May 18 2014, 8:20am CDT | by Forbes
Nobody does inner city commuting like the Dutch. That’s because most of them do it on bikes.
Rush hour in Amsterdam bears no resemblance to that of any other major city I can think of; instead of roads gridlocked with cars, exhaust fumes and audibly frustrated drivers, in the Dutch capital, hordes (is there a collective name for bikes?) of cyclists sweep gracefully along, making their clean, quiet, and relatively stress free way into work.
If that makes you feel a little envious ahead of your own morning motorised crawl to work, you might take some comfort from the efforts of a pair of Dutch entrepreneurs, brothers Ties and Taco Carlier, who want to let the rest of the world in on the secret of the congestion-free commute.
The pair, who had already enjoyed success developing products for their companies Strida-Europe and Dutchband BV, are pitching all their energies into making bike commuting more accessible to the global masses by designing a smart bike with sex appeal, that they believe will offer a strong alternative to status symbols like cars.
Launched five years ago, their company Vanmoof, produces urban-focused bikes. Their latest model is a revamp of the iconic Dutch bicycle frame design, combined with GPS technology, which the brothers are convinced offers the perfect solution to a New York, Tokyo or even a Sao Paulo commuter.
The Vanmoof Electrified is designed purely for inner city use. Its built in GPS system can be operated via a smartphone app, and navigation aside, tackles one of the biggest bugbears for cyclists; bike theft.
“The very first Vanmoof Electrified got stolen, and was successfully retrieved by locating the bike, with the help of the GPS and the Florida Police. The original owner is riding around happily again,” says Taco Carlier, adding that the GPS is equally adept at finding bikes that become ‘lost’ at the end of the Friday night after work drinks session.
Vanmoof bikes are sold in 32 countries, through hundreds of retail outlets, as well as to customers direct, and the Electrified model is the newest; the one that its creators are most optimistic about revolutionising travel to and from work.
The Carliers’ passion is natural. People in Holland have ridden bikes for hundreds of years; even the Dutch royal family uses them. The country’s famously flat, mainly rural geography was made for the mode of transport; while road layout in the larger cities, many built around canals, and peppered with bridges and narrow winding canal paths, make cycling one of the only practical ways of getting around.
Can the Carlier brothers vision of filling a gap in the market for an inner city bike withstand the rigours of truly sprawling, car choked metropolises such as Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, and San Paulo?
Figures from the recently published US Census Bureau show that overall, cyclists account for just 0.6 % of all US commuters, although in Portland, Oregon, they accounted for 6.1% and in San Francisco, 3.4%.
In the UK cycling to work has flat lined, with latest figures of 2.8% unchanged in a decade.
And in Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city, with 11 million people and some of the worst rush hour traffic congestion, cycling to work is an option that comes with a high level of personal risk.
Then there are the practicalities to consider. How do you appear business-like when you arrive at work looking sweaty and dishevelled? Some employers provide shower facilities and cycle parks for cycling employees, but for most they are far not considered a priority perk.
Yet Carlier remains adamant. He says: “Of course it is difficult to compare our Dutch bicycle tradition with other markets in the world, but we use our all passion for cycling and our belief that the use of a bicycle is the smartest solution at this moment for congested cities./>/>
“Outside of the larger European cities, we are seeing a strong growth in Japan, specifically in Osaka, but also in New York, San Francisco, and Sydney, and slowly, in some Latin America capitals.”
With more than half of the world’s population living in city centres, the pressure on inner city transport is growing. Environmentally and financially, and from a personal health and fitness point of view, cycling makes good sense.
But good sense doesn’t always transcend cultural traditions, and as cost effective, stylish, high tech, and loss and theft-proof as the Vanmoof Electric may be, it could be some time before the rest of the metropolitan world goes Dutch.
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