Getting it Right - Motorcycle Rentals New Zealand
It can be an intimidating prospect to book a motorcycle adventure/experience months ahead and in many cases, from over seas. Its very expensive and you can not always tell if your expectations will be met when you arrive. There can be many uncertainties but here are a few tips to ensure you get the best bang for your buck and have a memorable experience.
Guided or Self Guided
Lets cut right to the chase here. Guides are expensive and in the day and age of smart phone and GPS technology, they are becoming less and less relevant as time goes on. Its actually extremely easy for a newcomer to safely navigate the country and identify the 'must see's' through various travel and local social media platforms. Ask your self this : If you were coming to New Zealand and exploring it in a Car or RV, would you hire and pay another person in a second Car or RV to lead you around for the duration of your trip? Of course not, there is no need for it so why do motorcyclist do it?
Also consider this when booking: You and your group are essentially paying for the guides wage + profit for the parent company, the guides motorcycle, food, accommodations, fuel, repairs, etc. Even spread over a large group the bill quickly escalates into the thousands even after only a few days which is a significant cost no matter how many its divided over. Are you getting that value back for the money?
Further to this, motorcyclists in general ride because they like the freedom and the ability to be alone or with a group of mates, cruising around on their own schedule. To pay substantial sums of money to be put in a crowd, made to adhere to a schedule and told where to go, how fast to get there and what to see when you arrive seems counterintuitive to the spirit of motorcycling. If you do desire some comradery on the trip there are dozens of groups on line and all it takes is a 'shout out' and you will have good people keen to join you for a ride, no charge.
In a country like New Zealand with extremely well mapped out roads, infrastructure and communication systems, I believe the future lays with technology playing a supportive roll, eliminating the need for a whole other person and machine to participate in your personal adventure. The role of the tour/rental company will become increasingly focused on providing pre trip planning and making special arrangements as well as provision/management of the supporting technology that you will utilize on your motorcycle adventure. You should ride away from the rental company well prepared and supported. Freedom and Excitement is what it should be about.
That said, and to be fair, all people have different 'travel tolerances' and some people just feel better with a guide, enjoying the structure and schedule that comes with that so, even though its not my cup of tea, as a global traveler myself, I respect 'travel tolerance' and comfort zones of people so as such, the rest of the article is written to be mostly applicable to both scenarios.
Where to go?
I'll cut to the chase - South Island. New Zealand is beautiful from top to bottom with good riding to be had on both the North and South Islands so it really comes down to how much time you have. If like the rest of us you have a limited amount of time and want to see the 'best of NZ', the South Island is the place to be. With an abundance of mountain passes, coastal roads and staggering scenery from Milford sound all the way up to Marlborough, you cant really go wrong here. Its that good.
If your vacation time is measuring in weeks not days there are quite a few reputable outfits that do both bike hire and guided planned tours. As with anything these will vary in price, quality and consistency but if you do your home work and BOOK AHEAD you should do just fine. These companies are typically located near the major urban centers of Auckland/Christchurch so plan on having to put in some seat time to get out into the good riding and scenery.
Alternatively if you are like most people and travelling with family and/or partners who don't ride, a 2 week bike excursion on your own is out of the question so historically you were out of luck as rental agencies tend to be located in major centers, hours away from the start of any really top quality riding so while you could rent for a day or two, most of that time was wasted in transit to and from any good roads. That is no longer true. Since mid 2017, a new concept has emerged, the first of its kind and located in the Marlborough Region, one of NZ's best kept secrets. This new business model while set up to support long term rides, caters to the short term 'experience' style rental/hire. Basically you can go out on a high end bike, be riding world class roads within 5 min and have an amazing day or 2 or 3 or more with out the burden of selling a 'MOTO only' vacation to your tribe. With this new concept, riding a motorcycle in New Zealand is now something to add to your vacation in NZ, not to center your vacation around. Marlborough is also a very good destination to start and end a South Island adventure as its has low population density, its right next to Picton for ferry transfers and hosts a very good airport with multiple daily flights to Auckland and other NZ cities. Plus there is wine.....lots of wine.
First things first. Ensure your selected hire company is registered and holds a "Rental Service License" From New Zealand Transport. They should either confirm this on their web site or be happy to confirm the same with you via email. If they hesitate or cant confirm, that's a red flag and you should steer clear. Other ways to check out their credibility are website quality, reviews on various trip or business platforms (TripAdvisor, Google, Face Book etc). Keep in mind, operators with a high social profile and advanced presence on web/media are 1) Showing commitment and confidence in their brand by investing in promoting it and 2) They are much more visible in the public eye and therefore have a lot more to lose if you have a bad experience and write about it. By contrast "Joes Discount Rental Bikes" with the latest news on their web site being from 2007 and no presence on any social media platform, operating out of a garage in the suburbs, wont suffer much from a bad review because a)There is no where to send it but direct to them and b) Even if there was a public review, few would see it. In short, the high profile companies are more motivated to go the extra mile for you as their risk of not delivering a top quality service is much higher.
