If you’re considering touring on an e-bike, one of your first questions is likely to be whether to hire an e-bike or buy one.
In this article John Vincent looks at the pros and cons of e-bike hire versus buying one – specifically in the context of someone considering e-bike touring. We hope you find it useful!
E-bike hire versus buying an e-bike: the big picture
Whether to hire an e-bike for touring or buy one depends on two critical points:
- where you want to tour; and
- for how long.
If a few weeks or even a few months in a foreign country is the likely full extent of the e-bike touring you want to do, joining an organised e-bike tour that offers e-bike hire or hiring an e-bike from a local bike store is almost certainly the best solution.
Shipping your own e-bike to a foreign country for short periods is both problematic and expensive, which makes hiring an e-bike the only practical solution.
Things change a bit if you’re hiring an e-bike for extended or multiple touring trips. In that case, buying an e-bike becomes a more viable solution. Cycling your own e-bike, fitted out exactly as you want it, is much more fun than the inevitable compromises of a hired e-bike.
We turn now to the detailed pros and cons of hiring and buying.
There are a lot of reasons to consider hiring an e-bike over buying an e-bike.
Advantages of e-bike hire
Try before you buy
Hiring an e-bike is a great way to try out an e-bike tour and see if you like it.
It’s also a great way to try a few e-bike models before deciding which one to buy.
No maintenance costs
Renting an e-bike also means you’re not responsible for the maintenance of the bike after the tour. This removes cost as well as trouble.
No shipping or transportation hassles
If you just hire an e-bike in the place you’re going, you don’t have to give yourself the headache of all the considerations set out below!
Make sure there are no restrictions on how far you can ride your hire e-bike! Some e-bike rental systems operate with geofences that limit how far you can ride.
There’s also the question of how you’re going to return the bike. Will you be riding a big loop? Can the person you hire from pick it up? How much will that cost?
While there are things you can do to make sure the e-bike you hire fits you well and has a decent pannier set up for touring, the set-up is still unlikely to be quite as good as how you’d have it if you owned the bike.
If you’re hiring an e-bike you’re going to have to spend some time finding the best e-bike hire. Plus deal with all the collection and drop off arrangements.
If it’s a short tour, perhaps only a week or two, booking a tour with a bike touring company, who can also arrange e-bike hire, may be the best option. For longer tours, renting an e-bike from a bike store may be better. Either way, these things take time!
While many companies do offer different rates for long term e-bike rental, hiring an e-bike can start to get expensive if you do it a lot. On top of the hire cost, you might also want to add on the cost of insurance if you decide to take out a bike store’s bike insurance for theft and damage.
You need to try to consider at the outset how much you’re likely to be touring and so whether hiring or buying is likely to work out to be better value for you.
Buying an e-bike
Riding your own e-bike that’s fitted out exactly as you want it, can make a big difference to how much you enjoy your e-bike tour.
For example with your own set up you are more likely to get all your clothes and gear neatly organised and stored in panniers on the bike in a way that suits you.
For cyclists who want to go e-bike touring for longer periods of time, cover longer distances or perhaps do multiple trips, buying an e-bike is often a more economical solution than continually hiring one.
Deciding which bike to buy
There are a bewildering array of e-bikes on the market. It can take a lot of time to really get to grips with what is out there and decide what is best for you. Be warned: not all e-bikes are suitable for e-bike touring.
To ensure you don’t make a costly mistake, you need to put a lot of thought into how you’re planning to store, manoeuvre, charge and use your bike. For example, is this bike going to be used solely for e-bike touring or are you looking for one that will work for e-bike for travel as well as ordinary riding?
Test riding an e-bike before buying one is highly recommended. If you’re not sure about the touring side of things and whether you’re going to enjoy it, booking a bike tour with an e-bike tour company or renting an e-bike from a bike store will help you gain experience before committing to buying an e-bike.
For a more comprehensive discussion of the issues, read our article on choosing an e-bike for touring.
Cost of buying
E-bikes are more expensive than conventional bikes. Those suitable for e-biking touring tend to start at around 3,000 euros and go up from there. You should also factor in the cost of fitting it out, insurance, a good lock, panniers, tools, spares and accessories.
