VanMoof’s Bankruptcy Worries Owners of Electric Bikes

by Pelican Press
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It’s easy to spot VanMoof electric bikes on Amsterdam’s streets. The riders are often young professionals who are barely pedaling as they whiz past fellow cyclists.

But those riding the sleek bikes these days aren’t sitting so comfortably.

VanMoof, the Dutch e-bike maker that gained a zealous following, tripled its sales in the pandemic and raised more than $180 million in funding, declared bankruptcy last month, leaving riders in limbo. That’s because the eye-catching e-bikes, which start around $2,000, are built from proprietary parts that only the company makes, available mostly at company-run service centers. And many of the bikes’ functions are linked to VanMoof’s smartphone app.

“If I break it, or something else happens, I don’t know where to go,” said Gideon Sutaman, 28, who lives in Amsterdam and has been riding his VanMoof e-bike since December.

As the e-bike market boomed, the company sold about 200,000 bikes and opened stores across Europe, the United States and Japan. In the e-bike world, VanMoof was often likened to Apple or Tesla, given its elegant designs, heavy use of custom materials and premium prices.

The speedy, technologically advanced bikes shift gears automatically and include a boost button that provides an extra kick. An app can lock and unlock the bike, fine-tune its settings and track a machine’s location. (For an extra fee, VanMoof employed “bike hunters” to recover stolen bicycles.)

Those unique features are now at the heart of VanMoof owners’ anxiety.

“Your bike will remain functional and rideable, as we aim to keep our app and servers online and aim to secure the ongoing services for the future,” VanMoof said in a statement. The administrators managing the company’s bankruptcy in the Netherlands “are currently setting up a sales process for the assets and activities of VanMoof,” the statement said.

When contacted, the administrators declined to go into specifics, but confirmed that there were companies interested in buying VanMoof.

VanMoof, named as a Dutch spin on the word “move,” was founded in 2009 by the brothers Ties and Taco Carlier, and did not start off making battery-powered bikes. But in 2014, the founders came up with a design that put the battery inside the bike frame, helping protect it from rain and thieves, and giving VanMoof bikes their signature streamlined look. The brand took off in the bike-friendly Netherlands, and word spread to early adopters elsewhere.

Despite the buzz, VanMoof eventually ran into financial problems, including a production backlog that led to monthslong waits for sales and repairs.

“They tried to do too much at once,” said Horace Dediu, a co-founder of Micromobility Industries. “Overall the industry is very healthy,” he added.

Global sales of VanMoof e-bikes have been halted, and at company locations that remain open, like its shop in Brooklyn, repairs can be done only if the parts are in stock.

In Amsterdam, where all VanMoof locations are shut, most bike repair shops cannot, or will not, repair the brand’s bikes. And that’s a problem, because VanMoof bikes have developed a reputation for breaking down.

VanMoof riders around Amsterdam said they had experienced problems with the bikes, even as they praised the machines.

“When it’s working, there’s nothing better,” said Michiel Smit, 28. But, he added, the bike “breaks often.”

VanMoof’s future is murky. At least one bidder has come out publicly, the e-scooter rental firm Micromobility.com (unrelated to Micromobility Industries). Its nonbinding takeover bid was “positively received,” Micromobility said on Monday. A price was not disclosed.

Salvatore Palella, Micromobility’s founder and chief executive, said that if the bid was successful, he would like to keep the brand as well as many of VanMoof’s employees. “We are fascinated by what we are seeing and how VanMoof created this amazing brand in the last 10 years,” Mr. Palella said. He said he would submit a binding offer by Friday.

One of the few places in Amsterdam where customers can still get their VanMoof bikes fixed is a narrow alley in the center of the city at WheelGood, a VanMoof-licensed bike shop.

On some days, as many as 20 people stop by with broken VanMoof e-bikes, said Felipe Martinez, who works at the shop. But they can do only simple repairs that do not involve VanMoof’s parts.

Others are looking for workarounds online. In Facebook and Reddit groups, VanMoof owners commiserate and ask for advice on repairs. Others are offering their bikes for bargain prices on e-commerce sites.

Christa Brethouwer, a resident of Amsterdam, said she had not experienced any problems with her VanMoof, which she received three months ago after an eight-month wait. She also purchased the three-year theft protection package, now worthless.

Other riders expressed concern about theft, in part because of the increased demand for parts since VanMoof’s bankruptcy.

“Here in the city, people hate you because you have a VanMoof,” said Nadia Piet, an Amsterdam-based entrepreneur, who bought her e-bike two years ago. “Now people look at you with pity.”

Ms. Piet, 29, said the “dreamy” bike replaced the need for a car. Her partner, Steven Elbers, also owns a VanMoof. “I’m still a big fan,” Mr. Elbers, 40, said. “I don’t understand how this could’ve happened.”

For others, the company’s collapse was not a surprise.

“We saw it coming for a long time,” said Joseph Page, a mechanic at WheelGood who used to work as a “bike doctor” for VanMoof. The e-bike maker’s marketing was impressive, but “we knew it wasn’t great from the start,” he added.

Maria van Aa, a bike maker in Amsterdam for 38 years, who sometimes does simple fixes to VanMoof bikes, called it an “overpriced” product with too little attention paid to the technical details.

She said there was a sense of schadenfreude among her customers and fellow bicycle makers. “It’s the talk of the town,” Ms. van Aa said. But it’s not all bad, she said, with VanMoof’s modern design raising the public image of bikes and bike makers.

“It’s a nice bike,” said Emiliano Frigerio, a VanMoof-riding mechanic at WheelGood, “when it works.”



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