Anyone who has had to negotiate the narrow streets and even narrower sidewalks of Amsterdam on a busy day will know just how cycling mad the Dutch are. When the irate tinkling of bells isn’t enough to get the unfamiliar pedestrian to clear out of the way, there is always the last resort of profanities shouted in a guttural dialect.
The geography of the Netherlands and its cities goes a long way to explaining just why the cycling bug reached such epidemic proportions amongst the Dutch. The famously flat countryside makes a cycle a viable proposition for covering great distances with even a modest modicum of stamina. Similarly, numerous canal-ridden cities with their lattice of waterways and bridges make the bicycle one of the few modes of transport that can realistically avoid traffic jams or, in some cases, actually traverse the narrow city roads – more alleyways really- carved out in the sixteenth century.
But in the case of Vanmoof, its striking and practical urban bikes have actually grown out of the contemporary urban condition rather than simply the urban geography of the Netherlands. What prompted brothers Taco and Ties Carlier to develop the distinctive Vanmoof cycles was the gap in the market for a true ‘urban proof’ bike; something that could stand up to the demands of a busy urban life in which there is no meandering pace to devote additional time to maintenance and the realities of theft and vandalism.
Approached from the modernist tradition for which Dutch architecture and design are internationally recognised, Vanmoof really is a case of ‘less is more’. It’s small range of urban bikes follow the principle of assuming that the less there is to a bike, the less there is to go wrong. Any cables that can get tangled or protruding bits that could tempt a passing anti-social opportunist are stripped away. Thus, the entire design hinges around reconceiving the frame from basics. These lightweight aluminium tubes are naturally the backbone of the cycle, but they also form the useful function of housing necessary elements for safe urban cycling. For example, the bicycle’s solar powered LED light (no fear, if it’s not sunny you can charge it using the micro USB of your mobile phone) is housed directly into the front end of the frame tube and the onboard security cable that enables the bike to be secured to a tree or railing retracts into the tube of the frame until withdrawn by the cyclist when needed.
A similarly reductionist approach is taken with all working parts. Most models are equipped with a shimano rear coaster brake and shimano single speed gear meaning that their high-quality craftsmanship and lack of finicky mechanics or peripheral elements reduce the prospects of somebody tampering with the cycle’s working parts or wear and tear resulting in inconvenient mechanical failure. A similar practicality lies behind the choice for broad Schwalbe road cruiser tyres: they’re good for hopping on and off pavements and are tough enough to negotiate the debris often left on urban streets.
But, even if all of this is praiseworthy enough as good design where form and function really do have a happy marriage, one also has to recognise that even those who have very little interest in actually cycling want to get their hands on one of these beautiful design objects. No wonder then that their handsome industrial chic has gained a growing international following amongst both those that are attracted to its abilities as a bicycle and those that are simply in love with its good looks.