Motorcycle travel is becoming a popular way to get around Thailand, especially in the north. Dozens of places along the guest house circuit, including many guest houses themselves, have set up shop with no more than a couple of motorbikes for rent. It is also possible to buy a new or used motorbike and sell it before you leave the country - a good used 125cc bike costs around 20,000 Baht. While motorcycle trekking is undoubtedly one of the best ways to see Thailand, it is also undoubtedly one of the easiest ways to cut your travels short, permanently. You can also run up very large repair and/or hospital bills in the blink of an eye. However, with proper safety precautions and driving conduct adapted to local standards, you can see parts of Thailand inaccessible by other modes of transport and still make it home in one piece. Some guidelines to keep in mind:
If you've never driven a motorcycle before, stick to the smaller 80 to 100cc step-through bikes with automatic clutches. If you're an experienced rider but have never done off the road driving, take it slow the first few days.
Always check a machine over thoroughly before you take it out. Look at the tyres to see if they still have tread, look for oil leaks, and test the brakes. You may be held liable for any problems that weren't duly noted before your departure. Newer bikes cost more than clunkers, but are generally safer and more reliable. Street bikes are more comfortable and ride more smoothly on paved roads than dirt bikes; it's silly to rent an expensive dirt bike like the Honda MTX 125 if most of your riding is going to be along decent roads. An MTX 125 uses twice the fuel of a Honda Wing with the same engine size, thus lowering your cruising range in areas where roadside pumps are scarce (the Wing gives you about 300 kilometres per tank while an MTX gets about half that).
Wear protective clothing and a helmet (most rental places will provide a helmet with the bike if asked). Without a helmet, a minor slide on gravel can develop into a quick concussion. Long pants, long-sleeved shirts and shoes are highly recommended as protection against sunburn and as a second skin if you fall. If your helmet doesn't have a visor, then wear goggles, glasses or sunglasses to keep bugs, dust and other debris out of your eyes. It is practically suicidal to ride on Thailand's highways without taking these minimum precautions for protecting your body. Gloves are also a good idea - to prevent blisters from holding on to the twist-grips for long periods of time.
For distances of over 100 kilometres or so, take along an extra supply of motor oil and, if riding a two-stroke machine like the MTX, two-stroke engine oil. On long trips, oil burns fast.
Never ride alone in remote areas, especially at night. There have been incidents where farang bikers have been shot or harassed while riding alone, mostly in remote rural areas. When riding in pairs or groups, stay spread out so you'll have room to manoeuvre or brake suddenly if necessary.
In Thailand the de facto right of way is determined by the size of the vehicle that puts the motorcycle pretty low in the pecking order. Don't fight it and keep clear of trucks and buses.
Distribute whatever weight you're carrying on the bike as evenly as possible across the frame. Too much weight at the back of the bike makes the front end less easy to control and prone to rising up suddenly on bumps and inclines.
Get insurance with the motorcycle if at all possible. The more reputable motorcycle rental places insure all their bikes; some will do it for an extra charge. Without insurance you're responsible for anything that happens to the bike, If an accident results in a total loss, or if the bike is somehow lost or stolen, you can be out 25,000 Baht plus. Health insurance is also a good idea - get it before you leave home and check the conditions in regard to motorcycle riding.