Somewhere between one and three times a year, I fly across the country. Inevitably my main goal is to ride a bike inside of wherever Point B is. In the past, I’ve eschewed shipping or flying with my own. Some airlines charge ridiculous prices that leave a broke ass nonprofit employee in a quite a state of SMH.
I don’t know if I can justify spending $$ getting my beater bike to my destination for more than it cost me to buy. Because of this, I am forever on the quest to properly find my tiny body a tiny bike to enjoy when on vacation.
When I was in Portland last year, I rented a bicycle for a few days from a local shop. When I placed my order, I told them my preferred frame height (being 4’10” means double- and triple-checking for accuracy), and was ultimately dissatisfied with my options. Most of the time all I can find to ride from a rental place is a step-through cruiser.
This past March, I went to San Francisco. I decided I would play it different and used Spinlister. Spinlister is a peer-to-peer commerce hub where you can rent or list bicycles, skis, and snowboards at a fee you choose to set. Built into the general framework of the site and app are methods for verifying your identity (cell number, facebook, and twitter) and a pretty good search system for finding something in your price range, and in your exact location.
About two weeks before heading to S.F., I got on the site to find something that worked. I had about seven bikes that fit my criteria.I chose a 46cm Centurion beater, arranged a pick up/drop off time, and confirmed & paid for the order through the site (which was about $17/day).
The day of pickup, I walked over to the young lady’s apartment to get the bike. She’s pumping up the rear wheel–seemingly hungover–when I show up. I’m looking at it and it doesn’t look right. I make mention and she flips the bike over. It had previously been rented by a stranger through Spinlister. A couple bends short of a taco, this wheel was unrideable. It was likely a victim of a clueless stranger in a city with cable car tracks.
She proceeded to apologize. As my boyfriend waited for me a mile away for lunch, I walked with her to the closest bike shop and dropped it off. She paid for the repairs and I had to kill two hours.
Then, I did some some more inspecting. The tires’ walls were fraying and threads were shooting out and they had clearly not been changed in a long, long time. The brakes were loose; the brake levers were not properly mounted.
I ended up needing to fill the tires again a day later, due to them not being inflated properly. I referred back to the listing which said the bike had been tuned up in the last year. I doubted it. I didn’t seek out a refund, though I think I’d have a case.
Would I use Spinlister again? Sure. But I got some key ideas out of this experience (see below).
Spinlister: The TL;DR Version
What to look out for or ask about: 1.) date of last tune-up, 2.) the person’s schedule–can be less flexible than a bike shop, 3.) a lot of dead postings seem to still be up, so cast a wide net, 4.) ask for the frame height if not listed–the search engine is by measured height and not inseam which may not be useful depending on your body proportions.
Pros: 1.) They have an app, so you can be more flexible with your use. 2.) Most bike shops have a pretty locked-in range of rental prices and bike options, whereas Spinlister has a pretty wide variety–even for 46cm frames, I saw expensive carbon fiber frames and lugged behemoths. 3.) It is nice to meet local folks who are oftentimes tapped into their local bike community through this process–we got suggestions of places to check out and I was able to talk about bike culture from a rider in the neighborhood I was staying in. 4.) This is a great option if you’re on a traveling budget. 5.) There’s no specific amount of time you have to rent for–you can rent by hour, day, or week.
Cons: 1.) Less available outside of big and/or bike-friendly cities. 2.) Not the best if you’re on (or want to be on) a tight schedule. 3.) Depending on your desired frame size, as you’d expect, there may not be any options at all. 4.) It’s not super established yet, so not many people have reviews (so it might be hard to weed out a situation that’s gonna suck ’cause a person is a flake). 5.) As far as I can tell, there’s no official insurance set up on behalf of a renter–nothing locking in the owner for a minor issue like a flat or a major issue unless you go through a complaint filing process. Useful to know if you don’t feel comfortable with bike maintenance.