Friday, January 29, 2016

The Rental Market

Earlier this week on twitter, the Flying Pigeon bike shop in Los Angeles has mentioned they’d be renting Brompton folding bikes come spring 2016. In Boston and Portland Oregon Bromptons can already be rented at Broadway Bicycles and Clever Cycles, respectively. And of course in the UK, an entire network of bike hire docks has been set up by the manufacturer directly, which, rumor has it, might spread to cities in Ireland soon.

But while these folder rental announcements have perhaps been the most newsworthy, a rental market for bicycles of all types has been quietly thriving across the US and Europe. From shops throughout many cities you can now rent vintage bicycles, cargo bikes, utility bicycles, even high-end roadbikes. You can rent them for a day, for a weekend, sometimes even for a month or longer. While some bike shops promote their rental services, others offer them upon request but do not advertise. In fact, a lot of it, quite frankly, is informal and known about through local word of mouth. If you are looking for a bicycle to rent, it never hurts to ask around, even if it may not seem that a culture of it exists in your neck of the woods.

But why rent a bicycle to begin with?

One obvious reason is if you are a visitor. While many major cities now offer bike-share programmes, these can be awkward for non-residents to use or expensive to use beyond one short trip at a time. The bike-share bikes may also lack features that the visitor might want while they are in town - for instance, extra storage capacity for shopping, low gears for hills, compactness for use in public transport, etc. And while private companies that specialise in bike rentals exist as well, experienced cyclists tend to be less than ecstatic about the quality and condition of their offerings. Many would much prefer to explore their new surroundings on the type of bicycle they are used to riding at home, and the idea of renting one in well-maintained condition, from a friendly, knowledgeable, flexible bike shop appeals.

Renting can also be a valuable resource for those in the market for a new bicycle, providing opportunity to test ride long term before deciding whether a particular make and model is right for them. As you might have noticed, nice bicycles can be quite expensive. And for potential customers, the lack of sufficient opportunity to try a bike before buying is frustrating. Even in the US, where it is customary for bike shops to allow for test rides, these test rides are usually limited - both in the milage considered acceptable, and in the terrain to which the bike shop's location restricts the tester. In other countries (Northern Ireland, for instance, based on my experience), test rides can be out of the question altogether. You can stand over a bike, lift it, examine it - but the tyres mustn't roll off the shop floor!

In both the limited test ride and the no test ride scenarios, shop owners are (understandably) concerned over their bicycles losing retail value once ridden, since they'd no longer be "new." Not every shop can afford a fleet of demo models, destined to be scuffed and sold at clearance prices at the season's end. Offering the floor models for rent would solve this problem for the shop owners, bringing in revenue that would certainly make up for the machines' devaluation, while at the same time offering a valuable service to their customers.

I myself have used bike rental services twice, with pleasing results. In Vienna, I rented "with option to buy" a vintage Waffenrad from Heavy Pedals. This unique, just-right-for-me bicycle improved the quality of my work commute gazillion-fold and satisfied my love of vintage bikes, without committing me to ownership in a country I only lived in part-time. And before I bought my Seven roadbike, I rented one for a month from the Ride Studio Cafe in Boston - which, no doubt, was largely responsible for why, once I did order my own Seven, the fit and feel came out so perfectly.

Potentially beneficial for all parties involved, I believe the rental market is something bike shop owners should consider. How nice would it be, if rentals were promoted openly, with a guide to where to rent what kind of bike, by country and city, available as an "app"?  It could happen!


34 comments:

  1. Good to know RSC rents Sevens. Apart from what you are describing here, there's one more category of rentals I would like to see. Unfortunately, they are pretty much non-existent.

    I would like an option to rent for a few days high quality, non-utility bicycles from local shops. This would be the best way to try out the newest road bikes, mountain bikes, fat bikes, cross bikes, etc. in their natural habitat.

    I understand that this is unlikely to happen as such shop would have to stock a large number of various bikes in various sizes, ready to ride. And they would likely never be sold, serving only as demo bicycles.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What you describe is partly what I meant under renting high-end roadbikes. Aside from RSC (which is limited to the Seven & Honey models they carry), I cannot name any specific shops that do this, but I do know they exist.

