Jan-Keno Janssen decides to rent a bicycle to get around Las Vegas; this is what happens

Jan-Keno Janssen writes about technology for German computer magazine c't. He covered the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month. And that means horrific traffic that turns a trip from the hotel to the convention center into an hour-long ordeal. But he had an idea: Everywhere he needs to go is within a five-kilometer radius. The terrain is flat. The weather is cold but nothing a coat can't handle. Solution: Rent a bicycle and use that to get around.

This was not as simple as it sounds.

Uneasy Rider: Radfahren in Las Vegas chronicles his absurd experience trying to execute on his simple plan, through the lack of comprehension, the blank stares, the offer of a mobility scooter, the hotel employees privately talking about the crazy European, the impossibility of finding a place to lock his bicycle, and a video of his triumphant bike ride. (Article is in German, which you should read if you can because the attitude may not survive translation. And because stories of the absurd naturally belong in German.)

Maybe he should've asked this guy for tips.

A friend of mine who is more clued in to the bicycling scene says that at Interbike, a bicycle conference held in Las Vegas, a common solution is to buy a cheap bicycle at a local big-box department store and abandon it at the end of the convention. Maybe he could try that next year. (If abandoning the bicycle offends his sensibilities, he could always donate it.)

Bonus content

: Here's my translation of the article into English.

Uneasy Rider: Bicycling in Las Vegas

Media coverage on bicycle? In Las Vegas? To Americans, this is about as absurd as using a jet-pack to get a loaf of bread. A report on my experiences at CES 2014.

The traffic situation in Las Vegas at CES is a catastrophe. Whether by taxi, monorail, or bus, there are annoying queues of people everywhere. For six years in a row, I have tortured myself through the crowd of chaos to report on technology for c't and heise online, and every year, I think, "There must be another way."

On the opening day of the conference, it can take an hour to get from the hotel to your next appointment. The distances to be bridged are fairly short: The convention takes place within a radius of about five kilometers, including hotels. A European doesn't have to think very long to come up with a way out of the interminable waiting: This year I will try to get to every appointment by bicycle, not handing over a cent for taxi or public transportation.

This notion strikes an American as if you had said you wanted to take a jet-pack to get a loaf of bread. The reactions of the locals left no doubt about that. Before the conference, I sent a few messages to businesses which rent bicycles. That's right. Bike rental companies. They actually exist. However, they aren't what I had imagined: From the email replies I got back, I gathered that bicycles here are used exclusively for sport and exercise, not as a means of transportation.

The customers of the bike rental companies drive up in their cars, toss in the rental bike, and drive off somewhere into the desert. As a result, I also was offered a high-tech mountain bike with full suspension for $100 a day. My relatively simple request (renting a simple bicycle with a light and lock for a week) seemed so absurd that the proprietor simply ignored it.

Wheelchair instead of a bicycle

Upon arriving in Vegas, I inquired at the hotel. The concierge of the MGM Grand can help with any request, or so it says in the brochure of the third-largest hotel in the world. But when I asked about renting a bicycle, I got the same story the bicycle rental gave me via email: You can rent expensive mountain bikes for desert riding.

Me: I don't want to exercise. Just use the bicycle as a means of transportation. It is very practical, because at CES I have meetings all day in different hotels.

Concierge: <blank stare>

Me: It's so easy to bicycle here. Everything is flat!

Concierge: You can rent a mobility scooter here in the hotel.

Me: Isn't that intended for handicapped people?

Concierge: Well yeah, but anyone can use them.

Me: I would rather rent a bicycle.

Concierge: Please wait a moment.

The concierge called somebody on the phone. Unfortunately, I could not hear what he said, he had taken a few steps back and turned away from me. I could barely make out a few fragments of conversation. "European." "Crazy." As he turned back to me, he informed me that there is a bicycle shop named McGhie's "nearby". I could try my luck there. I knew about McGhies already. That was one of the businesses that didn't answer my emailed questions.

Me: Okay, thanks. Assuming I can rent a bicycle, may I take it with me to my room? Or is there somewhere a place to park a bicycle? I haven't seen one.

Concierge: Please wait a moment.

