E-bikes make urban cycling more practical and accessible, but they aren’t exactly sexy. In New York City, they’re synonymous with restaurant deliverymen, and in some cases are illegal. In Europe, for many years, they’d mostly been used by the elderly.
The Vanmoof Electrified, made by a Dutch cycling company that focuses solely on making bikes for urban commuters, aims to change all of that with a sleek and intelligent design that gives the e-bike a practical and visual facelift. Using innovations from the auto industry, including fully-integrated powerful LED lights, anti-theft GPS tracking, and a simple fob key, the bike feels like a joy to ride–a far cry from the clunky models that many associate with e-bike technology.
“E-bikes are the future, but not the way they’ve been designed so far. We really believe we’ve managed to create a product that attracts a whole different target group,” says Vanmoof’s marketing director Niels Bark.
The company is already known for making extremely simple bikes for a city commuter. Its other bikes include interesting features like a heavy-duty lock that hides away inside the bike. The company also focuses on crowdsourcing early feedback from users. With the Electrified, it has had more than 100 people in cities around the world become early testers since last Fall.
As Vanmoof gets ready to start shipping the bike this summer (it’s available for pre-sale now), I test rode the Electrified at Rolling Orange Bikes, a Dutch cycling shop in Brooklyn and one of Vanmoof’s 350 dealers around the world. (The shop owner, Marc van der Aart, reassured me that the Vanmoof is legal to ride in New York, since it only uses pedal-assist technology–only e-bikes that are fully motorized are illegal).
The first unusual feature is that you don’t notice it’s an e-bike at all, as van der Aart points out to me. There are no visible cables. The motor and battery pack are nicely hidden with the frame of the bike, in the top bar. To start the bike, I used the clicker and a small unobtrusive touch-screen panel lit up on the frame just under the handle bars. Unlike other e-bikes with complicated options and many gears, here there are only two options–100% power assist, and 50% power assist–plus a battery charge indicator.
The ride on Brooklyn’s streets was as smooth as could be, considering the enormous pot holes left by the unusually harsh winter this year. Like most cyclists in New York City and throughout the U.S.–where e-bikes have not really caught on like they have in Asia and Europe–I had never ridden an e-bike before. The Vanmoof Electrified is designed to be responsive, so the motor gives an appropriate boost tuned to how hard the rider is pedaling, based on sensor feedback from the bike’s on-board computer. I could keep up with the slow-moving cars with ease. That said, I might be able to do nearly the same on a regular bike–it would just take more effort.
The coolest and most unique feature of the Vanmoof Electrified is the GPS tracking system. The company worked with Vodafone to integrate GPS into the bike. A system can track the bike if it gets stolen or if you simply forget where you parked it. One early tester in Florida actually had his Vanmoof stolen and recovered undamaged by the West Palm Beach police department using the GPS system. It’s a great idea, though thieves could probably figure out how to work around it if such systems become common.
At $2,998, the price for the Vanmoof is steep and certainly won’t be in reach for everyone. I live on the third-floor of an apartment building, and though Vanmoof used a smaller battery so that the bike is surprisingly light, I still wouldn’t make it up two flights to charge it in my wall outlet. Still, for those who can afford it, it would be a great option for riders who want to extend their biking range in New York City or even replace their car.
After all, as in most large cities, one major limitation for New York cyclists is distance. A 15-mile bike ride to do a quick errand on the other side of town isn’t always an option. And in the middle of summer? It’s a sweaty mess. The range of the battery is 30 to 60 kilometers (19 to 37 miles), and it still gives a smooth ride as a regular bike once the battery dies.
“There are a lot of people who would like to go cycling to work, but the distance is a little too far. You can basically use it as a car in a city,” says Bark.