The Chainlink

Tips For Renting Bikes When Traveling

By Brett Ratner

Unlike most people, I’ve always dreaded going to Las Vegas. First off, casinos don’t interest me. More importantly, I frequently have to travel there for work to attend trade shows…trade shows that, unfortunately, aren’t nearly as interesting or fun as Interbike.

By my third year of Vegas trips, however, I had one of those “facepalm” moments when I realized that a mere 30 minutes from the strip exists one of the best mountain bike areas in the entire country: Bootleg Canyon.

Since hauling a bike with me wasn’t really feasible, I called around and discovered a cool little shop called All Mountain Cyclery. It turned out they were located a short ride from the trailhead, rented full-suspension bikes, and offered a friendly, knowledgeable staff. A quick phone call later, I had a Specialized Stumpjumper FSR on reserve and (fast-forward a few weeks) my business trip was transformed into a seriously memorable adventure.

Intersection of "Girl Scout" and "Caldera" XC trails at Bootleg Canyon. The fire road to the top is used by vans to shuttle riders to the downhill lines.

Based on my many positive experiences, renting a bike has become my favorite way to make business trips not suck, and make my vacations even better.

In addition to multiple visits to All Mountain Cyclery (which now rents Specialized Enduros in your choice 29” and 27.5” wheel sizes, as well a Demo and Status models for downhill use), I’ve rented a Santa Cruz 5010 at Sedona Bike & Bean, and a Pivot Mach 5 from Poison Spider Bicycles in Moab.

Every bike I’ve rented came with a trail map, spare tube, tire levers, pump and a small tool kit. Pedals and a helmet were free of charge if I wanted them. Before I rolled off, someone on the staff sat me on the bike and adjusted the front and rear suspension to my weight, and (when I asked) gave me their recommended route based on my ability and how long I planned to ride.

An employee at Poison Spider Bicycles in Moab sets up a rental bike for an obviously excited customer.

To me, the typical $70-85 rental fee was a bargain compared to the expense and hassle of shipping a bike. In addition, the bikes I rented were set up perfectly for the local trails. All Mountain Cyclery, for example, outfits their trail bikes with ultra-short 50mm stems for added control over Bootleg’s technical terrain.

The view from "Chicken Point" in Sedona.

A good thing to note that my rentals happened to be high-end mountain bikes meant for advanced-to-expert-level trails. These same shops, it worth noting, also offer high-end carbon road bikes, gravel/cyclocross bikes, and light-duty hybrid bikes for $50 per day.

Renting a road bike at Bootleg Canyon gets you access to a paved trail that takes you directly to the Hoover Dam. A road bike in Sedona allows you to explore a red rock wonderland. A road bike in Moab lets you pedal straight into Arches National Park. A gravel/cyclocross bike in any of these (and countless other) places gives you access to pavement, fire roads, doubletrack, and even light singletrack. In other words, there are rental options to suit every mood and budget.

Over the years, however, I’ve found that to get the best-possible rental experience, it helps to come prepared with a few essentials not provided by the rental shop. If you’re considering a bike rental in the near future, here are some tips and tricks that may help you maximize your enjoyment:

Call Ahead

This one might seem obvious, but rental shops only have a limited quantity of bikes on hand, and only a portion of those bikes will be in your size. Particularly if you plan to rent on a weekend, call ahead and reserve your bike well in advance to make sure it’s waiting for you when you arrive. Some shops I’ve dealt with will hold a bike with a credit card. Others will simply hold it with a name and a phone number.

Ask What is Provided With the Rental

My experiences have been pretty consistent thus far, but it can’t hurt to double check. It would suck to have to unexpectedly buy something like a helmet for just one ride.

Request a Map

While the spare tube, pump, and levers were always affixed to the bike, the shops I’ve rented from never seemed to offer a map unless I specifically asked for one. Once I asked, they happily grabbed one off stack of photocopies, typically placed near the register. They also were more than happy to pull out a highlighter and suggest a good route.

Bring a Tape Measure

I recommend packing something to help you set your correct saddle height. This could be a tape measure, or even a piece of string cut to the correct length. I have one of those fabric tape measures that tailors use, marked with a sharpie.

Check the Weather Ahead of Time

I almost got caught out riding in Sedona during the winter months. I assumed it had a similar climate as Phoenix (where I was staying). In actuality, it was a good 30 degrees cooler. Fortunately, I checked ahead of time and was able to bring some extra layers.

Consider a Cycling Cap

Helmets are bulky and fragile and I prefer not to pack one if I don’t have to. On the other hand, I don’t want someone else’s dried sweat touching my head. If you don’t feel like bringing a helmet, a decent compromise can be wearing a cycling cap (or a skull cap) under one of the shop’s loaner helmets.

Consider a Hydration Pack if Riding Out West

Hydration packs (like CamelBaks) are sometimes looked down upon by the racer crowd (even on mountain bikes, if you can believe it). If you’re riding out west, however, safety should trump style. The mountain bikes I’ve rented only offered a maximum of one bottle cage. That definitely won’t cut it on a three-hour ride in the desert with no water sources (especially if you get lost). And don’t expect the shops to provide CamelBaks with the rental. This is one item I believe you don’t want to forget.

