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VanMoof Bike Hunters: The Unstoppable Retrievers of Stolen Bikes

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

When you sell e-bikes for about $2,000 apiece and you are targeting markets in large urban areas like San Francisco, New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, one of the selling points you absolutely must consider is security, because expensive stuff tends to get stolen in large cities. And stolen bikes are nearly impossible to recover, because they are often dismantled and the parts sold off, and they are not a top priority for police officers kept busy by more violent urban crime.

How, then, to convince prospective buyers that the bikes they buy from you are virtually theft-proof? If you are the Dutch company VanMoof, you make them a bold offer they can’t refuse.

VanMoof shop
VanMoof found a bold approach to bike safety. © Profimedia

VanMoof’s Peace of Mind program promises that if your VanMoof bike is stolen and the company’s team of Bike Hunters can’t recover it, the company will replace the stolen bike, free of charge, with “one of the same (or better) age and condition.” That’s such an outrageous promise it almost makes me almost want to buy one of their bikes just to have it stolen. It’s not free, of course, but at $340 for three years, it’s not too pricey either.

The program is more or less limited to cities where the company has retail stores. It has a recovery rate of about 70% in San Francisco and somewhat lower in New York, Daan Rekkers, the company’s U.S. general manager and a veteran Bike Hunter, told Bicycling magazine. According to Rekkers, the Big Apple’s bike thieves are “more professional” and the city’s many tall buildings and basements make it harder to track the bikes there. And tracking is what the VanMoof Bike Hunters do.

Here’s how it works: If your VanMoof e-bike is stolen, you open your VanMoof mobile app and hit the button marked “Report Stolen,” which begins the recovery process. First, the bike status is switched to “stolen mode,” which shuts down its e-assist and all “smart” features. The next day, the company activates the Bike Hunters, who set out to find the stolen two-wheeler.
The first thing they do is try to locate the bike via signals it automatically sends out when it is moved. The best scenario, obviously, is one in which the thief moves the bike a lot, because every move generates a ‘ping’ on an online map.

Then the Bike Hunters move into the field – on VanMoof bikes, of course, with the tracking unit attached to the handlebar. They head for the area from which the bike last sent a signal, where they try to find a route among the Venn diagrams created by the signals bounced off nearby cellphone masts.

VanMoof E-Bike
The Bike Hunters will find your bike for you. If not, you will get a new one. © Profimedia

This leads to several possible outcomes: They could find the bike chained somewhere outside, which is the most common result. In that case, they would simply add their own lock to it, return with a tool to cut the thief’s lock and then notify the police.
Or the bike could be located in someone’s apartment or house, in which case the Bike Hunters might ask for a warrant from the police or, more probable, wait for the bike to move again. The most difficult result would be to find the bike with a person on it, which could be dangerous.

“You have to have enough courage to approach a group of people in the dark who have the bike,” Rekkers said. “At the end of the day it’s just a bike. We are not there for some social justice reason, or to get someone thrown in prison. We are there for the bike.”