Affordable • Sleek • minimal design • Durable • 18-mile battery range
5-hour charge time • Awkward to carry • Difficult to fold up and store
There’s a reason e-scooter companies use the Xiaomi Mi: It’s fun and easy to ride, can boost your speed up to 15 mph, and sturdy enough to keep up with city traffic.
Both Bird and Spin‘s Xiaomi-built scooters are flying around San Francisco, and two other major scooter-share startups use the Mi scooter as its base. So does the Texas-based Blue Duck. While riding the Mi, I was certain people just assumed it was another Bird.
Ofo, the Chinese bike-share company known for its bright yellow bikes, is introducing scooters to several U.S. cities next month. After testing dozens of different scooters, an Ofo exec for North America told me the Xiaomi Mi stood out as the only useable choice for a heavy-use, shared fleet program.
So when Xiaomi offered to send over a scooter to test out, meaning that for once I wouldn’t have to share my e-scooter with strangers and vandals (or pay 15 cents per minute), I hopped right on.
There’s a reason Bird and Spin (and soon Ofo) chose the Mi as its base. Although Bird wouldn’t confirm its use beyond a spokesperson saying, “We have worked with a manufacturer to get Birds that meet our needs and standards.” Xiaomi said it’s “aware” the SoCal startup is using its scooters. I’ve ridden many Bird scooters and it’s definitely a modified version of the Mi. The scooter is easy to ride with a simple, minimal design from the handlebars down to the wheels.
It’s durable, too. This is definitely the scooter that can hold up against the relentless barrage of users unlocking and riding the scooter all day.
Nimble and quick
Xiaomi’s scooter is pretty affordable at about $500 for the motorized vehicle, which makes it attractive to companies customizing it. With an 18.6-mile range on the lithium-ion battery and a max speed of 15.5 miles per hour using the handy throttle, if you were to ride at max speed the battery would last for about an hour.
But this isn’t the scooter you want for long journeys — it’s best for quick, zippy trips. And for most of those, you can zoom down a street alongside traffic and probably beat most of the congestion.
I avoided motoring up even the slightest sloping curbs despite the scooter’s ability to handle 14 percent inclines. Inclines also drain the battery, which can drop pretty quickly with extended use. This isn’t an electric-assist bicycle; it’s a small scooter, so it’s best to manage your expectations of performance.
The power button turns on the electric motor and you can click through to the green power-saving mode so you won’t have to plug into the wall charger as often (it takes five hours to juice up fully). The power button also controls the headlight for night riding. Modified versions on scooter-shares don’t have much control over power use, but let’s hope the companies have the rides permanently set to power-saving.
The bell works like any old-school bell does. Also, if the battery does die mid-ride you still have a traditional scooter you can ride! Yes, just like the Razor scooters from back in middle school. Even without the fast motorized ride, you can get some speed propelling yourself. On San Francisco streets where the scooters endure rough treatment, even broken Mi scooters (wire-cutting is a popular crime) can get you around pretty fast, and the brakes still work. The motor is a powerful boost, but the wheels still work without it.
Sleek, yet sturdy
Even with its slim aluminum frame, I felt confident the Mi could handle, uh, me. And, if it’s a shared unit, the assortment of others who will ride the scooter before you. The burst of energy from the throttle certainly gets you moving, but the hand brake makes it just as easy to slow down as it is to speed up.
Double braking on both wheels helps make the ride feel more secure, and regenerative braking, which puts uses the brakes to help charge the battery, means the scooter is more efficient. When in doubt I was quick to slow down and move in “manual mode” using my own foot power to propel me.
The 8.5-inch rubber tires are pretty sturdy (and the package came with an extra set), but I was hyper-aware of divots, small rocks, and debris in the road, convinced I would be sent flying.
At 26.9 pounds it’s still pretty hefty — I’m not sure its “ultra-lightweight” descriptor is completely fair, but with a thin frame and silhouette, it’s not very obtrusive. The scooter is also touted as foldable — but it’s not the most intuitive method to get the contraption snugly in place.
Once folded, it’s still an unwieldy 25+ pounds — it’s like carrying a heavy grocery bag but awkwardly balanced, and still 42 inches long.
I wasn’t sure how to lock the thing until the company directed me to its app. From there a Bluetooth connection can lock the bike, similar to the scooter-shares that lock up (and beep at you if you try to ride them) after you sign off through an app. Now I can lock it at the touch of a button and have it beep at me, too. The app also gives other stats and data about the scooter, like its battery level.
Wait — this is fun
With much controversy dominating the conversation about e-scooters, it’s easy to forget about the ride itself. If you look at people riding around, they’re usually smiling. Riding taps into a childhood nostalgia and a fast-pace energy of a machine moving you forward. There’s something liberating about a device pushing you along. You can’t help but smile. When the garage attendant at my office took it for a spin he had a great time.
While riding a traditional foot-powered scooter feels uncool and dated, something about the motor and slim shape make this feel like a mature, adult version of a favorite childhood activity. Add since the rides are emission-free, e-scooters feel hip. Just this week I overheard two grad students discussing the merits of catching an e-scooter instead of ordering an Uber to get to another campus across the city in the evening.
This is a scooter to quickly jet from your house to your friend’s house that’s just beyond walking distance. You’ll get there quickly on battery power and have some fun while you’re at it. That’s why you’re seeing these scooters everywhere.