SNOW-WEARY Minnesota cyclist Dan Cleary, discouraged by the price of shipping a bicycle via commercial airline, was looking at a vacation real estate rental website when struck by an idea.
Cleary wondered – “why can’t we have a mechanism where people can list their own bikes? I’ve got six of them, that Mrs. Cleary knows about, in my basement. Why can’t I list those out? That’s where the idea evolved.”
Cleary founded Velolet, Inc., a company whose website Velolet.com allows the meeting of “renters,” those who want to rent a good, well-fitted bicycle in a distant place, and “listers,” businesses and individuals alike who have wheels to share. Earlier this year, the site went live, and the response has been encouraging.
Cleary, a cyclist for 20 years, considers himself “the classic customer” on both sides of the equation.
“The cyclist renting the bike gets what they want, and the cyclist listing their bike earns some money, of course to spend on more bike stuff,” he said.
To get velolet.com rolling, Cleary had to navigate potholes. He wanted a secure, trusted process for renters and listers alike. There’s a checklist of requirements for the transaction to occur. A confirmation number, held by a credit card, protects both parties.
“You have to cover all the bases,” Cleary said. “We’ve got a pretty solid model here. This works for people.”
The renter pays a 9 percent service fee to Velolet, on top of the rental price. The lister pays an 8.4 percent liability insurance fee for $1 million in coverage.
“We had to provide liability coverage, not only for ourselves, but also for an individual or bike shop for renting out that bike,” Cleary said. “That’s a key piece. You’ve just been protected. That covers the costs we have to pay for the liability insurance we have as a blanket insurance.”
Listing is free, he emphasizes.
“It’s free to list. It’s free, it’s free, it’s free,” Cleary said. “There’s no cost to register and put that stuff out there. It takes some time, that’s your cost.”
Through a listing, “maybe you won’t get a rental; you never know,” he said. “Maybe someone’s brother-in-law is in town, and you’ve rented that out. It’s only a couple times a year, but that still could be a couple hundred dollars that’s otherwise not going to be there.
“It’s one of those grassroots-type of things,” he said. “Go ahead; there’s no charge to list it.”
Listers set their own rates and availability of cycles. Among Tucson listings, bikes typically rent for $50 or $75 a day, and about $150 a week. “The market will clear itself,” Cleary reasons.
He believes Velolet is “good for the entire industry. Instead of people putting $200 into the airline industry, they’re putting $200 into the bicycle industry.”
When velolet.com launched, Cleary “thought of all the great places to cycle when it’s wintertime,” and Tucson came to mind. He cold-called Tri-Sports.com, which bought in. “They’ve done pretty well (see related story).”
Cleary predicts that, “in the bigger cities, with bigger cycling communities, you’re going to see bike shops perform a little better. People feel secure and safe, going to a bike shop.” Bicycle shops also have a large quantity of different bikes they can list right away.
“Individuals are going to really fill in an area that may be underserved,” especially rural communities, he believes. “Individuals will supplement the inventory that may not be available outside the major cities. We’ll see how it all plays out.”
A few months in, Cleary is “happy with the progress. I obviously would love to have more. Word has to spread among the bike community. You trust a friend; a marketing brochure, you have to think about.” Now, he said, “it’s a matter of … getting people aware.”
Velolet’s web site includes Google maps with bike icons. “We want to make sure there’s lots of bike icons everywhere,” said Cleary, who wants Velolet to become “the #1 centralized bike rental hub. “We’ll get there.”