Motoring enthusiasm is something that has to be lived. You can read all the reviews you like, but until you climb behind the wheel of a Miata and hustle down a beautiful road, you will never truly understand it. Watching an IndyCar race on TV or on a smartphone may be convenient, but until the Wall of Sound throbs into your ears and beats against your chest, you’re missing half the emotion. That’s why, in a world that’s increasingly apathetic about cars, we enthusiasts have a sacred duty to ensure there is always an avenue for accessing that thrill. Semi-professional enablers, to borrow a line from Flyin’ Miata’s Keith Tanner.
Basically, butts have to get into seats. Luckily, the Internet can help with that. Especially with one of the biggest hurdles: getting some wheels.
To be sure, the motor enthusiast world is big enough for every fascination imaginable. Whether you’re part of the Miata
cult fan club, a Saab oddball, a member of the Ducatisti, or a connoisseur of whatever Jason’s driving this week, there’s always someone who wants to talk shop with you. But the hurdle isn’t getting some popular wheels; it’s being able to afford and care for some wheels.
Money. Practicality can be ignored or damned; gremlins in the machine are like the muscle aches after a good workout; you can always find somewhere to put it. But no plan survives first contact with a budget.
The costs of car or motorcycle ownership aren’t astronomical, but they also aren’t trivial. Still, there’s more to ownership than paying for gas, insurance, and regular maintenance. There’s also the headache of finding parking, and the tedium of traffic. And if you don’t have a garage, time and space for maintenance is precious and fleeting. Motorcycle riders also have to deal with storage: while October and November were mild enough for me to see riders in Detroit up until Thanksgiving, the recent snows have firmly parked the steel horses in their stables. And these are just the practical concerns.
Reading reviews online and in print, browsing Craigslist, and watching videos on YouTube have all left me wanting to drive more cars. Realistically, that’s not going to happen any time soon, if at all. And yet, I keep looking at Alfa Romeos and Lancias on Petrolicious, and drooling over the star cars in Doug Demuro’s columns. That’s why, after I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance while backpacking through Yellowstone, I started getting into motorcycles. The sensations seem even sharper, while the barrier of entry is lower. But there’s another way to lower that barrier, at least for a little while: rental.
While the thought of jumping into a total stranger’s car may’ve been the stuff of parents’ nightmares only a few years ago, the rise of Uber and Lyft has proven that the concept is appealing. However, although cutting down the occurrence of drunk-driving deaths is a remarkable achievement, you’re still a passenger in all this (also, the way most people use them actually causes an increase in urban congestion—we’d basically need an Uber-based car-pool). For a long time, the only way to drive something a little more extravagant, something that let you live a little, was through specialty rental services charging an arm and a leg, or the slim pickings of the Hertz higher-end rental categories. Turo changed that.
Turo sounds like an enthusiast’s dream. We’re always hearing complaints about amazing cars that just sit in
garages vaults with atmospheric controls, never being driven, just waiting for the day the curator owner will sell it in some ridiculously opulent auction...only for the cycle to repeat ad naseum. But for every one of those owners, there’s an equal number who delight in putting the loud pedal down and watching flames shoot out the back. Problem is, most of them have businesses to run, and can’t always drive everything they own. Luckily, there’s an entire Internet of drivers who will graciously sacrifice their time and money to do so.
So far, although cases like that of the D.C. R8 have cropped up, it sounds like it’s going well. Turo has even facilitated the lending of cars to LA fire victims. Also, where else are you going to find a place that lets you rent an honest-to-God Skyline GT-R for $212/day? And when was the last time you heard of a DeLorean being available at Enterprise?
But maybe you’re more of a classic car enthusiast? Turo isn’t really the place for that. But the folks at Hagerty have got you, fam: although their recently-launched DriveShare program does have some modern sports cars listed, the main focus is classic sheetmetal.
In unrelated news, I now know what I want for Christmas. And my birthday. And next Christmas.
However, while sites like Turo and DriveShare are great for car enthusiasts, there weren’t any such sites for motorcycle riders. It’s understandable; motorcycle riders have their own table at the motoring enthusiast Thanksgiving dinner. Motorcycles also often occupy a different space on roads, so to speak: although two-wheeled vehicles are the default in many countries around the world, at least in the US, motorcycles are less utilitarian and more an instrument of passion. Kind of like Europe v. USA regarding the bidet. The former is aware of it’s practical benefits, while the latter thinks the people who have one are a bit strange, and why would anyone want to do that to themselves, and this metaphor’s started to break down a bit, so let’s move on.
As I said, there weren’t any rental sites for motorcycle enthusiasts. There is now: Twisted Road. And it’s this peer-to-peer motorcycle rental site that I believe best exemplifies the notion of motoring enthusiast accessibility.
While the dearly departed Robert Pirsig’s seminal work may have stoked the flames of interest in motorcycles, the book didn’t light the spark. What did, was an observation I’d made a few years earlier. It was during summer break, and I was grabbing lunch with a friend at a small cafe close to Loyola University in Chicago. This place was literally on a Lake Michigan beach, so the parking was a few blocks west and it was basically non-existent. Permit-only signs everywhere. I spent about 15 minutes trying to find a space for my dad’s Nissan Sentra, and only an act of God led me to one. But, when I was walking down the block, I noticed the out-lined spaces by a coffee shop on the corner. They were full, but not with cars—with motorcycles and scooters. I counted three bikes in a space that would fit one car. That’s when it started to click.
For a city, motorcycles just make a lot of sense. They don’t take up a lot of space; you can get a fairly decent new one for the cost of an “eh” used car; they get great gas mileage; and, if you’re just using a motorcycle to commute, the lack of storage isn’t that big of a deal. While the Windy City isn’t conducive to motorcycle riding year-round, it wouldn’t be impossible elsewhere to have a bike as your DD (or should that be DR?). I’ve cycled in snowstorms, cold snaps, and heat waves. It isn’t easy, but it’s mostly a matter of careful planning and paying attention. And anyway, isn’t “careful planning and paying attention” one of the enthusiast Commandments?
I’m speaking as an outsider on this, but I genuinely think the motorcycle is a great way to introduce people to motoring enthusiasm. Outside of driving a Morgan 3-Wheeler or Caterham, there’s perhaps no purer way to say that you live for great roads. The problem is, because the motorcycle is still seen as a fun dispensary, rather than a practical day-to-day machine, it can be difficult for a lot of young enthusiasts-in-the-making to experience this aspect of engine love. Yes, we all knew at least one person in college who had a Honda Ruckus, but that’s made for late-night Taco Bell runs, not bank parking lots. Getting a motorcycle endorsement is one thing, but there has to be an opportunity to refine your skills and experience the thrills. That’s what Twisted Road is all about.
Motorcyclist, whose article inspired me to write this, notes that the site is perfect for ‘younger riders who can’t afford their own motorcycles the chance to hit the road and catch the biking bug.’ It’s a win-win: younger and less affluent riders get a chance to figure out if motorcycling is right for them, and what they want to aspire towards, while the owners’ rides get a respite from storage, and earn some cash at the same time. While the Twisted Road site doesn’t explicitly state it, I’d imagine the owners are responsible for maintaining their bikes—which is fine, because the rental is meant as a brief splash in the pool of riding, not a swan-dive into the deep end.
I’m excited to see what happens with Twisted Road. This kind of rental service hasn’t been done with bikes yet, but the model has been proven successful with cars. It’s an amazing opportunity to get more people riding, and I know I’ll be right in line as soon as I finish a safety course and get my endorsement. There’s a whole new world I’m ready to experience.