On the road to 100% circularity (part 1).

Behind the scenes part 1; the design phase

Swapfiets is on a mission. Not just to provide our members with an environmentally friendly way to navigate the world, crush our collective carbon footprint, have fewer cars on the road or keep our bodies moving. But to encourage the world to adopt a new way of thinking and using – through circularity. Read more 👉

The journey to circularity

First, a quick refresher. Circularity (in a nutshell) is about designing, building and using things that last. For us, it means reusing and refurbishing bikes and bike parts, as well as producing materials from sustainable sources to cut down on producing new (virgin) materials which can drain resources, clog landfills and create unnecessary waste. 

As we cruise towards realising our 2025 promise of a fully circular product line (i.e all our products being produced in a 100% circular way), we need to keep a lot in mind. We consider everything from the design phase, to usage and the final stage, which we call ‘closing the loop’. 

And no, we’re not there just yet. The journey to 100% circularity is long and complex, with production roadblocks and new challenges being thrown at us all the time. But, we believe in sharing knowledge and inspiring others. So we’re launching this blog series to share more about how we’re tracking and what we’re learning along the way. First up: the design phase. Let’s go! 

Circular design = more liveable cities

Generally, bike ownership creates lots of extra work for the rider – from higher costs for maintenance to the added responsibility for servicing and care. However, with our bicycle-as-a-service model, we assume this responsibility by owning the bikes outright. When creating circular products, we focus on optimizing them for both purchasing and operating costs. In short: we want to create bikes that are cost efficient for members and (ultimately) last forever. In this way, we extend our mission of making cities more liveable, by providing an always functioning bike to reduce the need for fossil-fueled modes of transport. That’s the hope, anyway! We also believe that prevention is better than cure. So to avoid high numbers of breakdowns, the design phase is (of course) a crucial stage which demands a lot of our attention upfront. 

It’s not all about looks

Throughout the design phase, we strive to strike the right balance between style, functionality and circularity. It’s a continuous process of testing, optimising and re-testing our products based on input from members, mechanics and useful data collected from our bikes.

These are the kinds of things we take into account when designing for circularity:

  1. Physical durability: How long does it last? If a product’s durability is compromised, it doesn’t get built. However, we also need to keep in mind the comfort aspect, and make a trade-off between durability and enjoyment. Nobody wants to ride a tank on two wheels, right?
  2. Standardization: Is it consistent? We try to use as many of the same parts as possible for all our bikes. For instance, the chain guard on our Original, Deluxe and Power 7 is all the same. By reducing the amount of unique parts, we reduce the amount of material needed in stock. This means less stock issues, easy repairability and a lower climate impact. Win, win, win!
  3. Maintenance: Is it easy to fix? We deliberately design our bikes so they can be easily repaired. This requires a clean and simple design, without any unnecessary or difficult to replace parts. Easy maintenance also reduces transport and labour, saving time and resources.
  4. Upgradability: Is it futureproof? At Swapfiets, we’re always innovating. In the design phase we assess upcoming trends and whether to feature these in our design.
  5. Material: What’s the most responsible way to build it? Can we use renewable materials instead of virgin (new) ones? In this phase we’re looking into using low impact materials (recycled plastics) instead of high impact materials (metal) as much as possible.
  6. Experimentation: How can we work with like-minded pioneers to make it better? We’re always on the lookout for smart and future-minded innovators. We believe in joining forces to make our as great as they can be, and collaborate with others in this phase. For instance, with our e-Bikes we partnered with Italian tire company Vittoria. We are the first company to subscribe to the Vittoria2GOservice – renting tires instead of buying them – in a key step towards achieving our goal of creating 100% circular.

Wanna hear more? Stay tuned for behind the scenes part 2: the usage phase, coming soon!

Sustainability Team

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