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5 Random Things I Did This Weekend

Here’s what I was up to this past weekend, enjoying all the rain and wind that Amsterdam has to offer.

1) Riding the fields

First up on the docket was an outside ride to take advantage of a few pockets of sun. I think this is the first outside road-bike road in the Netherlands that I’ve done this year. Obviously, we ride outside multiple times a day here going out and about around town. But with the travel to CES/etc in January, followed by Cape Town for 5-6 weeks, this was about the first time the weather seemed desirable to venture into the great outdoors.

2019-03-08 06.50.25

Nothing fancy, just my go-to of the Ronde loop that’s probably one of the most popular rides for Amsterdam folks to do. It’s got all the goods you want – windmills, cows, fields, canals, and sheep. Plus carless roads.

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There were a few tech things I was testing on this ride, but more on those later this week and the next little while.

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But what counts is that it was nice and sunny much of the time, albeit a bit windy here and there. Not horrible winds though, so acceptable normal winds for here.

2) Picked up a new bike!

Back in December I ordered a new bike. Sorta. I ordered a bike subscription to a service run by VanMoof. You pay about $25/month and you get a bike that’s all your own. You have to pay a one-time $99 ‘key fee’, which you can theoretically sell to someone else when you’re done. The other option is to buy their bikes, which start at 900EUR ($1,011USD).

The VanMoof bikes are known for being hard to steal, but also with a pile of smart tech inside. The bike as a whole pairs to your phone, and you can control lights, set the alarm, and even lock/unlock it from afar. It has internal speakers that are loud AF. Not for playing music, but for the alarm if moved – using the accelerometers inside. And finally, it has some sort of cellular connectivity for occasionally checking in. Your pedaling recharges the battery, though you can also charge it using micro-USB cable if need be.

In any case, I was curious – and figured I’d try it out for a few months. Unfortunately, the waiting list is about 5 weeks, upon the end of which they said I had to wait another 5 weeks. So here I am, ready to pick it up.

2019-03-08 15.24.06 HDR

Pickup was done at their VanMoof store/HQ in Amsterdam, though they have other spots in major cosmopolitan cities around the world. Like a car salesroom they’ve got their other models on display.

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The entire pickup took about 20 or so minutes, though it wasn’t entirely smooth. For example, the bike was given to me with flat tires, which I noticed as I started riding out the door. Also, little things like it was covered in dust. It sounds stupid – but if your upsell is being premium, then spend 10 seconds to wipe it down with a cloth.

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Still, it is a really pretty bike. It’s 3-speed (they have other variants, but that isn’t needed here in Amsterdam), and as noted includes the lights built-in. If you want a front/rear rack, then you have to *buy* those for $100 each. If the bike is stolen, there’s a $95 recovery fee. Though maintenance/support is free for the bike. If you’ve got problems they just take care of it for you.

2019-03-11 09.35.09 2019-03-11 09.34.46 2019-03-11 09.34.43

My first riding impressions are…well…I’m honestly glad I didn’t buy it. While the feel is good, the shifting is hot garbage. For one, the shifter ring has about 2-3mm of play in it. But more importantly, you can’t shift into an easier gear unless you briefly stop pedaling. Atop that, half the time it’ll just random-ass shift like 20 seconds later. I don’t know if it’s the quality of the shifters they’ve selected, or what. Either way, for a $1,000 bike – it’s a show-stopper for me.

All in, we’ve got a pretty big fleet of adult bikes in our stable:

– 2 triathlon/TT bikes
– 4 road/race bikes
– 3 around-town/commuter bikes (+ the VanMoof)
– 1 cargo bike

Ok, now that I write it out, it sounds like a lot. N+1 I guess?

In any case, for all the around-town/commuter bikes, they’re low-budget variants. For example my $800 Trek bike is the most expensive of them, complete with front and rear racks. We have two others that we’ve spent no more than $200-$300 on (also with front/rear racks), and they’re more than capable of shifting gears with load applied.

Still, I’m going to write up a review on this down the road. Mostly on the electronics side – which I do think is cool, but also underdeveloped for what the company could be doing. More to come.

3) Dueling trainer ride

Saturday afternoon a friend came over for us to knock out some virtual miles on Zwift. He brought his bike and placed it atop a NEO 1, while I was riding the NEO 2. Unfortunately we had an 11-speed cassette on the NEO1, and his bike is 10-speed, but for the course we selected it honestly didn’t matter much.

2019-03-09 18.50.20

We went for Innsbruck, and did the UCI Short Course lap once, which is about 50 minutes of riding, 25-27 minutes of which is climbing, so from a gearing standpoint once in the right gear you’re not changing a ton.

