Up Cycles: a fun way to explore the city
Megan23 Feb, 2022
Set against the backdrop of the Atlantic Seaboard, drop-and-go bicycle rental company, Up Cycles, provides adventurers with a joyful way to explore the Mother City. On a hot summer’s day, their fleet of bright orange bicycles can be spotted along the Sea Point Promenade.
After completing a bike tour in Bangkok, co-owner Jared Chaitowitz was inspired to start Up Cycles. The cycling enthusiast and his business partner launched the business with only five bicycles. Ten years later, Up Cycles has become a favourite amongst locals and tourists alike.
We caught up with Jared to learn more about his business journey, and the challenges he faced in providing a unique adventure for explorers of the mother city.
What were some of the critical things you had to consider when launching your business?
The most important thing was finding the right locations for people to rent our bikes from. We needed somewhere our customers could enjoy a safe, scenic, accessible and pleasurable joyride. We also needed to find the right bikes.
We wanted our bikes to be unique, eye-catching, and appropriate for the kind of gentle leisure ride we wanted to sell. They also needed to be relatively easy to maintain. We also wanted to make our service affordable, and reach as diverse and inclusive a customer base as possible.
Up Cycles is stationed in Sea Point, Camps Bay and at the V&A Waterfront Silo 5. How did you decide on these locations?
We wanted to keep our business local, in an area we were familiar with and that was close to home. We started at the Sea Point Pavilion because it has direct access to the safest place for casual cyclists to ride on the Atlantic Seaboard – the Sea Point Promenade, which also happens to be an extremely beautiful place to ride a bike. From there, the idea was to make a kind of network, loosely based on bike share schemes abroad, that connected popular locations along the Atlantic Seaboard by bike. It was only logical to include the beach and the Waterfront as part of the network after that.
Up Cycles turns ten this year. How has the business evolved over the years?
It’s evolved a lot! It was just my business partner and me, to begin with. We did everything ourselves, from renting to maintaining the bikes. We only had five to start with!
Over time, our fleet has grown to around 300 bikes. Our staff complement has grown too. We now employ about 20 full-time employees. We also have a range of different styles of bikes for different types of rides.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?
There have been several challenges over the years. We’ve survived the water shortage in Cape Town, a recession, the hard Covid-19 lockdown and the travel restrictions.
Through it all, we’ve been fortunate to retain the support of our local customer base. And hard work and perseverance have ultimately allowed us to keep going. We also could not have made it without the dedication of our staff, who have helped us survive whatever challenges we’ve faced.
You have a very enthusiastic customer base. What have you done to ensure that your customers have a great experience using your bicycles?
To be honest, the beautiful natural surroundings are the real star of the show. The Atlantic Seaboard is simply a stunning place to cycle. We do our best to maintain our bikes, and our staff are always super friendly and helpful. Those factors, together with our pocket-friendly prices, seem to resonate with our customers.
It’s also very important for us to be as inclusive as possible. The Atlantic Seaboard can be an exclusive place, but we want everyone to know they are welcome and appreciated as Up Cycles customers. We try to put that across in how we represent ourselves to the world.
You’re a big advocate for a bicycle-friendly city. Why is this so important to you and your business?
One of our founding principles was bicycle advocacy. Our goal is to help create new bike riders for the city, one rental at a time so that one day there will be a critical mass of urban cyclists who make riding bikes to get around a part of their daily lives. The hope is that if there are enough bike riders, the government will have to cater to them with a network of safe, separated bike lanes.
The reasons we want this for the city are manifold. Bikes are affordable, so they can save people a lot of money if they are used for getting around. As a result of apartheid spatial planning, some South Africans spend too much of their income just to get to work every day. Bicycle infrastructure can help in addressing inequality.
It’s also healthy to ride a bike. More people riding to get around is excellent for public health and has genuinely positive economic impacts because fewer people are sick if they are fit from riding.
Another very important reason to advocate for urban cycling is the environment. More people riding means fewer people burning fossil fuels in cars, which every city should aim for to mitigate the disastrous impact of climate breakdown.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned whilst running Up Cycles?
We’ve learned to expect the unexpected! Sometimes bicycles will get punctures, sometimes it will rain, and sometimes your employees will get sick. A small business is never smooth sailing, and when things get turbulent, the only option is to try and remain calm and unflustered.
Why did you choose to incorporate SnapScan into your business?
When we first started using SnapScan, it was mainly just to have an additional payment option for our customers. It’s become a more important payment method for us now because we decided to become a cash-free business during the pandemic. Most people have smartphones these days, so it just makes sense.
What’s next for Up Cycles?
Who knows exactly what the future holds for Up Cycles? The last two years have been all about survival. For now, our only goal is to carry on providing the same much-loved service we have been. If we can keep making people happy when they ride our bikes, we’ll be very satisfied!
Interested in exploring the Mother City on two wheels? Head to Camps Bay, the Sea Point Promenade and the V&A Waterfront Silo No.5 to embark on your own two-wheeled adventure.
If you’d like to share your business’ SnapScan story with us, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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