Tips for Bike Rental Shops
Hint: We're a fan of transportation bikes
If you’re a bike shop who offers rental bikes, there’s good news: You are the “default” model for people who come to visit your town and want to borrow a bike. That’s a big advantage over your emerging competition, namely bike shares like Citibike (NYC), and online “new economy” sharing services like Spinlister. Most tourists still begin their planning process assuming that they’ll find a bike shop and rent a bike there, either because they don’t know about their other options, or because they prefer something about your version of the bike rental experience over the others. They might find the typical bike share bikes too heavy and clunky, or they might be put off with dealing with private individuals on Spinlister. Whatever the reason, people tend to google something like “bike rentals in _____ city” and then choose a shop. And we've done all three - renting bikes in numerous cities, using bike shares in NYC, Chicago, Montreal, Madison (and others I'm probably forgetting), and Spinlister once in Indianapolis.
We have noticed, however, that not all bike shop rental bikes are created equal. In no particular order, here’s what can make renting a bike from your shop a better experience…
Almost no one seems to offer rental bikes with lights. They’re cheap, some of them are even hard to steal, and pretty much every single city requires them by law after dark, so… what must we assume on the part of bike shops who won't rent bikes with lights? Do they think tourists eat dinner at 4:30 and then scurry back to their hotels? The result is always the same: the people who are least familiar with the town wind up biking after dark without lights. Kudos to Clever Cycles in Portland for offering so many bikes with primo dynamo lighting. Even battery-powered blinkies would be better than nothing...
FENDERS AND SOME KIND OF STORAGE
Fenders, too, are cheap. And the first time you go through a puddle and get a stripe up your back, you'll wish you had them. They also keep the bike frames cleaner. More importantly, riders need a way to stash their purses and camera bags, so bikes need a small basket, or at least a rack of some kind to attach a bag to... which you could rent them. See how this works? And in both these respects, bike shares have an advantage over shops who only rent stripped-down hybrids... bike share bikes all have fenders, lights, and storage. Once again, kudos to Clever Cycles for having fenders, lights, and storage options for literally every bike they rent.
DISCOUNTS ON SUBSEQUENT PURCHASES
We've seen this in several great rental shops - Clever Cycles (of course) and Budget Bikes in Madison WI come to mind - and we love it. Essentially, if you wind up liking and buying the kind of thing you rented, the shop will discount the money you paid to rent it! We rented a Burley trail-a-bike for our daughter for a week in Madison and liked it so much we bought it. Budget Bikes took the rental price off the price of a new unit, and we were thrilled.
You know your customer base, or at least you should. You know how they want to use your rented bikes , and if you don't... ask them. The chances are that people would like to be able to bring a bag with them without wearing it (and thus sweating through their shirts). They'd like to be able to ride through a puddle without getting dirty. And they'd like to stay out as long as they want, without worrying about biking with no lights. Sometimes, they're also renting something that they've always sorta wanted to buy ... give them the little nudge they need, and you might make a few more sales. The easier you make it for people to have a care-free, relaxing, spontaneous time on your bikes, the happier they'll be.
Bikabout's Favorite Bike Rentals in North America:
- Fitz & Folwell, Montreal - $30+ for Linus city and kids bikes includes helmet, lock, rack, lights and map.
- Clever Cycles, Portland - $30+ daily for Brompton folding bikes, Dutch city and bakfets includes a lock, helmet and map and many of the bikes have generator lights!
- Rolling Orange, Brooklyn - $38+ daily for Dutch city bikes, tandems (for kids), child seats, bike boxes, locks and lights.
- Budget Bikes, Madison - $10+ daily for hybrid, mountain, road, vintage, trailer, trail-a-bike with helmet, lock and map
- Calhoun Cycle, Minneapolis - $45 daily for a Brompton folding bike includes lights, fenders, bag (optional), lock (optional), and 1 helmet.
- Dutch Bike Company, Seattle - $45 daily for Dutch mixte, roadster or bakfiets and includes lock and helmet
Any shops that we're missing?