The Best Motorbike Rental in San Francisco

Now there’s bikes @Dubbelju – San Francisco

The USA is a fantastic country in which to rent a motorbike. You can usually find the bike you want easily; plentiful, cheap fuel and food (if somewhat unhealthy); spectacular, diverse geography; friendly locals; and the roads are sublime. Seriously: Constant radius corners, lots of; “baby bum” smooth asphalt (i.e. off the Interstates which are awful for bikes)

The US is a riders dream.

And there are so many motivations to ride there:

  • The “Cruiser” – from cruising down the Interstate to the iconic “Route 66”.
  • The “Find the Hidden America” – Back roads, camping, couch surfing, state & national parks.
  • The “Twist and Turn” – Find the “low enforcement” twisty roads and see what this baby can do.
  • The “Deal with Congestion” – Ever have to navigate the I405 in LA, or 101 in SF? You know what I mean.

These and so many more. Each reason will drive different motivations for a particular bike you want, and most likely rental company.

Which is where the challenge comes in. The problem is not finding a bike, it’s deciding on one. Then figuring out which company is going to give you the best deal.

Rental Companies

Broadly speaking there are three types of rental company:

1. (Inter)national Adventure Touring Companies (e.g. Motoquest)

Orgnisations like this make their bread and butter from guided tours. As such they have depots or agents in various adventure hubs across the country or world, and a fleet of bikes. Often the bikes will be “on tour” so availability can be somewhat limited.

On the plus side you can usually take the bikes off-road if that’s your thing. They are rugged machines, kitted up for traversing continents in all conditions. And often bikes will need to be relocated, where you can pick up a good rental deal if you can make the dates work.

2. (Inter)national Rental Companies (e.g. Eaglerider)

Whilst these companies do provide guided tours, this is usually to drive their core rental business. The advantage of an organisation like Eaglerider is ubiquity. You can pick up a bike here, travel across the country and drop it off there. You can be on business in Miami, or San Francisco, or Phoenix and there’s a depot with friendly staff.

That and variety of bikes. Whilst they have thousands of Harley’s, there’s usually one or two sports tourers, adventure tourers, dual sports, and even sports or nakeds for you too. Although I have heard horror stories of people renting a GS, then being “upgraded” to a Harley because the GS was “unavailable.” Not good. Probably not legal. Certainly not ethical. So renter beware.

Watch for extra’s in the prices. One way fees can be eye-watering, fuel fees, various surcharges, taxes, and insurances can all give you sticker shock. The rental rate for a given bike is can be as little as 65% of the daily cost.

With hundred’s of bikes and customers, you can be just a number

3. Local Bike Shops & Rental Companies (e.g. Dubbelju)

This can be a potluck affair. Disadvantages are often driven by scale. Without a national network, you’re very much constrained to limited availability and type of bike. There’s invariably no way to drop a bike off in another city, or at least without having to pay for, if not organise, a transporter. Also the size of the company often means their web presence isn’t that great.

This is not the case with Dubbleju, who provide both drop-off options, and their website is actually one of the better ones I’ve dealt with. It includes a rental calculator where you can set the parameters of your trip, then change the bike on-the-fly, allowing you to compare options.

Local shops do have the advantages of being connected to the local community, and knowing the best rides. Their small size often means they cater for a single type of rider, so they don’t have to have options for everything under the son. Also if you visit regularly you can develop a good relationship with the crew.

It’s All About The Staff

If I’ve learned anything from travelling the world it is that customer service has nothing to do with a brand or organisation, and everything to do with an individual. This is just as true with motorbike rentals. I’ve had a Motoquest manager pick me up at LAX, from their office in Longbeach; and on the next trip a manager lose a 10 day rental to Eaglerider because he wouldn’t pick me up, nor build in a competitive way to get to their depot.

This trip saw Eaglerider lose out to Dubbelju because they wanted to charge me an extra day for 5 hours more on the bike. Even though it’s a longer commute to Dubbelju (& at personal expense) Their rate, flexbility, and friendly service won out. I simply couldn’t justify an extra US$260 (AU$380) for 5 hours.

That said, I’ve come across really friendly, empowered managers that will go out of their way to ensure you have the best experience in the corporates: John Eisenberg (Seattle), Alex Elam (Longbeach, then San Francisco) at Motoquest; and Daniel Marquez at Eaglerider to name a few.

