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“Some are unfamiliar with the concept of a coaster brake”

“Some are unfamiliar with the concept of a coaster brake”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

(Wo)man at work: Swapper at Swapfiets

Luc Joosten/ 22/ fourth-year student of Medicine/ works on average 100 hours per month/ earning €10.59 net per hour

“Luc is still out doing a swap”, says manager Inge Lodewijkx in the Swapfiets shop (Stationsstraat). Doing a swap means exchanging a broken bicycle with the distinctive blue front tyre for a working one. This is part of the service Swapfiets subscribers receive. If anything happens to the bicycle you rent from the company for 12 (student rate) or 15 euros per month, you’re provided with a working one within 24 hours or the bicycle is repaired on the spot. To achieve this, so-called swappers drive around Maastricht with a few bicycles mounted on the roof racks of their cars and repair kits in the boots.

One of those swappers is med student Luc Joosten, who pulls up on the pavement ten minutes later. “That’s one of the advantages: we can park just about anywhere.” After the Observant reporter gets into the car, he taps his work phone. “Everything’s on here. My next appointment is at the Hotel Management School. Almost everyone there rides a Swapfiets bike. The same goes for the Guesthouse.” The subscription, which can be cancelled with one month’s notice, has proved very convenient for exchange students who are only staying in Maastricht for a short time. By now, there are 3300 Swapfiets bicycles in the city.

Joosten does a swap every thirty minutes, he explains while driving to the neighbourhood Limmel. “Appointments are scheduled by the head office. Sometimes there’s time left to go back to the shop or the repair shop, to have a cup of coffee or lend a helping hand. I have a lot of freedom: as long as I do my swaps, it’s fine. I like that. And I enjoy the fact that most of our customers are students as well; it means we immediately have something in common.”

After pulling into the lot behind the Hotel Management School, Joosten calls the customer. They’re on their way. In the meantime, Joosten gets a bicycle off the roof rack. “When you start out as a swapper, the head repairman teaches you how to carry out a number of simple repairs at the repair shop. Like how to replace a broken light, or a flat tyre – I always have a few spare ones lying in the backseat. But I can’t fix broken gears or gear shifters on the spot. In that case, we exchange the bike for a working one.”

In this case, the front rack of the bike has come loose. “How did this happen?” asks Joosten. “A friend borrowed it and gave it back to me like this. I don’t understand how he managed to do it either.” “Yep, that’ll do it”, says Joosten. It generally doesn’t matter how a bike broke down, he explains later. “Only if a customer is truly negligent and goes through multiple bikes in a matter of months we might consider terminating their subscription. The most common problem is an opened or stolen valve. The bikes themselves rarely get stolen, by the way. They’re too easily identifiable. Thieves would have to replace the front tyre and paint over the frame. It’s too much trouble for them.”

His next customer is receiving a bicycle for the very first time. Joosten sets his saddle height for him and explains how the locks work. Each Swapfiets bicycle comes with a wheel lock and a chain lock. “If your bike gets stolen, you pay 40 euros. If it turns out you didn’t use the chain lock, you pay 100 euros. If you can’t hand over a key at all, you have to pay the full price of 350 euros.”

The customer tries out the bicycle, asks Joosten to lower the seat a little more and signs for delivery. Helping new customers sometimes takes Joosten a little longer. “Sometimes international students are a little insecure because they’re not good at cycling. The coaster brake in particular is an unfamiliar concept to them. Not everyone wants help; sometimes I can later tell by the look of their bike they crashed straight away.”

Joosten has two back-to-back shifts today: 7.30 AM to 5.00 PM. He has one last appointment before his break. It’s a simple job; the customer’s key has broken off and Joosten is bringing them a replacement. He enters the location into the navigation system – “just the house number, I know my way around all of Maastricht by now” – and then he’s off again in his little car.

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