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OPINION

"Bike ownership is dying": CEO of bike subscription service Buzzbike on the future of urban cycling

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Tom Hares, the CEO of Buzzbike, explains why he believes bike subscription services will be the key to getting more non-cyclists on bikes as more people move to the city

If you're the kind of rider who sticks diligently to the N+1 rule and has a bike for every occasion, the title of this blog might seem puzzling to you - but for those who don't cycle recreationally and just need something to get from A to B, the concept of a bike subscription service could have some appeal. 

> 8 of the best urban commuter bikes 

London-based Buzzbike are one of a number of bike subscription services that have started to pop up in cities, offering subscribers a 3-speed city bike to have 24/7 with on-demand repairs, a gold standard lock and theft protection for £29.99 a month all in. Another example is the Dutch company Swapfiets, who have just launched in London and are the reason Jumbo-Visma are riding on blue front tyres at this year's Tour de France. 

With hassles such as maintenance and insurance taken care of, could bike rental rather than ownership be the answer to getting more people on bikes who otherwise wouldn't cycle? While there's certainly no sign of traditional bike sales slowing down yet, both to regular and new cyclists, Buzzbike's CEO and founder Tom Hares makes the case in this guest blog article... 

"Bike ownership is dying. Well, urban bike ownership that is. While many have long been saying that to make our cities greener we need more people owning bikes, it's simply not true.

During last year’s lockdown we were advised to move from public transport to our bikes as part of social distancing measures, with Boris Johnson declaring we were entering a “a golden era for cycling” supported by a £2bn Government investment in cycling and walking infrastructure. The demand for bikes was felt globally – being harder to come by than toilet roll in some cases.

Whether buying or sharing (or in our case subscribing to) bikes the whole industry has seen record sales. Our fledgling business, which is based on bike subscription rather than ownership, has grown 450% over the last 12 months.

However, when this once-in-a-generation shift to two wheels was getting the headlines there was an equally profound subplot emerging. These new cyclists were largely made up of first-time cyclists and millennials drawn to a subscription model that echoed much of the other aspects of their lives such as Netflix or Spotify.

Prior to the pandemic, first-time cyclists had carefully considered this decision, they had spent time thinking about what bike to get, how they would deal with repairs, purchased theft insurance, researched equipment and planned their routes to work. For these newbies it was different however, they didn’t have the luxury of time.

These newbies were seeking a solution that offered everything they needed in one package on their terms. To subscribe was completely natural. If we are to realise more liveable cities through a cycle revolution it is this group – the 90% not currently cycling – that we will need to convince.

> 21 of the best commuting bikes

While the bike share schemes already available in London absolutely have a role to play in filling in a part of your journey or “the last mile”, it’s very unlikely they will ever be able to reach the coverage to be convenient enough get us from A-B daily, are often too heavy and uncomfortable for long journeys or, in the case of the more desirable electric versions, are prohibitively expensive.

This reinforced our belief that subscription was the future of urban cycling and what we were witnessing was the beginning of the end of urban bike ownership for the next generation. But of course, as a founder of a bike subscription company, I would say the future is bike subscription- so let’s look at some of the evidence.

First, it’s hard to avoid the meteoric rise in subscription services, catering for every aspect of consumer life to the point that the average household now has seven subscriptions with an estimated annual spend of £700, double what it was in 2017. From the once unthinkable, now “traditional” music and TV subscriptions to pet food, meal boxes, craft beer, beauty and even coffee pods, with customers prepared to pay £25+ per month for a supply of their favourite brand of caffeine.

To avoid becoming the next Blockbuster (who were famously slow to realise the pace at which Netflix was taking over) car makers have realised they need to move swiftly to and are rapidly rolling out their subscription offers to keep up with changing consumer needs. So why not the mobility market more generally – why not bikes?

buzzbike - via facebook.PNG

We buy into subscriptions for one of five reasons: reduced cost of entry, convenience, a curated experience, personalisation and controlling monthly outgoings. For a first-time cyclist being able to access a high-quality bike daily is vital in giving cycling a proper go without the commitment of purchase. Once they are up and running it then becomes about convenience and experience – which any reputable marketeer or trend caster will tell you are vitally important aspects to a millennial purchase decision. After all, who wants to be spending their time fixing their bike - or paying for someone else to do it - if we can come to you and fix it at your door, or replace it if it gets stolen in one touch on an app.