Calculate Everything

Once you’ve decided on a route, an itinerary, a bike, it’s time to figure out the best deal. (which isn’t only about $$) This can be pretty tricky, mostly because each company has it’s own versions of some charges. Some are included, there are discounts applied, some charge a “state mandatory” environment surcharge, others don’t and on. Some include luggage (panniers), others charge for everything.

Then you need to add on things like travel to and from the shop, whether you have to top the bike up or not on return, accommodation (if you need to stay a night before, or after the rental) etc. If you’re going to do a one way ride, you need to figure out the one way drop-off cost (Motoquest $100, Eaglerider $325!!) you may have a flight to tack on, and alternative airports may make more sense.

Not only do the different rentals charge under different titles, but they don’t all have a calculator either. E.g. at Eaglerider you have to select a bike and begin the rental process before you can figure out costs. At Motoquest and other companies you have to complete an online query, to get a quote (hours to days). All of this makes it hard to compare apples with apples.

But it’s mandatory. I’ve not yet paid the price I was expecting from the website, or emailed quote. There is always something the unwary haven’t thought of. So build a spreadsheet, and be prepared to go online for a couple of nights.

And don’t forget Travel Insurance. Not all, in fact most, don’t cover for motorcycle rental. There’s theft, collision, medical treatment, rescue and evacuation, and liability to consider. I haven’t yet found an affordable Aussie company that covers me for most of the riding I do. This is a lot easier when travelling from USA, Canada, and the UK. A good Travel Insurance will reduce your rental liability, which can significantly reduce the cost.

So San Francisco?

All in all Dubbelju is the best in SF by a country mile. Their prices are comparable, but their friendliness, flexibility, local knowledge, and bike range are all awesome. There’s that web calculator I mentioned before, and from Laura’s response to my booking, to Bobby checking my bike out today, the experience was seamless.

They went as far as recommending transport options from SFO (BART $9).

I do know “the Bear” of Australian Road Rider fame, Peter Thoeming comes in annually to take a bike for a blast down the PCH.

Also, if you’ve ever thought to try the Ducati Multistrada, they’re one of the few that stock these.

Interested in Your Experience

I’ve rented bikes in the USA a number of times now, in the UK, and have toured in India. But I’m interested in your thoughts:

  • Have you rented bikes, or joined a tour? Why?
  • Was your experience positive or negative?
  • What hints and tips would you add for new renters?
  • Anywhere you reckon I should ride whilst I’m here? 🙂

 

Fin

Project 2012: Day 264

Day Eleven

It’s hard to believe that the adventure is all over. So much investment and effort goes into planning the trip. Then you’re into the trip, and doing something about the ride every waking moment. There’s no past, no future, just 100% in the now, for 10 days.

And suddenly, you’re on the I5, Route 73, I405, Exit 29B and looking for Motoquest Long Beach.

Can I just say, Interstate’s are for Cars!!

They’re horrible, slidy, noisy, manic, scary, wide, incredibly fast, dangerous things designed exlusively for vehicles that can bash each other, have air-conditioning, and don’t require balance. I.e. cars.

So the ride up from San Diego was fun, but not riding fun, just staying alive fun.

CHiPs

Due to planning (awake at 5:30 on the road at 6:30) and execution (um, I may’ve stretched the 70 mph limit a tad) I was at Motoquest by 8am, an hour early. So I’m dismantling cables and mounts I’d mantled on the bike, when I see an officer of the California Highway Patrol skulking at the BMW Motorrad Dealer next door.

Now I don’t know about you, but I grew up with stalwart adventure TV shows of GenX: Airwolf, Chopper 1, Knight Rider, The A-Team, MacGyver, and of course, CHiPs. The last was a show about the California Highway Patrol, and as a teenager, with a motorbike, there were times I could see myself being a motorcycle mounted cop. So here was my chance to meet one “in the flesh.”

Officer Weddel, a Training Officer for CHP, is a great guy. They ride BMW R1200KT’s (hence skulking at the dealer) and his job is literally to ride wherever he wants everyday. That’s not a bad gig at all really. Wonder if I’m too old to apply for the CHP 🙂

Fin

Then I met a colleague of a work friend, who just popped by because he knew I’d be in the area. Unfortunately my flight booked for 10am meant breakfast on the beach or at the club was out of the question.

