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Twisted Road: Would You Rent Your Bike to a Stranger?

Motorcyclists seem to fall into one of two groups. First, there are the romantics, who name their motorcycles and anthropomorphize their human-machine relationships, talking reverently about “her” (sometimes him) as if the two enjoy dreamy sunset walks on the beach together, hand in hand. It gets downright weird if you take the analogy any further, so I’ll cut you a break and not do that. This time.

The other group are the utilitarians, who recognize motorcycles as machines, not significant others. These realists know that even if you ignore your motorcycle for weeks, you won’t come home to find a tear-stained bike passed out on the floor, several tipped-over bottles of wine nearby. Put another bike in the garage, your first bike won’t kill the second in a jealous rage.

There’s not a lot of in-between, though some riders will start out as a romantic (especially if their first bike is a Ducati) and transition to utilitarianism once the thrill is gone.

Ask a romantic to ride his or her bike and you’ll get a horrified look like you’re asking to sleep with their mother, and you’ve just added “for a second time.” A utilitarian will hand you the keys, maybe offer a few bits of info about the bike. No mama drama.

I’m a utilitarian myself. I have owned a couple bikes over the years that I wouldn’t have handed off to just anyone, but most of my motorcycles have been passed around like porn stars at Tahoe celebrity golf tourneys.

But would I rent one of my bikes to a stranger? That’s the question running through my head when I run into Liza of the Motorcycles and Misfits podcast down Santa Cruz way, at the One Moto Show. She’s telling me about a website where people can list their bikes, I’m doubtful at first, for the same reason I point out every time some “forward thinking industry leader” suggests that what motorcycling needs is leasing, “you know, like we do with cars.” Cars don’t fall over nearly as often as bikes—it’s way easier to do significant, expensive damage without even trying.

But Liza tells me she’s listing her bikes, and since I have a lot of respect for her, I’m forced to reconsider as she leads me downstairs to the Twisted Road booth to meet Austin Rothbard, the founder. We shake hands, chat a bit, commit to catching up later, and I wander off to grumble inside my head about all the goddamn hipsters getting in the way of proper photography.

Austin texts me a couple weeks later. He’s going to be in the Bay Area for a couple days, and will be renting a local bike using Twisted Road (of course!). I figure I’ll meet up with him to capture the pick-up experience, but embarrass myself by running out of gas on the way there, thanks to my apparently unrealistic expectations of how much fuel is left in the frame of a Buell Ulysses when the fuel light comes on. I miss the pick-up, but we still get to eat lunch together in Los Altos before heading toward the coast.

I pepper Austin with questions. “Why? Who’s renting what kind of bikes where? Are they all riding like they stole it?”

He tells me a somewhat familiar story: after years in the corporate world, he wanted something more. He’d begun riding and fallen in love with motorcycling later in life, and while traveling, was often frustrated by not having a motorcycle to ride in beautiful locations like southwestern Utah. If only one could rent a motorcycle…

Sure, there are Eagle Rider locations all over the US, and we’re blessed with Dubbelju here in the Bay Area. I’ve rented a Concours from a small local company in Tennessee, but I’ve also been car-bound in places I’d like to ride, without riding all the way there—due to time constraints, not lack of real rider-ness or whatever some hater will call that.

Austin started Twisted Road about a year ago to solve that problem, after observing that just like mostly-unused spare rooms, there are a lot of motorcycles that aren’t ridden every day. The site now has over 500 bikes listed in forty-something states across the US. I thought perhaps the early-adopting Bay Area motorcycling community would be a big piece of this, but it’s not: there are just 21 bikes within 50 miles of SF, including the F800GSA Austin has rented. The other twenty are an eclectic assortment: a Grom, a couple Zeros, a Road King, a Triumph Scrambler, and—of course—an SV650.

For comparison, Portland has 22 bikes, and the selection is good, were one to fly in and head out to ride the state of Oregon for a few days: three Versys 650s, an FZ-07, an F800GT, a KLR650, a DR650, and—of course—an SV650.

Back in Los Altos, we talk about liability and insurance—my biggest question, given many motorcyclists’ penchant for doing stupid shit and falling over. It’s simple: the renter (and their insurance) is responsible for damage. Twisted Road helps manage this, but if there are significant challenges like a renter’s inability (or their insurance’s refusal) to pay, the company makes it easy for the owner and pays for damages or replacement up to fair market value (max $15k—the value limit for list-able bikes) and then attempts to recoup that cost.

Austin also emphasizes what he calls the Rider Resume. Potential renters set up an account and add their riding experience to their profile. Owners can choose to accept or reject rental requests based on this information, so if the owner of a Panigale receives a rental request from someone with six months experience on an R3, he can reject the request. And why wouldn’t he? Ducatisti only, bro!

We head for the coast via Page Mill to Skyline. Even in the Buell’s crappy mirrors, I can see the grin on Austin’s face as he herds his rented Beemer through the turns. He’s from Chicago, and the undulating pleasure paths of the Santa Cruz Mountains are downright orgasmic compared to the straight-line-till-forever pavement prisons of Illinois, never mind the temperature difference.

We stop at Alice’s, where I try to convince Jim Carducci to list his one-of-a-kind Carducci Dual-Sport prototype on Twisted Road, to no avail. But he too is intrigued by the concept. Racing against the sunset, we take La Honda to Highway 1, where we split up and Austin heads to Santa Cruz to guest on the Motorcycles & Misfits podcast.

Back in Oakland, I set up a Twisted Road account and peruse the available bikes. Along with an array of good choices in Portland, Oregon, where I end up several times each year, there’s a ’92 900SS/CR in Portland, Maine, a real Ducati, for $110/day. There’s also a ’13 K1300S in Brandon, Mississippi, for a whopping $250/day. There are a few other exorbitantly-priced machines (owners set the prices themselves and keep 70% of rental fees), but many bikes are in the a reasonable “around $100” range: a Guzzi V7 for $90 in Oregon, an H-D XR1200 for $100 in Solvang, even a Panigale for $100 in Lawndale.

I haven’t listed any of my bikes yet, but I might, and I’m intrigued to see how this particular version of the sharing economy fares.

This story originally appeared in our April 2018 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.

Editor Surj is considering putting the CityBike project CRF250L on Twisted Road just to see if anyone can break it. We sure haven’t been able to, and we’ve tried. Painfully hard.