Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Rentals: Five Things You Need To Know

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

There is something quintessentially American about touring on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle

Traveling the wide-open highways with a big V-Twin thundering away between your knees, there is something quintessentially American about touring on a Harley-Davidson. While only a fantasy for non-riders, it can easily be a dream come true for any licensed motorcycle rider, thanks to motorcycle rental companies. We are lucky to live in a time in which multiple viable options exist for Harley-Davidson rentals. From big rental companies ( Eagle Rider and Hertz) to little mom-and-pop operations that cater to a specific region to the burgeoning rider share companies ( Riders Share or Twisted Road), never have we had better opportunities to see this huge country from the seat of a rented motorcycle.

Still, renting a Harley-Davidson requires more planning than just picking up a car at the airport rental kiosk for a similar trip. In this article, however, we’re going to skip over the obvious necessities, like being a competent, licensed motorcyclist or what insurance to carry. Those issues are covered with the rental itself. Instead, let’s take a gander at issues and opportunities offered by a motorcycle rental.

1. Decide on which category Harley you want to rent

Maybe you ride a Harley cruiser and want to step up to a bagger or a full-dress tourer, or perhaps you own a dresser and want to try a little more casual touring with a Heritage Classic or a Road King. Rentals offer you to expand the range of Harleys that you have ridden. Remember to consider the type of riding and the number of miles you want to cover when selecting your motorcycle. While you can spend all day in the saddle of a Breakout, watching the mileposts go by, but do you want to when there are more comfortable options available. Similarly, if you just want to spend a few days bombing around a beach town on a couple of Harleys with a buddy, do you really want the extra weight of a bagger? These are all things you should consider before booking your rental.

2. Research the bike you want to rent

Consider this to be the appetizer before the main course of your tour. Read reviews of the bike(s) you are planning to rent. You’ll find out any strengths and weaknesses before you’re out on the road. You don’t want to tour the American Southwest with its lengthy distances between gas stations on a bike with a peanut tank. Similarly, you’ll probably want to study the weather protection offered by your chosen mount if you’re traveling at high altitudes, like in the Rocky Mountains, or in heavy weather, which you’re likely to encounter in the Pacific Northwest.

If you’re traveling on a touring rig for the first time, learn about the Harley Boom! audio system and the features it offers travelers, like the ability to plan your trip and download it to the GPS. Decide whether to use your smartphone for music or whether to bring an iPod or other device.

3. Plan for a “get to know you” day with the bike

When you pick up the bike, be sure to allow time for packing it and getting set up for your ride. Are you riding two-up with your saddlebags and truck stuffed? Take some time to bump up the preload. Don’t plan on huge mileage for your first day. Typically, unless you’re lucky enough to own several motorcycles, there is an adjustment period with a new bike. The clutch will likely engage at a different point. The front brake may have more or less free play and different braking characteristics. If the bike is bigger and heavier than what you’re used to riding, you’ll need to adapt your riding technique. The same goes for ground clearance and cornering ability of bikes. You’ll need to consider all of these things as you first get out on the road.

4. Allow some flexibility in your plans

While planning for a trip is important – and is a huge part of the anticipation of an upcoming adventure – don’t create an itinerary that is so ambitious that it prevents you from enjoying discoveries along the way. Many a road trip has been made better by a chance encounter along the way that leads to a previously unknown “must-see” just a few miles off of the intended route. Also, allow for some time to actually enjoy the places you visit by spending a little time off of the motorcycle.

5. Consider the cargo-carrying capacity of your rental

Most people tend to overpack for trips. So, try to prepare for loading your Harley rental by separating your belongings into groups to put in each bag (and the trunk, if you have one). If you’re traveling solo, you have the luxury of carrying a little more stuff for yourself, but for those going two-up, assigning each person one saddlebag is an equitable arrangement. For tours of more than a few days, we’ve found it easier to run a load or two of laundry at a motel after a day’s ride than trying to stuff more clothes into the saddlebags.

If you can’t whittle down your gear to a reasonable size before you leave your house, the job won’t get any easier when you’re at a shop somewhere picking up your bike. For those of you returning the bike to the same place, you can always leave the overflow behind. However, one-way riders don’t have that luxury. So, do the hard work of sorting your belongings at home.

Touring by motorcycle is addicting fun, and doing it on a rented Harley-Davidson in a part of this great country that you’ve never explored only makes it better. If you follow these simple tips, you’ll avoid the most common pitfalls when you are out on the road. Doing the research about the bike and the route, bringing the right gear in the appropriate amount, and getting the bike properly loaded and set up will pay huge dividends out on the road.

Don’t forget the sunscreen – or to send photo-filled emails to your jealous friends and family.

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Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

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13 of 28 comments
  • Allison Sullivan Allison Sullivan on Sep 16, 2020

    I'd love to find somewhere that rented something OTHER than Harley Davidsons. I have zero interest in riding a Harley, but I (used to) travel a lot, and I'd happily rent a sportbike or a naked for a day to check out the scenery ... were they available.

    I looked into renting a bike in Japan when I was there a few years ago, and all I could find were BMW's (another marque that really doesn't interest me). I can't rent a Japanese bike in Japan? GTFO!

    • See 10 previous
    • Campi the Bat Campi the Bat on Sep 17, 2020

      Part of this is that insuring anything other than a cruiser/"retro" or ADV bike for a commercial rental fleet in North America is hideously expensive. The sort of customer that isn't trying to rent themselves a track day bike can usually be talked into an ADV machine pretty easily if that's all that's available.

  • WPZ WPZ on Oct 19, 2020

    We rented a pair of non-Harleys from Eagle Rider in New Orleans last winter. The bikes were a bit beaten up but safe- a fair amount of drop damage.
    The suspension settings on the MT-07 were jacked all the way up, leaving the 150-pound rider bouncing high in the air until we went back to get it corrected. Odd.
    The tough part was the insurance upcharges. In the end, for three days of these low-end bikes, we shelled out something close to $900. Apparently we somehow agreed to some extra insurance riders that we didn't realize we were getting.
    With our State Farm, we have a our regular full coverage so much of this was wasted.
    The catch is, ER wants a $10,000 deposit per bike if you don't check all these boxes.
    Twenty grand for a three-day pop might seem like a lot to some people.