Then Ariel arrived, and within minutes had in-processed the bike. We chucked my luggage into her trunk and headed 3 blocks to Long Beach Airport. The ride is officially over!

What an adventure. Nothing I expected! Everything I expected! And More!

I’d camped three times, couch-surfed twice, stayed with 3 hosts from the ADVRider.com Forum (Tent Space Thread), in a motel once, and with friends once. At the end I’d filled up 17 times, at an average of about $14. Ridden 2,732.7m. Still only eaten 3 pepperoni sticks.

I got lost just twice. I say “lost” but really it was “took a wrong turn.”

Mostly my kit was pretty ideal. Below is a list of kit I used to ride, sleep, and connect daily whilst on the ride:

  • Aldi Torque Motorcycle Trousers
  • Motoport Jacket (godsend)
  • Shark Evoline helmet;
  • SMH-10 Bluetooth Headset (imperative)
  • Aldi Torque Gloves & once my DriRider Adventure winter gauntlets
  • Gaerne Aquatech G-Quad Boots
  • Overboard 60l Dry Duffel Bag
  • AndyStrapz Piggy Back Straps
  • Aldi Extreme Terrain Hiking Tent
  • Moon bag ultralight +8C sleeping bag
  • Kathmandu ultralight self-inflating mat
  • iPhone 4S
  • ContourGPS Helmet Cam
  • Flip Camera
  • iPad 2
  • Logitech Zaggmate Bluetooth keyboard
  • Canon EOS 550D SLR with 18-55mm & 55-250mm lenses
  • Velbon Tripod
  • SPOT GPS Messenger for Tracking, Check-in’s and (not needed) Emergencies

Of course there was other kit, but this is what I used every single day on the ride.

All That’s Left is Thanks.

My hosts in:

  • Port Angeles – Rainy, Jenna, and especially, Greg
  • Astoria – Brian
  • Eureka – Amy for popping by, and especially Travis
  • Santa Cruz (Scottdale) – Paul
  • Santa Barbara – Wayne and Diane

I have to shout out to Al, the Mad Virginian, riding states 19 through 21 with me. We had a blast. Motorcycling is best done with others.

The campsite volunteers, waitresses and waiters that served me, every motorbike that greeted me (i.e. every motorbike I passed), and people who just showed interest from a fleeting wave, to a deep conversation. Thanks.

To everyone back at home, and on the web, thanks for your support, encouragement, and comments. Over the next while I’ll consolidate photos and get them organised and on the web. Same goes for the video footage.

John Isenberg in Seattle, Ariel Krawczyk in Long Beach from Motoquest. Your professionalism, helpfulness, advice, and downright friendliness smoothed the rough edges of the tip.

My friends in Sydney, Seattle, and San Diego that put their names down as Emergency Contacts, and checked in with me online to ensure that I was ok. Sean, Phil, and others (you know who you are)

And lastly to my family, Leah, Em (back home in Aus), Amanzi & Charis (now here in Seattle), and my wonderful wife Lucy. Your trust, support, encouragement, and knowing that you were keeping tabs on my location freed me up to enjoy the ride. Thanks.

Holiday Time

So now I jump on a jet to Seattle, and vacation for the next three weeks 🙂

 

“By Any Means” Vancouver to Port Angeles

Day One

Far out! 14.5 hours is a seriously long time. Especially when it's through the day, but ends with the morning. The plane is dark, your body wants to be awake. To move. To eat. But you try and sleep, because you know that at the end of the flight it's going to be morning, with a full day ahead.

My bum is numb, and I'm 6 hours from seeing a motorcycle yet.

Leg Three: Vancouver > Seattle – Quick Coach

YVR – Vancouver International Airport is awesome. Quick trip to Immigration, with no commercialistic detour through Duty Free. Smile, stamp, and on to baggage claim. Bags weren't too long, about 20 mins. Then a single lane for customs, and through.

From the arrivals door you head right about 30m to the escalator, pop outside through the entrance to Ground Transportation, and you're at the pillar where you pick up the Seattle Bus. Only 2 hours early.

Time for a quick coffee, and catch up on Social Media, not to mention publish blog posts thanks to the free airport Wi-Fi.