> Beginner's guide to bike tools

A Buzzbike subscription can also offer so much more than a bike; members can receive education, support and community through road ready workshops, group rides, cycle friendly turn-by-turn navigation and treats to the best food, drink and experiences in the city the more they ride through a virtual reward currency.

The death of bike ownership won’t happen overnight, nor will it be for everyone or all types of bikes. Luxury and sports bikes will always have their place, but with 70% of us expected to live in cities by 2050, up from 55% today, in order to solve the issue of urban mobility as city populations swell, and with a younger demographic demanding more than just a transactional relationship from every purchase, subscriptions are set to become part of our new normal."

Do you agree with this prediction? Let us know your thoughts in the comments as always

This content has been added by a member of the road.cc staff

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29 comments

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Xenophon2 | 2 years ago
2 likes

Where I am (Brussels, Belgium), we see a lot of these 'share' or 'subscription' services, be it for cars, electric steps or (e)-bikes.  According to the latest figures NONE of them, except one car-sharing company (who happened to be the first, back in 2002) are making a profit.  Zero.

Swapfiets is here, too and I'm very curious if they'll still be around in a couple of years.  Half of their electric bikes are ridden by food couriers, contrary to their conditions of use.  They don't offer any non-electric bikes that would serve for a commute that's longer than a couple of km.  

Any really regular commuter or rider has specific preferences as to their bikes.  I don"t see subscription services catering to those.

 

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Ihatecheese | 2 years ago
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I see a few of these a daily now in central London. I presume the owners have to operate in the same way as me where you can never leave your bike locked up outside unattended for more than a short time, or someone will steal in under a minute once clocked- Whatever the lock. 
Santander and The lime/Uber bikes allow you to offload them either on stands or on opportune busy pavements. That's the big benefit of the hire bikes Imho. Outside of punctures most road maintenance is infrequent unless banging out the miles on standard bikes. 

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pasley69 | 2 years ago
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"getting more non-cyclists on bikes" eh? Well that sounds as logical as getting more non-drivers in cars.

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Sam3 | 3 years ago
0 likes

Obvious propaganda for profit should not be promoted as the headline.

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froze | 3 years ago
4 likes

Yup, bike ownership is over with, that's why bike shops all ran out of bikes during the Covid, it's why used bikes are difficult to find and when you do find one it's over priced because there is not too many around.

So now they want to you to pay the equivelant of $497.52 USD per year to have a subscrition to get a bike, basically all your doing is leasing a bike!  Geez, after 3 years of this lease program you could have bought a pretty nice bike with the money spent on this Buzzkill.

Gold standard lock doesn't mean much in todays world of battery powered angle grinders that can cut through a Gold standard lock in less than 30 seconds.

On demand repairs doesn't mean much either, I have a bike with over 150,000 miles on that is 36 years old and it, nor my other newer bikes, have ever broken down on the road, so what's the odds they're going to fix you bike?  almost zero.

You can join group rides at any local bike shop, most towns and cities have at least one shop that offers free group rides.

Discounts? what they give you is 10% off at a bike shop that is typically at least 40% more money for the same thing you could have gotten on the internet which includes shiping and taxes.

I just can't see wasting that kind of money for so little in return.

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rggfddne | 3 years ago
1 like

It's not yet worked for cars, and I'd really like it to work for cars. On a basic economic level, for a large part of the population the overhead for maintaining a car (including just putting it somewhere legal) hurts. Not to mention the regulatory risk of buying ICE and range risk for buying EV.

