This post is inspired by an individual I saw riding up a mountain in France on a hire bike that was quite clearly too small. Legs doubled up at almost right angles, I had genuine concerns for the poor guys knees on reaching the summit. It just doesn't have to be this way.
Hiring a bike can be easier, and sometimes cheaper than taking your own when going abroad. You don't need to trundle through airport waiting rooms, attracting confused glances and the regulatory 'got a body in there?' questions. You don't have to take your precious two wheeled best friend apart, and re-build her/him at each end. And you don't risk unboxing a cracked frame either (though a sturdy bike box can hugely limit this too!).
However, there are some cons. Your own bike is set up for you (hopefully) and doesn't cause you pain - a hire bike will be a blank canvas, and if you're riding on holiday you'll probably be racking up the miles - you don't want to do so in the wrong position.
Here are some tips for those hiring a bike abroad, to help make sure you get the best of the experience...
Booking a bike
- Be selective. Towns on the edge of major riding areas often have multiple bike shops, and hire centres. Do some research to make sure you get the best deal, on a bike that you truly want to spend a week or two riding on.
- Opt for a hire shop with a work shop and store - you want to be able to pick up supplies, too
- Bike brands measure bikes from different points. A Specialized Women's 54 will fit much like their unisex 52, which will be different to a Cannondale in a similar size. When choosing your size, you're best off finding the geometry chart for your own bike, and for the hire bike - and going for a ride with a similar reach.
- If you're hiring a unisex bike it is likely to have wider handlebars than would be your ideal. Riding with wider handlebars over long periods can result in neck and back pain, and could be unsettling on long climbs or descents - but swapping them isn't really 'normal practice'. It's worth enquiring if this can be done in advance, or just going for a women's model that might be more ideally set up.
Before leaving home
Assuming that you're comfortable on your own bike, you should take measurements of your machine, which you can apply to the hire bike. The numbers you need to know are reach and saddle height.
- Saddle centre to centre of stem, where it joins the bars.
- Saddle centre to the tip of the shifter
- Saddle height from bottom bracket to centre of saddle
- Saddle height from pedal to centre of saddle (it might be a bit awkward if the cranks on the hire bike are a different length, ideally avoid this)
- Take off any items you'll need - bike computor mount, saddle bag, lights and mounts. The hire bike should have bottle cages, but if you're picky about the style, take those two. Some people like to have their own tyres too, and if you're riding technical sections it can be nice to have rubber you know and trust.
- Take your own saddle off your bike, to put on the hire bike. Take photos of where it's positioned on the rails so it's easy to replace in the right position. It's a good idea to take your own pedals, too.
You've got your measurements, you bike is booked abroad. There's not too much to worry about on your travels. However, it is a good idea to make sure a few items are in your hand luggage - so you won't lose a day of riding if some hold luggage comes separately!
- Shoes, pedals, saddle These will be pretty essential if you want to ride without buying expensive new shoes..
- One set of kit, bike computer and mount
Items not to take in your hand luggage - both will guarantee you time spent on the 'naughty desk' at the other end of the x-ray machine...
- Saddle bag with tools
On collecting the bike
You've arrived! An exciting holiday is about to begin. First, give your bike a thorough check over...
- Check for any dents, scratches, and cracks - particularly if the bike is carbon. The bottom bracket casing and seat tube are areas to pay special attention to. Cracks obviously mean you need another bike. Scratches are common on the top tube, forks and shifters - they're nothing to worry about, but you should inform the hire company so you aren't asked to pay for any damage you didn't create
- Give the crank a wiggle - it should be silent and firm. Any noises or wobble could suggest a dodgy bottom bracket, not a companion you want for a week!
- Run the gears through to make sure they're set up properly
- Give the brakes a test. They may be set up 'euro style' - eg left brake will control the front and right brake the rear - which is the opposite to UK systems. If so, be gentle on your first rides until you're used to it!
- Set your bike up as per your measurements. Remember that a more padded saddle, different pedals/cleats or differently shaped bars will all play a part - so cater for these in your set-up and take a spin to make sure you're happy.
- Borrow a track pump to get the tyre pressure to your ideal number.
- Once you're happy with the fit, run a quick safety check. Make sure the headset is tight by holding the brakes and rocking the front of the bike, and that the wheel quick releases are tight.
You're good to go! For advice on getting the very most from your riding holiday, check out these tips from Dame Sarah Storey.