The Quick Coach is as advertised. Filled with a curious combination of retiree's returning from tours, and foreigners holidaying to North America. I guess I don't know what else I was expecting. Canadians visiting the Retail Outlet Malls I suppose. Probably not on a Sunday though.

The Border crossing was as Border crossings can be, pretty much anywhere in the world, tedious. “Hurry Up and Wait” being the principle of the day. Our driver tells us to get ready with all our bags, so we do, and then wait for 30 minutes before heading into the Customs post, to wait in another queue. All in all this was painless, and relatively quick considering. Definitely a far better experience than LAX. But then Cairo is a better experience than LAX.

The bags all go through a scanner, this one's for food/animal quarantine. But to be honest, the immigration officer was by himself, so he didn't look at the scanner a whole lot.

Then it was load the bags and back on the coach, with a quick bio break at “Custer Rest Stop” Here there be vending machines for the hungry and thirsty, but not the dishonest it seems. They were firmly esconced behind burglar bars. I found that interesting seeing as just 2 miles north and you could get identical products from identical vending machines without any protection….

The drive down to Seattle is spectacular. I5 is a 6 lane freeway, lined with spruce, and cedar, and firs. As we head down the motorway though, I couldn't help but notice the increasingly thick, grey, rolling clouds. It looks like the sunny season is over, and I'm going to get wet.

The bus does have a wifi hotspot, but this must be back-ended onto a 3 or 4G connection. Once past Custer, this was incredibly unreliable until into Seattle proper.

Leg Four: Seattle > Bainbridge Island – Ferry

I picked up the beamer from John at Motoquest Seattle. By the time the bus pulled in, he was already there, with almost all of my orders. Unfortunately a bunch of stuff hadn't been delivered – including spare batteries for the helmet cam (not too serious) and my Washington/Oregon maps (far more serious). Everything else though, including my new Motoport Jacket, was.

I hastily started the repack, which took a little longer than anticipated. About 45 mins later, I'd signed the forms, convinced John I knew enough about riding, and was on the bike.

Next stop, Ferry Terminal.

The first run was not a little terrifying. I had to keep remembering to cross the road when turning left, stay on the right, and all the while was trying to get used to the fully loaded GS. Talk about a different ride.

The most confusing was the indicators. Instead of a single switch on the left handlebar, there's an on button (just under the horn on the left as I discovered more than once) on each handlebar, and a cancel on the right. This requires more than a little concentration, all the while, trying to navigate to the ferry in Sunday afternoon holiday traffic, with road closures, and remembering to LOOK LEFT instead of right.

The ferry itself was great. Absolutely massive.Think Manly ferry, and multiply by about 4.

Once the bike was parked (and bikes get to go on and off first), it was up to the passenger deck, to the strains of a Celtic Harpist. No kidding.

Like the Manly ferry though, this is a great way to see the waterways, rather than paying through the nose for a tourist cruise.

Leg Five: Bainbridge Island > Port Angeles – 2009 BMW R1200GS

I met my host for the night, the wonderful Greg Birch, in the little town of Winslow, just off the Ferry. He rides a Suzuki VStrom, and after greetings, we were off onto the Olympic peninsular.

WOW!! The roads here make Australian roads look like rutted farm tracks. From twisties, through multi-lane freeways, along spectacular coastines, into quaint villages. This was a great start to the adventure. I'm really glad I was staying with a fellow ADVrider, who knows the roads, and could show me a good time.

Before long I had settled into the bike, and was starting to get the feel of her. The 21″ wheel is very different in the corners, and the shaft drive gives a totally different response through bottom end. The torque is amazing. Pretty much stick the bike in 6th and just go with the flow.

We stopped at the little town of Port Townsend, where the annual Wooden Boat Show was winding down after the week-end. More to add to the charm. It was here that I finally figured out the confusion of whether I was feeling tired, or hungry. I hadn't eaten since Vancouver Airport at 8am. Doh!

When in Rome

So my first official meal in the USA was the delectable footlong hotdog with everything. And can I say, scrumptious.

Greg had planned to show me “Heartbreak Ridge” up in the Olympics, but by the time we hit the 101 to Port Angeles, my body was starting to crash. After 28 hours of travel, with few meals, and less sleep, it was time to call discretion the better part of valour.

