I once hired a bike from a shopfront in Vanuatu. To call it a death-trap would not overstate its appalling condition; apparently functioning brakes and gears were an optional extra. As was a chain.
This is what Peter Barnes was pondering while he pedalled around Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra on his own bike, a high-end Scott CR1. He'd been on a conference and had driven down from Sydney, rather than taking the option of flying that would mean leaving his bike at home.
"It has become an expensive inconvenience taking your bike on a plane," Barnes says. "I thought to myself, why couldn't I have flown down and hired a really nice bike, equal or even better than my own, and even have it delivered to my hotel, ready to ride. That was the eureka moment."
Barnes did his research and discovered, to his surprise, that while a lot of shops hire out bikes, none were suitable for well-heeled executives whose taxing work might lead them to seek out the retreat and health benefits of a ride on a well-maintained, top-end bike.
"Most of the hire bikes I found were rubbish. They had heavy frames, cheap components and were poorly maintained," he says. "Even those who did offer slightly better bikes, still required you to BYO pedals, adjust the bike yourself to fit, and collect it at a time that suits their shop hours."
His brainstorm came at just the right time. Last October he took redundancy from his management position at the Historic Houses Trust, and set up Livelo in the Sydney CBD.
His bicycle fleet consists of some exotic machinery, ranging from a $15,000 Bianchi OTRE XR with Campagnolo Super Record EPS; down to the entry-level - but still impressive - Cannondale CAAD 10 with Ultegra drivetrain.
There's also a quiver of vintage-style Tokyo bikes for hipster executives to cruise around the CBD on.
All of Barnes' cycles are provided with top-end helmets, pedals, and a Garmin GPS unit loaded with recommended rides for those not familiar with the terrain. And Barnes delivers the bike, ready to ride, to the executive's hotel room or apartment whenever it's required.
"I had some executives from Alliance Insurance fly in from Munich this week and they wanted bikes at 6am to cycle out to Bondi for breakfast and a swim," he says.
Barnes can also matchmake customers if they are interested in a group ride, and often organises an hour-long lunchtime loop from the Sydney CBD.
"Customised guided tours have also proven popular, particularly with international executives who might not be used to riding on the left, or the way Australians have their brakes set," Barnes says.
"We had a couple of lawyers in last week who had just relocated to Sydney and were anxious about the traffic. They got me to take them on a ride out to Watsons Bay and around Bondi and back to the city."
When the store is completed next month, it will have a giant map of Sydney painted on one wall, where Barnes can point out possible routes.
Prices start at $30 per hour for the entry Cannondale bike, and special rates apply for long-term hire. If the riders like the bike enough to buy one of their own, Barnes will point them in the right direction and arrange for their hire money to be deducted from the purchase price.
At present Livelo is only in Sydney, but there is a branch planned for Melbourne within the next six months.