Go easy! We mean real easy, rider

Simon Calder: The man who pays his way
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The Independent Travel

"Get your motor runnin'/ Head out on the highway" - the lyrics of Steppenwolf's greatest (only?) hit still lure those seeking the American dream across the Atlantic. It was, after all, the signature tune for the ultimate road movie, Easy Rider. And when you get to North America, you can rent a motorbike and persuade yourself, astride a 1340cc Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic, that you should, indeed, have been "Born to be Wild".

"Get your motor runnin'/ Head out on the highway" - the lyrics of Steppenwolf's greatest (only?) hit still lure those seeking the American dream across the Atlantic. It was, after all, the signature tune for the ultimate road movie, Easy Rider. And when you get to North America, you can rent a motorbike and persuade yourself, astride a 1340cc Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic, that you should, indeed, have been "Born to be Wild".

Yet the rules of Frontier Travel (slogan: "be a free spirit and break away from the pack"), from which you can hire that very Harley for £96 per day, suggests that today's Easy Rider should arrive with kid gloves:

"Damages caused while under the influences of alcohol or drugs" are excluded from insurance cover, a reasonable condition even though Billy and Wyatt - the characters played by Messrs Hopper and Fonda - were smoking real marijuana in the film. Those in full command of their senses might wish to take the bike to the sorts of places where you could still, at a pinch, feel part of the wilderness - Alaska, the Yukon or the Northwest Territories. But this costs an extra £10 per day.

If "improper parking" of the Harley causes damage to the petrol tank, you may have to stump up $500 "per incident". And woe betide any less- than-angelic renters who leave some evidence of the search for themselves and the great North American dream. Bikers are warned: "Vehicles should be returned clean or there will be a minimum charge of $50." Those rules have more in common with easyRentacar than with Easy Rider.

* "Not fair," says an aggrieved James Rothnie of easyRentacar. He agrees that the no-frills car hire company has made some mistakes in its first year, but disputes the details of one of the cases I mentioned last week: that of Neil Ferguson, who found himself stranded in France during the fuel dispute, and who later incurred a £300 charge for returning the car late.

"The way we see it," says Mr Rothnie, "is that we gave him a brand-new Mercedes, which he abandoned at St Raphael, and only then phoned us to tell us where it was. The car was six days late, and we have a late-return fee of £100, but given the unusual circumstances we decided to halve it." The company, he says, deliberately operates a zero-tolerance regime to keep its rates down. "We want to incentivise our customers to be careful with the vehicle. We refuse to allow the 95 per cent who don't abuse our cars to have to pay for the 5 per cent who damage them, return them late or don't fill them up with petrol."

* "With all this guff about lifejackets etc, airline safety briefings are more suited to a C-Class flying boat than a Boeing 737," writes Francis Hodge of East Sussex. Last week, I suggested there should be more emphasis on the risks of deep-vein thrombosis, and rather less on how to attract attention while floating around in the Atlantic.

Mr Hodge questions the value of safety briefings, especially those that are more relevant to "a lost age of aviation". He suggests that the number of lives lost in the two survivable UK airline disasters in the past 20 years could have been reduced if more radical steps had been taken.

In the British Airways 737 tragedy at Manchester in 1985, when the aircraft caught fire on the runway, killing 53 passengers of the 131 on board, "smoke hoods would have saved lives"; and when a British Midland 737 crashed at Kegworth four years later - in which 47 of the 118 passengers died - "rearward facing seats would have assisted in reducing injury and death."

* The last of my top 10 hints to see you safely around the world was: Never expect great things from a place whose name begins with W.

"Having read your gratuitous slur concerning all places beginning with 'W'," write Chris and Anne Dean of Woking, "we realised we had always lived in places beginning with "W" - namely Walton, Windlesham, Woking, Wien (Austria) and back to Woking. Therefore we feel honour-bound to respond. Of the above we rise to the defence of the Austrian capital.

"From our own travels we can also think of Wadi Rum (Jordan) and Washington DC which seem OK to us - but maybe we're easily pleased coming as we do from Woking! On the other hand, there are also Welwyn Garden City, Wolverhampton and Wapping, so maybe we concede the point."

* No more Mr Nice Airline: Rod Eddington, the new chief executive of British Airways is determined to make every part of the airline profitable. And if that means charging BA customers an extra £2 for buying BA merchandise from a BA shop, so be it.

This profit-maximising tale comes from a director of a competing carrier, Ryanair. Tim Jeans, the sales and marketing director of the no-frills airline, is a magnanimous fellow towards his rival. He found himself in Regent Street, central London. His son needed a new CD holder for all the new albums he'd been given for Christmas, so Jeans Senior popped in to the British Airways travel shop. All kinds of BA-branded goods are on sale. He found what he needed, in a natty airline livery, at a reasonable £9.90.

"I proffered my Visa card, and was told that a £2 credit-card surcharge applies." Unwilling to subsidise BA by paying a plastic penalty of over 20 per cent, Mr Jeans substituted a crisp tenner for his Visa card.

His airline, incidentally, applies a credit-card surcharge of £3.

* "I find your travel supplements wholly offensive," writes Penny Eastwood of Hebden Bridge. "You must be well aware that air travel is possibly the most environmentally damaging activity most people can indulge in. Why promote it?"

* simon.calder@independent.co.uk

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