VANMOOFIT

The “Tesla of bikes” is completely unnecessary but so much fun to ride

If Elon Musk got bored of digging tunnels and decided he wanted to build an electric bike, it would probably look and act a lot like the VanMoof Electrified S.

The eight-year-old Dutch bike startup has been building electric bikes for the last few years and released its latest model, the Electrified S, earlier this year.

I used to commute by bike in other cities, but since moving to New York, I haven’t felt like dealing with the long roads, iffy bike lanes, or the general lack of bike awareness that most New York drivers seem to have. But I was offered a chance to try out what could only be viewed as the luxury sedan of bikes, and I thought I would give it a go. I wasn’t sure if it would be something that would convince me to give up the regularity of the subway or the convenience of taxis, but I was definitely impressed by how easy and enjoyable it was to ride, even in frigid December weather.

Quartz tested out the Electrified S for a couple weeks—even commuting to work on it—to see whether the high price was worth it:

What’s good

It’s a hell of lot of fun. I’ve always enjoyed biking, but I’m generally unathletic and can never ride long before getting tired. VanMoof’s bike is different. Inside the frame is a massive electric battery that’s connected to a small motor which assists your pedaling. This isn’t a small motorbike or scooter, though: You still have to pedal at all times. The motor helps you get up to a certain speed, and the rest is up to you, but it’s really not that much effort. There are four resistance settings that determine how much assistance the motor gives you, and if you put it to the maximum setting, the motor helps you pedal at about 13-14 mph without breaking a sweat—any faster than that, and you’re having to put in work.

This means that biking on the Electrified S is nearly effortless. I took the bike home from VanMoof’s Brooklyn store, and was figuring out where I might duck down into the subway with it without being too disruptive, as I didn’t think I’d be able to make the 10-mile trip to Astoria, Queens. After a few minutes, however, I realized how easy it was to ride, and just kept going. I stopped at a few parks along the river, stopped for a coffee, cut inland and did some shopping, and eventually got home in a little over an hour, having ridden about 12 miles, and feeling like I’d biked about one mile. Even in the frigid cold that has befallen the East Coast over the last week, I’ve taken the bike out as much as I can, because it’s so fun to ride. I even braved a few bridges and ferries to ride into Manhattan. I could see myself using this to commute into work, instead of dealing with trains and their crowded cars and constant delays.

The bike has a little digital readout on the top bar of the frame that tells you how fast you’re going, how much energy you’re using, and how much charge the bike has left. At first, I was amazed that I was zipping around at upwards of 25 mph, until I realized that I had the display set to read out kilometers instead of miles. Even when I swapped it over, I was still pushing past 15 mph and keeping up with cars as they pulled away from traffic lights.

VanMoof app.
The perfect bike name for me. (Screenshot)

Controlled by an app. The Electrified S comes with a keychain-sized dongle that you can use to remotely lock and unlock the bike, like a set of car keys. More futuristically, the bike can be controlled by a smartphone app. Open the app, and if you’re near the bike, all the lights will automatically turn on, much like they do on a Tesla when controlled through its smartphone app. You can also unlock the bike through the app, and control settings like how much assistance the electric motor gives you as you pedal, and whether the speedometer is in miles or kilometers per hour. The app also gives you statistics on how much you’ve ridden recently, and how fast and far you’ve traveled—like a Fitbit for bike travel.

Insane mode. Also rather like a Tesla Model S, the Electrified S has a button you can press that helps quickly accelerate the bike to about 12 mph, which makes pushing off from a stop sign or red light a breeze, and actually makes it easier to stay ahead of other vehicles on the road. Also, if you’re super lazy (like me), you can use the button to make steep inclines a lot easier to manage—although you’ll run through your battery a lot quicker. It was also amazing to blow by other cyclists at stop signs who didn’t know what kind of bike I was on. It was incredibly satisfying to look back at their utter confusion over how a dumpy man on a commuter bike could be riding so much faster than they were, no matter their spiffy spandex bike outfits.

You can ride for ages. The bike has a range of up to about 75 miles on a single charge, which unless you’re commuting from the deep suburbs, should be more than enough to get you to work and back on any given day. That being said, more strenuous conditions, such as lots of inclines, and more reliance on the built-in motor, will drain the battery quicker. But I managed to ride about 20 miles round-trip, with the motor assistance turned all the way up, and still had about half a charge left.

You won’t lose it. Well, you might, but then you’ll find it again. Even if your bike is lost or stolen, you can use the built-in GPS chip to locate it, or send the info to VanMoof or to the local authorities. When I was in VanMoof’s Brooklyn store, the sales clerk boasted to a customer who was purchasing another bike (after the first VanMoof she bought off Craigslist turned out to be stolen, and was returned to its rightful owner) that the company had a 100% success rate recovering stolen bikes.

Exceedingly durable. Even though VanMoof’s packaging may lead you to think otherwise, these bikes are built like Sherman tanks. I inadvertently took the Electrified S down multiple cobbled roads, and, because it’s New York, roads with potholes, metal sheets haphazardly covering roadwork, and even a dirt track, and the bike handled excellently in every situation.

VanMoof in Brooklyn
Biking through Brooklyn. (Quartz/Mike Murphy)

What’s not so good

The price. The Electrified S starts at $2,800, and the integrated chain-lock costs another $100, so it’s in no way a cheap endeavor. Even if you live in New York and cancel your monthly $116 subway pass, you’d still only recover about half the cost of the bike in a year.

It’s heavy. If you live anywhere above the ground floor and plan on carrying your bike upstairs every night, you’re likely to get more of a workout from doing that than riding the bike. At about 40 lbs, it’s easily the heaviest bike I’ve ever lifted, and it’s a struggle to carry it up the narrow stairs of a New York apartment building. The weight also means the bike is quite slow when riding in manual mode, as there’s just so much heft your legs need to move.

Poor turning radius. Make sure to give yourself a wide berth if you ever need to turn around, and don’t take corners too quickly on this bike, as you’ll probably fall over.

210440-grey_smartbike_8-325207-original-1464167367
VanMoof’s lock connects right into the frame. (VanMoof)

Should you get one?

This bike is one of those purchases that’s exceedingly hard to justify from a purely logical perspective. You could buy a Vespa scooter for roughly the same price (although you’d need a motorcycle license to ride of one those). But sometimes it’s difficult to quantify and reason out fun. If you’re looking for a more interesting commute to work, or you already ride a bike everywhere and are looking for an experience that’s a little different, the Electrified S may be the way to go, assuming price is no issue. The bike makes long commutes feel short, and while you may not be getting as much exercise as you might on other bikes—unless you turn off the motor—you’re outside, moving in fresh air and sunlight, rather than cramped in a subway or car.

If you want something that can help you get back into shape, the Electrified S could also be a good choice. While it costs a lot more than the average stationary bike, it’ll actually get you somewhere. You can gradually wean yourself off the help from the electric motor until you’re feeling fit. Or, you could just get a gym membership for a lot less money—but that won’t be nearly as much fun.

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