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Motorcycle tourism entrepreneur ‘rents dreams’

DetroitNews-Unknown

Los Angeles — Chris McIntyre is co-founder of EagleRider, the world’s biggest motorcycle tourism company. EagleRider, based outside Los Angeles, offers bike rentals and sales, guided tours, branded apparel and related merchandise. Operating in 27 U.S. states and offering tours from 30 global locations, the company serves more than 100,000 customers annually.

In 1992, McIntyre and his friend Jeff Brown were working white-collar jobs and riding motorcycles on the weekends when they met a bunch of European tourists near Big Sur, Calif. The tourists said they wanted to rent bikes and tour the California coast. McIntyre and Brown told them there was no way to do that — and then realized that there should be.

Two years later, after adding a third partner in Peter Wurmer, they opened a shop stocked with four Harley-Davidsons, one of them the bike that McIntyre had been riding that day in Big Sur, available for rent.

It was a solid plan — Brown had written his MBA thesis on the motorcycle rental business — but the partners had trouble getting financial assistance. “All the things that exist in the automobile business — financing, insurance — the answer was ‘no,’ ” McIntyre said from the company’s enormous headquarters. “The biggest hurdle in our growth was convincing banks and insurance companies to support us.”

Renters can choose from more than 20 models, from small scooters to massive cruisers, including bikes made by Harley-Davidson, Indian, Triumph, BMW and Honda. Guided tours include riding Harley-Davidsons the length of Route 66 and piloting snowmobiles around Jackson Hole, Wyo., at rates between $99 a day for a self-guided ride and $355 a day for a fully-curated event.

The EagleRider model is full service. Show up with a valid motorcycle license and the company does the rest, supplying the rider’s chosen bike, renting helmets, jackets and gloves, and offering guided or self-guided tours of any duration. The company will also rent customers a trailer to haul the bike and a support vehicle to follow the ride, and will sell riders extra clothes for cold weather, a GoPro to record their adventures and branded merchandise to help them remember the ride.

“We aren’t really in the motorcycle business,” McIntyre said. “We are in the experience business. We rent dreams. That’s our trademark. It’s copyrighted.”

EagleRider’s target customer can be a stickler. Prospective renters may have traveled thousands of miles, chasing a years-old dream, planning to spend many thousands of dollars to fulfill it. They want what they want. “Motorcyclists are very particular,” McIntyre said. “They want a certain manufacturer. They want a certain model. A guy who wants a Honda Gold Wing really wants a Honda Gold Wing.”

EagleRider has ruffled some feathers. Local motorcycle dealers don’t like the fact that the rental company also sells used bikes, cutting into their sales.

In February EagleRider announced a partnership with Main Post Partners, a deep-pocketed San Francisco private equity firm. With Main Post funding, McIntyre and Brown bought out many of their original partners and became poised for new growth.

This fall the company inaugurated Club EagleRider, a subscription-based motorcycle membership scheme. Customers who pony up $29 a month, and a one-time $39 initiation fee, get one free bike rental day a month, plus deep discounts on motorcycle rentals and tours and a variety of perks.