      The demo models can be sold at clearance prices at the end of every 1-2 seasons, so I don't think it is that unrealistic.

      Delete
  2. In other cities with bike share like Chicago people use them to avoid the hassle of maintenance. My son commutes 3 miles each way on a share bike even tho he has his own bicycle. but for a meager sum he does not have to worry about flat tires, mud in the elevator. but of course the bike stands are convenient to his home and work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I get the impression that the usefulness of bike share, and the manner in which it is used, varies largely by city. In some areas it is used mostly by tourists, in others by locals, etc. The Chicago bike share always seems to get good feedback.

      Delete
    2. The Twin Cities bikes share seems to be going like gangbusters. I can't find a demographic breakdown as to what percentage are tourists, which are locals, etc, but WAG and observation tells me it's about 40/60 local travel vs tourists during the height of the season. Like there in NI, one can ride late and still have sunlight, and the share bikes have dynamo head and taillights.
      Interestingly, the bikeshare web site lists longer term and specialty rental places for those who want something other than an hour on an upright 3 speed. Nice Ride Minnesota - Bike Rental Shops
      I know of one or two possible others on the St Paul side of the river, but those are strictly word of mouth.

      At first I thought the bike in the top picture was a Flying Pigeon, tied in with your first sentence. On second look- nope, that's a real Raleigh-built High Nelly. If it's yours, that's a *great* place for her to repose for a while.

      Delete
  3. I've often thought that for the rider that wants the "latest and greatest" every year, but may not have pockets quite deep enough to fund it, a lease arrangement with a shop would be attractive. At $5-10k for a new higher-end bike, this is prohibitive for most.
    Meaning: At the beginning of the season, the rider arranges to lease the hottest new bike at the shop. He's responsible for following an outlined maintenance schedule, pays for all repairs, and may not permanently modify the bike. Any crashes null the lease and a pre-determined price is paid. At the end of the season (or when the rider is done with the bike), assuming the bike is in expected condition, the rider returns the bike to the shop and walks away. At that point, the shop can either use the bike as a demo, a rental, or sell it for a reasonable sum. There are plenty of folks that wouldn't mind riding "last year's hot new tech" for a discount.
    This would likely be too burdensome for a little/local type of place, but for the bigger chain type of establishments with a good established market, it may be an effective way to hold on to a good-sized customer base/ repeat customers.
    I don't know, maybe this is something that's already happening, and I've just revealed that I ride slow, old, bikes. :)



    Wolf.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think leasing makes a lot of sense in that context. Around here the type of rider you mention tends to 'upgrade' every 1-2 years, and will often sell the 'old' bike at a considerable loss on a local Gumtree-type site (where the market is limited), because they can't be bothered to do the packing and shipping thing through ebay. Leasing would offer a more streamlined and more economical way to achieve the new bike every year thing. And I think the model would work even for a fairly small bike shop. It is not uncommon for bikes to stand on the floor for an entire year anyway, devaluing in the process.

      Delete
    2. Some odd notions here as to what a two year old bike might be worth. A pure garage queen that has never been ridden at all is only worth half its original purchase price. Even that assumes that the bike is not a trendy fashion victim sort of bike, that the buyer has done an in-person inspection and has good reason to believe the bike is as represented. It assumes a normal market, whereas the bike business is constant booms and busts, with closeouts firesales and clearances at great frequency. A shop owner will not pay half price for such a bike. He can buy the new model from the manufacturer at that price, and get it in the size, color, and accoutrements that will work in his showroom.

      If a shop were to accept a return, or take back a hypothetical lease, they aren't likely to sell it. It might go to an employee or a friend. Maybe. If the bike has been used it will need, at minimum, new chainrings new chain new cassette new derailleur pulleys new tires new cables new pads new saddle new tape new hoods new pedals. If it's a top of market lightweight with carbon parts it also needs new 'bars new stem new seatpost. If it's a high end bike it also has carbon wheels and those will be replaced as well. Normal wear and tear may mean the bike needs a paint job. Why is this worth doing?

