What if people who live in cities didn’t have to worry about their bikes being stolen off the street? Would they start pedaling to work? Would they ride bikes more often and for a wider variety of purposes? Would they have the confidence to buy better quality bikes with features that are more suited to their actual needs?
Calling theft “the big elephant in the room” that — presumably along with a lack of safe places to ride — presents a barrier to bicycling, the Dutch company VanMoof recently unveiled a SmartBike that comes with a keyless lock and a tracking system to defeat the baddies who want steal your bike. But in case a thief does get away with your SmartBike, the company makes a first-of-its-kind promise: It will recover the bicycle within two weeks or replace it with a new one.
If that sounds ground-breaking in the world of bicycle security, it is. “It’s time we shift the responsibility for security away from the owner and to the brand,” VanMoof co-founder Taco Carlier (below left), told me at the launch of the new bicycle at the VanMoof brand store and U.S. headquarters in Brooklyn.
“It’s a bit pioneering for us,” he continued. “But if we can make this happen, we think it will be a game changer for the industry.”
The company’s “Peace of Mind” service on the new SmartBike is meant to alleviate the fear that keeps people on “crappy bikes” or prevents them from commuting by bicycle in the first place, Carlier said. “If people are confident about parking a nicer bike on the street, then they will benefit from a better quality ride and comfort.”
Carlier founded VanMoof with his brother Ties in 2009 with the goal of attracting more people to everyday cycling for transportation, in comfort and in regular clothing. “We’re trying to create the ultimate commuter bike,” he said.
Style is part of the equation, too. The bicycles are distinctive, notably in the straight-arrow top tube design that houses front and rear lights on the standard model.
But the anti-theft technology on the new SmartBike doesn’t call attention to itself. Here’s how it works:
- To protect the bike’s components, anti-theft bolts secure the handlebar, seat and wheels.
- The SmartBike incorporates a keyless lock and integrated chain (photo below), which is activated and unlocked using a smartphone app or a small wi fi remote. The same app, to which the bicycle is registered at purchase, also tracks the bike using onboard technology. (In addition to the security features, the app delivers information such as speed and mileage, and even checks the weather to advise on the optimal time to travel for a dry ride.)
- No recharging of a separate battery is required: the bike’s electronics – including the lights, which activate automatically when the bike is in use, and the security features – are powered by pedaling, thanks to an energy generating hub integrated into the front wheel.
- Should the bike be stolen, a recovery team will use the tracking system to determine the location and seek to reclaim the bike, working with the police. Under the Peace of Mind service, if VanMoof is unable to recover the bike, it will replace it. (There’s some fine print: the guarantee is good for two years after purchase; a small monthly fee will apply thereafter. And a $98 fee is assessed following recovery or replacement, to help defray the costs of the recovery program, according to the company.)
Also among the city-friendly features of the VanMoof bike are an anodized aluminum frame that resists scratches from locking at metal racks and poles, a chain cover that prevents your pants from being chewed up or stained with grease, front and rear disc brakes for added stopping power, front and rear fenders and integrated, bright front and rear lights.
The anti-theft technology was introduced earlier on VanMoof’s Electrified S, a pedal-assist electric bike. But e-bikes tend to be stored indoors, Carlier noted. Offering the Peace of Mind service on a conventional bike, well, that’s a different kind of undertaking. But clearly a challenge the company relishes.
The new SmartBikes, in matte gray or black, are available now at special pre-order savings of $1,098 for the 3-speed and $1,298 for the 9-speed. Learn more at vanmoof.com