The Joys of Sport Bike Rental Staff
by Staff
I've known for some time that I was going to be in California on business this week. I also knew that I was overdue for a vacation and in need of a new way to unwind. I have friends in San Francisco and, since one of them rides, thought it might be nice to rent a bike for a day and check out one or two of the more popular routes along the coast. Until I started googling for a shop that rented cruisers in the area I hadn't considered that someone might actually rent out sport bikes.

In my 16 years of riding and my six or so motorcycles I had not once straddled a "sport" bike with a birth year more recent than 1975. This made the notion of renting a modern sports bike both intimidating and exciting to me. I called up Pacific Motorcycle Rentals and reserved a date on the Saturday before the business part of my trip was scheduled to start, gave them my credit card number for the reservation and spent the next couple of weeks fidgeting in anticipation of my trip.

My flight arrived at SFO around 10:20 in the morning Pacific and my buddy Nick picked me up (more-or-less) on time. I spent the day pal-ing around with my best friend and his wife, alternately listening to music, watching Equilibrium and playing Half Life 2. Enjoyable as this was, it was also sort of necessary as I had arrived on a week day and the friend I would be riding with (and who's place I would be crashing at) was at work.

When the work day was over and my riding friend swung by to pick me up we had a depressing conversation about the state of the next day's weather and wondered aloud to each other if it would be possible to move the reservation out a bit. I called up PMR, was passed around a bit, told I'd received a call back, and ultimately informed that yeah, Sunday would be fine. SWEET! Sunday was calling for sunshine and 60 degree weather -- great weather for riding, even better weather for riding in my new set of leathers. All that night, the next day, and the following night it was all I could do to keep myself from imploding with anticipation.

Sunday morning rolled around, we grabbed some quick (albeit late) breakfast, I donned my gear and we hopped in the car to go pick up the bike. PMR is located just over the golden gate from the city at Marin Cycle Works. We showed up about 10 minutes earlier than opening hours but the doors were wide and we walked on in. It was a while before someone representing PMR appeared but we were (in all fairness) early and one assumes that Cali is a bit more laid back than the coast I live on ;-) -- in any event, a xerox of my license, a run of my credit card and a few signatures later and I was walking out to my rental: a 2005 Honda CBR600RR. First off let me say as a rider of touring, cruiser, and old standard style bikes the CBR looked practically microscopic. I'm not a big guy by any stretch of the imagination (5' 9" - 170 lbs) but I felt like a giant next to that bike. If standing next to it was a shock to the eyes straddling it was at least an equal shock to the rest of my senses. The bike (seemingly) weighed nothing and apparently required a fetal position just to touch the pegs and the handlebars at the same time. I listened to my orientation instruction as attentively as I was able considering how totally out of my element I felt on this bike. The key thing I took away from it was that the bike would be more prone to "close down" on the front wheel while turning at low speeds than a cruiser or standard and that I should therefore be especially wary in parking lots and gas stations (more on this later).

With my friend back in the car, my helmet on my head and a wave from the guys at PMR I did a clumsy first launch around the parking lot just to get a basic feel for the bike... BIZARRE! My feet felt like they must be on the back pegs and shifting felt completely foreign. That first quick circuit around the tiny parking lot was nothing compared to the degree of adjustment I was about to experience as we left the dealership and headed back to the city. Let me just say right off the bat that 16 years of riding with the pegs in front of you trains your feet to seek out the shifter and rear brake in that position no matter what the hell your brain might be telling them. More than once during that first trip I poked one foot or the other out into thin air to shift or brake (very dangerous at any speed) only to realize that the controls I was fumbling for were BEHIND me. That scared the bejeezus out of me every time it happened, fortunately I adapted quickly enough to keep from killing myself and after about four or five attempted "air shifts" I was finally able to keep my feet planted on the pegs where they belonged.

This is where the fun started. I began playing with the bike a bit... keeping the revs at a reasonable limit (especially by sport bike standards) and performing a couple of moderate wiggles when the lanes to either side of me were empty. The CBR proved to have a very smooth (and very ample) power curve. It was also a lot more stable than I expected, especially at speed... and WOW, NIMBLE! The handling was almost immediately confidence inspiring and I found my anxiety waning as my excitement at the prospect of taking twisties on this little machine grew. We took the flattest route possible (so as to reduce the chance of a clutch slip induced stall) back to my friend's place to pick up the other bike without incident. After the car was parked we pointed our respective bikes towards the beach and took off... we road from the coast back into the wooded twisties and stopped at Alice's for lunch. The whole way out the bike was sure footed, flickable, and a hell of a lot of fun. By the time we sat down to eat lunch I was a shameless sport convert. The ride back proved chill and somewhat more wearying as, despite determining early that my weight was best supported by my abdomen and legs and not by my arms and chest, I periodically forgot to avoid putting stress on my wrists. Maybe it was being tired, maybe it was being cocky, maybe it was just being stupid that caused me to tip the bike over at the gas station. In any event, I stopped short on a soft curb before pulling back out onto the road, stuck my left foot out to keep the bike up right and promptly found myself laying on my back. Great, the only stop we had left on our trip was the dealership and I drop the bike NOW?! C'est la vie, I guess. In any event, we rode back to Marin Cycle Works without further incident and relayed the good the bad and the ugly about the trip to the PMR folks. They seemed genuinely and truly bummed about having to charge me for the damage (the rental insurance had a $1000 deductible) and didn't try to make me feel like a jackass (not that I needed any help feeling humiliated at this point) for tipping the bike. Apart from the spill and subsequent expense, every aspect of the trip was fantastic and something I would do again in a heart beat. I learned some invaluable lessons about handling a sport bike and added a whole new item to my list of potential recreational activities for future visits. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the experience to anyone with a healthy respect for motorcycles and a desire for a low hassle riding experience.
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