de blauwe band van de Swapfiets

Is Swapfiets Cheaper than Owning a Bicycle?

For students, Swapfiets costs €13.50 per month. Would it be more cost-effective to buy and maintain your own bike while you study?

What is Swapfiets?

If you’ve been in the Netherlands for longer than a few days, you’ve likely seen people riding bikes with one blue tire. Those bikes belong to Swapfiets, a popular monthly bicycle subscription program. Users get their own bike and have access to free maintenance, and can cancel at any time.

Swapfiets homepage

How much does a comparable bike cost? Around €400.

If you’re a student and you need a bike for two years while you study, it’s hard to beat the cost of a Swapfiets, which would total €324 for both years. If you were to purchase a similar bike, you would lose around €400, says TestKees (the tests editor of the Fietserbond). For example, the Cortina U1 costs €410. If you look online, you could also order a bike like the Union for a lower cost.
Of course, the benefit of owning your own bicycle is that you get to choose one you like, and one that suits your height.
If you’re not a student, your Swapfiets would cost €16.50 per month. So after two years, you would have paid €396. After that, it becomes more cost-effective to buy your own bike (as opposed to becoming more cost-effective after 2.5 years for students). Of course, you can also buy an omafiets (a classic Dutch bike) for less than €200. ‘That’s the bottom of the market. The wheels often aren’t so good — they can deflate quickly. And other parts of the bike are not well-built. But if you’re not too heavy, it can be okay’, says TestKees.

What kind of maintenance does a new bike require? Probably none.

‘You can assume that your new bike won’t need any maintenance’, says TestKees. ‘The chance of a puncture is very small. Bicycle tires have really improved over the last ten years. Tires last for 5,000 to 10,000 kilometres. The average Dutch cyclist rides between 1000 and 1500 km per year. So it will take three years at the earliest for the tires to get worn down. But if your tires are kept decently inflated, then six years is also perfectly reasonable.’
‘And if you have a bike with a closed chain guard, then your chain will also last a very long time. So there’s a good chance that you can go three years without needing maintenance. You just need to buy a new battery for your bike light once a year.’

If you’re really anxious about getting stuck on the road, you can take out a roadside assistance subscription for €35 per year. If the bike mechanic can’t fix your bike on the spot, they will take you home. That way, you’re always assured of transportation.

In addition to the fear of your bike breaking down, you might choose Swapfiets because you’re scared of getting your bike stolen.

Swapfiets theft can also cost you

You also run a financial risk by using Swapfiets. Getting your Swapfiets stolen can cost you up to €200.

Cost of a stolen Swapfiets: €40
You must pay €40 if your bike is stolen after you correctly used both the chain lock and the wheel lock.

Negligence Surcharge: €60
You’ll be charged €60 if you failed to use the chain lock.

Unfairness Surcharge: €100
If you claim that you used both locks and your Swapfiets is recovered (as many are), and Swapfiets finds that you only used the wheel lock, you’ll be charged an extra €100.

And if you forgot to lock your Swapfiets at all, the charge is €350.

Getting your own bike? Forget the bicycle insurance—buy a good lock

If your own €410 bike is stolen, then naturally you’ve lost all your money. By purchasing bicycle insurance, you can mitigate that risk. For a standard bike in Utrecht, insurance costs €6,80 with Allianz (tested the best by the Consumentenbond, the Dutch consumer association). If you add roadside assistance, you’d pay €7,62 per month. But for that amount (€60 – €91,50 per year), it would be better to purchase a good lock and always secure your bike to a fixed location (like a bike rack or a lamppost). You can get a good lock for about 60-70 Euros.

The cheapest option: buy a used bike and do some maintenance

The very cheapest option is to look for a good used bike by yourself, and to do a little maintenance where necessary. For example, keeping your tires inflated will prevent punctures. But not everyone has the time or patience to do this—which explains the popularity of Swapfiets. If your bike chain falls off, you don’t have to get your hands dirty. A Swapfiets car will come to your aid. And if your swapfiets is stolen, you do have to pay but you’ll immediately receive your next bike, ridding you of the hassle of looking for another bike yourself.