One of the consequences of being the world’s most cycle friendly country is a lot of discarded bikes. In the Netherlands around a million bikes end up on the scrapheap or left to rust where they broke down every year; so many that municipal authorities often don’t know what to do with them. Some are sold back to individuals and businesses, but many are in such poor condition that no one is interested. Roetz-Bikes founders Mark Groot Wassink and Tiemen ter Hoeven saw a tragic waste of resources and classic frames, and an opportunity to do something about it.
In just over three years, Roetz-Bikes have given many of these bikes a new destination. Components are stripped from the discarded bikes and up-cycled, with for instance chain-links going to a bag maker and old leather saddles transformed into shoes. The frame and forks become the skeleton of a new Roetz-Bike.
The entrepreneurs behind Roetz-Bikes both worked at a large consulting firm. There they found that they couldn’t make a difference on issues that they found important. Mark explains, “We wanted to do something tangible. It could have been in another industry, but the bike is so obvious. It involves large numbers and the material is already in the Netherlands. We are more than a nice bike company. We want to show that what we do is an effective business model.”
Where possible we use recycled materials– extras include a transport crate made from Amsterdam city wood and dress guards and a saddlebag made from recycled industrial conveyor belts. Other materials are consciously sourced.
“As resources become increasingly scarce it is important that bicycle producers consider the recycling of their products as part of the design process.” says Mark. “The handles of the Roetz-Bikes are made of cork and the mudguards are birch wood. I feel responsible for my product: where it comes from, how it’s made.”
“Our impact on the environment is significantly lower than in the production of a new bicycle. About sixty percent of the environmental impact of the production of bikes arises from the use of aluminium, in particular for the frame. We save that emission, because we only use discarded steel frames. But of course we also use energy to clean our frames.”
“By making beautiful products, we want to change perceptions. The idea of reusing should be the norm, not the exception.”
Mark Groot Wassink, co-founder, Roetz-Bikes
Each bike is proudly made by hand in their workshop in Cruquius, just North of Amsterdam. The Roetz-Bikes team of ‘makers’ consists of men who for one reason or another have had difficulty accessing the job market.
“The builders are often best served by structure and repetition, while no bike with us is completely alike,” says Mark. “By working with them, we are continually involved in the bicycles’ production. It is very inspiring.
“We think it is awesome to work with these men. They all have valuable talents. They are strong, calm (or just the opposite), strong-minded, honest or have an exceptional eye for detail. All features which are useful in making a stylish bike from something that was first seen as scrap metal.”
Roetz-Bikes also provides bicycles for a number of companies, including Unilever, Schiphol Airport and Triodos Bank – which now accounts for around a third of their business. A collaboration with NS, the Dutch national railway operator, demonstrates the potential of getting business to reconsider the way it views assets at the end of their working life. NS operate a huge fleet of rental bikes and are working with Roetz-Bikes to refurbish bikes which would otherwise have been scrapped. Around a thousand NS bikes are restored by Roetz each year, using 70% recycled parts, showing large companies that depreciated products can still be of value.
“By making beautiful products, we want to change perceptions.” says Mark. “The idea of reusing should be the norm, not the exception.”
photography: Roetz-Bikes/Bas Schuurman
Roetz-Bikes is a social enterprise with a creative and sustainable approach to the Netherlands’ scrap bicycle problem. Old steel frames are stripped down and refurbished into chic city bikes, built with recycled and sustainably sourced materials. Last year Roetz Bikes won the Triodos Heart Prize, a competition from Triodos Bank’s Dutch branch which awards innovative and inspiring sustainable entrepreneurs.
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