Summer is fast approaching, and with the beach top of most people’s minds, it’s likely that the country’s top surf spots are among those destinations. Places like La Union, Baler, and Siargao are among these top destinations.
With the laidback vibe and the many activities to do in these surf spots, it’s no surprise that many of them have begun to offer motorcycles for rent for visitors to get around. Unfortunately, this carefree attitude towards renting motorcycles may also be contributing to the rising number of motorcycle accidents in these areas.
Just recently, we published a story about a tourist who perished in one such surf spot. While we may not know all the circumstances of that accident, we do know that there are certain red flags about the incident that should have been spotted sooner. What's even more egregious is the fact that the establishment that rented him the bike had the gall to bill his grieving family for the destroyed scooter.
Like surfing (only licensed instructors are allowed to teach), renting out motorcycles has its own set of requirements that any establishment must fulfill. To reduce the likelihood of accidents, and to protect yourself from any injury and complications, we’ve put together a short checklist to go through before you rent that bike.
First of all, you, as the renter, must be legally able to operate a motorcycle. Contrary to popular belief, having a driver’s license doesn’t automatically grant you the privilege to drive a motorcycle. There is a specific restriction you must have on your license to operate a motorcycle: “1.” If you don’t have it, you cannot operate one, whether owned or rented. Even if it’s just for a few blocks. If you don’t have a license or a license with this condition, the moment you start the motorcycle on a public road, you are breaking the law.
This is important because this condition will come into play should you figure in an accident with a motorcycle. Even if it’s not your fault, you will likely be blamed for the incident and liable for damages if you were operating the motorcycle without this restriction. After all, you shouldn’t have been driving in the first place.
RED FLAG: Any motorcycle rental service that doesn’t perform this cursory check shouldn’t be patronized. It means they are not aware of the law, and likely many other legal requirements and liabilities for renting out motorcycles.
Unlike cars, motorcycles are much smaller, more agile machines that provide little protection for the driver. There’s no safety cell to absorb impacts from other vehicles. As such, it’s important that the operator himself or herself is equipped with the right gear to absorb impact and mitigate injury.
Philippine law states that all operators of motorcycles wear a helmet. It also states that wearing slippers while on a motorcycle is prohibited. You must be wearing closed footwear (no exposed toes). Yes, we know it’s a surf town. That’s still not an excuse. These are the minimum requirements.
As such, motorbike rental services MUST provide you with a helmet if you do not have one already. They are obligated by law to turn you away if you do not comply with this requirement. Their permit to rent out motorcycles may also be revoked if they fail this requirement.
RED FLAG: Any motorcycle rental service that doesn’t inform you of these minimum requirements obviously does not care about your safety, nor the law. If they do not insist that you follow these requirements, head to another motorcycle renter that does. Failing to insist that renters comply with these requirements makes them liable in the event of an accident, regardless of any waiver they make you sign.
Registration and other papers
The motorcycles that you will be renting must also comply with the law. That means that they must be duly registered, have passed emissions tests, and are insured at the very least for third party liability.
These are basic requirements for any vehicle to run on the road. So before you hop on a rented bike, ask the rental shop for the motorcycle’s registration papers. You should be provided, at the very least, with a photocopy of the Certificate of Registration (CR) and Official Receipt (OR) of the bike you are renting. Plus points if they provide you with a copy of its insurance, though this is not required. These should be dated for the current year, or at least the year before.
These are necessary to show at checkpoints or in the event of an accident to prove that the bike has been registered and can legally ply the roads. Even if the bike is registered but the papers are not provided to you, if caught, you will be charged with operating an unregistered vehicle.
RED FLAG: Walk away from any shop that fails to provide you with the necessary paperwork or any proof of registration. This is a legal requirement. If they don’t provide it, there’s a possibility that the motorcycles are not even registered, which could get you, the operator, in trouble.
Motorcycle road worthiness
Even if the rental shop provides all of these, you’re not out of the woods yet. Another key component is motorcycle road worthiness. These are certain abilities that a motorcycle must be able to perform reliably.
