Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.
Almost every mountain biker who rides aggressively on gnarly terrain–trails filled with rocks, cacti, and more–has their tires set up tubeless. It’s really the only way to go. When those riders travel to a distant destination to ride, maybe sometimes they ship or fly their bike, but if they choose not to, they’ll rent a bike from a shop. And these days, you can rent some of the very nicest mountain bikes that money can buy: my local shop, Absolute Bikes, often has the newest rigs available in their public rental fleet before publications can even get their hands on a review bike.
But here’s the kicker: if you go to most bike shops and get a rental rig—even the nicest bike in the shop—most of the time it is handed over to you with tubes in the tires.
If you’re riding a high-dollar bike the way it’s meant to be ridden—hard—on the terrain in which it’s meant to be ridden—rocky and technical—there’s no way to avoid flatting those tubes. Over the course of 6 riding days during my European trip when I was using a rental bike with tubes, I had 7 flat tires. (The one rental bike that didn’t come with tubes only came that way because I put up a fuss beforehand, and played the “editor for one of the largest mountain biking websites in the world” card.)
That’s an average of more than one flat tire per day, and on some days in extremely rocky terrain with lots of square, sharp-edged rocks, I had two or three.
So picture me, in a foreign country, with precious little time on my hands to enjoy the country while I was there, fixing three flats in one day on the side of the trail. And how long does it take to fix a flat? It depends a bit on how fast you’re working and if you’re trying to salvage a tube/tire or not, but for me, it took an average of a half an hour per tire, due to some complications.
Honestly, the last thing I want to be doing is spending an hour and a half changing three flat tires that could have been totally, 100% avoided if the rental company had just set up the bike with tubeless tires in the first place.
When you get a high-end rental bike, you’re paying enough money that you should be afforded the basic decency of having a tubeless setup.
High-dollar rental bikes usually cost from $75-$100 per day to rent. And if you are riding for, say, five days (or more) as I was on many stretches of my trip, that’s $375-$500 you’re shelling out. Don’t tell me that for that amount of money the bike shop can’t afford to put a couple bucks of Stan’s sealant in a high-end mountain bike’s tires!
Let’s do some microeconomics and break this down a bit, shall we? How many hours of riding do you think you get out of that one-day rental? Let’s say that the average Joe who’s in decent shape might do 5 hours of riding per day. Essentially that bike renter is paying $20 per hour to ride that mountain bike (at $100 per day). If he has to change one tube per day and it takes 1/2 hour, that’s $10 of his rental fee he’s wasted, plus the money for the tube(s) that he has to put in. I paid an exorbitant $14 for one (that’s one, singular) replacement tube while riding in Switzerland, because my rental didn’t even come with a spare tube or tire pump.
So the real cost for a daily rental is closer to $124 per day, plus the loss of your precious vacation time. And how much do you value your vacation time at? Most Americans only get about 2 weeks of vacation time (if any), which is very little compared to the rest of the developed world. So how many dollars per hour is each of your 80 hours of vacation time worth? You could value it at your hourly average based on your salary, but that wouldn’t be an accurate depiction either, because you only get just two weeks every single year, and that’s it. Also, how often are you going to get to go back to Switzerland, huh? Let’s be real here: if you’re riding in a foreign country, you may never have the opportunity to return there ever again.
Basically, your vacation time is freaking priceless.
So tell me: do you really want to be spending a half an hour per day, or a total of 5 hours out of your 80 hours annually (assuming you rode all 10 of your vacation days) changing flat tires that are completely and 100% preventable? And that, in theory, you’re already paying to prevent with your exorbitant rental fee?
The answer is “hell no!” No, you don’t want to be doing that!
While hanging out at my local shop getting some warranty work done on my rig, I asked one of the managers, Earl Walker, about their rental bikes, and how they set up their tires. And he said that of course they set their tires up tubeless, and was shocked to hear that most bike shops–and even many official demo fleets from mountain bike brands–don’t. But based on my experience traveling the world riding rental bikes, Absolute Bikes isn’t your average bike shop–I mean, they did win bike shop of the year at Interbike 2015, after all.
When chatting about rental bikes, Earl said,
“We want people to come back from their ride and be stoked on their experience–to be stoked on mountain biking. If they come back and they aren’t stoked, then we haven’t done our job properly. That doesn’t reflect well on us, and that doesn’t reflect well on the sport of mountain biking. We want to help spread the stoke for mountain biking, and setting up tires tubeless on a rental bike is a really easy way to do that.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself! Bike shops, help spread the stoke: put some sealant in those friggin’ tires!