cycling · family · fitness · holiday fitness

A tale of two bike rentals, or what to request for cycling on vacation

Renting bicycles for vacation two-wheeled adventures with friends and family (and solo ones) is one of my favorite things. I’ve rented bikes all over the world for me, and all over the US with my sister and her kids. In fact, my sister and I have an upcoming e-bike tour in San Francisco that includes riding across the Golden Gate Bridge and taking the ferry back (with bikes) from Sausalito. Don’t worry– I’ll be documenting and reporting on it as soon as it happens.

But renting bikes doesn’t always go well.

Case in point: my sister recently reserved rental bikes online from the beach condo resort where she and the kids were staying for a long weekend. They were part of the accommodations package. When she went to the main desk at the resort to begin the pick-up process, here’s a bit of what happened:

Sister: We’re here to pick up three bikes I reserved. What sizes do you have?

Desk person: They’re all the same size (this is totally false), but the seats are different heights.

Sister: Oh, okay. Are the seats adjustable?

Desk person: We don’t have any tools for adjusting them. You would have to go buy one (while not false, this shows ignorance of the fact that the seats are all quick-release and therefore all adjustable without tools).

Sister picks up bikes, but there are no locks or helmets anywhere in sight. She doesn’t think about this until later, and is very unhappy. They can’t use the bikes to ride to the beach because of no locks (and no helmets). By the time they get back to the rental desk, it’s raining, so they give up and return them, unhappy.

My sister had much more to say about her unsatisfactory experience, but the upshot is this:

person holding a big round yellow unhappy face.

Let’s contrast her experience with mine when I rent beach bikes from an actual bike shop near that same resort. Here are some things they know and deal with that the resort bike people either don’t know or don’t care about:

  • Their bikes come in different sizes and styles (step-through and not);
  • Their beach bike saddles are quick-release height adjustable;
  • Bike tires need pumping often, which is tended to;
  • Each bike comes with a lock and helmet;
  • Their bikes also have bottle cages and removable handlebar bags.

Every time I’ve ordered from Cyclopedia, they delivered and picked up the bikes themselves. We didn’t have to be there even, because they were locked them outside our condo. And the lock combo is pre-set by these folks to be the last four digits of my phone number.

When our bike rental period is over, we leave them locked outside, and the bike shop van comes to get them, knowing the combo because my phone number is on their form.

A big round yellow lemon graphic sayingEasy peasy lemon squeezy
Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

I’m writing this tale of two bike rentals because if you aren’t a regular cyclist but enjoy riding bikes on vacation, you might consider renting from an actual bike shop rather than whatever place you’re staying. I’ve had great experiences and great conversations and gotten great tips from bike shops all over by renting directly from them.

Readers, what kind of experiences have you had while renting bikes on vacation? I’d love to hear about them: the good, the bad, and the atrocious.

4 thoughts on “A tale of two bike rentals, or what to request for cycling on vacation

  1. San Francisco is (or at least was when I lived there) a great place to ride and to ride from. A pleasant surprise, when I was on call and couldn’t leave the city, was the 49 mile scenic drive. While intended for cars, I did it by bike and you see much of the city.

  2. I’ve stayed in a couple of hotels with excellent bikes, included with your stay. In both cases they were first come, first served and had staff maintaining the bikes and showing you how to adjust the seat height. In Canada, it included lock and helmet as options but in Germany it did not. My favorite bike rental was fat bike rental which when you rented with a group came with a guide and lessons.

  3. You are so right! Renting bikes can be a hazardous adventure. I am now sitting in my Sausalito house just after doing a bunch of walking errands downtown. As usual, there were tons of bikes whizzing through, and it was too often easy to know, without looking, when rental bikes were coming up behind me. Rattle, rattle, clunk. Your choice of renting through bike shops makes total sense.

    I’ve been reading this blog for years & really enjoy it. If there’s anything I can do to help while you’re in town, let me know (assume you can get my email from the blog somehow). I have been a WarmShowers host for almost 15 years, love to encourage local cycling!


    1. HI Winnie and thanks so much for being a long-time blog reader! And on behalf of peripatetic cyclists everywhere, thank you for being a Warm Showers host. Some friends who rode cross-country stayed with such hosts several times and said it was fun and welcoming. I’ll be careful when riding through Sausalito and am going with a good bike shop rental.

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