Tech Trends
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Tech Trends

More Bike and Less BS

Dutch tech company VanMoof is on a mission to reinvent urban cycling.

If what we’ve seen at the company’s latest launch in London this week is anything to go by, they might well go some way towards achieving their lofty goals.

People don’t really need to be sold on the advantages of getting on your bike where it comes to urban mobility. Compared to driving, cycling is better for the environment, cheaper, less issues with parking, and any time there is traffic you’re likely to get to your destination sooner than the cars anyway. And unless you really enjoy getting up-close and personal with random strangers every day, commuting on public transport can quickly lose its appeal, even if we forget about price rises, strikes and random delays.

Yet there are also some issues — ranging from minor annoyances to big problems — that put some folks off cycling too. Exercise is great, but arriving to work all sweaty can be a problem if you’ve got a meeting first thing, or if your employer doesn’t offer proper shower and changing facilities, for example. Then there’s the issue of where to store your bike safely so it doesn’t get stolen, and safety and maintenance concerns.

That’s why brothers Taco and Ties Carlier started VanMoof back in 2009. To solve all the problems that were stopping ordinary folk from using bikes as their primary city mode of transport, just as people do in their native Amsterdam.

From the start the remit was to be different from any other bike company out there. They avoided hiring people from the industry because they might be reluctant to break the rules and innovate, and they decided that they would make a premium, cool — yet affordable — product that they would sell directly to consumers, building a community of fans. Think Tesla, but with fewer wheels.

“ To compete at that level, we had to make everything better, faster, simpler, and more convenient. We’ve seen similar business models in the tech industry, but for the 100-year-old bike industry, this is pretty disruptive,” says VanMoof Co-founder Ties Carlier. “We’ve changed everything from design, to production, to the entire consumer experience. We strive to invest as much as possible into the product, and then get it directly to the rider — more bike, less BS.”

If anything shows that there was definitely a gap in the market for that, is the fact that when the VanMoof’s Electrified S2 & X2 became available for pre-order, 6000 people signed up without ever having seen it. That makes it the most successful pre-order launch in cycling history at over €15m so far. That’s certainly impressive, but not really that surprising if you consider how the e-bike market is booming, with global sales predicted to grow by over 60% to $8.5 billion by 2025.

In the years that followed, VanMoof has indeed built that loyal following (and you know you’re at the cool kids’ table when you get David Beckham to take a ride on your bike) with stylish design as well as a some deliciously geeky features to go alongside inherently practical ones. I particularly enjoyed the demo of the alarm system, which features an animated skull so full of malevolent personality you’ll be tempted to name it (at least I would. Skeletor, anyone?)

But even if you’re not down with your pop culture 80s references and literally have trouble telling one end of a bike from another, you’ll still probably like the seamless, idiot-proof and utterly intuitive features of the VanMoof bikes. For example, the bike connects to your phone via an app and instantly recognizes when you approach it, unlocking itself without any need for you to rummage in your bag for keys or struggle with a padlock.

And although there are plenty of existing features to delight current users, there are also enticing possibilities that spring to mind for future iterations, such as integration with maps and navigation apps (as someone with no sense of direction, I can tell you that a display which indicated which way I should turn to reach my destination would be a godsend) and perhaps the ability to personalize the sound of the bell, much as you would a ringtone. In fact, I believe I would probably have mine set to this “get out of the bike lane” tune by an anonymous cycling hero that went viral a while back…

So let’s delve into the tasty features of the Electrified S2 and X2:

  • Intelligent Motor — Smart, powerful integrated front hub motor offering pedal assist up to 32km on demand via the boost button (in US mode; EU mode restricts to 25km/h in line with EU regulations)
  • Powerful battery — Capacity increases by over 20% to VanMoof Li-ON, 36V, integrated LG cells, removable for servicing.
  • Turbo boost — Press the button on the handlebar for on-demand acceleration, getting you up hills and away from crowds at the flash of a green traffic light.
  • Quick charge — Empty to full in just 4 hours. Charges to 50% in under 80 minutes.
  • Stealth lock — A keyless integrated module that immobilizes the bike and auto-activates the theft defense with a single kick. A world first, designed and produced by VanMoof.
  • Ultimate Theft Defense — When tampered with, the bike responds with three phases of alarm sounds and flashing lights, telling would-be thieves this bike is too dangerous to steal.
  • Rider Recognition — Secure Bluetooth technology allows the bike to respond when the owner is near, automatically unlocking and disarming the Theft Defense system.
  • Smart Cartridge — The brains of the bike are tucked into a removable (and replaceable) cylinder, so buying online is a truly worry-free option.
  • Matrix Display — Over 160 responsive lights bring the frame to life, displaying speed, battery level, and power-assist level.
  • Connected App — Remembers your parking spot, controls the lights, power and theft defense settings. over-the-air updates mean the bike gets smarter over time.
  • New Frame Design — VanMoof’s iconic front and rear lights have evolved to fit seamlessly into the re-engineered frame, which houses more tech and power in a sleek new body.
  • Tokyo-inspired X Frame — Originally a Japan exclusive, the feisty unisex X-frame is now available worldwide, suited to all riders between 155 and 200 cm

Having seen the strong trend towards smart mobility in places like Holland, I don’t find it surprising that this has been created by a Dutch company. What I do find encouraging is how it’s resonated all over the world already, with VanMoof opening brand shops not only in Amsterdam, but also in London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, New York, Taipei and San Francisco.

You can still reserve the VanMoof Electrified S2 & X2 at vanmoof.com for £100, with a current delivery window of Dec-Jan (just in time for those new year resolutions and rail fare increases). Early bird riders will enjoy an £800 discount on the list price of £3,198, paying the balance of £2,398 before the bike ships. And although that does sound like a lot of money, compared to a car or high-end bike it’s actually pretty reasonable. And as someone who used to commute by train, I can attest to the fact that it is significantly cheaper than a yearly season ticket from some popular London commuter destinations, so I can see this taking off in a really big way. You heard it here first.

Alice Bonasio is a VR Consultant and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow @alicebonasio and @techtrends_tech on Twitter.

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Alice Bonasio

Alice Bonasio

Technology writer for FastCo, Quartz, The Next Web, Ars Technica, Wired + more. Consultant specializing in VR #MixedReality and Strategic Communications

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