Bikes? Save a couple of PCP payments, walk into shop, done. There could/should be more designing in lower maintenance bikes (and more theft-proof - I'd expect an ebike to have an integrated lock), and I'd like flats to be built with bike storage more in mind, but it's never *that* hard to own one.

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OnYerBike | 3 years ago
2 likes

I don't know much more about Buzzbike than is explained above, but it sounds to me like you would still need to have somewhere to store the bike at home, somewhere to store the bike at the destination, and you would still be stuck if you need a repair until they can send someone out to fix it. It's also not very helpful for multi-modal transport - i.e. it would still be a nightmare trying to take it on the train, let alone a bus.

I think things like the Boris bikes are good - you can hop in a train, pick one up at the station, cycle around the city, and at the end of the journey dock it back and forget about it.

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Philh68 | 3 years ago
2 likes

If this was even remotely true you'd expect the Netherlands to rely on the excellent OV-fiets scheme rather than purchase bicycles. But they don't. And comparing with car subscriptions, please. Cars cost many thousands to purchase, a bicycle just hundreds. Most will buy a bike for less than the cost of a cellphone and it'll last them far longer.

Honestly, if you've got to try this hard to sell the idea, the idea sucks.

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mdavidford replied to Philh68 | 3 years ago
1 like

Philh68 wrote:

And comparing with car subscriptions, please. Cars cost many thousands to purchase, a bicycle just hundreds.

Well, at least that is the same kind of model. Comparing it to beer, pet food, and coffee, where it isn't even the same model at all is even sillier. 'Subscriptions' for bikes are more like a rental model; 'subscriptions' for consumables are more of a 'milk round' model - just because people happen to use the same word for them doesn't mean they're the same thing.

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Rich_cb replied to Philh68 | 3 years ago
0 likes

Next time you're in Amsterdam or similar keep an eye out for the blue wheels.

They are everywhere.

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wycombewheeler | 3 years ago
3 likes

A strange claim to make at a time when bike manufatcurers can't keep up with demand.

There is a massive increase in cycling and both bikes sales and bike hire schemes are feeling the benefit.

Bike hire schemes are great for people who want to trave short distances within one urban area, where people can rely on bikes to be available where they want them when they want them. The free utility cyclists from providing space, maintenance or insurance for their bikes.

But they will never kill off bike ownership, as they don't meet the needs of people who want more than a means to get to work, quickly and cheaply.

 

 

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Captain Badger | 3 years ago
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Probably an overstatement, as the hire schemes need a density of punters to hire their bikes, and these areas are also likely to be where folk haven't the space or facilities to safely and securely keep their own.

If we want people to move away from cars a viable, cheap and convenient alternative (or range of alternatives) needs to be made abundantly available.

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mdavidford | 3 years ago
8 likes

"My lemonade stand sold ten glasses the week before last, and 55 in last week's heatwave - that's a 450% increase! This is proof that Coke is doomed."

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OnTheRopes | 3 years ago
8 likes

"Bike ownership is dying" lies the CEO of business that wants you to subscribe to their bikes.

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HarrogateSpa | 3 years ago
1 like

"Headline Is Not True": Reader of Article who Compared it to What Article Said.

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Rich_cb | 3 years ago
2 likes

I think this is a segment of the bike industry that is likely to grow strongly.

In the 'Before Times' I used to spend a reasonable amount of time in Amsterdam, swap fiets bikes were everywhere.

For many people even fixing a puncture can seem daunting, a model that allows you to run a bike without having to worry about any maintenance at all is clearly appealing to many.

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Jetmans Dad replied to Rich_cb | 3 years ago
0 likes

Rich_cb wrote:

For many people even fixing a puncture can seem daunting, a model that allows you to run a bike without having to worry about any maintenance at all is clearly appealing to many.

I can see that. However, the idea of suffering a puncture or broken chain on my commute, and then having to wait for someone to come out and fix it for me (assuming that is a thing) is somehow not appealing to me in the slightest.

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Rich_cb replied to Jetmans Dad | 3 years ago
0 likes

It works in Amsterdam. They don't bother repairing it at the scene, just bring you a brand new bike/wheel.

