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VanMoofers After the Bankruptcy

Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Photo: VanMoof

The Williamsburg VanMoof store was dark at 4 p.m., the doors locked and lights off, giving the impression that the bikes lined up inside were sleeping. And they kind of were. “I guess it’s closed,” Jesse Stein, whose VanMoof S3 was getting its wheel trued at the shop’s repair hub, which was still open across the street, told me when I met him there earlier this week. The shuttered store had become a familiar sight: The Amsterdam-based cycling company declared bankruptcy in July and abruptly suspended operations, sending Stein and some 190,000 other VanMoofers spiraling. (Employees at the Amsterdam flagship shop had to be evacuated amid a swarm of angry customers.) These riders had bought into the mythos — the proprietary tech, the VanMoof “hunters” who would travel the world in pursuit of a stolen bike — only to be betrayed by what they saw as a company that had tried to grow too big too fast. One rider complained to me about what he now thought of as a “$2,500 clothes rack” sitting in his living room. VanMoof, under the direction of Dutch court administrators, was looking for a buyer to lift it out of corporate purgatory; on Thursday, it found one: The e-scooter company Lavoie, owned by McLaren Applied, would, per its release on the news, “inject stability into the VanMoof operations.” But would it be enough to quell the frustrations of VanMoofers? Or was the honeymoon with the “Tesla of e-bikes” over?  

VanMoof was founded in Amsterdam in 2009 by brothers Taco and Ties Carlier — with backgrounds in design engineering and auto mechanics — and released its first e-bike in 2014. The brand quickly became an investor favorite, raising $182 million in funding by 2021. (The company boasted that year that it was “the most funded e-bike company in the world.”) It was around this time that Stein bought his bike. “My friends who are big bikers all made fun of me when I got it, which was fine,” he said. “They didn’t bike to work.” The bike cost him $3,200, but the $100 a month he paid in an installment plan was still cheaper than an unlimited MetroCard, and VanMoof was VanMoof: financially robust. European.

He wasn’t alone in his faith in the brand. The bikes, which were built with proprietary parts and came with features like auto locks and a boost button, developed a dedicated following. Customers were attracted to the bike’s anti-theft features and polished design that incorporated the battery into the frame. The older S3 model also ran just under $2,000 — an attractive price point for a premium product at the time. (The newer models ran up to $4,000 — still less than other fancy bikes like Riese & Müller’s, which can cost over $9,000, but more than, say, a Rad cargo bike.) The company’s sales tripled during the first year of the pandemic, but it struggled to meet the demands of new growth. Its use of custom-made parts led to quality-control issues and a repair backlog.

Which is why the inconveniences brought on by the bankruptcy — closed shops, unfulfilled orders, and stalled repairs — weren’t exactly new to VanMoof owners. There are only a handful of official repair hubs in the United States — the only two on the East Coast are in New York and Washington, D.C. — which means many owners had to make a road trip for repairs or go through the hassle of shipping their bikes. The bikes also broke down a lot. (“When it’s working, there’s nothing better,” one rider recently told the New York Times.) A common complaint was the e-shifter breaking. Stein told me that VanMoof’s bike doctors, as the repair workers are called, were “usually very surprised to hear that I’m on my original.” Corey Fields, who bought his VanMoof when COVID cases first started to rise in the city, understood the cycle of love and loss well: He had gone through two dead batteries in just under three years. “It just blinks — every three seconds, an image of a skull comes on,” Fields told me. “I’m in hell.”

Even so, it was a labor of love for the devoted. One rider told me he saw someone tell their bike “I’ll miss you, baby,” while patting its handlebars as he dropped it off for a repair. And while Fields had stopped trying to get a repair appointment for his most recent dead battery following the bankruptcy, he brightened at the news of the sale. “Great news,” he texted me after the acquisition. He made that repair appointment after all. Stein shared his sense of cautious optimism that the bad times might soon be over but remained “apprehensive until their plans for the brand are more solid.”

Which may take a while. The chairman of McLaren Applied noted that the transition “is not going to be a walk in the park,” but he’s hoping to improve the availability of parts and make it so other mechanics can fix VanMoof bikes. Daunting? Maybe. But you love what you love. Jonathan Forgash, who, along with his wife, has owned a VanMoof for over a year, told me he had never lost faith. When we spoke before the acquisition, he said he was convinced the investment had been worth it: “I spent a lot of money on it, and I think things will work out one way or another.” But there were still cracks in the relationship. If he had to do it all over again? “Now that I’ve embraced biking culture and road-tripping,” he said, “I think the smartest move, if you’re traveling through America, is to buy two electric bikes from REI.”

VanMoofers After the Bankruptcy