Another fantastic transportation mode while traveling is a rental bicycle.
I (Joy) was first introduced to this concept in Guilin, China back in 2004. I went with several friends and we wanted to see more than just the city, so we rented bikes and rode out to the rice farms and then loaded our bikes on a boat which took us back to the city. We were able to cover a lot more ground than we could have just by walking and riding through these mountains was just enchanting.
Most cities around the world were built before cars became the main source of transportation and in many countries, cars are unnecessary. As a result, the streets are much narrower and more difficult to navigate with a vehicle. Even in the US, we have found bike rentals to be a better option to see downtowns and coastlines than car rentals. With a bike you can see the city or village as a whole rather than the fragmented (destination here, destination there) picture you get in a car.
Bike rentals are especially great if you want to enjoy endless picturesque scenery like the mountains of Guilin, China or the castles and vineyards along the Rhine River in Germany. It is also a way to get exercise while traveling without feeling like you are wasting time in a hotel gym rather than being out in the city. I will be honest…we are regular “good intention” packers that pack gym clothes without ever using them because we get way to busy. Leave the gym clothes at home, save the space and go for a ride instead.
We have rented or recommend renting bikes to:
- go short distances that are a little too far to walk (for example, we used the rentals to go out to a breakfast place while staying downtown in Tokyo).
- ride a long a coastline and stop in various places (Chicago, Miami, Montreal)
- see tourist sites that are a little too far to walk to (Washington DC, San Antonio)
Bike Shares and Rental Shops
Bikeshare programs are bikes that are at designated location throughout a city. You rent and return these to a computerized bike rack. Bike rental programs are found in shops and you need to return these to a particular shop. Rental rates are usually by the day or the hour. Typically, a bike share is an hourly rate and bike rental is daily. Many of these bikes are dispensed through an automated “pay, unlock, and grab” system that requires a credit card. You can usually return your bike to any other facility or automated lock rack in the city. This wikipedia article appears to have a comprehensive list of bike share programs in many cities throughout the world.
To find out if another city not on that list has a public bike share or rental program, just google it.
Bike rental shops usually have helmets, maps and gear that you can rent as well. Many also have child trailer, seat and tandem bikes but it’s always best to call ahead for those.
Research ahead of time to see what the rules in a particular city are. Some cities require helmets, some do not. In some cities, bicyclists are not allowed on certain roads. ALWAYS obey the traffic laws. Coasting through stop lights is NOT okay and is a good way to get hurt or taunted by angry locals. If there is a designated route away from the traffic (for example the lake front in Chicago or the Mission Trail in San Antonio) it is always better to take those routes rather than a possibly shorter route with traffic. It’s less breathing of exhaust fumes as well as unhindered (no stop lights) riding.
Many shops that rent the bikes have this information. While it is always best to research and figure out where you want to go ahead of time, you can always ask the shops what they recommend. Often they can give you info on events and routes that aren’t obvious online.
Rentals Through Your Hotel
A number of hotels that we have stayed at have loan out bikes for free (click for more information):
- Park Hyatt Tokyo
- Park Hyatt Chicago
- Park Hyatt Toronto
- Hotel Indigo Shanghai on the Bund (no information online but they were available through the bellman at the front of the hotel)
- Holiday Inn Aruba (haven’t stayed here yet but we’ll let you know about it next month!)
I’m sure there are many hotels throughout the world that loan out bikes for free. Our experience has been that you need to poke around the hotel’s website to see if they are available and then ask about it upon arrival. Other than the Hotel Indigo Shanghai, none of the hotels that we have borrowed bikes from had them prominently advertised (quite possibly because they only have 2 or 3 and don’t want to appear empty handed on an usual amenity).
If you have any questions or experiences of your own with bike shares or rental while traveling, please leave a comment!