2020 is truly the year of the bike, if you can get your hands on one that is. Whether it’s an electric or a manual, bike shops have seen an unprecedented amount of demand from people wanting to get back in the saddle as a Covid-free way to get around London.
But before you strap your helmet on there is a lot to consider when buying a bike, from which model and whether you need insurance, to which lock. If you’re not already a keen cyclist, it can be extremely overwhelming.
Buzzbike is the handy all-in-one solution that will make cycling a whole lot smoother. Set up by two friends, Tom Hares and Andy Nunn, back in 2016, the original idea was that people could hire bikes for free in central London, in return for brands sponsoring different bikes. This worked for a few years, until last year when the team started experimenting with a subscription model. For £29.99 a month, Buzzbike members get access to a flashy, premium bike, along with protection against theft, on-demand maintenance and a fun app which encourages you to get riding.
The key is offering a premium, well-designed service, that lowers the barrier to entry. Hares previously spent 10 years at The Media Arts Lab, Apple’s dedicated external advertising agency, which helped to shape his ideas of how to grow a product-focused company. “It’s almost cheesy to say, but working on projects for Steve Jobs and seeing his energy, passion and care for detailing everything, it touches you a little bit. I knew throughout that period I was going to do something myself,” he explains.
After spending some time in Venice, Los Angeles where he got into cycling, Hares moved back to London and was shocked by the massive issues of congestion the city was dealing with it, not to mention the fact the city seemed far behind its European counterparts when it came to bikes. He rattles off the stats: “Two per cent use cycling as a primary mode of transport in the UK versus 30 per cent in Germany and 65 per cent in Denmark, particularly Copenhagen.” Cycling, Hares thought, is a big opportunity for London.
Since the company switched to the subscription model officially earlier this year, things have taken off. It helps that the Buzzbike bike is high quality, with the bike costing between £600 to £700 to buy outright. But not only do you get access to a decent bike in around 48 hours after pressing purchase, but also the added benefits of the whole service. If your bike gets stolen, it will be replaced in 24 hours. If you get a puncture, you can call on the company’s bike mechanics to sort it. As someone who lives in permanent fear of a puncture mid-ride, this is a major plus point.
“We want to remove all the hassle once you’re riding a bike and then we want to keep you on the bike and riding every day,” he explains.
Another way to keep people riding is through the Buzzbike app which tracks your rides and encourages you to keep going with rewards and motivating stats, such as how much money you’ve saved versus commuting on the tube, the carbon offset of your journeys and calories burned. It’s not about competing with other cyclists in the way apps like Strava encourage, but more to show how many miles you’ve travelled so you feel motivated to keep going.
The company is hoping to have 2,000 bikes available in September, after raising £1.7 million in funding earlier this year from the UK government’s Future Fund and the sports tech accelerator leAD whose shareholders includes Horst Bente, the grandson of the Adidas founder. It’s also partnering with companies such as Spotify to offer the service as a cycle to work scheme, so it works out about £17 a month.
The commuter crowd is a key target demographic, but also new cyclists: around 70 per cent of Buzzbike members didn’t previously own a bike. The flexibility is a major appeal too. Don’t think you could face an early morning cycle in November or December? Hares says customers are on a 30-day rolling contract so can stop for the winter months and pick back up in the Spring. Not to mention it appeals to people picking up cycling since Covid-19. “New cyclists don’t necessarily know what they want yet or how long this is going to go on for,” he says. “The subscription or rental model is pretty appealing.”
Buzzbike isn’t the only start-up trumpeting the bike subscription model in Europe. Dance is a new company from the co-founders of Soundcloud, which offers an electric bike service for €59 a month in its native Berlin, whilst the Netherlands has Swapfiets, which offers prices between €16.50 to €75, depending on the bike model. Buzzbike also hopes to offer e-bikes at some point in the future.
As people start returning to the office, Hares thinks Buzzbike can help encourage people to get moving around again. “Once you actually start to cycle you realise the community doesn’t have to be a bad part of your day. And if you do have a stressful day of work, you can get on your bike. By the time you get home, you realise you’ve calmed down a bit, done some exercise and cycled a nice route.”
Video: ‘This coronavirus is not simple to navigate around’ (Sky News)