Heather Underwood rides her motorcycle down Resort Parkway.
Heather Underwood rides her motorcycle, which she lists on the online rental platform Twisted Road, in the Hill Country north of San Antonio. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

A solitary, rural highway winding through the sun-dappled Texas Hill Country is a kind of siren song of the open road. Now recreational motorcyclists here are finding a new way to answer the call, one that makes them some extra money and finds them new friends along the way.

Founded last year, Twisted Road is like the Airbnb of choppers. The online platform displays bikes available for a spin – to try out a new ride, for fun in the sun, or just get around while visiting another city – and connects motorcycle owners with folks looking to ride. Owners upload photos and specs of their bike, set the rental rate, and approve the renter.

Car and motorcycle enthusiast Brandon Desy, who is stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, has twice rented his 2012 Aprilia Tuono v4 R – “like a Ducati, but better” reads his listing. Both were times when he was planning to be out of town and not needing the bike.

He’s also been the renter. During a weeklong stay in Austin, Desy said he grew tired of driving a car and, seeing all the scenic roads around that city, found a Honda CBR1000 on Twisted Road and took it out for several days.

“It was a lot more fun to do that on a bike than a car,” Desy said. He plans to rent again when he goes home to San Diego for a visit.

Twisted Road currently lists more than 500 bikes in 42 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, about 100 in Texas, and at least 20 bikes within 50 miles of San Antonio.

“Texas is one of our largest markets,” founder Austin Rothbard said. “Even though I’m in Chicago, we focused our business launch [last fall] in Texas because we knew we would be launching in October, and the best riding is in Texas that time of year.”

Austin Rothbard, founder of Twisted Road
Austin Rothbard, founder of Twisted Road

The owner himself of a 2010 Moto Guzzi v7 Classic, Rothbard said the idea for Twisted Road came to him while traveling through the Southwest visiting national parks two years ago. He was in a car at the time, but found himself wishing he could experience nature’s beauty from the saddle of his bike.

Then on a trip to Moab in Utah, he bemoaned the fact he didn’t have enough time to drive his bike there and back, and during yet another excursion, in Italy, he found plenty of Vespas to rent, but not his preferred Moto Guzzis.

Motorcycles can be leased short term through a number of rental outlets, such as Hertz Ride, Eagle Rider, and Tour USA. But Rothbard said Twisted Road’s sharing concept offers greater convenience, and better pricing and options.

Rental rates vary and are based on type of bike and location. Rothbard said you can find bikes to rent for $75 a day, up to $350, but the average is $100 a day, and owners keep 70 percent of the fee. Only motorcycles can be listed, not scooters, mountain bikes, or trikes.

Renters must have a motorcycle license and insurance, and need to make sure that their insurance covers rentals. All liability claims are covered by the renter’s insurance provider. Twisted Road covers the owner for damages that occur during a rental period, up to the market value of the bike. “Owners are extremely happy with how we’ve handled damages,” Rothbard said.

Some of the most unusual bikes currently listed on the site are a Russian-made Ural with sidecar located in Minnesota and a 1947 Indian Chief bike in Illinois. The number of listings has grown as word has spread among the motorcycle community, with Austin being the most developed market.

“Here’s what people love – it gives them an alternative,” Rothbard said. “People who ride want to explore the world on two wheels. It’s very liberating. Also, we like that we are creating a community of people who are keeping in touch. Some have bought gifts for owners, some have delivered their bike to renters at campgrounds.”

He described one renter who came to the U.S. from Iceland wanting to rent for 30 days and ride from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, then fly home. “The owner said, ‘That’s great.’ He met the guy in San Francisco, then rode the bike back. He was so happy he wanted to go buy extra bikes to put on the [Twisted Road] site.”

Another listing in San Antonio comes from Heather Underwood, a motorcycle enthusiast who was looking to unload her 2015 Kawasaki Vulcan 650 when she heard about Twisted Road from a friend. An operating-room nurse in San Antonio who also owns a Polaris Slingshot rental business, Underwood listed her bike for rent when the site launched last October. She was one of the first owners to accept a rental.

“I agreed to list my bike because I am an entrepreneur at heart, so I’m always looking for ways to earn cash on the side,” she said. “It’s really a great idea.”

The one time Underwood rented her bike, the experience was good, she added, but because she enjoys riding herself, she’s not been very aggressive in promoting her bike listing.

Rothbard wants to expand business beyond the borders as well. “Once we’ve grown sufficiently, and we’re a well-oiled machine, we will start growing into other countries,” he said. “We have 30 or 40 bikes ready to be listed in those countries, with owners waiting for us to flip the switch.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.