Rider-to-rider bike rental OG Twisted Road announced this week that it has partnered with Cycle Gear to provide rental bike pick-up and drop-off services, starting with five California stores: Azusa, Lomita, Pacheco, San Diego, and Thousand Oaks.
The new program will allow owners of bikes within 25 miles of these stores to arrange renter pick-up and drop-off at Cycle Gear, which may help make renting easier for both parties when a meetup time or location is hard to coordinate. Twisted Road says owners will be able to simply “leave their bike at a nearby Cycle Gear shop and the local team will manage the exchange.”
I covered Twisted Road in early 2018 after spending an afternoon with Austin Rothbard, during which I introduced the Chicago-dwelling founder to the sweet, sweet roads of the Santa Cruz mountains. The company had about 500 bikes listed on its site at the time, and is now up to over 1,000, with 37 within 25 miles of the Pacheco Cycle Gear.
Austin Rothbard, founder of Twisted Road. Photo: Surj Gish
Five locations out of Cycle Gear’s 39 California stores isn’t a huge start, but it should be enough to gauge whether the program warrants expansion. What’s more important here than the number of initial locations is that Cycle Gear, often viewed as overly conventional and slow-moving even in an industry that caters to a broadly conservative customer base and therefore moves deliberately enough to beat a melting glacier in a slow race, sees possibilities in working with Twisted Road. I’m hesitant to use the way-overused D-word, but large, legacy companies tend to be hesitant, even fearful of touching disruptive new players. Twisted Road isn’t developing AI-powered heads-up displays that can only be bought with Bitcoin, but they are asking motorcyclists to let go of their fears of the “sharing economy.”
That’s a contentious request—the two most common bits of feedback we heard after we asked “would you rent your bike to a stranger?” last year were “Oh, hell no,” and “No way I’ll trust someone else’s motorcycle.” Many riders did recognize the potential benefits to both owners and renters—for example renting a model before buying—but overall response included much gnashing of teeth.
Beyond typical fear-dressed-up-as-bravado freakouts, peer-to-peer vehicle renting can introduce very real insurance concerns, and more progress has been made in this area in the four-wheeled world. Twisted Road has provisions in place to cover a damaged motorcycle (up to the value of the bike, maximum $15,000) if for some reason the renter’s insurance won’t. However, while car-sharing services Turo and GetAround cover liability up to $1,000,000, Twisted Road’s model relies on the renter’s liability insurance: “The owner will not be responsible for any damages incurred while the bike is being rented where the rider is at fault. Twisted Road will cover physical damages that aren’t covered by the rider’s insurance policy, with a maximum payout up to the current value of the motorcycle, or $15,000, whichever is lower. However, all liability claims will otherwise be covered by the renter’s insurance provider – Twisted Road will not be responsible for paying any liability claims.”
Since rider-to-rider renting is so new, it remains to be seen whether this hands-off approach to liability will work. One rider told us last year that when they asked their insurance company about renting their bikes out via Twisted Road, their insurance company said their policy would be summarily canceled if they got wind of such activity. California, Oregon, and Washington have passed specific legislation in recent years to protect vehicle owners from exactly such cancellations, but the language in all of these laws specifically excludes motorcycles from protected “private passenger motor vehicles” based on wheel count. This sort of legislation, combined with car-sharing companies’ liability policies, makes renting out a car via these services appear reasonably safe, despite early FUD and lawsuits—as usual, motorcycling simply needs to catch up.
It’s worth noting that Twisted Road’s competitor Riders Share, which also looks to have a little over 1,000 bikes listed, offers liability insurance for an additional cost during checkout. Presumably, Twisted Road will need to offer this insurance to remain competitive and protect bike owners. In reality, offering insurance is a likely step to increase revenue per rental as well, just as insurance upgrades are a revenue booster for traditional car rental companies. Both Twisted Road and Riders Share already offer roadside assistance at checkout.
What’s Next for Twisted Road?
I checked in with Austin for more background on the Cycle Gear partnership, and he told me this was the first partnership of its kind for his company. The arrangement was of course constructed at the corporate level, but he also met with store managers in each of the five locations to work on execution of bike hand-offs.
No other locations are planned yet, and while it’s easy to see that facilitating bike rentals could eat up staff time, the potential revenue from last-minute gear and accessory purchases offers a likely upside for Cycle Gear.
As is always the case with these sorts of businesses, scale is key. The more bikes there are to rent in a region, the more frequent rentals will be—making Twisted Road a more attractive partner for Cycle Gear to expand with, not to mention other dealerships and moto-centric businesses.
Austin hinted at more good stuff coming this year that he’s not discussing publicly yet. I’ll be seeing him at the One Show in February, and will see what I can pry out of him in between arm wrestling lumbersexuals for fresh flannel and deep discussions of beard styling products. As always, stay tuned!