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This summer thousands of bright-coloured share bikes suddenly appeared all over Amsterdam and Rotterdam, causing a heated debate. In part 1 of the series 'Do share bikes have a future?' we look at what types of bike share systems there are and how they compare to regular bike rental. Do these new bike share schemes have any added value?
Do share bikes have a future? blog series:
Drop-off location for share bikes in Amsterdam. Photo © Holland-Cycling.comDrop-off location for share bikes in Amsterdam. Photo ©

Share bikes are bikes that can be used by everyone - free of charge or for a small fee. The bikes are painted in distinctive colours so they can be recognised and are less prone to bike theft. Now share bikes are becoming a common sight in cities around the world. But did you know they are a Dutch invention?

White bikes

The idea of share bikes dates from the late 1960s. In Amsterdam the Provo counterculture movement wanted to introduce two thousand white share bikes to reduce air pollution. The bikes were to be communally owned and used free of charge. It's hard to imagine how that would have worked in a city where bike theft has always been rife. Unsurprisingly, in Amsterdam the plans for white bikes never materialised. However, the idea stuck and the term witte fiets ('white bike') has become synonymous with a share bike.

When in 1974 Hoge Veluwe National Park introduced white bikes for visitors to explore the park, they became a huge success. The park started off with fifty bikes. Now there are 1,800 which can be picked up and dropped off (free of charge) at storage facilities located in several key locations around the National Park. The big difference with the Amsterdam idea is that the white bikes are owned and maintained by the Hoge Veluwe and the bikes have to stay within the grounds of the National Park.

OV-bicycle scheme

OV-bikes are yellow and blue, the colours of Dutch Rail. Photo © Holland-Cycling.comOV-bikes are yellow and blue, the colours of Dutch Rail. Photo ©

In 2003 the OV-bicycle scheme was introduced to encourage commuters to use the train. Basically it is a quick and easy, inexpensive form of bike rental that allows commuters to cycle the last few kilometres from the train station to their work place.

Members of the scheme just pick up a bike, scan their pass and the rental fee is automatically taken off their bank account - eliminating the tedious paperwork of regular bike rental. 

The OV-bicycle has proven to be a huge success. The scheme started off at 70 main train stations. Now there are 300 locations around Holland where you can rent an OV-bike. Interestingly, the OV-bike is not only popular for the short commute for which it was intended, but it is also regularly used for longer day trips and weekend outings.

Share bikes via App

New technology has made it possible to rent a share bike via an App for exactly as long as you use it. The App shows you where you can find a bike. You open the electronic lock by scanning a QR code with your smartphone and off you go. After reaching your destination, you lock the bike via the App and the rental fee is paid automatically.

Share bike schemes via an App offer more flexibility than the OV-bicycle scheme which only caters for journeys from the station and back. Some companies work with fixed drop-off points where users can pick up or leave the share bike (Hello-Bike, Donkey Republic). Others offer a 'free floating' share system that allows users to pick up and drop off the share bikes wherever they want, as long as it is parked where it is legally allowed (oBike, Dropbyke, FlickBike).

As the share bikes are not taken back to a depot where they can be checked regularly, the bikes need to be extremely basic and low maintenance. Many have solid tyres which makes cycling up Holland's steep bridges hard going. There have also been complaints that some of the Chinese models of bike are too small for the average Dutch cyclist.

The schemes are only available in a few Dutch cities, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. At the moment the market is constantly changing. If you want to know more about which bike share company operates where and what their conditions are, you need to check out the websites of the different companies.

Types of bike share schemes

Regular bike rental
  • Widely available all over Holland, especially in popular tourist locations
  • Any type of bike - check out beforehand whether the bike rental company has the type of bike you want!
  • Reservation possible
  • Bike usually has to be returned to the pick-up location
  • No subscription
  • Identification and deposit required
  • Rental fee depends on type of bike and how long you rent it
  • Insurance for damage and theft often included in rental fee
  • Helmets, child seats, bicycle bags and other accessories sometimes available
  • Bike is checked and adapted to your needs before you leave
OV-bicycle scheme
  • Available at 300 locations around Holland, mainly train stations
  • Standard Dutch bike without gears, easy to adjust
  • Reservation not possible, availability can be checked via App
  • Bike can in some cases be returned at a different location for an additional fee
  • Free subscription required
  • No identification or deposit
  • Rental fee € 3,85 per 24 hrs (with a maximum of 72 hrs)
  • Rental fee is automatically taken off your IBAN bank account
Share bike with fixed drop-off location
  • Available only in a few Dutch cities, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague
  • Basic bike
  • Bike has to be picked up and returned at one of the fixed drop-off locations
  • Rental process is done via App
  • Terms and conditions vary per company
'Free floating' share bikes
  • Available only in a few Dutch cities, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague
  • Basic bike
  • Bike can be picked up and dropped off wherever you want, as long as it's legal
  • Rental process is done via App
  • Terms and conditions vary per company

Rental bike vs share bike

So how do share bikes compare to regular rental bikes? Do they have any added value? Basically share bikes are a simplified form of bike rental. Their main selling point is that the share bike is a quick and easy form of bike rental that allows you to rent a bike for just as long as you need it and pay accordingly.

What is new, is that share bikes via an App offer more flexibility where you can pick up and drop off your bike. The downside is a limited service: the one-size-fits-all bikes are very basic - some say too basic! - and only intended for short rides in the city. If this is what you’re looking for, share bikes are a good alternative to regular bike rental.

If you're a more ambitious cyclist and want to cover longer distances - probably for one of our day trips or a multi-day cycling holiday - you are better off with a regular rental bike. You can choose the type of bike you need and the quality is likely to be much better. And if you need accessories such as child seats, helmets and bicycle bags, this is an option only regular bike rental companies offer.

In part 2 of the series 'Do share bikes have a future?' we will look at how share bikes have been received by regular bike rental companies and city councils.