 mi) on a charge in normal mode, and about 20 km (12.4 mi) in eco mode (which limits top speed to 18 km/h (11.2 MPH) and I believe limits power to a true 250 W). My commute’s about 8.4 km (5.2 mi) one way, and I can charge at work, so it works out pretty perfectly – if I forget to charge or something happens that I can’t charge, I can always switch to eco mode and make it home.

Additionally, I find that there’s a certain fluidity in riding this scooter that a bicycle doesn’t have. If I for some reason need to step off and walk it – negotiating terrain or encountering people walking when riding on a sidewalk being a couple examples – I just slow down to a near-stop and… step off. Then, when I’m done, I can just step back on, kick off, and throttle up. Even a step-through bicycle isn’t this fluid with dismounting, because you’re not already standing up, you typically need to come to a complete stop before dismounting, and even step-through frames are higher-up than this scooter’s footboard.

What’s bad about it?

The wheels are tiny. That’s the entire point, but that brings about two main drawbacks.

Negotiating terrain can be tricky. It will take on more than you’d think it would, and still keep the rubber side down… but you still want to be hyper-vigilant of things like raised curbs and potholes. Where someone on a bicycle could roll over them, I instead dismount and walk through the obstacle, if I can’t just avoid it.

Additionally, on rougher pavement, the small wheels take a huge rolling resistance hit. They have to deflect a lot more than a larger wheel would, so that’s just physics working against it.

As far as the scooter itself, I’d say the biggest problems are that the tail light wire is unprotected (solved with a cheap 3D printed part, I got mine from this eBay seller), the hinge mechanism needs some damping to not wear prematurely (solved with another cheap 3D printed part from the same listing), and on my BlackBerry Key2, the Mi Home app doesn’t stay connected and is a bit finicky. (On earlier firmware releases, having that app connected was the only thing protecting you from remote attacks. Now, it’s really only necessary for locking and unlocking the scooter.)

The weight limit is 100 kg (220 lbs), which I exceed by a fair amount. So far I haven’t seen any actual failures, though. We’ll see how well it lasts under the load.

Service is also annoying, as there’s covers over the axle bolts that require removing stickers to remove the cover. In the photo above, you can see the rear stickers are damaged if you look closely – I had to take the rear wheel off as part of installing a tail light wire guard. I’ve since replaced them, but still. With the pneumatic tires, this could be incredibly annoying with a flat tire, which I luckily haven’t gotten.

Finally, it’s not great at hills. Not terrible, but there’s definitely hills I encounter every day where it needs some help by kicking it up the hill.

Why buy it over an e-bike?

There’s three reasons, really.

Cost is a big one. At the $450 I paid, it’s quite a bit cheaper than most e-bikes.

It’s simply a better last-mile solution due to the better portability. Some folding e-bikes come close, but at considerably higher prices.

Finally, the improved fluidity of moving between walking and scooting is, I find, a boon to using it in areas where infrastructure is poor. On a bicycle, I’d be more inclined to try to stick to roadways that are poorly suited to cycling, whereas on this, I have a lot fewer qualms about going for the sidewalk and slowing down.

Why shouldn’t you buy this?

If you need to carry a lot of cargo, get something else. A backpack’s worth of cargo is easy enough, and there are third-party cargo hooks available to carry a bag on the stem, but by that point, you’ll probably want panniers on a bicycle.

If you need to go longer than about 15-20 km on a charge, get something else. An e-bike can let you extend the range by reducing the amount of pedal assist and using more human power, and many e-bikes have swappable batteries as well. And, there’s some scooters, including the new Xiaomi M365 Pro, with larger batteries.

If you’re riding on a lot of rougher terrain, the lack of suspension is annoying, and some scooters do have suspension (although typically with non-pneumatic tires). Also, larger wheels are a really nice thing to have for that, and that typically means bicycles. (There are some exceptions, but I wouldn’t recommend that one at all – just say no to sealed lead acid garbage.) Most of my riding is on the local multi-use path system, with a bit on public roads and sidewalks, and it’s fine for that.

If you’re riding in areas where you’re likely to get a flat, get something without pneumatic tires, or retrofit non-pneumatic tires. There’ll probably be a ride quality impact, though.

If you’re climbing a lot of hills, either something with more power, or an e-bike with a mid-drive motor that works through the gearing would be helpful. (Even without a mid-drive, pedaling is more efficient than kicking for climbing hills, so that’s something to consider, too.) Otherwise, you’ll be doing a lot of kicking.

If you’re in a jurisdiction that has laws against light vehicles like scooters and e-bikes having throttles, and those laws are enforced, definitely don’t buy this or anything like it.

If you need extremely small folding, there’s scooters that fold quite a bit smaller. Many scooters have their folding joint at where the downtube meets the deck, whereas the M365’s folding joint is on the stem above the headtube. And, many scooters have additional folding joints to fold the handlebars against the stem, greatly reducing the scooter’s width when folded. I do worry about the durability of a lot of those designs, though, and some of them have particularly small decks that reduce foot space.

What’s the verdict?

For my needs, I love it.

It gets my average commute speed above where I would be on a fully human-powered bicycle – I tended to be in the 17-19 km/h range on my recumbent tricycle, whereas I can pretty reliably get 21 km/h out of this.

It’s vastly higher efficiency than driving a car, too. Typical efficiency is ~16-18 Wh/km on normal, ~11-13 Wh/km on eco, from what I’ve seen. Compare to an EPA city rating of 153 Wh/km for a Tesla Model 3 Long Range RWD, or (at 33.7 kWh per US gallon of gasoline) 388 Wh/km for my 2016 Toyota Prius (based on 54 MPG EPA city). And, as I subscribe to a 100% renewable energy electric plan (which is supplied by 100% wind credits), any charging I do at home is truly zero emissions.

And, honestly, it’s fun. Sometimes it’s like riding a magic carpet (on smoother trails and roads, anyway).

I’d highly recommend renting one to try it out, and if your circumstances make it useful, buy one or something like it.

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