And again he picked up the phone, turned away from me, and called somebody. The phone call lasted a very long time, but ended apparently with a positive result: Yes, I may take the bicycle to my room. But I was strongly advised against riding a bicycle in Las Vegas. It was far too dangerous. Aha.

Okay, so off to McGhie. Apparently it is the closest bicycle shop to Las Vegas Boulevard (commonly called "The Strip", the location of pretty much all the city's hotels). Around 15 kilometers and taxi fare of over $50 later, I stood in a large store for mountain bikes and snowboards. And here too, people understood me only after prolonged attempts at explanation. The salesman asked if I really wanted to do it. He said it was very dangerous, lots of traffic, and furthermore the drivers are not accustomed to seeing bicyclists. I replied that I didn't have to go on the eight-lane Strip, but rather could take the smaller side streets.

"This is America"

Shaking his head, the salesman gave me a bicycle helmet, included in the price of $150 per week. 150 dollars? Yes, because McGhie doesn't rent simple street bicycles. The simplest model was a crossover bike from Trek. Does it at least come with a clip-on light and a lock? No. Our customers don't ask for lights, and we don't rent locks for insurance reasons. "This is America," the salesman insisted. And speaking of insurance: There wasn't any. If the bicycle got stolen, I would have to replace it. For $1250. I swallowed hard and bought myself a $50 lock and a few simple LED lights.

Now the salesman wanted to know whether I had my own car or whether I would like the bicycle delivered to the hotel. When I answered that I just wanted to ride the bike to the hotel right now, I earned another shake of the head. "Good luck."

Somewhat intimidated and slowed down by the thought that I'm about to do something forbidden, I head out. And then it happened: Nothing. It was pleasantly warm, little traffic, I could travel on the sidewalk most of the time. When the kitchily and bombastically-lit Strip emerged at dusk, I had for the first time the sense that my bicycle riding idea was maybe not so preposterous.

This feeling held up until the next day. The ride from the MGM Hotel to the meeting at Mandalay Bay was admittedly trouble-free, but where the hell was I supposed to put this expensive bike? There were (obviously) no bike racks, and on top of that there was nothing I could chain the thing to. So I asked at the hotel lobby. There I was met with the usual skepticism, but they offered to store it in the baggage room. Good idea, great. So for the next few days, the baggage-room-as-bicycle-rack strategy worked great. Only at the LVH Hotel at the convention center, the very place I had to go most often, did the people in the baggage room put their foot down, even though the hotel was one of the official CES venues. I was not a hotel guest at all, and on top of that was some sort of problem with the insurance again. When I asked where I could store my bicycle, the answer was merely a shrug. Ultimately, with my CES press pass, tips, and tenacity, I finally succeeded.

Fear and Cycling in Las Vegas

After five days of putting the cycling plan into practice, the result is clear: The whole fear-mongering was unjustified. You can ride your bicycle in Las Vegas quite decently. There are the fewest problems on the side streets, the sidewalks are practically always free. (In Las Vegas, one travels by foot only in explicitly designated areas. Under no circumstances is this rule broken.) Now, on the large multi-lane roads like the Strip, riding requires considerable concentration because the drivers employ an, er, original driving style. But that also makes it rather enjoyable to whiz past the rows of cars by the Bellagio fountains, the Mirage volcano, and the neon signs.

Also, you can see places where tourists and convention attendees rarely go, and for good reason: The mini-supermarkets beyond the Strip often sell groceries and drinks a full one third cheaper than at the kiosks of the hotel monopolists. In the stores away from the tourist stomping grounds, you meet the alcoholic and/or mentally ill people who were spit out by the glossy gaming industry. If you talk with the people here, you learn sad stories about the downsides of the American dream and a de facto non-existent social system.

At one point, I also came to understand why the locals warned me about being stopped frequently by the police. Anyone not riding in a car is a priori a suspicious person, just like for example in Los Angeles. "Only the homeless ride bicycles in the city," I heard more than once. I cleared the police screening probably only because I was wearing a suit most of the time. Sad.

The efficiency-loving Americans should at least see that you can save huge amounts of time with a bicycle. From the hotel to the convention center, for example, it took me only twenty minutes. At rush hour on the first day of the convention, it was easily an hour by taxi or monorail. That's what I told the man I met in the hotel elevator: He had seen plenty of things in Vegas, but a guy riding around the hotel hallways on a bicycle? Never. He acknowledged my story of the time savings with a shake of the head. Like I said, a jet pack probably would have confused him less.

