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The Spotify of Bicycles – a Dutch Startup Offers an Alternative to Owning a Bike

If we already pay for films and music on a monthly bases, why not for a bicycle? The Dutch start-up Swapfiets offers a decent bike for €15 a month. The price tag includes a decent bicycle, at home repair service, and insurance against theft.

This subscription model got pretty successful. The Swapfiets – recognized by a blue front tire – are all around Dutch cities, and other companies have started copying the model. VanMoof, an Amsterdam-based bicycle maker, offers now their chicky bikes for €19 a month. Considering their bikes cost around €800, it doesn’t sound like a very bad deal.

The question then arises: are these deals worth it? The short answer is: it depends. Paying €15 a month sounds like nothing, but it sums up to €180 every year. Buying an equivalent second-hand bicycle in good shape costs around €150. Even if you are very unlucky, and have a couple of flat tire incidents a year, fixing your bikes won’t cost more than 50€.

That means that a Swapfiets subscription and owning a bicycle costs roughly the same after one year. The longer you hold your bike, the less attractive the Swapfiets deal looks like. Even if your bicycle gets stolen after a year or two, it’s still cheaper to buy another second-hand bike than paying every month a subscription fee.

But these are just cold numbers, and you can’t argue with success. Swapfiets are so popular because they offer people a peace of mind. For short-term expats or international students, it’s a convenient way to get a bicycle and not worrying about it getting broken or stolen. When asking people why they chose a Swapfiets over buying a second-hand bike, they all repeated the same mantra: “it’s just hassle-free.”

Swapfiets shows that urban innovation can be respectful and helpful.

Most importantly, Swapfiets is an excellent lesson for city-oriented start-ups. Entrepreneurs often claim that their start-up will disrupt an entire industry. It might be true and necessary when it comes to the music or hotel industries, but cities are not an industry to be disrupted. Dockless bike share companies or self-driving car manufacturers want to revolutionize cities, and they seem to pay very little respect to existing infrastructure and rules. Swapfiets shows that urban innovation can be respectful and helpful.

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