The author has a personal interest in the website that is the subject matter of this article but was not paid or compensated in any way by Twisted Road for writing it.
Don’t you wish you could put your motorcycle in a suitcase and take it wherever you go? Unless you own a Grom, or are a motorcycling mouse, that’s not going to happen. So, if you want to ride while traveling, you have to ship your bike or rent – or maybe even buy – a motorcycle when you reach your destination.
Unfortunately, renting a bike is pricey, and you’re often faced with limited choices. That’s what Icelander Kristjan Gislason discovered planning a cross-country American adventure with his wife: he could rent any bike he wanted when he landed in Washington, D.C, as long as it was a Harley-Davidson. And for Gislason, a seasoned, globe-trotting BMW R1200GS owner, that wasn’t going to work.
Luckily, he had connections in the U.S. from a prior 10-month circumnavigation of the planet, connections that told him about a new start-up, Twisted Road, a peer-to-peer moto-loaning site. That’s how he got in touch with Carter Wood, a R1200GS owner from Centreville, Virginia. Carter’s 2009 BMW had low miles, was in tip-top condition and was just what Kristjan and his wife Ásdís needed for their five-week trip across the USA.
How, I asked both Kristjan and Carter, were you comfortable doing this kind of thing with a stranger? Well, Kristjan told me, “by the time we got to the States, we had texted and emailed back and forth so much, he didn’t feel like a stranger.” Carter picked up the travelers at Dulles and took them to a local hotel – paid for with Carter’s reward points – to prepare for the journey. The tires were new, it had a fresh oil change, and all the luggage capacity the light-traveling couple needed for 6,000 miles on the road.
Would they have to hustle the bike back to Virginia? Nope, not with Carter for a renter. He met them in San Francisco, checked over the bike (Carter thought there was enough tire tread left to get him back home, and the Gislasons had done an oil change on their dime in Santa Fe) and headed back to the East Coast, the first time he’s attempted a cross-country trip. It sounded like a great experience for everybody involved.
Icelanders love travelling, and like their rugged Viking ancestors, don’t need to be coddled. “I like the personal touch,” Kristjan said. “We escape from luxury hotels… we want to keep it simple and want to get to know the people,” so being able to rent from an owner is a great way to ride the bike he wanted as well as making lasting friendships with folks far from home.
Carter and the Gislasons’ experience was exactly what Twisted Road founder Austin Rothbard had in mind when his website went live in October of 2017. The 46-year-old Rothbard came to motorcycling late in life, after a couple of decades in the business world, managing and running companies like World Kitchen (parent company of Pyrex), Baker Furniture, Cabo Yachts and Brunswick Billiards. Already in his 40s, he saw a friend riding a bike and decided he wanted to do that, too. “I took the safety course, and was completely hooked.” He finds it both therapeutic and relaxing, and loves the feel of community baked into the motorcycle culture.
He was on a family vacation in the dramatic scenery of Bryce Canyon and said to himself, “I sure wish I had my bike.” Of course, there was nowhere to rent one in the depths of the Utah wilderness, but he was surprised when in Italy he discovered he couldn’t rent a Moto Guzzi (his personal ride is a Guzzi V7) anywhere near the Moto Guzzi factory. Sounds like that magical “aha” moment when a founder sees an opportunity, no?
Austin sure saw one. “There are thousands of bike’s in people’s garages, and I said, ‘Hey, I sure wish I could rent one.'” As a successful brand manager and business executive, he knew he had to treat this as a serious business, not a hobby, so he started by surveying the market to see if there really was demand. He says there was, from both prospective owners and renters. “I know there are nine million bikes,” he told me, “and most owners travel and wish they had their bike with them. The average bike only gets 1,000 miles per year. There are a million bikes just sitting in garages and we want to put them to use.”
But who would want some rando off the Internet to flog his or her pride and joy? Well, says Austin, “I would never let anyone stay in my house, yet Airbnb is very successful.” After all, there are millions of motorcycles out there, so “we don’t need everybody to rent their bike out, just enough to make it successful.” And most people have more than one bike anyway, and maybe one of them is that red-headed stepchild that an owner wouldn’t miss too much. God knows I’ve had bikes like that.
So, the game was on, and after 10 months of planning and building, Twisted Road went live last October. It’s grown slowly – this is a niche market of a niche market, after all – but it’s definitely becoming a thing. From just a few bikes, there are now over 600 listings on the site and Austin says 100 new ones appear every month. Some highlights: an MV Agusta or two, a 2015 Norton Commando, and a lovingly restored 1947 Indian Chief, if you can figure out how to ride the thing.
How many bikes actually get rented out? Austin chose not to give any actual numbers, but he says it’s “growing rapidly,” with very high customer satisfaction: 98% of renters leave five-star reviews.
Now, what you may be dying to know: who’s going to pay for my bike if it’s wrecked? Depending on how you feel about things, Austin’s model is pretty solid or just a wee bit seat-of-the-pants. He won’t reveal the exact nature of Twisted Road’ insurance structure, but it’s clear that Twisted Road wants to make sure the owner isn’t responsible for damages that happen during the rental period. Renters must have motorcycle insurance as well as a motorcycle endorsement on their license and an acceptable driving record (Twisted Road checks your DMV record before your rental is approved). Oh, and the Terms of Service clearly states “no wheelies.” Finally, the owner meets the rider in person before they take the bike away, offering another opportunity to keep a hinky dude (or lass) off your beloved steed.
But accidents (or not-so-accidental incidents) happen. In fact, Carter’s bike was hit while it was parked by a (fortunately well-insured) minivan in Texas, damaging the front wheel. The insurance claim was all taken care of by the minivan’s owner, but say the rider’s (or other party’s) policy doesn’t cover the full cost of repair or replacement? Twisted Road squeezes as much as it can out of the insurance/rider turnip and then, when it’s dry, pays the difference up to $15,000, guaranteed.
Beyond that, I guess, you’re out of luck, which means it’s wise to not to turn your Panigale R or CVO Road Glide into a TR rental. In fact, Austin advises against buying a bike just to rent out, no matter how cheap; for now, it’s more a way to meet people and help fellow motorcyclists than a solid side-hustle. “I’m not going to try to talk anyone into putting their bike on our site. But if they’re interested, [they should] try it.”
It worked very well for Carter, Austin and the Gislasons. The Gislasons had the perfect bike for their dream vacation for less than they would pay a big rental company (if said company even offered a BMW GS at its Washington DC location, which they don’t), Carter kept 70% of the rental fee – something like half of what he paid for the bike – and Austin made some dough plus made a loyal customer. Win-win-win, as Austin told me.
Full disclosure: when I found out about Twisted Road I added my own motorcycle (and have yet to rent it out), and I may benefit from a positive response to this story. So, unless you want to diminish my shining reputation for journalistic integrity, please, whatever you do, don’t rent the white 2014 EBR 1190SX located in the San Francisco Bay Area, priced at just $129 day with unlimited mileage. I wouldn’t be able to sleep well at night.