Photo captions

  1. Bicycling in Las Vegas: To a European, this sounds completely ordinary, but in practice, it requires a lot of discussion. But it's worth it because...
  2. ... during CES, a person on a bicycle is significantly faster than a car: In a car, you spend most of your time stuck in a traffic jam.
  3. If you go for the shuttle bus, first and foremost, you must wait...
  4. ... same goes for the taxi stands in front of the hotels.
  5. Here is the end of the taxi queue. From here to finally sitting in a taxi, it'll take up to an hour.
  6. With a bicycle, you simply ride past all the traffic chaos. However, since there are (almost) no parking facilities, you have to put the bicycle in your room. At least in the MGM Grand it's allowed.
  7. Not allowed is riding down the extremely long hallways. Purely theoretically speaking, one could save a lot of time by doing so.
  8. The elevators in the hotels are, fortunately, roomy enough. The bike came along with me without a problem. On top of that, it is a safe "conversation starter" in the small-talk-friendly USA.
  9. Although riding along the at-times eight-laned Las Vegas Boulevard falls into the category or "extreme sports", you can take a relaxing ride on the sidewalks of the quiet side streets. Also, the traffic is easy to negotiate here.
  10. Here, right at the beginning of Las Vegas Boulevard, at the famous sign, the traffic is not quite so relaxing. Two kilometers to the north, traffic gets confusing. (See videos.)

Video caption

First-person view of bike riding in Vegas: To get from the MGM to Treasure Island, you have to cross a number of overpasses and escalators. Logic would suggest otherwise. The video was designed by the Amsterdam multimedia artist Christopher Holloran.

Comments (40)
  1. Yuri says:

    Bicycle in winter? Heretic.

  2. Chris says:

    I was at a conference in Vegas just last week (the SHOT Show in my case).  My car didn't go anywhere the whole time I was there, despite the fact that my hotel was a mile and a half from the convention center.  I walked or took the Las Vegas Monorail everywhere I wanted to go.

    [The author notes that even the Monorail was overloaded. CES is that big. -Raymond]
  3. Mc says:

    Or buy the bike and a good lock.   Lock it up somewhere and come back next year to see if it's still there.  

    Perhaps you discreetly hide the key to the lock somewhere and let friends know about it so they can borrow the bike when they arrive in Vegas.

  4. Sockatume says:

    "About as absurd as buns Get a jetpack find the Americans."

    You are correct about the effect of translation.

    [A better translation would be something like "The Americans find this about as absurd as taking a jet pack to go out to buy rolls." But I used "loaf of bread" since that matches up better with U.S. culture, and I figure I have more flexibility in translating figures of speech. -Raymond]
  5. Mike says:

    wl;dr (wrong language, didn't read)

  6. jas88 says:

    Furthering the European theme, I recall a photographer in Houston (associated with Johnson Space Center) from Breton who cycled everywhere. "Crazy European" would seem quite apt, from the weather I recall encountering.

  7. Anon says:

    @mc Local authorities would break the lock and dispose of it after a few months, if not a few weeks, if no one else did.

  8. Lee says:

    Reading a longer Google translation like this may be easier than reading just a sentence or two. I deduced that "date" meant the convention, for example, whereas that would have stumped me in a shorter excerpt. And once I came across "here are as good as all the city's hotels", I thought "Some of these idioms sound like Swedish. I should try translating it to Swedish instead of English." Oddly enough, "Ja, richtig" becomes "Yeah, right" in both Swedish and English.

    [The idiom "as good as" meaning "for all practical purposes" also exists in English. "The game is as good as over." = "The outcome of the game is certain." But it so happens that "all" is not one of the adjectives it can be applied to. -Raymond]
  9. JM says:

    As a European, I find the story highly amusing and fully share my fellow continental inhabitant's bemusement. The story has a nice build up in that you expect some amazing conclusion after his quest to get and ride a plain old bike, but there isn't any: you can bike around Las Vegas just fine, people just think you're weird for doing it.

