British foldable bike maker plans to launch subscription service next month as the cycling boom continues

Key Points
  • Brompton is planning to launch a subscription to the general public next month. 
  • It will cost £30 ($39) a month one a 12 month contract, or £42 a month on a rolling contract. 
  • The 44-year-old company is going head-to-head with start-ups like Buzzbike, Hurrecane, and Dance. 

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British folding bike maker Brompton is planning to launch a subscription service next month as part of an effort to get more people using its bikes. 

The London-based firm, which has sold around 500,000 bikes worldwide, will charge subscribers £30 ($39) a month if they sign up to a 12 month contract, or £42 a month if they opt for a rolling monthly contract. In return, they get to hold onto a £1,000 Brompton M3L bike, insurance, and access to a free repair service. 

Brompton Bike Hire Managing Director Julian Scriven told CNBC that "demand for bikes has gone ballistic" during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Brompton subscription offering will launch in the U.K. in September but Scriven said that he would like to launch in Germany and the U.S. next.  

"I have a strong affection for Germany," said Scriven on a phone call Tuesday. "I think it's often a much overlooked market for cycling but it's incredibly strong. And then if I wanted to take on the ultimate challenge, America has a lot of untapped potential."

Brompton, now 44-years-old and with approximately 400 staff, already has a bike hire scheme that allows people to pay a one-off fee of £6.50 to hire a bike for a day. This falls to £3.50 a day if they pay a £25 annual fee.

By comparison, the Brompton subscription service will work out at around £1 a day. Users must register online and Brompton said subscribers can pick up a bike from any Brompton hub in the U.K. and keep it for as long as they need.

Unlike the Brompton bike hire scheme, there's no fancy app for the subscription service. Users must sign up online and contact Brompton directly if they wish to change their membership or get a repair. 

Scriven said the coronavirus pandemic has been changing how long people hire bikes for. Before the pandemic, people would typically hire bikes for three to four days consecutively but recently some users have been keeping the bikes for over 30 days. 

The idea for the Brompton subscription service was "formulated a year ago" but it "really crystallized" when Brompton started to react to the Covid-19 crisis, Scriven said. "I wish we could have got it out a bit quicker," he added. 

Scriven has set himself what he calls a "modest target" of getting around 1,000 people signed up as subscribers within six months of the service going live and he's expecting many of them will be young riders.  

"The millennial generation and Gen X are very much into not having ownership of stuff," he said, adding that they're happy to rent a home or share an office. Other subscription services like Netflix, Spotify, and HelloFresh are also popular with this age group.  

E-bike push?

Brompton isn't the first company to launch a bike subscription service.

Founded in 2016, Buzzbike charges Londoners £29.99 a month for access to its bikes, while Hurrecane claims to offer the only e-bike subscription service in the U.K., with plans ranging from £40 to £60 a month. 

At the end of July, Buzzbike raised £1.7 million from the heir of Adidas and other investors to fuel its growth. 

"Covid is driving seismic shifts in the way people move around cities," said Tom Hares, CEO and co-founder of Buzzbike said at the time. 

"Over the last few weeks, we've seen a record-breaking level of interest in our service," he added. "Our latest investment round will give us the means to invest into technology, product development, key hires and capability to scale to the demand we're witnessing."

Over in Berlin, the founders of music streaming service Soundcloud launched an e-bike subscription start-up called Dance last month with subscriptions costing 59 euros a month. 

Dance cofounders (L-R): Christian Springub, Eric Quidenus-Wahlforss, and Alexander Ljung.

Brompton also makes e-bikes but Scriven said these will not initially be available through the subscription service, despite knowing the demand is there. 

"The number one question in testing has been will you be offering Brompton Electric on the subscription product?" he said. 

Scriven said he wants to be sure Brompton has got the model right before introducing Brompton's electric bike, which is a "more complex" and more expensive product.