Once you narrow down your providers, you will want to pick a bike. Be wary of any company that can't give you confirmation on an exact age, make and model of bike. Again most operators in NZ are very good with this but there is always room for it to go sideways if you don't confirm. Keep in mind however, this is real life and bikes do get crashed or break down so, be sure to ask about the company's policy in the case that the bike you booked isn't available. They should have a reasonable action/contingency plan in this event and again, listen for any red flags that would indicate they aren't properly prepared....... And do your self a favor, pick something interesting! You can ride the same old thing at home any time, this is your vacation so do it right!
Next is insurance. Ensure that the company and the bikes are fully insured for all eventualities. This should be detailed in the rental agreement and their T&C's, along with the amount of the 'insurance excess/deductible' that you will be liable for as well as how that will be processed in the event of a claim/accident/damage. In NZ, expect the amount for excess to range between 1500-2500 NZD depending on the providers insurance policy. This is usually processed in the form of a 'pre-auth' on your credit card. Some operators 'play the odds' and offer a reduced excess in exchange for a daily fee but in either case they will not let you set off for even 1 km with out this taken care of so, be sure you have the room on your card before arrival.
NOTE: Don't mistake this as your personal insurance! This is for the business and bike only. You should have your own travel insurance to cover any personal injury or illnesses while travelling.
When you return the rental and it is determined that there is no loss or damage, the rental company should simply finalize the pre-authorization as 0$, after which the 'block' will be released from your card by your bank. This can take some time to show on your statement or account, usually 2 days for local and up to 7 days for international cards depending on the banks and their processes.
NOTE: I've seen people get upset and leave bad reviews for various rental companies because of credit card holds and in many cases it wasn't justified as it was the banks causing the delay, not the rental company. Be aware that the rental company should give you a copy of the 'zeroed' hold within a reasonable timeframe once they have fully inspected the motorcycle (usually 24-48 hrs from return). Once they have done this and sent you the copy of the transaction, you should be aware they have nothing to do with the hold on your card. It is completely in the banks hands at this point. Make sure you discuss the return and hold process with the rental company BEFORE you book. The above is pretty standard and while there may be a few variances between providers, it shouldn't vary wildly form this. If it does, you need to consider why that would be and talk to other providers before committing.
Get Geared Up
Safety Gear and the quality of the same is also an important thing to consider especially when hiring from the rental agency. There are various ways how rental agencies handle this with some simply having a bunch of old used gear they bought off the internet sitting in the back shed while other higher end companies work directly with suppliers and cycle in brand new gear of consistent make and model each season. Obviously the latter is preferable but of course will cost a bit more. Just make sure you ask the question to ensure you are aware of what to expect but again, evasive answers involving the likes of 'should' and 'maybe' are red flags that you should be on the look out for.
Many of the higher quality providers will also be able to offer services including trip planning and route consultation, additional tours, activities, meals, accommodations and even transport. Let your imagination run wild and go by the old rule 'if you don't ask you will never know'. Most will be happy to help and enjoy a challenge or something out of the ordinary.
Ready To Roll
Once you have been through all of the above, you are basically on your own (unless in a guided group) and free to move about the country as you please. Keep in mind, there is only so much your hire company can do for you when you are out and about so be prepared and plan to be fairly self sufficient for short term issues and then any support or problem solving the company can do for you is 'icing on the cake'. That said you should ask about support plans for breakdowns, flats and general troubles on the road. What you are looking for are confident responses and an honest, positive attitude from the rental company here. There is no way they could plan and prepare for every situation that may occur but you can easily tell who is up to the challenge and who will leave you stranded = see answers involving 'maybe' 'should' 'not sure'.
To summarize, there are many factors that can influence a motorcycle rental in New Zealand but if you educate your self, do a bit of research and stick to the well set up professional providers you should be just fine. Remember - the value in a selecting a quality rental company isn't really apparent when every thing is going well and the trip is perfect. "Joes Discount Rental Bikes out of a Garage in the suburbs" may be fine when everything goes as planned but when trouble hits or there is some type of adversity on your trip, you will see the value in a well structured and organized company with resources to support you.
Shut up and Ride
The rule of thumb as I see it - The more time you spend, researching and selecting the right provider, the less time you will spend dealing with issues and be able to focus on having a once in a lifetime adventure. All you should be doing at this point is riding and smiling.