This is an entry by Vagabond Journey’s motorcycle travel correspondent, Bob L, about how to rent a motorcycle when traveling abroad. To ask Bob a motorcycle travel question, fill out the contact form on ASK Travel Questions.
How to rent a motorcycle abroad
The typical world traveler, who plans on seeing the world by motorcycle, will use his own bike. This requires shipping the bike from place to place, dealing with crossing borders, insurance, potential losses due to theft and crashing, storage. This is the only practical way to see all of the world on a motorcycle.
What if one does not insist on seeing everyplace by motorcycle? What if one only has a limited vacation time, or only wants to see the best parts of the world by motorcycle, and use public transportation for the rest? For such a traveler, there are other options to shipping a bike all around the world.
The rider can rent a motorcycle, or buy a motorcycle, selling it when they leave the area. In this post, I will only talk about renting, as I have no experience in purchasing a bike in a foreign country (legally), and each country’s laws are so different that I would not even attempt to generalize. I will use my recent trip to Northern Thailand in many examples.
Initial safety concerns
First, let me say that if you are not an experienced motorcyclist, you have no business riding a motorcycle in a country that is not your own. Each country has it’s own rhythm to driving, and it’s own hazards. Learning what these are while riding an unfamiliar bike and learning how to ride is a recipe for disaster. Now, as with all warnings, you can take it or leave it. Many people set off on world tours with minimal riding experience. I have read stories of people getting on a bike for the first time just before their ’round the world trip. Ted Simon, of the book Jupiter’s Travels is one such person. So you choose your own level of acceptable risk.
One thing to remember, riding a motorcycle in many parts of the world is….. challenging, invigorating, and scary as hell.
Motorcycle rental options
There are many places around the world where you can rent (hire) a motorcycle. In some places, it is difficult, if not impossible to get a bike with an engine larger than a 125cc, while a scooter is a common rental in many countries.
Which bike is right, depends on you, your size, your experience, your preferences, where you plan to go, what you plan to carry. Whether you get a Enduro (dirt bike, dual sport) or a large touring bike is a question best answered by you.
If you are planning on staying relatively local to where the bike is rented, and going out for day rides only, then a bike similar to what the bulk of the population is riding is probably a good choice. My recent trip to Northern Thailand is a good example. Here, most people were riding scooters, either the step through kind, or those that were more like motorcycles. These were generally 125cc or less. A 125cc scooter will go as fast as you need to go, although not necessarily as fast as you want to go. Being common, there are places that will repair any issues pretty much anywhere. Even in the smallest towns, that did not even have gas stations there were scooter shops with newish looking machines lined up out front. You will see larger bikes, ridden by ex-pats or the richer locals. There is nothing wrong with using a larger bike, although if you plan on mostly riding around a city, you will find a big bike somewhat impractical.
As for rentals, you may have many choices. The easiest way to rent a bike is to take an organized tour that provides a bike, hotels, guides and a chase van with all your luggage, and maybe your partner (if they get tired of sitting on the back). This is also the most expensive way to rent a motorcycle abroad.
Another option is to rent a bike from a shop and travel independently on your own.
In most western countries, bikes are available in many sizes, but they are generally fairly expensive. Even in the USA you can rent bikes. Harley’s, BMW’s, Sport Touring, Sport and dirt bikes are available in many parts of the country. In less developed countries (I hate that phrase) the options may be more limited. Generally just the size limitations mentioned above, but also sometimes country of origin. In Thailand, larger bikes that are not produced in Thailand are hard to come by due to the huge import duties on such bikes. Fortunately, some bikes are manufactured in Thailand.
For example, the bike I chose in Thailand was a Kawasaki that is now built in the country. That makes it much less expensive, therefore more available. If you had the money, you could rent almost any bike in Northern Thailand. The bike I rented was a Kawasaki ER-6N 650cc naked sport bike. This was, for me, the ideal bike for the trip I planned. OK, I could have listed a dozen different bikes that I would have considered “Ideal”, but this was the best choice of the ones that were available.