First off, the motorcycle must have functioning front and rear lights. In the Philippines, headlights are recommended to be kept on at all times, even during the day. This is a legal requirement. As such, make sure your motorcycle can perform this task. Don’t forget to check the rear and ensure the tail light works as well.
Second, It must have functioning brake lights. With the tail light already on, squeeze the brake lever to check if the tail light illuminated even brighter, indicating to motorists behind you that you are applying the brake.
Third, make sure the turn signals work. Again, these are a legal requirement. Be sure that both left and right turn signals on the front and back are functioning.
Fourth, check that the brakes work. This one is quite important as it will bring the bike to a stop. Squeeze the brakes (both front brake lever and foot brake after) and try to push the bike with the brakes applied. The bike shouldn’t move. Both must be functioning, not one or the other. This is also a good chance to determine how quickly the brakes bite. If you have to squeeze quite a bit to get the wheels to stop moving, those are faulty brakes and could spell disaster for you.
The fifth aspect to check is tire condition. Have a good look at the tires and make sure there are still grooves on it or some semblance of tread. Tires with completely flat (slick) surfaces, are very dangerous to ride on, especially when the road is wet. Very worn tires on a rental bike are a sure sign that this shop does not look after their bikes.
RED FLAG: Select another bike or go to a different shop if even one of these requirements are not fulfilled. These are basic legal requirements, and failure of any of these means the motorcycle is not road-worthy and could be dangerous to operate.
Even after you’ve signed all the paperwork and have taken out the bike, use the first few minutes to ride slow, check for problems, and familiarize yourself with how it works. This will also reveal some dodgy maintenance work performed on the motorcycle.
First of all, ensure that the bike goes straight. If you constantly have to steer or fight it to go in a straight line, the bike may be out of alignment. This is a critical problem and could spell disaster at higher speeds. Take the bike back, complain of the problem and change it for a different one.
Listen for unusual noises and feel for odd vibrations. Granted, motorcycles make a lot of noises and vibrations, but it’s quite easy to tell when something is out of the ordinary. If you feel a loud metallic clanging or vibration that doesn’t sound or feel right, chances are, something is loose or not operating the way it should be.
Check the gauges. At the very least, these motorcycles should be equipped with a speedometer with working warning lights. The speedometer should be able to accurately indicate your speed. If the needle is jumping all over the place that’s another red flag. This will prevent you from accurately determining your speed. The only lights that should be on are the light indicator and neutral indicator. If other warning lights are already on and the renter tells you to ignore them, the bike has likely missed a critical maintenance procedure. This is NOT “normal” and could hint of more serious problems.
RED FLAG: If the renter tells you to ignore many of these problems, explaining that they are all “normal.” That’s a very big red flag. As operators of a service, they must ensure that these bikes are in a condition that complies with the law. Don’t be embarrassed about being fussy. These are all legal requirements. If they refuse to change the bike or refund your money, make a note of the establishment and report them to the LTO.
We’ve highlighted a few red flags but it’s also important to highlight some good practices.
If the rental company requires renters to fill out an insurance form, that’s a good sign that their operations are above board. This indicates that they care about their clients and are prepared to accept some liability, especially in the event of an accident. It may drive the rental price up, but wouldn’t you feel better if they’re prepared to cover your medical expenses?
Extra protective gear
Another good sign if the availability of additional protective gear. Helmets, are required by law, but if they throw in gloves, elbow and knee pads, and possibly even a back protector, that’s a good sign. They may not jive with the trendy, casual fashion of a surf spot, but it shows that they care about their clients and their safety. We advise you to take them up on the offer.
That pretty much sums up what you need to look for before renting a bike. It’s certainly not as glamorous or carefree as you may have initially thought. Yet checking for these requirements ensures that the bike is legally allowed to run on the road in the first place and the renter complies with the law. Fulfilling these requirements will save you a lot of trouble later on. Don't be scared of any waiver they make you sign, if they miss even one of these requirements, they can be held liable.
If you're ever in Siargao, we highly recommend getting a bike from Loose Keys Motoculture. We've rented motorcycles from them ourselves and they comply with all legal requirements.