      Bikes with very special provenance sometimes have resale value. Rivendells have resale value, but they sell as artifacts to a fan club.

      Shops rent bikes to generate traffic and to foster goodwill. In a few tourist towns there could be money in it. Shops quit renting bikes when they sit down and run the numbers and see how much they have lost. The Irish shopkeepers who won't let the tires touch pavement are a good baseline. That's how you behave when you know there are no externalities available that allow you to overlook losses. If you live near a shop that gives away something for nothing because they are cognizant of suitable externalities, go ahead and take advantage of that. Don't expect that to be normal business.

      Delete
    3. Correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds like your opinion is based on a specific bike shop/ bike shops you have experience working at. It could be that a lot of this is area/culture specific. Namely I am not sure that the bike shop owners I've spoken to would agree that rentals primarily "generate traffic and foster goodwill;" I'd say they view it as a profitable venture.

      As for shops that do not allow bikes to leave the floor, I understand from the owners it is an uncomfortable situation for them - in that this model of selling bikes is working less and less well in the internet age, yet they are concerned they cannot afford the wear and tear of test rides. For these shops, I genuinely feel that charging a rental fee for test rides could be a solution.

      Delete
    4. I know three bike shop owners in my area and only one of them rents out bikes. He does it b/c he can and it's a headache, mostly, for him and his employees. Every shop that has had this as a service is now gone (in my ten years here) so I'm thinking there must be problems.

      I like the idea of travelers being able to find a bicycle at their destination. I especially like Bed and Breakfast places or small hotels who provide bicycles for their guests to rent.

      Delete
  4. A Friend of mine and I once opened a bike Rental place in the storage area behind a bike shop we frequented, once it got going and the Owner of the shop saw how much floor traffic it generated for him (amongst other benefits) it was not long before he just bought it out and took over . . Smart guy! - masmojo

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've not personally used it yet, but here is a new option modeled on personal car rental apps. It's a great idea, especially for folks who own multiple bikes and for people traveling.
    https://www.spinlister.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And another: https://airdonkey.com

      Delete
  6. Tangentially, I've always thought children's bikes would be a good application of a rental model, allowing for higher quality and better fit, with the option to buy if the child falls in love or trade up as the child grows. Lessons and safe but fun pump track would be a nice complement, as would some sort of teen hangout. The trick would be a location convenient to lots of young families.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In 2010 there was a group of young entrepreneurs in Vienna who'd planned to do something rather interesting relating to that: to manufacture high quality children's bicycles with the sole purpose of leasing them to families for 1-2 year periods. They showed me their business plan, their facilities and their prototypes (I was invite to write an article about them, to be published once they launched) and it all looked great... Unfortunately I don't think the product ever got off the ground, as I did not hear from them again and see no sign of them being in production. A shame, as I do think it was a good idea.

      Delete
    2. Interesting. I wonder if they would have benefited from focusing more on the service end to gauge demand and family preferences before investing in manufacture. Otherwise it would be a challenge to predict demand in any controlled way. A rental model might inspire a completely different way of using the bikes, say for much shorter periods, and even different types on different occasions, or more than one at a time if the parents are particularly awesome. What fun!

      Delete
  7. The bike co-op where I volunteer has a fleet of cargo bikes (box bikes, long-tails, Workcycles Fr8s, and others) for rent. We also have some loop frame Linus bikes for rent. We use Spinlister, word of mouth, and a newsletter to advertise them and have had lots of people -- especially those visiting family in town -- make use of them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Would you mind telling us what bike co-op this is?

      Delete
    2. It is Revolutions in Memphis, Tennessee. Here's a link: https://revolutionsmemphis.wordpress.com/.

      Delete
    3. Thanks, that is useful to know!

      Delete
  8. I have rented in holiday locations in Europe, often good midrange bikes but the prices can vary from very reasonable to what seemed like 10% of bike cost for a week! Even more outrageous by the day or especially the hour! I packed a Dahon folder for a week on bumpy tracks because of that. Anyone want to buy a Dahon, great for short trips, but...?