  10. Gabe says:

    Based on the fact that the title has only one word that's not English, and the US popular culture puns ("Uneasy Rider", "Fear and Cycling in Las Vegas"), I was a bit surprised that the article wasn't written in English.

    Do the cultural references "easy rider" (US slang or a movie title, "Easy Rider") or "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (a book, later made into a book) have any sort of currency in Germany? Or is heise targetted at a demographic that is familiar with American culture?

    I certainly can't imagine an article in an American magazine with puns on any German movie titles (aside from "Das Boot").

  11. mafu says:

    Gabe, yes, typical readers of c't will be well versed in English, as it is a computer magazine.

    English, and incorporating English words in German texts, is generally considered modern and well-sounding in Germany. In this particular case, the pun is not too far fetched, I consider it to be pretty usual.

  12. wsl says:

    @Gabe: Both. Your culture is quite obtrusive, so a lot of people are familiar with it. ;) On the other hand, heise reports especially about information technology, and their forum is well known for its geeks, nerds and trolls..

  13. Entegy says:

    I don't get the hate for cycling as transportation. For me, it's a good compromise between a car and public transit/walking everywhere. I love my bike. Half hour walks to shops take maybe 10 minutes. Good exercise.

  14. me says:

    I am not surprised at the concierge reaction.  

    "where is the taxi stand"

    "where are you going"

    "freemont street"

    "why would you want to go there?!"  Then he stares at me for 20 or so seconds

    "Dont know?  To see the lights?…"  me realizing he was serious

    "It is over there" after 20 more seconds of thought and he points the correct direction

    *IF* it is in the hotel the concierge is brilliant.  Outside they will try to steer you back into the hotel.  Its their real job.  Once you realize this the story makes more sense of him trying to rent something more expensive to the guy.

    Also on my last trip they had 'rent-a-bike' stations all up and down the main drag.  Course that may have changed by now…

    Biking in vegas would be brilliant its super flat.  But like he quickly found out, no where to lock things up.  That would change if more people did it.  But think about what sort of people they want to attract.  They do not want the hipster with his single speed bike who has 20 dollars.  They want the guy who has to roll up in a fleet of limos…  Bikes racks do not convey the vegas image of opulence.

  15. Azarien says:

    Living in Europe, I must admit that I haven't used my bicycle for two years now. Time to deamericanize my lifestyle, I think.

  16. voo says:

    @jas88: A Breton? Well no wonder he wasn't faced by the weather in Houston.

  17. Chipsa says:

    Folding bike and bag for same? Get to the location, fold up the bike, haul it around so that it's not as stealable.

  18. Ben says:

    Thank you for translating, Raymond; It was a good read.

  19. ChristianSauer says:

    @Chipsa, I really hate folding bikes for longer travels. Their wheels are just too short. Also they are not exactly "small" even folded, which might be a problem in a crowded environment.

    I am living in a german region where almost all students are using bikes. It gets to the point where car drivers are the minority.

    But obviously this depends a lot on the climate and the region. I never tried biking while living in Aachen with a 15% incline at my doorstep.

  20. Erik says:

    Very amusing story, thanks for posting it. Your German translation is also quite good!

    I would maybe translate the expression "Logisch ist anders" as "It's not very logical" – it expresses a thought that goes along the lines of "logical things would probably be different from what I'm seeing here." At least it does in Dutch, and I'm assuming the idiom in German to be identical.

    [Thanks. I've made some other tweaks to the translation, too. (I finally came up with a decent way of translating Praxis somewhat idiomatically into English.) -Raymond]
  21. DWalker says:

    THANK YOU for the translation.  I wish I could read German, but alas, I can only read about 1.5 languages, and German isn't the language I can read half of.  (Spanish)

  22. ChiefInspectorClouseau says:

    The cycling experience is very different in different cities, naturally.  One of the bigger determinants of bike-friendliness is the era in which the town matured.  Cities that grew up before the ascension of the automobile tend to be a bit friendlier to bikes than ones which came along later.  (You may feel this is a gross generalization.  You would be correct.)

  23. Wolf says:

    Gabe – yes, 'Easy Rider' and 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' are pretty well known amongst Germans, not only among Heise's audience (as example, try searching for either title on spiegel.de, one of the most popular german news sites).