Bring Plenty of Gels and Energy Bars

You spent a lot of time, effort, and money getting out on the trail or road. Don’t let a mid-ride “bonk” ruin your day.

Bring Sunscreen, especially if Riding Out West

Being a Midwesterner, I’m used to mountain biking on shady, wooded trails. I’m more used to needing mosquito repellent than sunscreen. Granted, Sedona had some shade trees in spots, but for the most part, riding out West seems to mean hours upon hours exposed to direct sunlight.

Bring Your Own Pedals, Particularly for Mountain Bike Rentals

You’ll have enough to think about while negotiating technical, unfamiliar trails. There’s no need to be distracted by pedals that don’t engage and disengage the way you’re used to. As I mentioned, the shops will provide pedals if you ask (at least the SPD and possibly the Eggbeater type). But the loaner pedals take a real beating day after day on the trail. Also, based on my experience, they never work as smoothly as my own. Heck, even the shops discourage you from using the loaner pedals. I’ll be honest, I’ve always used the loaner pedals, but on my last trip, I wound up with a left pedal that wouldn’t engage on one side, requiring me to flip it over to the good side every time I needed to clip in. I’ll be bringing my own from here on out.

The author in 2009 enjoying Moab's Slickrock Trail...and sporting a pair of knickers. (Photo by Kelly Brennan) 

If you need to drive from the shop to the trailhead, rent an SUV or Ask Ahead About a Shuttle or Car Rack

Most of the rental shops I’ve rented from are located within a short pedaling distance from the trails. But that’s not always the case. Check ahead to see where the shop is located in relation to the trailhead. If it’s driving distance, maybe choose an SUV or a minivan as your rental car. Another option is to call ahead and see if the shop either can shuttle you to the trailhead, or rent/loan you a trunk rack to put on your rental car. If their shop is not located near the trailhead, I’d wager they offer these additional services.

Give Yourself Plenty of Time

Regardless of your ability, you’re riding unfamiliar roads and/or trails. Give yourself a generous time cushion in case you take a wrong turn or two and it takes longer than expected to get back to the rental shop. You definitely don’t want to roll up after they close, or worse, get caught on the trail after sundown. The same holds true for food and water. Make sure you have more than you think you’ll need.

Definitely Run Your Garmin, Strava, etc.

As much fun as you’re gonna have, the ride will be over before you know it. Recording the event on your GPS will let you geek out on elevation gain and max speed during your flight home, and give you permanent bragging rights when you return from your trip.

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Comment by Jared on March 1, 2015 at 12:40pm

Rented a bike in San Francisco a few days ago.  Unfortunately the rental bikes didn't provide any where to carry something other than a small pouch in the front.  No lights either.  There seems to quite a few companies out there so prices were low, $16 plus $4 insurance with a discount from the hostel.

Comment by BIKABOUT on February 27, 2015 at 12:30pm

Thanks for the shout out, Kaycee! Bikaboutcurrently has city guides including bike rental providers for Athens, Boston, Boulder, Charleston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Collins, Madison, Minneapolis, Montreal, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.

We prioritize fully functional city bikes with lights, fenders, racks/baskets but also promote Spinlister for everything else!

Comment by Brian O'Halloran on February 26, 2015 at 7:41pm

On a recent trip to LA, I rented a nice Focus carbon road bike from Synaptic Cycles, great bike, great service. Delivered! I then went on a ride with LA Wheelmen. Nice ride and great to hook up with locals!

Orange/San Diego Counties: 949-374-6079

Greater Los Angeles Areas: 310-925-3969

Comment by Brett Ratner on February 26, 2015 at 10:33am

Thank you for the heads up! I think I was in their store once. I'll be sure to check them out next time!

Comment by Zachary on February 26, 2015 at 10:17am

I lived near Sedona for many years, I loved riding on the red rocks out to Chicken Point. If you are in the area another great shop to rent from is Over the Edge Sports 

Comment by Brett Ratner on February 26, 2015 at 10:02am

Thank you for the kind words, as well as the great tips and suggestions!

Comment by Jared Verbeke on February 26, 2015 at 9:16am

Really great article! I plan to rent a bike on a planned trip to Portland. The benefit to renting is it usually costs the same as the fee to fly a bike without the hassle or chance that your bike will be damaged. 

Comment by KayCee on February 26, 2015 at 8:58am

 I'm obsessed with spinlister.com right now- especially when it comes to specialty bikes.  I'm hoping to list our cargo bike soon. We'd be touring with kids in tow, so that always makes things interesting.  This winter I'm looking on bikabout.com and trying to plan a trip where we can bike tour as a family, and renting may come into play. Happy riding!

Comment by Jeff Blumenthal on February 26, 2015 at 8:47am

Does anyone have experience in renting in Europe?  I'm going on a river cruise and would like to take advantage of a little closer experience than sitting on the boat or exploring a wider area than walking around the docking city.  I'm trying to find the right GPS map set as well, but that doesn't seem to be a problem.

Comment by Patrick Nevins on February 26, 2015 at 8:22am

I have had great luck renting high end road bikes everywhere I go; Bring your measurements with you (or send ahead); frame size, seat to ground, seat to bottom bracket, seat to head tube, head tube to ground.  Also inquire about group ride possibilities; group rides are great so you don't get lost, ride safer and make friends.

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