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The reinvention of urban bike wash: a rocky trail

Updated: May 5, 2023

Season 1 - Mixed experiences after the first bike-wash season in Zurich


For the recreational biker, cleaning and caring for the bike is one of the biggest problems after every ride. While the expensive sports equipment on the trail usually has to relentlessly iron away the bumps , meticulous cleaning is considered a ritual to make up for the hard use. However, the possibilities in the city are limited: It is awkward and takes too long with a bucket and cloth, the "Stützliwösch" damages bearings and suspension elements more than the trail ride itself, and the judgement about cleaning in a bathtub or shower should be left to the reader at this point.


But necessity is the mother of invention. And so the idea of a dedicated bike-wash station in Zurich was quickly born.


Extensive research and tests followed until it was found, the bike wash with the potential for a practical test: easy to operate, low water consumption and quick to install. With this out-of-the-box solution in hand and two interested location partners, nothing stood in the way of a test run. This was the conviction of the motivated founding team - but things turned out differently:


The 2022 biking season was approaching and so the exchange with the responsible authorities was intensified. The cooperation with the authorities was constructive, but it took a lot of patience to get all the signatures and approvals. The support of the sports office and the people in charge of the Saalsporthalle were a great help in finding the right path through the jungle of authorities in Zurich. Soon after, the first bike wash went into operation.


The bike-wash station in the test

In addition to a test run at the Saalsporthalle, the bike-wash station also went into operation at the guarded bike station in Wetzikon. In the mountain bike community, the new offer of the bike-wash station quickly made a name for itself and the first bikes were soon polished to a high shine. A great feeling and reward for the efforts made so far. It also quickly became clear that, contrary to conservative expectations, demand at the Zurich location was significantly higher than planned.


Bike wash market testing
The first bike wash station

But then something unexpected happened. After an excellent start, the customers stayed away. There were technical problems. Bikers were disappointed by the poor performance of the bike wash - too little water, too little pressure. Often no water was pumped through the system at all and customers had to go home with a sudsy bike. This was followed by numerous on-site inspections, ad hoc operations at weekends to get the system up and running again in a makeshift manner, and finally the replacement of individual components of the system, as there were obviously unexpected technical problems in the overall construction, which could never be completely resolved until the end. The system was repeatedly shut down to be repaired, which meant that the user flows were always interrupted.


The reviews and feedback from the disgruntled bikers were merciless and the frustration about the poor cleaning result was acknowledged with a one-star rating on Google Maps. In particular, the low amount of water and the low pressure of the rented equipment was much criticised. Instead of applause, there were complaints and anger. This matter was not even relieved by trustworthy e-mail support with response times of a few hours or the immediate refund of the charged costs for the unsatisfactory bike wash.


It must go on:

A sobering moment that challenged the project team morally. The basic idea was good and a lot of experience could be gained. But there had to be a better technical solution for this widespread need of bike washing.


Feedback from critical users was quickly gathered and analysed. "A system had to be found that could clean the bike efficiently and with good results without damaging the expensive bike," says station b CEO, Johannes Weiss. It is particularly noticeable that the Zurich bike community has very different needs in terms of cleaning quality:


Mountain bikers clean the bike quickly, superficially and pay less attention to possible dirt residues on the down tube. The daily oiling of the chain and suspension elements, on the other hand, falls more into the category of "nice to have" or is done at home. In contrast, road bikes are cleaned down to the last detail, every spoke dedusted and the saddle polished. After all, it is not uncommon for the noble piece to hang above the sofa in the city flat.


Consequently, a bike wash facility should have many options and cleaning tools to make all customers happy: from the "catlick" to the finishing of the showpiece. To be able to offer the necessary flexibility, the specifications were quickly written:

- A nozzle with a higher water flow rate for more thorough cleaning

- A brush for stubborn and dried-on dirt

- The easy accessibility of both sides of the bike

- An intuitive concept for operating the system

- A robust and maintenance-free design to avoid breakdowns


Proven concepts from last season, on the other hand, are not touched: the use of a biodegradable cleaning agent to dissolve dirt remains. This not only keeps the bike clean as on the first day, but also protects the environment.


In addition, the "pay as you use" payment method is kept. Charging by the minute for washing was generally considered fair by customers. For example, cleaning a very dirty bike or a particularly thorough wash costs CHF 8,- per wash. Less demanding customers, on the other hand, save money by using shorter wash cycles.


Conclusion:

All beginnings are difficult - who would say otherwise? But the many positive feedbacks from the community, which there were alongside all the criticism, and the confirmation by a satisfying demand for the new service, which even continues in the cold months, are reason enough to continue. The journey has just begun.



Preparations for a new season:

Highly motivated and with a strengthened team, the preparation for the 2023 bike season is now taking place under high pressure: new location partnerships have been concluded, a new facility concept has been found and the first tests have been planned. The 2023 bike season can come and there are big changes in the pipeline. You will be excited!


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