Here is what I have found when I use rental bikes while bicycle touring. It is often a question I get when planning a tour and renting can lead to some interesting situations. So the answer is, it really depends on the situation. On my last two European cycle tours I have rented bikes for one and used my own for the second.
Locally you would of course use your own touring bicycle providing you had one, but if you are flying to your destination?
Our a recent cycling tour of Northern Italy our group rented 10 bicycles which were delivered to our starting hotel on the Adige Cycling Route near the Austrian border and picked up at the Port of Venice 15 days later. The bicycles themselves were good but poorly maintained and the first day we had to stop at a nearby bike store for minor repairs including fully inflating the tires. Overall an okay experience.
Advantages of using rental bicycles
- Getting to the airport in your home city can be a hassle with a bicycle depending on local transit or getting a ride from a friend.
- Check-in in a bit more complicated as you usually have to go to special handling for X-ray
- There is a charge if you take your own bicycle, from $30 to $150 one way
- Potential damages to your own bicycle
- Packing your bicycle in box, case or plastic (obtaining bike box can be expensive)
- Arrival in destination usually have to wait at special handling as unloaded last so takes more time
- Getting from airport to your route can vary. For example in Munich there is a train station right at the airport with trains accepting bicycles. In Venice you either have to start riding after a long flight on busy airport roads (you are already tired) or use a transit type bus
- Depending on the bike rental company they may deliver to your starting location and pick up somewhere else permitting a more efficient one way route (there may be an extra charge for this).Often when using my own bicycle I need to take a train back to my starting location.
- Rental locations may also include a lock, light, tools and panniers, handy if you don’t have them. These may also be available for an extra charge as can items like a GPS
Disadvantages of using rental bicycles
- Finding an operator with quality touring bicycles
- You are not used to how the bicycle rides
- Incorrect size provided. In Switzerland although ordered and confirmed well in advance only 2 or 3 bicycles were the correct size making cycling a little more difficult, although we were later in the trip able to exchange at another location for the right size
- Rental prices can be high if on a longer journey. If your tour is more than 3 weeks consider using your own bicycle
When we took our own bicycles on the Rhine River Route we were limited on which trains we could take from Paris to Strasbourg but loved using a bike we were familiar with.
Whether you use rental bikes when bicycle touring really boils down to is the overall cost and how easy is transport to the starting location of your tour.