  24. davep says:

    In the US, I suspect people who rent bicycles are either "avid" cyclists or people going for a short ride (like at a beach resort). I doubt there are many visitors to Las Vegas who are interested rentals for short-rides. That is, I suspect that the only people who would be interested in renting bikes in Las Vegas are going to be "avid" cyclists, which would mean they wouldn't be interested in the cheap sort of bike he's interested in renting.

    Janssen appears to think that $150 per week is too much money. That does seem a bit high (I've rented good-quality road bikes in San Diego for about $100 per week).

    What does renting a bike in German cities cost? (I tried to look but wasn't successful). I suspect that most visitors to German cities don't consider renting bikes (just like visitors to Las Vegas). Is it practical at all to rent bicycles in German cities (I have no idea)?

    As a few people have mentioned, the typical visitor to Las Vegas isn't going to be cycling from casino-to-casino. It might not be a good business idea to provide cheap bicycle rentals to the rare German who wants to rent one.

    (A bike share program, like the one in NYC, might work for him if he was only doing a couple of trips per-day. Otherwise, it would be expensive. And I doubt that there would be many takers of such a service in Las Vegas.)

  25. John says:

    Are you allowed to ride your bike on the sidewalk in Vegas? The local cops in this part of the US say you aren't allowed to do that (you are to either ride on the Bike path if there is one or share the road, that being said I have yet to see them show me the ordinance). Not that anyone would hassle you about it (who uses sidewalks?).

  26. Jack Nino says:

    I'm a couple days behind as I was out of town, but I actually live in Las Vegas and ride my bike all over the place (and when I'm feeling lazy for the ride home I often use the bus as they all have bike racks).  I'm glad the guy riding the article figured it out as for the most part it really isn't a problem.  There are a couple places (generally in the vicinity of Las Vegas Boulevard) where there is no sidewalk, median or lights or that just have a ton of cars and weird traffic patterns that I really don't like at all, but for the most part you can ride on the sidewalk and really the ride on the street isn't that bad.  Henderson actually has a lot of real bike paths and depending on where you are at (mostly newer areas) there are quite often at least painted bike lanes.  The RTC website even tells you where these things are.  

    For parking, most of the casinos have bike racks because they tend to have low paid employees who can't afford a car.  The trick is finding where they are (I know of at least two at Mandalay Bay but they are not obvious at all).  For places that don't have a bike rack I've found that the poles for handicap parking signs make excellent lockup points.  It is very rare that your bike attached to a handicapped pole would be in the way of a handicapped person getting in or out of their car and/or trying to get on the sidewalk and I've never been scolded for using them.  Oddly enough the LVH is one of the few places where I haven't found a bike rack or a handicapped pole so I just end up locking the bike unattached to anything.  I don't go there that often though so I'm sure I could find something if I looked harder.

    As far as the police go, in 4.5 years of riding I'v been pulled over 3 times, all within a mile of my house.  Two of them they legitimately pulled me over because I was being a little loose with the traffic laws and they told me not to do that.  The other time he said the official reason he pulled me over was for being on the sidewalk (which seems to be in some sort of quasi-legal status) but he actually pulled me over because there had been burglaries or something nearby recently and they were using bicycles as "getaway cars".  I was not happy about that one.  I did get the sense that most of the people they see riding bicycles in Las Vegas they expect have something on their record that prevents them from driving and/or they can't afford a car rather than something they actually do by choice.

  27. morlamweb says:

    Raymond, thanks a lot for translating the article from German.  Of all thing things that I expected to see on Old New thing, an article on transportation-biking is not one of them.  I happen to frequent many bike-related websites and blogs and I never expected to see much crossover in content : )  I live in the US (specifically: northeastern US) and would love the flat terrain of Las Vegas.  Up here, it really is uphill both ways, and in the winter, it gets damn cold.  Winter over there probably is shorts weather as far as I'm concerned.  I also commute by bike 5 days a week.  I'm the only one in my area to bike through the winter, but in the nearby cities, there's a growing winter-bike community.

