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The Bicycle Rental Business

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Have you ever thought how much fun it would be to set up a bicycle rental business? You'd get to meet a lot of nice people, on vacation or on their days off, so they would have time to talk with you. You'd have the satisfaction of introducing some of them to the fun, efficiency and ecology of bicycling. And, you would have a growing fleet of bicycles to maintain, which can be really fun, especially if you own them. Maintaining a fleet of vehicles for a boss just doesn't have the same effect!

In its simplest form, a bicycle rental business can be a handful of bikes parked under a sign which says "Bicycle Rentals." It will work better in a touristy place, but has possibilities in most locations.

If I had very little money, and wanted to start a bike rental business, I would go to a whole bunch of garage sales and second hand stores to find bikes for my fleet. Six to ten bikes would be enough to start with. I'd look for variety, but mostly fat-tire adult bikes.

I would then look for a place to rent them. If I happened to be a lucky fellow, I might live outside of city zoning, along a busy highway, but not so busy that cars couldn't stop at my rental place. Then, I would chain up my bikes under the big rental sign, put some sort of noisemaking device on a countertop, go back in my house and wait. Soon, someone would tromp on the bell, squeeze the horn, or whatever. I'd come out, and rent the person a bike. More often than not, I'd expect to have lots of family rentals of three or more bikes at once, increasing your profits quite nicely.

If I didn't have a nice place along the highway, I would look in town, especially in the tourist areas, or where many people walk, and consider either renting space from a merchant, or working out a consignment deal. In fact, you may find a merchant who will handle all the rental work for you. All you have to do is provide the fleet, and keep them maintained.

If you want immediate success, then exposure is important. Where you set your bikes will make the difference between a few occasional rentals, and continuous action. People have to see your bikes and/or your sign, and feel comfortable in coming to you to take bikes for a spin.

I do not know current prices in most communities. I would recommend with starting with something like this:

$2-4 per hour, or $10-15 per day.

You can increase your revenues by renting helmets, locks, and carrying accessories such as backpacks, although you might want to provide these things free of charge.

You could expand into camera rental, film processing, provision of food (organic smoothies would be a good seller) and so on.

There's no reason you couldn't sell a rental bike from time to time for even more profit.

There are four approaches to inventory. What kind of bikes do you want? The first, and easiest to start with are whatever you can get from garage sales. The second is to focus on single-speed, coaster brake, fat-tire cruisers. The reason is that these will require less maintenance, and are more likely to provide satisfaction to the customers. The third is to focus on mountain bikes. These are popular, and more people will rent mountain bikes than regular bikes, and they will pay you more money. And finally, we have unusual bicycles, such as pedal-powered cars.

You can start with an inventory of all second-hand bikes if your financial resources are limited, or all new bikes, if you have lots of money to start out. Actually, it does not need to be all that much money. You can get decent mountain bikes at $250 each, so ten of them would cost you only $2500.

If you go with new bikes, you'll probably want to let everyone know they are for sale. Keep selling and replacing them so your inventory stays in appealing condition.

Although you can branch out into other rentals such as mopeds, cars, lanwmowers, or snorkeling equipment, this book is about bicycles - I'll leave all that to your imagination. What might work very nicely is going the other way. With your partnership, a dealer who already rents that equipment could rent your bicycles for you, or perhaps you'd both benefit if you set up next door to a renter of related equipment.

In order to minimize your risk:

* Take driver's license information, and other ID so the customers feel you are in control.

* Take credit card numbers and expiration dates, or cash deposits.

* Make sure your customers understand the cost for late returns.

* Make sure your customers have an alternative for dropping off bikes if they come back at midnight and are flying out at six the next morning. If they have no way to let you know what they did with the bike, you may not find it for months.

* Mark your bikes, and their major parts prominently. You might spray orange paint under each seat, for instance. This way, a bike is less likely to be stolen for parts because everyone will know the parts came from your bikes.

* Make up a good yet simple contract which spells out the terms of your rental agreement, and have your customers sign a copy of it. In the contract, indicate how you charge for damages.

* Make sure your customers have your address and phone number with them at all times.

* Keep your fleet in reliable working condition. Nothing would damage your reputation faster than having lots of customers who have had flat tire experiences.


* Let your bikes be unique. Perhaps they should all be yellow, or have signs hanging off them. The more people who see people having fun on your rental bikes, the more they will come to you to rent bikes also.

* Post a sign that says you can refuse to rent to:

a. People who appear intoxicated. b. Children under 18 unless accompanied by an adult. c. Anyone who gives you the willies.

* Try to screen your clients. You might not find it as profitable renting to a bunch of drunken military men just off the ship, as a well-dressed family of four. On the other hand, if the guys break the bikes, they've got to pay for the damages, including labor.

* Warn your customers of known dangers. If there's a dangerous pothole on 4th street, let them know. Make sure they understand safe riding in traffic. Better yet, try to set up near a bike path, or guide them to a bike path, where your customers can ride in much greater safety.

As your rental business builds, you can get more bikes, serving more customers with more variety. It can be a grand way to make money.

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