Plus you’ll be responsible for maintenance and servicing of your e-bike, which is more expensive than on a conventional bike.
As technology improves, so do e-bikes. Once you’ve bought an e-bike you’re unlikely to want to sell and re-buy even if there’s a big improvement in technology.
If you’re going to be riding infrequently, this might be another push towards renting.
Shipping your e-bike
If overseas e-bike touring is on your agenda, then the biggest problem with buying an e-bike is around shipping it to the place you want to ride. If extended e-bike touring is your intention then buying the e-bike in the country you intend to start touring in is best.
Shipping an e-bike frame (without battery) to a foreign country is not the problem – you can often take it as oversized luggage in the same way you’d take a conventional bike.
The real problem is the battery as it cannot be taken as baggage on a commercial flight. An e-bike battery has to be shipped separately as hazardous goods, which is both complicated and expensive to the point that most people wouldn’t recommend it.
That said, there are alternative solutions to this such as buying a battery in the place you’re going or storing your e-bike abroad. You can read about this in more detail in our article on shipping an e-bike.
How to hire e-bikes
If you decide you want to hire an e-bike rather than buy one, here are a few tips.
The easiest way to gain experience with riding an e-bike and e-bike touring is to join a tour offered by a bike touring company in a country or region of interest. Most bike touring companies offer e-bike rental as an option.
The tours range from fully guided and supported with e-bike rental, guides, planned routes, transportation, accommodations and meals to self-guided tours, which provide an e-bike, transportation and accommodation only.
The prices of e-bike tours vary greatly. They are more expensive than independently touring on your own with a rental bike only or your own e-bike. Still, they are a great way to experience e-bike touring to determine if it’s for you.
If you prefer independent e-bike touring to an organised tour, just renting an e-bike from a bike store and heading off on your own is another great option. It is less expensive than booking with a bike tour company and provides the freedom to e-bike tour on your own.
There is almost always an e-bike rental store in a town/city of any reasonable size. A Google search for “e-bike rentals near me/the town you’re going to” will produce a list of stores to contact. Simply email them and ask for bike details and pricing. It may take a bit of effort to track down a suitable e-bike to hire for bike touring, but they do exist.
They also often hire helmets and panniers for carrying clothes and gear. If you have your own panniers already, make sure the e-bike rack will accommodate them.
Somewhere between an e-bike tour and an e-bike store, there are also companies that offer countrywide e-bike hire with pickup and delivery service at different locations within the country.
They are often associated with e-bike touring and e-bike bikepacking companies that offer fully guided or self-guided tours on e-bikes. We’ve found they are usually quite flexible and willing to hire out just the e-bike itself.
These companies are often better prepared to cater to cyclists doing longer tours and so can provide e-bikes that are more suitable to those types of trips.
Again a Google search for them by country will provide a list of companies to contact.
Things to consider when you hire an e-bike
Don’t forget to ask the things you’d ask if you were renting a conventional bike (check the article here for a reminder).
In addition, there are some e-bike specific considerations – check out our article on choosing an e-bike which applies to both hiring and buying an e-bike.
Buying an e-bike
If you want to do extended e-bike touring on multiple trips over several years, consider buying an e-bike overseas. It is usually a more economical option than booking multiple bike tours or hiring an e-bike.
Buying the e-bike overseas, rather than at home also avoids issues with shipping your e-bike overseas, which is problematic and expensive. See our article on shipping an e-bike.
There are bike stores in virtually any city you wish to begin bike touring from. If you know the e-bike manufacture you want, you will find a list of their dealer locations and contact information on their website. Contact several of them by email to determine which is most willing and helpful to work with. They will be glad to sell you the exact e-bike you desire outfitted exactly for your needs. Once purchased, you should just be able to arrive to pick up your e-bike and begin your extended touring.
Choosing a touring e-bike
Check out our article on this topic! It’s got useful information whether you want to rent an e-bike or buy it.
There’s lots to consider when deciding whether to go for e-bike hire or purchase.
Even if you opt for e-bike hire for your first e-bike tour, you can always re-consider for future trips once you’ve decided whether e-biking is for you!
Are there any other factors in the hire vs buy argument that we’ve missed out? Let us know in the comments below!
Want to read the rest of our e-bike touring series: head here to find them all!
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