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New service hopes to fill long-term bike rental gap

There are several places in town where you can rent a bike to ride around town for the day. But at $30/day and up, bike rental fees add up quickly if you need a ride for a week or more. That’s where Lucas Nivon, founder of Seattle Monthly Bike Rental, comes in.

“I did some research to try to figure out why [such a service] didn’t exist, so I just decided to do it,” said Nivon. For as low as $80/week or $120/month, Nivon will bring a bike to you anywhere within the city limits (must reserve 24 hours in advance). When your rental is over, he’ll come pick it up.

SMBR is not the only source for multi-day bike rentals around town (Montlake Bicycle Shop has multi-day prices. Anyone know of others?). But SMBR’s prices are pretty low because he has low overhead. The bikes are kept in a storage space and, for now, Nivon is the only employee. In fact, the Capitol Hill-based company’s biggest cost is time spent delivering the bikes, Nivon said.

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But, then again, it’s also an excuse for him to go for a bike ride across town, a welcome change of pace from his work as a biophysics research fellow at UW. Nivon says he usually rides the rentals to people, then either buses or heads back on foot (though he also has a bike rack on his car).

The biggest hurdle he faced in starting the company was finding a way to insure the venture. But after a lot of digging, he found a firm that would sell him liability insurance for people riding bikes in his fleet.

So far, his biggest source of clients has been people staying in downtown hotels, either for work or for a convention. Through Nivon, they can get quality wheels that go wherever they need or want to go.

I asked Nivon whether he saw the specter of public bike share cutting into his business model. He said the monthly bike rental “kind of lives in a separate ecosystem” than public bikes. For one, the rentals can go where there are no bike share stations, and they have no time limits. They are also sportier than the somewhat clunky public rides, which are designed to fit all sizes of people for short rides.

And yes, Seattle Monthly Bike Rental will operate all winter.

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8 responses to “New service hopes to fill long-term bike rental gap”

  1. merlin

    This is really cool! All the downtown hotels should be supporting this and encouraging their visitors to use.

  2. Matthew

    I wish Lucas the best of luck with this venture. I would likely have used it a couple of years ago when I was visiting Seattle for several days at a time.

    One thing that I didn’t see addressed on his website is the issue of maintenance and mechanical issues that arise during the course of normal biking — anything from fixing a flat to, say, getting a chain back onto a chainring if it has slipped off. This is one area where bike share works well for novice and casual riders, and tourists. If I’m visiting a city for a few days, I certainly won’t have my tools on me, and I don’t want to have to worry about taking my bike into a shop to deal with maintenance issues. With bike share, I just find the nearest kiosk, return the bike, flag it as problematic by pressing a button, and get a different bike. Clearly, Lucas’ service has other benefits that bike share doesn’t, as you point out.

    I think that in general, as cycling continues to grow as a commuter mode of transportation and as a casual method of exploring a city, there will be an increasing market for a kind of “AAA for bikes” — mobile, reasonably rapid-response repair services. It could either be an insurance model, like AAA (prepay in the event that you need it), or a pay-per-use model. I know these kinds of services exist in some cities, but my general sense is that the numbers of people using them are not big enough to allow the services to grow to the point where they’re extremely reliable and, say, 24/7-accessible within a defined geographic region.

  3. This is Lucas from SMBR, I wanted to answer Matthew’s questions. First off, thanks for the interest, since starting this out I’ve found out that NYC and Boston also have similar services, but its still a fairly new idea, yet to be implemented many places.
    As far as repairs go, I’m delivering bikes with a check up on brakes, derailleurs and tires (obviously with good tire pressure, and doing work myself and outsourcing anything difficult to local shops as needed), and with instructions to call if any difficulty arises. In practice this means that not too much will go wrong during the average (roughly 5-7 days) rental, and the only difficulty I’ve had so far involved a chain popping off that the renter was able to fix, and that was a result of inexpertly planning gear shifts, not anything too serious. As things do go wrong, as they inevitably will, I’ll offer to swap out the bike or discount the cost of repairs at a convenient shop as needed. I’d also point out that this issue of repairs also applies to rental cars, and that business model is humming along just fine.
    The suggestion for bike AAA is interesting, and there’s something similar in boston (mybike.com), where they’ll pick up your bike, do repairs in the shop, and drop it back off at your home or work. They are also doing long-term rentals, like I am, so I assume they build the repair pick-ups into their daily bike drops for rentals. The trouble with the mobile repair on-site would be cost — the driver would also have to be a highly-skilled (and appropriately compensated) mechanic who would be spending lots of time not doing repairs while driving from place to place.
    As has been pointed out, I think multiple different modes of bike rental/sharing can coexist happily aiming different users, from the hard core bike nerd to the merely bi(ke)-curious, and as people become more comfortable with biking the overall market will grow for everyone.

  4. Gordon Padelford

    AAA of Washington does provide service for bikes: http://blog.bikeleague.org/blog/2012/06/aaa-washington-to-provide-emergency-bicycle-service/

    So does liberal AAA competitor Better World Club: http://www.betterworldclub.com/bicycles/index.cfm

    Best of luck!

  5. Mondoman

    Lucas, this sounds like a great service! I was recently visiting Denver and wanted to rent a bike for some rides there since the weather was excellent. All I could find were some single-day rate rentals when I was looking for a 3-5 day rental.
    Good luck with your business!

  6. lucas,i saw your site emailed you,i love new innovative ideas,and yours is one,hope you received it,i believe with help,some marketing,cash of cause,and your vision,you are creating a new industry,non-existed at this point,keep your overhead low,and you will continue to exist for now,love to speak to you when you have the time,to discuss marketing to new markets,i can help you,though you do not know me,that is always a problem,talking is a first step,do not give up regards barton cohen

  7. I’ll admit, this does sound like a great service and certainly adds the Eco-friendly element to the mix. I am interested in trying this when I come on an extended visit this summer. Are there any long term hotels Seattle wise that are near enough to your location to walk to grab my bike?

  8. Jack Schaedel

    This sounds exciting. My wife and I are planning a visit to Seattle in July and would like to visit Vancouver and Victoria as well. Could we take rented bikes across the border by train, and is there a volume discount?

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