Last month, on a quaint street in Cobble Hill, a new store opened to almost no fanfare. Inside, around forty sleek bicycles are displayed neatly in rows on neon yellow stands. The bikes are mostly white, black, and grey, but one beams with the stars and stripes. There’s a rack of helmets nearby, and a large potted plant on the counter. “Actually, we are in stealth mode,” says Taco Carlier, the co-founder of the Dutch company that makes these bikes, VANMOOF. “The opening party has yet to be organized,” he adds.
Taco Carlier co-founded VANMOOF in 2009 with his brother, Ties. Both are industrial designers and wanted to create “maintenance-light, weatherproof and hassle-free bikes” specifically for urbanites. “It stands to reason that a bike dedicated to daily commuting requires different functions from the bike made for racing, or the occasional trip up a mountain side, right?” says Taco. “So we removed all the fancy functions and re-designed the bicycle with city use in mind.”
Now, VANMOOF has expanded beyond its native city of Amsterdam to thirty-five retail markets around the world, including Barcelona, Bangkok, Tokyo and Sydney—and now Brooklyn. “We chose Brooklyn because we truly love cycling in New York,” says Taco. “It is one of the most beautiful cities to ride a bike.”
The VANMOOF bikes have a lightweight anodisedaluminium frame, come with integrated locks and Phillips lights, and (some of them) feature integrated GPS tracking (which works with a phone app to locate your bike if it gets stolen). Plus, the whole thing only weighs around forty-one pounds. “We’re all about breaking new ground in commuting,” says Taco.
We recently caught up with Taco to ask him about bike culture, commuting to work, and, of course, what he likes about Brooklyn.
So, why Brooklyn?
Taco Carlier: We chose Brooklyn because we truly love cycling in New York. It is one of the most beautiful cities to ride a bike. As Brooklyn inhabits some of the most beautiful bike lanes in the city and is the center of the commuter bike revolution, which is taking over New York, we believe this is the right place to be. And, we want our stores to be more than just stores. We like to call it our home. It’s a place where our team and users meet each other. Plus, apart from being a shop, it is also our American headquarters.
What do you think can be done to make commuting by bike safer in Brooklyn?
Three things: separate bike lanes, separate bike lines, and maybe some separate bike lines. No matter how much we work on the safety of our bikes—for example by introducing incredibly bright, integrated lights and massive braking power—the key to safety is separate bike traffic from car traffic. I’ve lived in Amsterdam for over ten years, and while 48% of all traffic movement in the city is done by bike (that’s over 223 million bike rides per year), less than 5 major accidents occur there yearly.
What are some other challenges that urban cyclists face?
Bike theft is one of the major reasons people don’t buy quality bikes. It’s a huge issue, and it’s unfortunate since people who invest in a quality bike tend to ride more and longer. We believe that we can fight bike theft by equipping our bikes with smart innovations. We’ve introduced an integrated bike lock in the bicycle frame, and it’s one of the toughest totally integrated steel chains. This fall, we will introduce trackers and data connection in our regular bikes. We already have GPS transmitters on our pedelecs (electric assisted bikes), and this has enabled us to track back any bikes that get stolen. If we can reduce bike theft, Brooklyn residents will invest more in bikes and will start riding even more.
What is the most popular bike being sold at the Brooklyn location?
Our pedelecs are our best-selling bikes right now. We like to call our pedelec a “hybrid bike” since it does not look like an electric bike and is much lighter than any other electric bike, but it definitely is electric. They are perfect for commuting in New York. You can easily ride to work with the help of the engine and arrive without sweating. On your way home, you can turn off the electric assistance and get some exercise. You won’t believe how fast you can move around town.
Which bike do you personally own?
I am riding on a prototype right now. It has integrated data connection and an electric lock. I am able to lock and unlock the bike with my iPhone and, if somebody dares to steal it, I’m able to trace it back. In the future, these bikes will be connected to an online platform, so people will be able to share their bike just like they share their house on AirBnB. If more people do this, we can create a peer-to-peer bicycle sharing system.
What is your favorite bike accessory?
My favorite accessory is the Bamboo Man. Our integrated front carrier is made of bamboo, and it’s named after my brother because he is very tall and people in Asia used to call him “bamboo man” when he was a kid. I always carry my laptop bag on my front carrier.
What do you like about commuting on a bike instead of taking the subway?
I love riding my bike early in the morning when I commute to work. It feels relaxed and easy. The sun is shining on my skin. I like the smell of fresh air and the sound of the waking city. That’s definitely my favorite part of the day.
For people who have never owned a bike before, what’s an essential thing that they should look for when going to buy their first bike?
Plan before you buy. Think about how you’re going to use your bicycle. If it is for commuting, a city bike is a good choice because it lets you sit straight up and it’s comfortable. Make sure you have a fully enclosed chain guard so your clothes won’t get dirty. Make sure you invest in a good quality bike. Bikes sold in department stores will only lead to frustration. And, last but not least, definitely do not buy a cheap lock. Spend at least 10 percent of your bike’s value on a lock, and invest in one by brands like ABUS or Kryptonite.