Bicycle subscription is gaining ground in the city

A guaranteed new bike for a fixed price per month. The concept is emerging, but what does the market notice?

Chances are you’ve seen a Swapfiets if you saw a bike with a blue front tire cycling around. Swapfiets offers new bikes for a fixed price per month. With success: since three Delft students started Swapfiets a couple of years ago, today around 44,000 bikes with blue front tires are cycling around Europe. But note, says Steven Uitenthuis of Swapfiets, it is not a lease. It is a subscription to a bicycle, just like Netflix and Spotify are also subscription models.

Waiting time

Now Swapfiets is based in 18 Dutch cities and the concept also runs in several German and Flemish cities. In some cities, there is already a waiting list. For example, if you want to register in Amsterdam for a ‘robust bike with coaster brake’ (15 euros per month) you will have to be patient for 2 weeks. Uitentuis: “Sometimes when it is too busy, the existing customers come first”.

Swapfiets’ bicycle servicing model has come relatively late if you think about it. Traditionally buying a new bike is a risky investment for city dwellers. The chance of theft is considerable and the possibility that the means of transport ends up in the canal is not a strong purchasing argument either. A second hand model is often the best option with the result that these bikes are offered for very high prices.  And exactly this was the gap in the market for Swapfiets. Uitentuis: “Own research learned that there are different reasons to choose a Swapfiets. Some say: my old bike was broken and I do not want any hassle, others to not have the money or do not want to spend their money on a new or second hand bike.

There is hardly any competition. Bikes can be leased at many places but that is more expensive and in most cases it concerns e-bikes. There are a few local providers. In Amsterdam Instabike offers a new bike for 15 euros, repair on location included.Also in Leiden (and partly The Hague) offers bike subscriptions from 10 euro per month. The difference with Swapfiets is that Easyfiets uses second hand bikes: “With us you get a recycled bike, refurbished in our own social workshop,” says founder Kasper Richmond. At the moment there are just over a thousand bikes from Easyfiets and there are plans to expand. But all in due time, says Richmond: “The market is still quite large in Leiden.”

Bike market
The question is whether the traditional two-wheeler specialist is waiting for initiatives such as sharing or subscribing to a bicycle. Does a party like Swapfiets not disrupt the entire bicycle market? “No, they do not disrupt the market”, says Tom Huyskens from sector organization Bovag. “In the Netherlands, one million bicycles are sold every year, of which a third is electric, and on which an average of around 1,000 euros per bike is spent. 44,000 Bikes from Swapfiets are not seen as a threat.

Huyskens presumes that Swapfiets’s customer base consists mainly of students who do not have the need for a new bike to move around. “They are not the primary target group for the bicycle dealer.” According to the Bovag, concepts such as Swapfiets and Easyfiets fit into the trend of private leasing – also for cars, a growing market for some time now. Also the need for convenience (you do not have to fix a flat tire yourself) and no major direct investments are entirely in line with the spirit of the times. “I think the popularity of Swapfiets can also be an incentive for other initiatives.”

Ultimately it may be better for the bicycle specialist when more people experience such a simple ‘entry-level bicycle’, Huyskens argues. “A bicycle with a subscription can also be a stepping-stone to a quality bicycle of your own.”

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