Testing a new OV-Fiets

OV-Fiets is the shared bike system of The Netherlands and it is very popular for the last kilometre of a journey from the train station to people’s end destination. Last week the Railways, who operate this system, announced that the growing demand made them decide to expand the fleet (now roughly 8,000 bicycles in 250 rental locations) with 3,000 brand new bicycles over the next three years. The growth is startling. In 2009 600,000 rides were made, but just 5 years later, in 2014, that had more than doubled to 1.5 million rides.

The test team was very helpful and accommodating, they answered all questions the test riders had.

But the Railways will not just buy the same bicycles they have available now. Even though the public is generally very content with the present bikes, the new bicycle has to be better than the old one, that some people called clunky. The Cyclists’ Union was also not entirely happy with it. They said the current bicycle is not suitable for longer distances and it doesn’t fit in the standard bike parking rack.

A display of the six possible new OV-Fiets bicycles.

The railways asked the public to help choose that new bicycle. To determine which suits them best the Railways built a test course right next to Utrecht Central Station (Utrecht is where the Dutch Railways have their headquarters). Last Friday and Saturday everybody was allowed to test ride one or all of the six types of bicycles that made it through the pre-selection to this final election process. A lot of people, from of all kinds of backgrounds and ages, did indeed come to make that test ride, as did I.

“Come and test the OV-Fiets here” the sign reads.

On the national TV news spokesperson from the Dutch Railways, Erik Kroeze, said: “We could have locked some experts in a hall to test them, but ultimately we want our travellers to think the bicycle is convenient. So that is why we said ‘We go outside!’ and here we ask the people ‘Which one is most convenient for you?’.”

Age is no restriction in The Netherlands, not for cycling and also not for testing bicycles.

The bicycles looked quite similar at first. Only minor differences in lights and coat protection could be seen and the rear racks were different, but once you started riding them they turned out to be very different indeed. First thing you noticed was how you got the saddle to the right height. The current system is very unfriendly and requires a lot of force. Most of the new bikes had a much better system. The moment you rode off it was clear that certain bicycles were much heavier than the others. Some felt flimsy, others chunky again. It will be difficult to find one that suits all people. While I was stating one of the bicycles had the perfect distance to the handlebars, a woman right next to me – towering more than 20 centimetres over me – complained she didn’t have enough room for her knees on yes, the same type of bicycle. The reverse was true as well. On one of the bicycles I had trouble to even reach the handlebars, but she must have loved that one.

My video: Testing the new OV-Fiets bicycles.

All of the bicycles had a coaster brake. Hand brakes would require too much maintenance I think. But two of the 6 bikes had gears. Because I am used to pedal back when I shift gears that confused me terribly. I normally have no trouble to change from riding a coaster brake bike to a one with hand-brakes, I do that all the time, but adding shifting gears without being able to pedal back, messed up my ability. When I shifted gears I used the brake unwillingly and when I wanted to stop I squeezed the handlebars where there were no brake levers. I hated that and it would be dangerous in a real traffic situation. The other bicycle had one gear that shifted automatically. I had no idea self-shifting transmission does even exist for bicycles. It had the downside that it just shifted when that bicycle thought you wanted it. A short sprint doesn’t always mean you want to change gears so that was a no from me too. No gears please, keep it simple!

You won’t find pot holes this deep in The Netherlands normally, but it is fun to test if your feet stay dry in these conditions.

The test course had some obstacles that you hope you would normally not see in a real traffic situation but bumps and small high bridges do exist. So it was useful to test how convenient the bike took these hurdles. Racing through the water was great fun of course. And that is what this was also: involving the public in a fun way.

“The OV-Fiets is so popular that stations don’t have them sometimes.” was a headline in this week’s newspaper “Metro”.

The Railways say they will include the findings of this test in their decision-making process. So it will be interesting to see which of these six types of bikes we will see back 3,000 times.

13 thoughts on “Testing a new OV-Fiets

  1. This has to be one of my favourite of your videos, Mark. What a fun idea to get the average person to try the bikes, and what a fun obstacle course they designed. I think it’s great as people of all ages were equally encouraged to try the bikes. Here in Australia they might think of something like this, but it would probably be aimed at young people only. (Maybe I’m wrong about that though.) Thanks for posting this one. 🙂

    PS It also looks very professional! Well done.

