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“I’m a bit biased because I’m in Amsterdam,” says Job Stehmann, VanMoof’s Chief of Product Design and Technology, “but the demand went crazy everywhere.
“I think at the time, we were in a really good position because we were right in the heat but we had something new to bring to the world and we had our supply chain under control.”
If you haven’t already worked it out, Stehmann is speaking about the start of the coronavirus pandemic and, while the times were seriously challenging for many businesses, the Netherlands-based luxury e-bike manufacturer seemed to ride over the challenges better than most.
Two years on, the company has just revealed two “re-engineered from scratch” e-bikes – the straight frame S5 and cross frame X5 – and has another faster e-bike, the V, coming soon as well.
That the company grew during the pandemic years shouldn’t be surprising. As Stehmann said, demand for bicycles skyrocketed. Prospective cyclists in London, for example, had to wait months for new bikes to be delivered.
But is VanMoof ready to capitalise on the newfound interest in e-bikes?
Making e-Bikes Accessible
“I currently lead the complete integrated product development team,” explains Stehmann, “which consists of hardware engineering but also industrial design.”
Stehmann’s wide-ranging role also covers the software that runs on the bikes and VanMoof’s backend functions, covering its tracking systems, for instance.
“I have built it up for the last five years from like three people to what it is currently which is about 150-170 people.”
During that time, VanMoof released a range of e-bikes. The company’s first electric bikes were released and it phased out its traditional pushbikes. The S2 and X2 were released in 2018 before themselves being succeeded by the S3 and X3 e-bikes in April last year. Now, the new S5 and A5 bikes are set to be released at some point this year.
Despite the successive generations of new bikes, the design hasn’t radically changed. Stehmann, however, is quick to set the record straight.
“We’ve developed everything from scratch, right? So, from a distance, it might sort of feel the same or very similar to what we’ve had before but almost every single piece has been re-engineered from scratch,” he explains.
“That means that the things that you can see, so the tyres, the lights, the frame, the coating, but it also means the inside of the bike, so the electronics, the tracking technology, the system that powers the motor, the updatability [sic] of the whole system.”
A big focus, according to Stehman was making the bikes more accessible for a wider range of riders.
“If we want to reach a bigger audience and get more people on bikes then we do need to sort of rethink and lower the barrier for people again and to make it super accessible for anyone,” he says.
“So, we have slightly updated the frame shape which is more accessible to a wider audience because it’s easier to jump on.”
As a result, the new A5 has a more conventional and lower step-through frame compared to the X3 it replaces.
“But you also see it coming back in a user experience kind of way,” Stehmann continues. “So, for example, the way we communicate with the user. We come from a display, where we can show really nice animations but also a bit of data as you can show speed etc.
“We have now developed these halo rings which, in a way, forced us to simplify the things that we can communicate to a user.”
The “Tesla” of Bikes?
However, while VanMoof is helping riders of different shapes and sizes get on its new bikes, the company hasn’t lowered the cost barrier to entry.
VanMoof’s bikes are, frankly, expensive. The outgoing S3 and X3 start from £2,148 while the S5 and A5 cost £2,498. Even the company’s refurbished outlet bikes – which have even been returned damaged by owners or left the factory with a ding – start from £1,499.
That trifecta of premium pricing, smart design, and techy features has led to VanMoof being ordained the “Tesla” of bikes by a number of publications around the world looking for an easy analogue for readers to understand.
“I hardly compare, actually,” says Stehmann. “We, at least I, never really looked at the competition. We might look at the market and the opportunity and the sort of customers that we see. We tend to be a company that really looks ahead – and far ahead – and not too much at the competition.
“But I kind of like people to compare and, in a way, it’s not the worst comparison. I think, in a couple of ways, it does sort of match what we’re doing – we’re not just making another bike to put on the market.”
For Stehmann, VanMoof’s approach to integrating its supply chain and manufacturing makes it more akin to Apple and Tesla than any fancy design and smart features.
“We really tried to take it from the basis – like all the way from how we source our components and materials and how we assemble them to how we control the supply chain and our own factory, and how we bring that all the way to the customer.
“In that sense, there are a lot of similarities with how Tesla and Apple do it. We believe strongly in that model and not because they do it but because we’ve learned that, if we want to bring something to the customer, we’ve found that it doesn’t exist yet and we have to do it ourselves.”
The pandemic certainly boosted urban-dwellers desire for bicycle-based mobility. However, for Stehmann and VanMoof the pandemic was only the start of a broader change.
“Sometimes we get mail from people saying that they bought a VanMoof and completely left their cars for months at home,” says Stehmann.
“We see the majority of the people we reach have never considered a bike or an e-bike before. And, so we see that what we’re doing here does change and lot and it does change cities.
“We’re not biased enough to say that e-bikes and our e-bike, in particular, is the only solution out there. You always have things that a car is a better solution for – in some cases, it’s a lot handier.”
However, VanMoof is also working on its upcoming V bike.
“Part of the tech is shared, it’s developed on the same sort of backbone but the V is a lot more powerful,” explains Stehmann.
“It’s really made for longer distances and longer comfort and for longer commutes and also to really get out of the city. So that’s why, for example, it has a full suspension system and double motor construction to make it easier to share the road with cars, for example. In my mind, it is a completely different proposition.”
VanMoof’s bikes, with their stylish designs and smart features, might be the perfect tool to get well-heeled commuters out of their cars and onto bikes. But, according to Stehmann, the company isn’t resting on its laurels.
“It’s always a bit difficult to talk about and what I can say and whatnot,” says Stehmann, “but let’s say we always have more that we can bring to the market.
“From a company point of view, there are a lot of new regions we can tap into and some really broad markets like the US that are a huge opportunity for us. From a product point of view, we have the whole tech system we’ve revamped and that opens up a lot of opportunities maybe in portfolio diversification. There’s a lot more that we’re thinking about and maybe even working on. So yeah, there’s a lot cooking in the kitchen.”