VanMoof Plans to Sell a High-Speed e-Bike Whether Cities are Ready or Not
(Bloomberg) -- Dutch e-bike maker VanMoof will begin selling a high-speed model, called the V, by the end of next year, the company said Tuesday. The V will have a top speed of 31 mph in the U.S. and a price tag of about $3,600, according to the announcement. “We see a big customer group that’s very keen to go faster and go much further on the e-bike than before,” says VanMoof co-founder and chief executive officer Ties Carlier, who started the company in 2009 with his older brother, Taco. In September, VanMoof announced that it had raised $128 million, making it one of the most-funded e-bike startups in the world.
VanMoof’s high-design bikes have proved popular with city commuters. Faster e-bikes, in Carlier’s view, are the obvious next step in the evolution of urban transportation. Yet the boom in cycling in U.S. and European cities—driven by the pandemic and climate-change imperatives—has brought renewed attention to how cars, pedestrians and a proliferating array of small, electric two-wheelers can safely share roads. VanMoof has decided not to wait around for these arguments to play out and is introducing the V to try to push them toward a fast, flexible, non-car conclusion. The company is announcing the bike, and beginning to take reservations, a year ahead of production so that it can educate riders and cities and try to persuade them to embrace higher speeds.
Carlier spoke with Hyperdrive on Monday about the decision to introduce the new model, road safety in the brave new world of micromobility and how VanMoof dodged disruptions in the global supply chain. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Why introduce a high-speed bike?
It’s a category that’s not really created yet. It still needs regulations to change, mostly in Europe. Big cities are building new bike lanes, but they’re just bike lanes, so they’re not very suitable for faster speeds. You still have these big car lanes, and then a relatively small bike lane. And you get all these different shapes of micro-mobility, electric most of the time, which is really awesome. Governments should not see it as a problem, but as a huge opportunity. At the moment, it’s a very big hurdle. You have the e-bike rule in the whole of Europe, what’s called a speed pedelec [pedal electric cycle] can go up to 45 kilometers per hour [28mph]. But in the city center, they cannot use bike lanes, they have to go in the normal car lane and follow the exact same rules as a big motorbike or car — you lose the advantage of being on a bicycle. Governments need to change the rules.
How would you like the rules to look?
In Belgium, they did a test where they eased the rules for speed pedelecs — they are allowed to go on the bike lane, but riders have to speed limit themselves, just like in a car. The speed pedelec sales spiked, they went through the roof. That was a really good sign of the effect that regulations have on the adoption of this kind of faster e-bike. We are launching this a year before we actually start production. That is a bit weird in the bicycle industry, especially for an established brand like us. We really want to bring people along this journey with us. It’s not just designing and creating this bike. It’s so important for these bikes to be a real alternative to cars. It’s going to make the bike available for trips up to 30 or 40 kilometers and you will still be faster than anything else and it will be a lot more fun.
Every big change is going to cause a lot of turmoil. People often miss the big picture. It’s the same with adoption of the electric car. You have all these naysayers saying this or that about the carbon footprint of making them. Yes, yes, but look at the bigger picture. We need to go through this to get to a better place. And this is the same. As a company, we have a lot of people against us. We had our advertisement banned in France for being anticar. But we see now it’s a turning point in this discussion. Yes, it’s dangerous on a bike, because there are a lot of cars on the road. The accidents happen when you hit the car. You can also say it’s very dangerous to walk on the road, so we need to ban people who are walking. Or it could be that the actual problem is that there are too many cars and they go too fast. I read the New York Times article this morning and I was just laughing all the way. It’s so normal and so good that this discussion exists.
As you look at the U.S. market, what do you see? There’s fast growth, but adoption is still not on par with most of Europe.
One of the greatest things we see now is that big tech companies are starting to offer bikes to their employees. If you work at Amazon, you can get a free subscription to a VanMoof. And we are working with almost all of the well-known big tech companies in Silicon Valley on similar deals. Employers are really starting to encourage their employees, giving them benefits and free access to bikes. That will also encourage local governments to build better infrastructure. That’s the best sign we have ever seen in the U.S. that this is the beginning of a real revolution.
The bike industry, along with almost everybody else, has experienced major disruption in the supply chain over the past couple years. How has that affected your business?
Almost all other companies that have a lot of supply-chain problems buy off-the-shelf components. We have a different approach. We have 100 people in our R&D department. We engineer every component ourselves. Almost all our suppliers come from the consumer electronics industry or the automotive industry. This was a big advantage in the pandemic, because we didn’t rely on one component supplier, like the rest of the bike industry. We control our whole supply chain. So last year our revenue tripled and this year we will almost triple again.
You currently count your global ridership at 200,000. Do you have a target for how big you can make it?
We think we can be at the 10 million level within five years. It’s a big number, but it’s possible and it should be mostly people who are new to the market. The bike market itself is big enough to sell a million pieces per year, but that’s not what we're really looking at — we’re really trying to create a new category.
You recently finished a round of fundraisng. What is the financing path for getting to 10 million riders?
We probably have to do some more fundraising. We don’t know yet. It’s another fundraising round or it’s an IPO. But it’s not very soon. This is not something we’re focused on. We’re really focused on the product launches.
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