    Long ago I tried the community bike loan system in La Rochelle, the bikes were all too small and quite the worst lumps of iron I have ever ridden, they have been replaced with shaft driven bikes which look better but still look heavy. Not every bike scheme gets it right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 10% per week would be pretty reasonable when compared to renting other sports equipment like skis.

      Delete
    2. Sounds about right. Though I only vaguely remember renting (alpine) skis once and being shocked by the price.

      Delete
  9. The bike in the window can't be a rental, can it? That thing looks like a dangerous ride.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That might actually be my 1930s roadster, used as a dispaly.

      Delete
  10. Anticipating an upcoming fully loaded cycling trip in Tasmania my wife and I initially planned to ship our bikes and all our gear with us. As the trip drew near and we envisioned the complexities of packing, expense, potential loss or damage, and storage while we were not cycling, we decided to look into renting. Being heavily invested in the function, design and dialed in-ness of our own bikes I had my reservations about what we might find for rentals but thought it was worth investigating. Lo and behold we found a company (Long Haul Tasmania) that clearly understood the needs and requirements of long distance cycle tourers. I was a a great relief to know that we'd be well equipped without having to do everything it would have taken to get our bikes there. And we were not disappointed; the bikes (Wayward Bicycle Co., an Austrailian brand designed with the rigors of the country in mind) were perfect, with fenders, Brooks Cambium saddles, proper racks, etc.. It was the right move on our part.

    Ideally we'd bring our bikes with us on such trips, but renting made things work for us in this scenario.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is surprisingly good news! Sadly, in Ireland at present you are not likely to be presented with such objects when seeking bike rental service.

      Delete
    2. Well, it got even better because as time went on it became apparent that the proprietor was a bike builder I'd actually heard of named Tim Stredwick, who builds steel touring and randonneuring frames way down at the bottom of the world. He came to the leasing thing with a highly evolved sense of what makes both a functional and attractive bike. Great luck on our part.

      Delete
  11. The more interesting aspect brought up by this thread for me has been the almost impossibility of experiencing a bicycle before purchase. If I could not try on clothes before purchase my closet would be nearly empty! I really would like to buy what might be my last good bike, so a not inconsiderable sum for me would be involved. Sitting astride one in a shop is not going to get the cash out of my hand...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This blog seems to be all about bicycles as relationships. What can you figure out from a first date? Personally, I think bikes are easier to figure out and simple tests are available.

      Delete
  12. I have completely resigned myself to the process of buying used bikes on Craigslist, trying them out for a year or two, and reselling them — just to be able to tell what my needs and wants are out of a bicycle. A short test ride is inadequate — it's like a first date! You just can't tell how the bike will do on various hills, with different types of bags attached, in different weather, with different tires on it, and so on. There are always surprises.

    ReplyDelete
  13. A couple of years ago, I went on a business trip to my company's EU headquarters in Cologne, Germany. I had been biking to work for several years by that point, and having heard a lot about the generally superior bike infrastructure in Germany (at least, compared to what I was used to back home), I saw no need to stop my bike commuting during this trip. I contacted the office manager in Cologne in advance of the trip, fully aware that this was an unusual request, to get her help in arranging a bicycle rental. In the area near the office (which was not in central Cologne, but in the suburbs) there was only one option*. There was a bike shop in town that didn't even offer rentals on a normal basis, but the shop owner agreed to lend me his personal bike, for a nominal fee (I think it was 50 euro + 10 per day). The office manager did the heavy lifting in terms of arranging the deal with the shop owner. I knew enough German and he knew enough English so that we could communicate in the shop. When I tell this story to others I like to say that we spoke "bicycle". It was a fun experience, and thanks to it and the efforts of my wonderful office manager, I didn't need a car for the two weeks that I was there.

    * I think that there's a bike-share system in Cologne, though I only learned about it after I got back to the US. Note to self: next time, when traveling, look up the bike rental/share options before booking the trip.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I was just sent this list via the Winter Cycling Congress currently in session here in the Twin Cities.
    Rent A Bike During Winter Cycling Congress '16
    Apparently Spinlister is a thing here, too.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I haven't been able to find any information on good places to rent bikes in the Henderson, Nevada area.

    ReplyDelete