In February of this year I spent a couple weeks in Florida and decided to rent a motorcycle for a few days to tour along the east coast. A Harley-Davidson just seemed fitting. I hopped online and started looking for rentals. At first, I looked at shops in the Orlando area, but soon found several websites that offered rentals for privately owned bikes, similar to Airbnb for motorcycles. There was EagleShare (part of EagleRider), Riders Share, Twisted Road and others.
I searched the websites and soon found a Harley-Davidson Sportster Custom that I thought would make a good bike for a short trip through Florida. It was close to my location, making it easy to pick up. I first booked through EagleShare but was denied by the company because of my Canadian insurance policy; I either didn’t show enough proof of my policy, or they didn’t accept my Canadian insurance.
I then went to Riders Share and booked the same Sportster Custom on its website. Overall, the process seemed simple. I arrived at the renter’s house, and we proceeded to go over the bike, taking photos of the condition of the rental. One thing became apparent: you never know the amount of maintenance an owner puts into their bike before renting it to others.
When I checked over the bike with the owner, we noticed multiple scrapes and scratches on it; although aesthetic, it was still slightly off-putting. The running bike had been turned off for five minutes while completing paperwork before I went to ride away and heard the ominous “trrrt” as I hit the ignition button. The bike’s battery was dead. The owner immediately stated that if I wanted to walk away, he’d give me a full refund and that this had never happened before. I boosted the battery before I left and luckily didn’t have an issue after.
He mentioned that the rear brake squeals quite a bit and he’s not sure why, asking me to only use the front brake while riding. It was likely that someone rode with their foot on the rear brake since, looking at the brake pads, they had been worn down significantly.
Although the check-in process for the website is comprehensive in specifying issues with the bike, allowing the bike’s owner to upload photos and reminding them to check the tire wear, chain and oil levels, etc., it perhaps doesn’t offer a good standard for maintenance. The website asks to list how much fuel was in the tank. He said it was full, and without a gas gauge on the machine, I took his word for it. However, a mere 60 miles away the gas light came on leaving me surprised and mildly disappointed.
This concept of community sharing with personal motorcycles isn’t a new one — we’ve often lent out our bikes to friends, or taught skills to our loved ones with our bikes in hopes of encouraging some new blood in the sport. But when it comes to a profitable business idea, the concept becomes a double-edged sword.
On the plus side, you can try out all sorts of bikes, you don’t have to maintain them, and you don’t have to incur the original large sum investment price that comes with ownership. Not to mention, it’s great when you travel somewhere new without a bike and you can easily pick another one up.
If you’re a renter, when you’re not riding your bike, you could earn some money and meet other riders through community sharing. It’s good in theory, however, while renting the bike it became clear that there may be more downsides than upsides to the personal rental bike market.
You have no certainty that the rental bike is in good working condition, as there is no guarantee of maintenance and thorough check-overs after every rental. Many of these websites also put a limit on how many miles you can ride in a day, leaving you with hefty charges if you go over.
For rentees, meanwhile, you’re lending your beloved beast to a stranger, and you can’t gauge their skill level until you watch them ride away on your bike. While any rental company runs into the same predicament, they are much better equipped to deal with damage on their machines and general wear and tear from renters.
If this business model was to come to Canada, I would have a hard time putting my bike on the rental market — I just love it too much. I would consider renting again and would suggest others try it with caution, and some general knowledge of what to look for when determining if the bike you’re riding is in good order. In the end, however, the feeling of riding down an open road that you haven’t yet experienced is always worthwhile.