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September 10, 2013

For travelers, there's a whole new rental world out there

(Continued)

I ended up donating the herbs to Kurt, who deserved them more, anyway. Later that evening, we ordered Indian pizza from a nearby restaurant. On a small table, he placed two pieces on each plate, an equal share.

— — —

I found the self-styled "retrofit enthusiast" and his one-speed bomber on Spinlister, a site where people rent out their bikes. He charged $9 a day and threw in a helmet and a lock. The pink bell was the sweet icing on the cruiser's black frame.

I picked up the bike at his parents' house (he was eventually moving out, he informed me) on a leafy street in Oakland. He attached the kickstand and tested the new bell, which was more mouse squeak than bear growl. Before I set off, he mapped out a route that incorporated bike-friendly boulevards and lanes. My destination: Lake Merritt, a liquid blue playground speckled with sailboats and islands.

Unlike San Francisco and its Everest-in-training hills, Oakland is flapjack flat, with a few humps to jolt you from your easy-riding position. I cycled twice around the lake before choosing a return route . As I waited at a red light, I noticed that the front wheel was sagging. I rolled forward and heard the slap, slap of a flat tire.

I called the owner, who told me to pinch the tire to see whether I could feel the frame. Yes, I could. He instructed me to find a gas station, but I suspected that the air would never hold. So he told me to find a bike shop that would replace the inner tube. I asked whether he'd cover the repair; he said no. I was about to appeal, but a tiny voice reminded me of the liability contract resting on his backyard table.

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