‘The Netflix of bikes’: will a bicycle rental scheme catch on?
Thinking about cycling to work when the office reopens but not sure whether it’s really you? How about trying a no-strings-attached bike subscription service that you can cancel at any time?
Popular for several years in Europe – in particular, the Netherlands – bike leasing has arrived in London – and for many it could be a great way to try bike commuting without having to buy the bike.
The Dutch firm Swapfiets pioneered the concept in Delft in 2014. Since then, it has expanded across the Netherlands and into Belgium, Germany and Denmark.
Two wheels good … Bike sales soar as UK takes to cycling
The model is popular, particularly among students, because it allows users to pay a flat monthly fee from €16.50 (£14.70) on a rolling monthly contract. The basic one-geared bike is insured and if you have a problem the company whizzes round to fix it. Consumers love it because if they decide that cycling is not for them, they leave town – or buy their own bicycle – then they simply give the bike back and walk away. Recently, the company has added geared and electric bikes, too.
Step forward, then, Buzzbike, which hopes its version of the same business model will get hesitant Londoners riding to work, as and when their offices reopen.
Needless to say, it is twice the price of Swapfiets (isn’t everything in London?), although you do get a more sophisticated machine for its £29.99 monthly fee.
Those signing up via the Buzzbike app will receive, says the London firm’s co-founder Tom Hares, a steel-framed bike that would cost £600 to buy. A good-quality lock is supplied and the bike is insured – provided you use the lock to tether the bike to an immovable object.
The company says there is no obligation to keep the machine inside at night – a problem for many – although if you have any sense, you will. If the locked bike is stolen, the user has to pay the £50 insurance excess.
Those signing up pay £10 to have the bike delivered, or collected at the end. If the user has a mechanical problem, the company promises to quickly send round someone to fix it, punctures aside, which are down to them to repair.
Hares believes his business is suited to people’s change in habits during the current crisis: “The new interest and huge growth in cycling is one of the only good things to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic and we’ve seen a surge in interest in recent weeks. We like to think of ourselves as the Netflix of bikes, in that you can give us a trial and, if it doesn’t work for you, you can hand it back and leave penalty-free with 30 days’ notice.”
He says Buzzbike is about to take delivery of 2,000 new three-speed bikes that it expects to go straight out to customers across the capital. He has the option to receive more, as further customers sign up.
To stop users stealing the supplied bike, customers have to provide credit card details at the start of the process and undertake a basic credit check to authenticate their address, etc.
To help get them on the road, the company offers reduced-price helmets and lights to buy, although you can purchase these anywhere.
So will it work? At £30 a month, this is undoubtedly an expensive way to gain a bike; however, you are getting a new, or almost new, machine, with no maintenance to worry about. At a time when it has arguably become hard to buy any kind of bike, it’s an easy way to see if it’s for you.
The bikes look good, feature reliable components and have puncture-resistant tyres – a must in London. A downside is that they only come in two sizes, meaning those over 6ft 2in may be better off buying a bigger machine elsewhere.
The company also offers the option to buy the bike through its cycle-to-work scheme, for £17 a month. Unlike other schemes, Buzzbike to Work does not require the company to purchase the bike for the employee, and riders can cancel at any time.
The advantage this has over the Santander scheme and others is that it is your bike to use full-time. No cleanliness problems, or having to wait for another person to return one at busy times. Or the long searches for a docking space.
For comparison, Santander bikes cost £2 for each 24-hour membership or £90 a year. Once paid, bike trips of 30 minutes or less are free. If your commute is longer than 30 minutes, you pay £2 for every 30 minutes.
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