There wasn’t any particular moment when it became clear to him. It was more of a growth process, that’s how Johannes Alderse Baas explains the phenomenon. You slowly become aware that bicycles are actually being made to be ditched as soon as possible. So, why not manufacture a bicycle from circular material? Plastic, for example. And that’s how DutchFiets came into being. A factory in the Dutch town of Woudenberg that makes plastic bicycles. Bicycles that you can bring back to DutchFiets at the end of their economic cycle of life. In order to be recycled again.
How did you come up with the idea of a plastic bike?
“During my mechanical engineering studies, I already had the idea to make bicycles following the circular principle. I saw how you can buy bicycles at DIY stores for a small amount of money. But those are bikes that you can throw away a year later, as it were. So they are actually being made to be dumped. That’s a huge waste of resources. And don’t forget to factor in the environmental impact of transport to Europe from these Asian manufacturing countries.
I wanted to design a bicycle that fits in with the circular economy. At first, I wanted to use used bicycles for that. These turned out not to be very suitable in practice. Then the idea of using plastic came up. You can recycle plastics without expending too much energy. And if you also ask for a deposit, you know for sure that the bicycle will be returned. Because nobody just throws away €100.”
What makes your product stand out?
“Actually, we are unique when it comes to our bicycle made of plastic. More concept bikes and prototypes have been built. But there has never before been a bike made of plastic that you could actually buy. It’s quite difficult to build something like that. You have to deal with all kinds of safety aspects. It all has to be very sturdy, without it becoming too heavy either.”
What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome?
“We started out using polyethylene which we were to make frames and wheels out of. The challenge is that it has to be very strong in order to comply with all of the European safety regulations. Steel is much stronger, so you have to look at the mechanical properties in a completely different way. Luckily, I did get a lot of cooperation in that first phase.
I was able to design an initial prototype with that help. Using the money that came in from the crowdfunding campaign, I was then able to further develop the prototype. Part of the bike is also made of other metals. Like the front fork and the bearings for example. All of that had to be specially designed for this bike. However, safety is an issue that keeps on cropping up. Even with the new 3.0 model. There are also customers who specifically ask for this one. Customers from the corporate segment of the market. That’s very important to us, because it’s an extra source of income in addition to the crowdfunding, which enables us to further develop the product.”
What are you especially proud of?
“I was particularly proud when those people who had participated in the crowdfunding came to us to pick up their ordered bikes. The seventy bikes were all standing there. That was incredibly cool.””
What’s going to happen at the company over the coming year?
“We are continuing to work on further developing the bicycle. I have now outsourced the design of the next generation to a bicycle designer. I am not a designer. We are making grateful use of the feedback that we receive from our customers. Those reactions have also led to generation 2.0. We also plan to keep on investing in new generations thanks to the corporate segment of the market. For example, our bike is ideal for hotels. The bike is low maintenance and does not rust.”
Where will the company be 5 years from now?
“In 5 years’ time, the bicycle will be more advanced. Then there will be even more parts made entirely of plastic. The bike therefore has low-maintenance bearings which no longer need to be oiled. We use materials such as old bottle tops and other plastics for the assembly, which means that the bike really is made entirely from recycled materials.”
What tips do you have for other starters?
“Make the most of your network. That’s what I did. It’s only with the help of others that I have been able to accomplish this. Of course, at first you think you know it all yourself. But everything goes three times faster thanks to the help of others. As the Dutch saying goes’: Als je niet kunt delen, kun je niet vermenigvuldigen'( íf you can’t divide, you can’t multiply).”