  2. Here in Hamilton, Ontario, I rather like the SoBi BikeShare bicycles. See a description here:


    Many of the issues mentioned by Mark are successfully addressed. For example, there is a front basket, but the locking mechanism is on the rear so there is no conflict.

    I am a giant at 203 cm, but the seat height easily adjusts and fits well at its top setting.

    And I LOVE the 4th generation technology that puts the electronics on the bike, not the bike stand. So there is no “dock blocking” and one can return the bike anywhere in the service area. Although if not at an official station, there is a $1 fee. Big deal.

    Further comments are with my review of the bike published at:


    1. Thanks for your remark, and the SoBi bikes do indeed look very good. Very different from most shared bike system bikes: much more ‘normal’. The fact that you can return them anywhere is great. That is one of the worst downsides of OV-fiets. You are always expected to make a return trip, or you pay – I think – 9 euros ‘fine’ for returning it somewhere else.

      1. I think it used to be free of extra cost to pick up and hand in an OV-fiets at different locations within Utrecht. This was a special service offered by the municipality I was told. Unfortunately this is not the case anymore; not sure if the extra cost has risen to 10 euros (that’s what ov-fiets.nl says) or only a fraction of that.

        Although I think it’s fair to charge extra for dropping your bicycle off at a different location, 10 euros is way overpriced. Movements of bicycles due to this should largely cancel out, so the effective amount of bicycles to move is less, and probably mostly within a city. So they’re effectively charging more than 10 euro/bike moved for that!

      2. Are you sure the man said “We could have locked some experts in a hall to test them”, as that suggests he could have locked some people in a prison to test them. Sometimes people who speak and read two or more languages get broken language in those they do not speak on an ordinary basis. Me trying to think in another language will usually mean me failing to use the word that is the best description of what I mean.

        1. Yes that is exactly what he said. And in Dutch it implies that these experts would then only be released again after they fulfilled the task for which they were locked in there.

    2. The SoBikes have an interesting lock system. I would have preferred a chain and wheel lock system like the OF Fiets has now (sometimes they have a thick cable lock, normally that is no problem for a Dutch bicycle but the OV fiets are probably quite valuable on the black market for bike parts. I wonder whether the mechanics have their own version of six sided nuts and bolts), but the U lock works OK.

  3. Something completely off topic here: I noticed there are a lot more tourists (many with family) on bycicles touring the Netherlands this year. You know, the hi-viz, helmeted kind, riding quite slow, being overtaken by housewives with full panniers…
    I was wondering if your excellent blog and videos may have something to do with expanding this market, or with creating a desire to go and see for themselves?

  4. Has there been any desire for the bikes to have small baskets, similar to US bike share bikes, or are people generally okay with strapping belongings to the rear rack?

    1. As you can see everybody was testing with bags on the handlebars and on the rear rack. People really had a lot to say about those racks too. A basket would make it even less easy to fit in a standard bike parking rack, so that is really no option.

  5. I wonder if the too big / too small issue could be solved with a Workcycles Gr8 geometry. We’ve had people of all shapes and sizes ride ours and get consistent compliments on how comfortable they are.

    1. That newspaper cuttout (before you translated it) reminded of the similarities and differences between Dutch and English. I so wish I was in Centrum Utrecht (is my imitation of Dutch not grammatically correct) to see how well they rode. At a bike store before getting the bike I own now they did not even allow me to effectively test ride my bicycle, no person would buy a car without test driving (and I do not mean driving in the space taken up by about 10 car parking spaces) it first.

      On a happier note, I test rode the new Calgary cycle track network. Pros-decently separated, frequent bollards and sometimes a curb, especially near intersections, it has a lot of separated signal stages for the turning traffic and the bicycles, and do have a safer (even if not the safest) way of intersection design and turning, though I would have liked to see a protected intersection or possibly simultaneous green. It was also much more of a network (though not nearly as dense as a Dutch network). The fact it was a trial explains the material of separation, but not really anything else. It was narrow, probably 2.8-3.2 metres wide, not very wide separation and a protected intersection is not hard to trial, try getting those rubber curbs you might see in a North American parking lot to help you not crash into the curb at a petrol station, and bolt them down. Add some bike signals, painted markings and protected prohibited signal staging, and boom, you have a protected intersection. For US installations, I even checked with the FHWA to see if a protected intersection is possibly within current regulations. It is.

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