Whenever possible, and it’s almost always possible, I rent a bike when I’m away from home. My life would be infinitely easier if I didn’t have this need-to-ride, but it would be bereft of the experience engaging in the world and trying to get a bike to ride around wherever, whenever, for however long. Riding a bike heightens your ability to sense where you are staying. It’s as though the veil has been lifted and you see all that was, is and could be.
In the U.S.A., the advent of bike sharing in various cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and Hartford is a preferable option, but not all American cities have that available. Internationally, I’ve rented bikes in Tokyo, Japan and rode around the Imperial Palace. My favorite overseas bike rental experience was in Potsdam. I’ll come back to that later in this post. Riding though the Tiergarten in Berlin is also a favorite memory. I’ve even rented bikes in Pokara, Nepal too and my husband’s bike ended up getting a flat, but even with that it was a memorable way to see the sights and enjoy a city from the saddle of a bike.
That why this story that Tom Hanks shared with Stephen Colbert had me laughing a few weeks ago. The bit about the bikes starts at about 6:58 into the clip. It got me thinking about the worst bikes I’ve ever rented. There aren’t too many bad experiences I’ve had with bike rentals and certainly nothing that comes close to Tom Hanks’ story.
My favorite memory of a bike rental happened in Potsdam when we were there in 2012. I had been in Germany during June 2009 and I rented several times and went between the hotel and the University of Potsdam. I was there on a Fulbright summer seminar. Our hotel had bikes to rent so I rented everyday and then asked for a deal since I was dropping Euros on so much renting. Crazy American! I was told I could take a taxi or the bus shuttle, but what’s the fun in that?
Riding a bike between the hotel and the campus gave me confidence to go a little farther afield. I’d sit in the lectures and listen to speakers all day and then hit the pavement and ride around like a kid free from all the cares of the world. I rode around the city area and took shortcuts through other neighborhoods. One day I ended up with a bike that needed some repairs. I didn’t notice it right away, but after an hour the front tire started to shimmy and the seat post twisted with any slight movement. It literally had some screws loose. I did the best I could but dusk was hanging over me like a cloud and the front rim lights weren’t operating properly. The dynamo light sets that were supposed to run when touching the rim malfunctioned. The rim was out of alignment and would drag on the tire and produce no illumination. That means I was on these narrow cobblestone streets with no lights. I felt vulnerable. Plus as the sun sets everything starts to look veiled and all the straße looked alike. Nothing is on a grid so panic started to set in and I didn’t know where I was.
I listened. I listened some more. The hotel was close to the U-Bahn and I figured if I could hear the train I could ride toward it, find the station and make my way back to the hotel. It pedaled toward the rumbling metal sounds and after a little while I made it.
Logging miles with a rental bike doesn’t have to be disastrous. It requires a modicum of planning and ask around for bike shops that provide rentals. I love this topic and I promise I’ll spend some more time on it in the future. Now see what Tom Hanks has to say. It’ll make you smile.
Renting a bike is the least commitment one can make when trying to decide what bike to buy. Instead of buying, you can try out a bike. However, when you’re traveling and you’re not sure how much if any riding you’ll be able to do, renting is the perfect option and a unique way to dig in and see things from another perspective.
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve ever tried renting a bike while on vacation.