    Sidewalk riding may or may not be allowed, depedning upon where you live.  In my state, sidewalk riding is OK outside downtown areas.  Not that anyone strictly follows that law, nor is it enforced too my knowledge.  But them's the written rules.  I don't ride in the sidewalk much myself.  I stick to the streets and basically follow all of the traffic laws (probably better than most motorists around me).

  28. Mashmagar says:

    In defense of America:

    * Las Vegas does not epitomize the United States.

    * The population density of the continental United States (98 people / square mile) is nearly half that of Europe (188 people / square mile). This makes cars more practical than other transportation in most cases, regardless of the level of infrastructure. Source: en.wikipedia.org/…/Contiguous_United_States and http://www.google.com/search

  29. davep says:

    Morlamweb, Raymond rides himself (and has posted about it here).

  30. voo says:

    @Mashmagar: Population density of the whole country is a pretty useless metric to apply though. Most of the car travel (especially in the US I'd say) isn't across the country but across distances that are easily doable by bike. Heck I've seen people drive 5 minutes to the *gym* in a car in the US and I had to explain why I found that hilarious to them. This article being the perfect example of this.

    Now obviously in such a large country as the US there are lots of people who don't fit the stereotype (I know people who are WAY more sporty than I ever will be or was!) but in general I think it's fair to say that the US isn't an especially bike-loving country.

  31. ChristianSauer says:

    @davep: I did a qucik search for berlin and found a 12 euro / day offer.


    I am living not in Berlin, so I cannot tell how much the Bikes are used.

    I visited Paris last year and they have a very extensive "rent a bike" System called Velo. I did not use it, because they Bikes are sturdy and slow as hell.

  32. Boris says:

    But isn't it annoying when bicycles sneak up on you while you're merrily walking on the sidewalk, then clear you by about six inches? The same goes for segways.

  33. davep says:


    Cool. That's $16 per day (it drops to $11 per day for 3 days). The $150 (which I think is a bit high) for a "fancy" road bike is $21 per day. (I've found rentals in Las Vegas that are less than $150.)

    Many local people living in Berlin ride bicycles (if it's like other German cities). No one lives in the area of Las Vegas where the conferences are held (people are either just working there or are tourists). It might make sense to have a business renting bicycles in Berlin. I doubt it makes much sense to rent bicycles in Las Vegas for tourists to travel between casinos. That is, it's odd to expect that Las Vegas (it's pretty unique) would be like Berlin (which might be somewhat like NYC).

    NYC has a "rent a bike" (also called "bike share") program called "citibike" (http://citibikenyc.com/pricing).

    The cost of that is $10 per day but the trip lengths are limited to 1/2 hour each (you get charged increasingly more for every 1/2 hour beyond the first).

  34. morlamweb says:

    Davep, thanks for the tip.  I have been going through the ONT archives (slowly) and had come across the "I drive a car the way most people use computers" posts, but nothing about biking.  I'll search the archived posts for that.

  35. morlamweb says:

    Davep, thanks for the tip.  I have been going through the OldNewThing archives (slowly) and had come across the "I drive a car the way most people use computers" posts, but nothing about biking.  I'll search the archived posts for that.

  36. Muzer says:

    Bloody hell. I thought Britain was bad for cyclists.

  37. rusl says:

    I would not expect there to be a lot of bike theft in a place without much biking. Bikes aren't valued enough there to sell clandestinely… and it wouldn't be worth it for a thief due to being rare. So I would expect even a minimal security precaution would solve the security issue…. Bring a frame lock over from Germany! (then park anywhere you want)

  38. Lung the Younger says:

    There are great possibilities for CSI episode here.

    The forensic team discover a dead European with tyre marks all over his body beside a bicycle on the side of a sreet.

    But they still can't figure out how he died because the idea of cycling in Las Vegas is so damn unthinkable.  

  39. subtract says:

    I'm European, and my family lived in San Jose (California) in the early 1980's for a while. My mother was regularly stopped by the police when out walking (walking!) with my baby brother. Questions included: Why was she walking, where was she going, why didn't she drive, didn't she have a car, etc. They thought she was nuts. Nothing much has changed, evidently.

  40. MrBester says:

    I may be from the land that invented queueing but waiting for an hour in a queue just to get into an overpriced cab that subsequently gets stuck in traffic isn't how you play.

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