Feedback from people I know who use swap fiets is very positive. Repairs are really fast, obviously that is a scale thing so doubt this company could offer anything similarly efficient to begin with.

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pasley69 replied to Jetmans Dad | 2 years ago
1 like

So get airless puncture-proof tyres fitted - a la Greentyre.  Worked for me on my kids bikes. Saved me hours every week.

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OnYerBike replied to Rich_cb | 3 years ago
2 likes

I've just been browsing their website and it turns out they won't fix punctures: https://support.buzzbike.cc/support/solutions/articles/23000021748-do-yo...

 

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Jetmans Dad replied to OnYerBike | 3 years ago
1 like

OK ... so the maintenance task you are most likely to have to perform as a bicycle owner is one that you still have to do yourself.

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RoubaixCube | 3 years ago
2 likes

I beg to differ... I dont think bike ownership is dying or will it die in the near future.

Bike hire is currently booming because of Cov19, lockdown and difficulties by retailers to meet demand due to supply issues either because of Cov19 or issues caused by Brexit -- if not both.

There are also conveniences of having a rental bike such as not really caring how you treat it or its maintenance costs because it doesnt belong to you -- Though there may be long term rental schemes that require you to leave a security deposit should you do something like vandalize or abuse their bike beyond what is just regular wear and tear.

The second hand bike market will continue to exist and people will still go there looking for a better deal than what is offered at retailers. Not every bicycle sold has to be brand spanking new albeit there are a lot of retailers like Decathlon that give exceptional bang for buck on their lower priced budget bikes but there are still treasures to be found on the pre-owned market... and even stolen ones for that matter.

Once everything gets back to normal and issues with supply have been delt with. it will be business as usual. People will be able to buy the bikes that they want and people who found a love of cycling during lockdown will probably purchase a bike rather than a rental while the network of rental bikes will continue to see people renting to scoot around town either for short trips from A to B around the city or from tourists who fancy cycling around the city -- Having worked mainly in central london, I have seen a lot of people from both parties renting out boris bikes.

Bike rental will go up but a lot more people will also own their own bikes.

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theslowcyclistxx | 3 years ago
3 likes

I head a podcast from one of the largest uk bike rental companies. When pressed about how many subscriptions they had, they admitted that it was counted in hundreds, not thousands, so it is probably not happening anytime soon.

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HarrogateSpa replied to Lance ꜱtrongarm | 3 years ago
2 likes

I agree, the move to subscriptions is happening because businesses want steady monthly income (and to charge more in the long run). It's rarely in the interests of the customer.

I still use Photoshop Elements that cost me a one-off £100 in 2015. The cheapest subscription now is £9.98 a month.

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Miller replied to HarrogateSpa | 3 years ago
0 likes

That £10 /month gets you Adobe creative cloud which is much more functional than Elements. Having said that, I still use Elements and not CC.

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Secret_squirrel | 3 years ago
3 likes

I'm unconvinced of some of the conclusions here.  It seems to have completely missed the ongoing city rents crash and increasingly flexible working hours.   Renting bikes may be a growth sector but I don't think it's for some of the causes listed here.

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Global Nomad | 3 years ago
5 likes

as usual the 'end of' is no longer enough and the 'death of' has become the attention grabbing title...as we know from history both are wrong. its more about new approaches that lead to a fracturing of old models....subscription works for some, rental for others and purchasing still for the majority. As a car club/zipcar user for over 15 years I have no need to purchase a car, but i do own an expensive bike that is my main form of transport and leisure. I own vinyl, cd's adn mp3's  but have stopped using itunes in favour of a spotify subscription. I've never ridden a boris bike though...

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Dave Dave | 3 years ago
4 likes

Isn't it illegal to publish paid puff pieces without declaring that it's promotional content? 

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Jack Sexty replied to Dave Dave | 3 years ago
3 likes

It's not paid for, just a guest blog piece on a quiet day. 

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