Swapfiets is a subscription-based bike that always works. You pay 19.50 euros ($22) per month. If your bike breaks, goes wrong or gets stolen, the company will deliver a new one the same day. And if it’s a simple repair, the Swapfiets repairperson can fix it right there.
Everything happens via an iPhone (or Android) app. At first glance, Swapfiets does not seem like a cheap option. However, it offers some serious advantages over public bike-sharing schemes or owning your own bicycle.
Bike-sharing, without the sharing
I started noticing a lot of Swapfiets bikes around my Berlin neighborhood. At first I thought the bikes — which are striking and easy to spot, thanks to their blue front tire — were just a new, cheap city bike that had become popular. But no one model of bike is that popular in Berlin. Many, many people commute by bike, but there isn’t any particularly popular brand.
Googling led me to Swapfiets. The idea is that you pay a monthly fee to get your own bike, with a good lock, seven gears and hub-powered lights. It has a mixte-style, step-through frame so you don’t have to high-kick to mount it, and there’s a front rack — good for keeping an eye on your load in the city, but not so great for steering balance.
If it looks like a “Dutch bike,” that’s because it is. Swapfiets, which translates to Swap Bike, is a Netherlands company that started out with second-hand bikes that the founders repaired themselves. The company has since expanded to Denmark and Germany, and now uses its own custom-designed bicycle. An electric version will be available soon.
Swapfiets: There’s an app for that
The service works like this: You sign up, and take delivery of your new bike. If something breaks, your bike will be repaired or replaced within 12 hours. If it is stolen, you will get a replacement, and Swapfiets will even fill out the police report for you.
$22 per month is a little more than I first expected, but it only works out to around $260 per year. For a good, well-maintained bike that you never need to worry about, that’s a good deal. I’m thinking about trying one out for a month or three (the minimum period varies by city) to see how good the bikes are. But from what I have seen on the streets, they look a lot better than anything you’d get for $250, or even $500.
Best of both worlds
Public bike-sharing works OK. But unfortunately, the bikes are often dirty or broken. Buying your own bike is great. However, the worry of theft remains ever-present in any modern city.
Swapfiets offers the peace of mind and minimal outlay of bike sharing — but with the clean, always-in-the-same-place exclusivity of owning your own bike.
In short, it’s a fantastic idea, which might explain why I’m seeing so many of them around. Hopefully this idea will make its way around the world, because it seems a lot more sustainable than public bike sharing. And those blue tires look super-cool.