Van Moof Goes Down in Flames

A year ago or so, I wrote this post about my experience with my Van Moof e-Bike. That experience was bad. In short, it took 9 months to show up after purchase, though this was during the pandemic, and so I just accepted that. But then, the battery died after the fourth or fifth short ride, and it wouldn’t accept a charge. Basically, the battery was defective.

Then began another 9 months of back-and-forth with Van Moof tech support, during which they broke every promise they ever made, demonstrating the worst customer service I have ever encountered anywhere. That’s all by-the-by now, though.

That original post was read more than 35k times, and I’m happy knowing that I probably saved some folks from spending their time and money with a company not capable of fulfilling any of its promises. I could see that Van Moof had over-expanded, likely driven by outside investors, and I could also see that they’d cut some serious manufacturing corners with unreliable parts, primarily batteries, that forced them into a death spiral of warranty costs.

Two weeks ago they were granted credit protection by a Dutch court. Last week they were declared officially bankrupt, with a sale of assets coming next. This is a story of grand scale mismanagement, but as an experienced bike buyer I ignored a lot of red flags to arrive at my own disappointment.

For a while now, the independent bike shops we all know and love have been looking to eBikes as a growth category. But even beyond your LBS, an awful lot of folks see eBikes as, possibly, an even bigger market than pedal bikes, as evidenced by ALL the companies jumping into the game. If the moneyed interests thought the growth of eBikes was going to be organic, i.e. some percentage of annual bicycle sales, then you wouldn’t have so many players in the game, and so many from outside the bike industry.

This isn’t a bike thing; it’s a “personal mobility” thing.

Initially, the eBike sector was a real Wild West situation with new brands flooding in, and I’m not sure we’re past that yet. I am still very regularly reading about eBike launches from people I’ve never heard of before. On the one hand, that market is ripe for rapid innovation. On the other hand, there will be a lot of companies like Van Moof who are too clever for their own good, looking to take advantage of the demand for these bikes.

Having been sold a real dud, let me tell you what I would do differently next time.

First, I’d buy from a local shop. You’re going to need service and support for your personal mobility solution. Van Moof had one service center in the US, eight hours drive from my house. I should have known that before I got out my credit card. When the battery on my X3 needed replacing, I was told that only the service center could perform this task. It was a sign that this bike was NOT ready for prime time. Basic repairs should be simple. Everything else should be the province of your local shop.

Second, a lot of these bikes have proprietary features and parts. There are not a lot of good arguments for proprietary features and parts. My Van Moof has a one-piece stem/bar combo that is pointless. It’s also less adjustable and therefore less comfortable than the myriad off-the-shelf options that already exist in the regular bike parts ecosystem. Avoid bikes that have “reinvented” the bike. I’d buy a bike with as many common parts as possible if I had it to do again. When you look at your eBike, you should recognize most of the components on it.

Finally, I’d buy from a company with a track record of building, distributing and servicing bikes, maybe even a traditional bike company, whose products you know. This is not to say that new companies won’t be forming and doing good work. But which ones? And why? It’s not a question I need to the throw the dice on. The best technologies will likely come bubbling to the top. They’ll likely get there on the technical infrastructure of bikes that already exist.

I’m told the Van Moof meltdown has caused huge anger in Holland, where they had more bikes on the road and more stores. This is a company that promised an awful lot and delivered almost none of it. Investors lost a lot of money. And now there are thousands and thousands of orphaned eBikes in the world, many of them already just spare parts for the ones that are still rolling.

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  1. alanm9 says

    Ebikes, wow, where do I start? “Get people out of their cars”? Nope, mostly got people out of transit. “Get more people riding”? No, the pandemic did that and the boom is over. “Get more riders on the road”? Absolutely not, but they do ride dangerously on trails where people walk. “Get people on bikes who otherwise can’t”? Wrong, except for a very few, the vast majority are perfectly capable of riding regular bikes on pan flat rail trails but are too lazy. “Help the LBS make more money and stay in business”? Wrong again, my LBS owner refuses to sell or service ebikes and sometimes sleeps in his shop to keep up with the repair orders. I could go on with the increased trash in landfills, the mining of metals for batteries, the toxic waste, the deaths from battery fires, etc. If you want to know what ebikes are doing to cities, follow BSNYC’s blog.

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