Conquering the sand dunes with e-bikes

Washington, DC (CNN)“VanMoof is like the Mercedes-Benz or the Tesla of electric bikes,” Casey Neistat, who has 12.2 million subscribers YouTube, said earlier this month.

And now, the Dutch electric bike startup has raised a $40 million funding round from venture capitalists.
VanMoof’s sleek bikes automatically shift gears. They have lights built into the bicycles’ frame. There’s automatic anti-theft technology that locks the wheel and sounds an alarm if someone tries move the bike while it’s parked, and each bike is also geo-tagged.

    VanMoof CEO Taco Carlier told CNN Business that the company employs a team of “bike hunters,” who track down stolen bikes and have a 75% success in Europe. (It’s lower in the United States because geotags can’t track down bikes on specific floors in high-rise buildings.)
    The company had planned to raise only $25 million, but found investor interest was greater than expected, Carlier said. The latest investment comes just four months after VanMoof raised $13.5 from venture capitalists, as VanMoof has caught on with customers and in pop .

    VanMoof has jumped into the spotlight after working for years with little attention aside from bike enthusiasts. Carlier founded the company with his brother Ties in 2009. In first 11 years, the startup raised only $19.5 million.
    Carlier said he wants to transform how people commute in cities worldwide, and believes we’re entering a new era of travel patterns, following a century of car-centric mobility.
    A VanMoof television advertisement was banned in France earlier this year for causing anxiety. The ad portrayed VanMoof’s ebikes as a favorable alternative to a car that appeared to melting amid emissions from smoke stacks and other cars.
    “They asked us to change the commercial, we obviously didn’t want to,” Carlier said.
    Van Moof CEO Taco Carlier rides one of his company's electric bikes.
    Electric bikes have become the latest hot investment in transportation as consumers seek active, outdoor activities and personal modes of transportation during the pandemic. Sales of bikes and used cars are growing. The trend of cities closing streets to car traffic amid a decline in commuting has also aided companies like Van Moof.
    “Everything we expected to happen in the next five to 10 years is suddenly happening in six months,” Carlier told CNN Business. “People saw how beautiful cities can be with a little bit less cars.”
    Electric bikes have proven more popular than traditional bikes in recent years because they make pedaling and climbing hills easier. Bikeshare systems have seen that their riders prefer electric bikes. But top-of-the-line ebikes are expensive, costing between $3,000 and $5,000, so buying one’s own is out of reach for many would-be users.
    VanMoof is among a new wave of direct-to-consumer companies, such as Seattle’s Rad Power Bikes, that are trying to offer ebikes at a more affordable price point. In April, VanMoof released two new bikes and slashed their prices to $1,998 from over $3,000.
    While businesses generally struggle to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic, VanMoof is thriving, selling more bikes in the first four months of 2020 than it did in the previous two years, and it still can’t meet the demand for them, according to Carlier.

      In the midst of a pandemic that’s expected to trigger record closures of brick-and-mortar stores, VanMoof is actually opening storefronts.
      Van Moof’s latest store opened this month in the shadow of ecommerce giant Amazon’s downtown Seattle headquarters and has expansion plans for other cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.
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