Every time you think of the words ‘electric bike’ you probably think of something unattractive, with a huge bulky battery. E-bikes, or electric bikes, have traditionally been heavy, ugly, overpriced or all three of these things.
Amsterdam-based VanMoof plans to change that with its new ‘Electrified S’ bike, which goes on sale next week. It’s a smart, internet-connected electric bike that’s completely unassuming: if you saw it on the street you’d have no idea it’s got a motor onboard.
The Electrified S is a follow-up to its first stab at an electric bike in 2014 that did its best to hide the electronic bits – most of the bulk was hidden away and that version won design awards. This new model takes it to the next level.
This version takes a 250W electric motor and battery that’s good for up to 75 miles, puts it in a normal, unassuming bike frame at just 40 pounds. When it’s flat, it’s just plug and play to charge, which takes 6 hours from empty.
There’s a touch screen flush with the bike’s body at the top for controlling speed, locking up or getting a boost, but it gets even better when paired with a phone.
When you open up the VanMoof app on your iOS or Android device you can control the bike entirely without wires. With the bike’s built-in 3G chip you can lock up, turn the lights on or adjust the speed settings right from your phone.
It uses a combination of Bluetooth and internet-connectivity to do the magic, which happens in effectively real-time, when we tried the bike. There’s some magic in being able to use your phone to lock the bike rather than mess around with a set of keys.
Even better, it’s got GPS onboard as well. The app shows where the bike is at any given time, and ‘theft tracking’ can be enabled if it’s stolen.
The company’s founder, Taco Carlier, told us that of the few bikes that have been stolen since it started prototyping the functionality, they’ve all been recovered in co-operation with the police.
That’s important when you consider the investment you’d make buying an Electrified S: it’ll set you back a whopping €2,998.
We test drove the bike in Amsterdam, where the streets are relatively flat – it offers a smooth, silent ride, which dispelled my preconceived ideas about what it’d be like to ride an electric bike. It’s like getting a little push as you go, and it won’t go unless you’re moving the pedals.
The bike really comes into its own, however, for hilly cities or longer commutes, like in San Francisco or Brooklyn, where cycling can be more of a hassle.
VanMoof admits that electric bikes have so far only appealed to baby boomers, but the company hopes that by building a beautiful, smart and attractive bike it can convince everyone that cycling is a better option.
When I asked Carlier, who’s an industrial designer by trade, why nobody else had built a desireable electric bike yet, he told me that the trouble is most manufacturers buy the parts out of a catalogue and throw them together to create a bike.
Instead of doing that, VanMoof works with companies to design its own custom parts. The extra-bright lights that fit inside the frame, for example, were designed and built as part of a partnership with Philips.
The company is coy about its plans for the future of the bike, which has software that can be upgraded over a USB connection.
Carlier envisions a future where a company like Google, which has thousands of bikes across its Mountain View campus, could buy smart bikes instead.
If it did that, it could track the location of the bikes and allow only employees to unlock them on demand from a bike sharing app.
Right now, the connectivity comes as part of the bike purchase, thanks to partnerships in the cities the bikes are being sold in. In the short term won’t need to get a SIM card or subscribe for service – it just works.
Connecting inanimate objects to the internet comes with other considerations too, like what happens when the battery’s empty. Can I still unlock my bike? Yes, as it turns out, the company thought of that: there’s a backup battery that’ll keep the smarts going for weeks even if the main charge is dead.
The Electrified S really is a bike from the future, and the only thing that scares me away is the price tag.
In places that it’s not realistic to cycle normally, however, that’s a small price to pay to permanently free yourself from crowded subways or a gridlocked morning commute – and the internet-connected goodness is a sweetener.
Pre-orders of the Electrified S will be available from next week in VanMoof’s Amsterdam, Berlin, Taipei and Brooklyn stores, as well as online.
The bikes will start shipping in June – if you get in the first 200 orders it’s discounted to €1,998, before rising to €2,998.
Published March 31, 2016 — 12:30 UTC