Listen to this article
Reading time: 6 minutes
“I’m a bit biased because I’m in Amsterdam,” says Job Stehmann, product design and technology manager at VanMoof, “but demand has gone crazy everywhere.
“I think at the time we were in a really good position because we were in the middle of the fire, but we had something new to bring to the world and we had our supply chain under control.”
If you haven’t already, Stehmann talks about the start of the coronavirus pandemic and, while times were very tough for many companies, the Dutch-based luxury e-bike maker seemed to rise above the challenges. better than most.
Two years later, the company has just unveiled two “redesigned from the ground up” e-bikes – the S5 straight frame and X5 cross frame – 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, the demand for bikes has exploded. Would-be cyclists in London, for example, had to wait months for new bikes to be delivered.
But is VanMoof ready to capitalize on the newfound interest in e-bikes?
Make e-bikes accessible
“I currently lead the full embedded product development team,” Stehmann explains, “which includes hardware engineering but also industrial design.”
Stehmann’s extended role also covers the software that runs on VanMoof’s bikes and backend functions, covering its tracking systems, for example.
“I’ve built it over the last five years, growing from three people to where it is now, about 150 to 170 people.”
Meanwhile, VanMoof has launched a line of e-bikes. The company’s first e-bikes were launched, and it phased out its traditional push bikes. The S2 and X2 were released in 2018 before being replaced by the S3 and X3 e-bikes in April last year. Now, the new S5 and A5 bikes are expected to release at some point this year.
Despite successive generations of new bikes, the design has not changed drastically. Stehmann, however, is quick to set the record straight.
“We developed everything from scratch, didn’t we? So from a distance it may look the same or very similar to what we’ve had before, but almost every piece has been redesigned from the ground up,” he explains.
“That means the things you can see, so the tires, 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 possibility of updating [sic] of the whole system. »
A big goal, according to Stehman, was to make bikes more accessible to a wider range of riders.
“If we want to reach a wider audience and get more people into cycling, we have to kind of rethink and lower the barrier for people again and make it super accessible to everyone,” he says.
“So we slightly updated the shape of the frame which is more accessible to a wider audience because it’s easier to jump on it.”
As a result, the new A5 has a more conventional, lower frame than the X3 it replaces.
“But you also see it coming back in a kind of user experience,” Stehmann continues. “So, for example, the way we communicate with the user. We come from a screen, where we can show really nice animations but also a bit of data like you can show speed etc.
“We’ve now developed these halo rings which kind of required us to simplify the things that we can communicate to a user.”
The “Tesla” of bicycles?
However, while VanMoof helps riders of all 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 – from £1,499.
This trio of high-end price, smart design and technical features has led VanMoof to be ordered the “Tesla” of bikes by a number of publications around the world looking for an easy-to-understand analogue for readers.
“I hardly compare, actually,” Stehmann says. “We, at least me, have never really looked at the competition. We could look at the market, the opportunity, and the type of customers we see. We tend to be a company that really looks to the future – and far ahead – and not too competitive.
“But I like people comparing and in a way it’s not the worst comparison. I think in a lot of ways it’s kind of in line with 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 brings it closer to Apple and Tesla than any fancy design and smart features.
“We really tried to start from the base – 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 the way Tesla and Apple do it. We strongly believe in this model and not because they do it, but because we learned that if we want to bring something to the customer, we have found that this does not yet exist and that we have to do it ourselves.
The pandemic has certainly spurred the desire of city dwellers to get around by bicycle. However, for Stehmann and VanMoof, the pandemic was just the start of a larger shift.
“Sometimes we get letters from people saying they bought a VanMoof and completely left their car for months at home,” says Stehmann.
“We find that the majority of people we reach have never considered a bicycle or e-bike before. And, so we see that what we’re doing here is changing a lot and changing cities.
“We’re not biased enough to say that e-bikes and our e-bike, in particular, are the only solution there is. You always have things for which a car is a better solution – in some cases it is much more convenient.
However, VanMoof is also working on its next V bike.
“Some of the technology is shared, it is developed on the same type of backbone but the V is much more powerful”, explains Stehmann.
“It’s really made for long distances and comfort and for longer trips and also for really getting out of town. That’s why, for example, it has a full suspension system and a dual-motor construction to make it easier to share the road with cars, for example. In my mind, that’s a completely different proposition.
VanMoof’s bikes, with their sleek designs and smart features, could be the perfect tool to get well-heeled commuters out of their cars and onto the bikes. But, according to Stehmann, the company is not resting on its laurels.
“It’s always a bit difficult to talk about what I can say and so on,” says Stehmann, “but let’s say we always have more than we can bring to market.
“From a business perspective, there are a lot of new regions that we can tap into and some very large markets like the United States that represent a huge opportunity for us. From a product perspective, we have the whole technology system that we’ve revamped and that opens up maybe a lot of opportunities in portfolio diversification. We are thinking about many other things and we may even be working on them. So yes, there is a lot of cooking in the kitchen.