PANAMA CITY BEACH — When I arrived at Classic Rentals on Friday morning, the snowbirds and first batch of spring breakers had turned in their bikes, and owner Bill Bush was ready for the next batch.
“I was originally in the T-shirt business, and we were next door to a rental place, and I realized I was in the wrong business,” said Bill, who owns Classic Rentals shops on the east and west ends of Front Beach Road.
He and his wife, Eva Bush, have owned and operated Classic Rentals for 23 years. Eva, who has been “cancer free 12 years,” usually helps out a couple of days a week.
“We are pickier than a lot of rental places,” Bill said. “If they get out of the car and run out there all wound up like a $2 watch, bad things are gonna happen.”
His fleet includes 150 scooters and 50 electric cars, as well as about six Harleys to choose from at the east end location. “Scooters are the most popular. Most prefer the bigger two-seaters,” said Bill, who keeps his eye on one particular Harley.
Chad, who has worked at Classic Rentals for the past three years, admitted he likes to take out the Harleys. He was working on a sports bike Friday morning.
“Before the season starts, we go over all the bikes,” Bill said. “We actually service them at the beginning of the season, then pull ’em out and go over them again.”
During the night, all of the bikes and scooters are stored in the Classic Rentals buildings and out back. Each morning, they are all driven out to the front parking lot.
“The nice thing when you pull ’em all out and drive them out every day is you get to drive before the visitors,” Bill said.
Those who rent scooters or cars have to stay between the Hathaway Bridge and Pinnacle Port on Front Beach Road, because they lack the speed to keep up with traffic on Back Beach Road (U.S. 98).
“The smaller scooters go 35, which is plenty fast if you ask me,” Bill said. “With motorcycles, you can go wherever you want because you have the speed. Most who are renting motorcycles are leaving town to cruise up and down the coast.”
But even if you are just staying on Front Beach, it’s still important to try to stay up with traffic.
“We have had police officers pull some over for going 10 miles per hour on Front Beach Road,” Bill said.
Helmets are provided for anyone who wants them, though they are a requirement for riders under 18. Insurance is available, and be prepared to pay for dings and scratches.
“Two-wheel vehicles don’t always stay upright,” Bill admitted. “We put automotive molding on them, so a lot of times it doesn’t hurt the plastic. It will skin up, but we don’t have to replace it.”
Most who rent bikes are experienced drivers who just want to go for a ride, but occasionally, he said, there is a person who wants to take out a bike after drinking.
“A lot of the times, they’re determined — ‘I’m gonna ride that thing today, haven’t had but two beers,’” Bill said. “The biggest problem in the summer is not the number of people drinking, but when you tell them no. You usually can tell right off the bat, so I try other means —‘oh, they’re taken.’ If I tell them ‘no, because you’ve been drinking,’ they will start fighting and get belligerent, then it ruins my day. That doesn’t happen very often. In the summer, on average, I turn away 10 to 15 people. … Most of the time I can pass them off without hurt feelings.”
But just because someone rents sober, doesn’t mean they always stay that way.
“I’ve had ’em come in stone cold sober and back hammered drunk six hours later,” said Bill, who once found a 1.5 liter bottle of liquor in the trunk of a rental.
On Friday, Bill was at the west end, while his son, Matt Bush, was helping out at the east end location down the street. Matt expected things to pick up with spring breakers this weekend.
“Cars are great for summer,” Matt said, while getting a bike ready in the parking lot. “Spring breakers like them, because they come in groups. And they’re good for families with little kids who can sit up high. You can put car seats in them.”
What: Sport bikes, funny cars, trikes
Where: 13226 Front Beach Road and 17280 Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach
Hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Cost: Scooters $25 half day / $40 full day; Harleys (available at 13226 Front Beach Road) $85 half day / $135 full day; helmets provided; insurance available; $100 deposit
Requirements: Helmets required for under 18; must be at least 16 with a driver’s license to ride bikes; must be 18 to sign contract (family member can sign for ages 16-17)
Details: (850) 235-1519 or ClassicRentalsInc.com