So we unpacked the bike at his office (surgery) where I stayed in an awesome apartment. The bed itself is about twice the size of my tent. Then headed to his place where I met the awesome Rainy his wife, and Jenna, their daughter.

Dinner was Salmon, caught yesterday. Another WOW.

I went outside for the quick ride back to the apartment, to discover it was raining!!! And yes, I'd left my touring pants and waterproof gloves back at the apartment. Jacket worked though…

 

Getting Close Now

Project 2012: Day 227

Update 1 – Planning

Travel

The planning phase for my Bucket List Ride, the Topdown Tour of the US 2012 is really starting to ramp up now. I’ve booked and paid for most of the bike rental. I pick up the bike in Seattle on 9th September from Motoquest. My flight is booked, as is the Vancouver to Seattle bus.

I’ve also paid for a return flight from Long Beach to Seattle for the 19th September, when Lucy and the girls fly in to the US.

Safety Gear

Because I’m riding alone, I wanted to ensure that people could track my progress, and that I have a way to call for help, or alert Emergency Authorities even if there is no cell signal. To this end I ordered a SPOT GPS Messenger, which does exactly that.

You can follow my progress on the page on this blog. I’ll also be testing it on my Black Dog Ride week-end that you can check out at http://blackdog.rog42.net. Feel free to sponsor me 🙂

The one frustration is that a device that costs just $99 in the USA (which is about AU$93) is charged at $200 here in Australia. “On Sale”

I also ordered a UTAG ICE Dog Tag. This is a USB device that carries all of my personal, identification, medical and emergency contact information. Along with insurance details. If I’m unconscious, I want to ensure that people can rapidly get the information they need to treat me. Especially insurance in the USA, not to mention my rare blood type.

This is a cool device that hangs around your neck, just like a dog tag, but plugs into any USB drive.

Home from Home

Camping

I’m planning to get off the beaten track, and at least half of my nights will be camping. Partly to minimise cost, but mostly because I actually enjoy getting out into nature, and the ride from Top to Bottom on this continent’s coast has some of the most spectacular nature in the world.

Now Air Canada is quite strict on their “1 bag 23kg” policy, so I’ve been researching light, strong, weather proof, compact, yet large enough, inexpensive tents. 🙂 No mean feat. Especially when this has to include my Helmet, and Riding gear.

After weeks of research, including building an Excel model, looking at tents both locally (more expensive, have to include in flight weight) and in the USA (less expensive, have to bring it back, potential warranty issues) I ended up finding a tent left over from the Aldi “Extreme Hiking and Mountaineering Sale”

Alloy poles, gear loft, alloy pegs, taped seams, bathtub groundsheet, 2 entrances, 2 vestibules, in a compression dry bag, at only 2.5kgs and just AU$70 – bargain. 🙂

Especially when you have 60 days to return it if not satisfied.

Now I’m doing the same with both sleeping bags, and hiking self inflating mattresses. I’m also looking at a dry bag for the camping gear on the back of the bike.

At the moment I’m unsure about cooking equipment, as I may just eat out all the time. I’d rather not spend too much time shopping at supermarkets.

Electronics

Another big issue is what to take in the way of electronics. On the one hand I don’t want to spend all my time editing, and posting etc. On the other this is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and I don’t want to leave the SLR at home and then get to experience a shot that I’ll never get the chance to see again.

Of course all of you get to live life vicariously through my lenses as well.

;

Suffice to say I’ll have:

  • Contour GPS Helmet Cam
  • iPhone 4S for most Instagram and Candid Shots
  • Canon 550D with twin lens for serious photography
  • All three of the above devices take HD video – but I may try and reclaim my Flip Camera from the friend I lent it to a year ago
  • For editing and Internet, I’m tossed between the iPad and the MacBookPro. I’m erring toward the iPad at the moment because of battery life, ease of charging, limited replacement cost should something happen to it, weight, and the limited functionality will minimise the time I’m messing around with electronics. Mostly this trip is about disconnecting.

To that end, I’ll be testing the iPad this week-end as well. If it works, I’ll leave the MacBook at home. I can pretty much do everything on the iPad and iPhone.

That’s it – I’m getting the riding gear together as well, but I’ll leave that for another update.

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