The bike in Thailand cost me $38/day for an 11 day rental with the so-called insurance. Note that the insurance here is just an agreement between the rider and the rental company that limits how much you would have to pay if the bike was seriously damaged or stolen. It is worth it to me, you make your own choice. For half this money one could rent a fuel injected 250cc dual sport motorcycle that will go anywhere, and have plenty of power to get around.
There are some countries where for under $10/day you can rent a small motorcycle. On my next trip to Thailand, I am likely to explore more of the back roads and unpaved road areas, therefore a dual sport would be ideal. In some areas, a small dual sport (enduro) is the largest that you would want to rent.
How to rent a motorcycle abroad
Renting a motorcycle is generally very easy. You show up, show your passport and drivers license and give cash. Depending on the country, you may need to leave a credit card, and may be required to have an international drivers license with a motorcycle endorsement. But you may just need to leave a deposit. In Thailand, it is typical to be required to either leave a very large deposit, or your passport. As with prices, what you leave is negotiable. Before leaving any kind of deposit, find out from local riders what is considered normal.
Finding a bike to rent is easy. The motorcycle communities around the world are pretty tight knit and helpful. You can get country specific info, and often the forums are broken down by area. One of the better forums for Northern Thailand is the www.gt-rider.com site.
If you insist on a specific bike, you may need to make a reservation. In some western countries, a reservation is required. The most important thing about renting a bike is not so much the bike choice but rather the bike condition, so making a reservation may not be the best way to go if you have a choice. On my Thailand trip, I did not make a reservation.
My preferred choice for a motorcycle in Thailand was a specific dual sport bike. I walked from rental agency to rental agency looking at the bikes available and talking to the shops. The only bikes of the type I wanted that were available for the entire time I wanted to rent it for were in fairly bad shape. Due to the condition of these bikes I could get them for a decent price, but my time schedule was a little tight and I did not want to spend a day or two waiting to be picked up if something went wrong. There were other similar bikes in better shape, but I just did not feel as comfortable on them. There were also many other choices that would have been fine but I was being choosy. The prices shown for the bike I eventually rented were way too high, but negotiations brought the price down to a level I was comfortable with ($38 a day). This bike also came with an ABS braking system, a luggage rack and I insisted on the one with brand new tires. It turned out to be a good deal all around. Doing a little research before arriving will make the negotiations easier as you will know what is reasonable and what is to be expected.
When you pick up your bike, look closely for any damage or other issues. If the bike is not right, don’t take it until the issue is resolved. In Thailand, the specific bike I was shown had worn tires. I asked for another. This one had been dropped lightly on both sides. The shift lever was slightly bent, which with my big feet meant that shifting might get uncomfortable over time. I asked for this to be fixed. Before leaving, I photographed every bit of damage that I could find on the bike, along with the license plates and other identifying information. I was sure to show the damage to the rental agency and note it on the agreement.
When traveling on a motorcycle abroad, you want to ensure you know what needs to be done in the event of a breakdown, crash or theft. Photograph the rental agreement as well. It is a good idea to go on a shakedown ride before taking a long trip. This gives you a chance to find any problems with the bike before you get too far away and will help you familiarize yourself with the bike and driving in the region.
Gather as much information as you can. Spend a lot of time on the local forums where you can find information on when and where to go, events, dangers, best roads, maps, rules, everything. You may even make a few friends and possibly find a riding buddy for your trip.
Riding a motorcycle in Thailand and conclusion
As for Northern Thailand, the end of November into December is probably the best time to go weather wise. The roads are uncrowded and a lot of fun. Maps and routes can be purchased that are specific to motorcycling traveling. Chiang Mai is the best location for renting bikes, as it is close to some of the worlds best motorcycle roads, and there are a lot of choices both in routes and bikes. The style of driving in Northern Thailand is brisk, and not for the feint of heart, but it is well worth the effort. The #1 driving rule in Thailand is might makes right, the bigger vehicle will never give the right of way to a smaller vehicle. You will stay alive if you remember this. You are small and insignificant and won’t damage the other vehicles very much in a crash.
Bob L has been traveling on a motorcycle for longer than I have been alive. He has taken long distance trips on motorcycles through Central and South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and across the USA and Canada more times than I assume he cares to remember. To ask Bob a motorcycle travel question that will be answered here on this site, fill out the contact form on ASK Travel Questions.