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.
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.
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? 🙂