My kid loves to count the bikes with blue front tires here in Amsterdam. And they really are everywhere.
At first I thought it was some kind of style trend, but then I noticed they were all the same brand: Swapfiets, a “bicycles as a service” company with a very interesting business model.
You cannot buy a Swapfiets bicycle. Instead, you can rent one starting at €20 per month for a single speed. If something breaks, the company will come fix it or swap it out for a working one for free. So one big appeal is that users don’t need to worry about surprise repair bills.
So I’ve been wondering, would a business model like this work in Seattle? I’m not sure. The €20 bike definitely won’t because a single speed city bike won’t cut it on Seattle’s hills. Their €24/month 7-speed might fare better, though. Their 7-speed e-assist bike is €80/month.
Seattle did have a much smaller homegrown company a few years back that shared some similarities with this business model. Pedal Anywhere would deliver customers a rental bike, and their pricing scale encouraged longer-term rentals. They were renting high-quality touring bikes for about $180 per month. Perhaps Pedal Anywhere was too far ahead of it’s time.
One big difference is that Swapfiets sources it’s own proprietary bikes, which limits the theft market for them (if someone tries to sell you one, you know it isn’t legit). They are also cheaper bikes than what Pedal Anywhere was renting. So done at scale with well-sourced, Seattle-ready bikes and a good marketing campaign, who knows?
Another complication is that a Swapfiets-style company would have to compete with free-floating bike and scooter companies like Lime in Seattle. Anyone just looking for a few casual rides per month, Lime almost certainly makes more sense. After all, you don’t have to find a place to store your Lime bike in your apartment when you’re not using it.
So are there enough people living in Seattle who want to bike often, but for one reason or another don’t want to buy a bike outright? Maybe!
Seattle Bike Blog is in favor of just about anything that gets more people on bikes. I don’t see myself using such a service, but a bike geek like me who enjoys fixing their own bike isn’t the target market.
Cargo bike rentals
Not only do the many tourist bike rental places also rent cargo bikes, but there are even some other cargo bike rental companies that seem to operate like Zipcar but for a cargo bike. With Cargoroo, for example, you reserve and rent an e-assist cargo bike on your phone, then return it to the starting point when you’re done. You only pay for the time you ride it. This could be an awesome solution for people who don’t need a cargo bike every day and don’t have a good place to keep one.
There’s so much bike use in Amsterdam, it’s hard to know what will and will not translate to Seattle. But hey, it could be worth a try.