2019-03-09 18.33.07

I had planned to put him on my Gen 1 KICKR which is 10-speed, but for some odd reason I can’t find that at the moment. Gotta figure out where that’s hiding. It’s somewhere around here.

Oh, and when I was done I went ahead and spent some Zwift Drips on buying the same frame as my real bike. I’m sure I could probably spend the points elsewhere on other things that have more of an advantage, but honestly I don’t care.

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I was disappointed though that it didn’t seem like the paint accent slider was working to add in the red accents of my real frame on the Zwift variant. Perhaps it was an Apple TV thing, I’ll try at some point on desktop.

4) Rainy Castles

Sunday morning we headed over to the Castle to let the kids run around the gigantic indoor play area. It was dumping out. I was completely soaked by the time we pedaled the 12 or so minutes there. Drenched. The kids were inside the cocoon of the cargo bike, so they were happy and dry. And The Girl was smart enough to take a change of pants for after she arrived.

But, the play area was good as always:

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Their business model is astoundingly brilliant. They only charge for kids entry, adults are free. They make their money through hosting parties and through their food/candy sales. They’ve actually got surprisingly good food. This isn’t just crappy hot dogs. If you want a fancy brie sandwich you can get it. All served on trendy glass plates. They’ve got WiFi and tons of tables for adults to hang out and kill time.

Not to mention the place itself is massive, it’s a converted (huge) church that was then shifted into a shelter, before becoming this place. In any case, after we were done, the rain decided to step it up a notch. I got drenched again on the way home. Once again the kids were dry, and the littlest Peanut fell asleep as always.

2019-03-10 12.43.16 2019-03-10 12.42.03 HDR

It’s funny, in thinking about it, I don’t even know if this place even has a parking lot for cars. It just has a bike lot out-front that the cargo bikes stack up in. It’s perfect.

5) Late night runs

Sunday night after the kiddos went to bed I headed out the door for some intervals around Vondelpark. Nothing fancy or terribly long, just capturing some data on a few fronts. It was damp, and dark. A bit cold and a bit windy, but nothing overly so.

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Intervals themselves were nice. I was doing about 6:10/mile (3:50/km) for 800m chunks. Plus some sprints. In reality I probably should have done 6 of them, but I was feeling lazy. Shrug. Still, nothing too crazy.

After that it was back home to close out the weekend.

With that – have a great week ahead everyone!

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54 Comments

  1. Greg

    We are headed that way in August. Those windmill rides…how far are those from he vondelpark area? We want to take the kiddos on a ride

    • Super close. Here’s the link to the main windmill most people would ride to on this loop: link to goo.gl

      It’s at the end of a really nice park that the kids would enjoy as well, since there’s some animals in there also.

      And then you can make a loop out of it if you want to add a few extra KM. Just keep following the river until you hit a bridge, then simply cross it and eat ice cream here (link to goo.gl). Then come back along the other side of the river. You’ll get to check off another windmill that way. It’s also the route of the Amsterdam Marathon too. 🙂

  2. Madelein

    Would love a photo of the bike lot for the cargo bikes. Not something that exists where I come from,

  3. Ryan

    A friend has a VanMoof here in Germany and loves it. I saw that his version has an 8-speed Shimano Alfine hub. Do you know anything about shifting on that model? Seems like it would work better on some of the (minor) hills in Hamburg, and if shifting is better, I love the look and idea of the bike for a commuter.

    • I don’t know about shifting on that model, except that I read some place (Reddit I think), that it’s an upgraded shifter.

      If one had any hills, definitely that’d make sense. For here in Amsterdam, it’s really only slight bridges that I shift.

    • Ryan

      Yeah, I love the “hills” of Amsterdam.

      Asked my buddy again and he said he loves the bike 100% and hasn’t had an issue with shifting. Maybe I’ll try it on the subscription model because the idea is cool.

    • So what you’re saying is you wanna buy my ‘key’ off of me. 🙂

      See…I found someone already. Donezo!

      (Kidding, kinda, I wanna ride it another few months before selling the key.)

    • Actually, I just read the fine print. I can apparently cancel the subscription within the first 30 days and they’ll even refund the key fee.

    • Ryan

      If you had the eight-speed variant I absolutely would. 🙂

      I’m in no real rush, and we’re moving this month from Düsseldorf to Hamburg anyway. Actually, if keys can be used on different bike “classes” and you still want to test for a bit, hit me up and I’ll buy it off of you whenever you’re done.

  4. Remco Verdoold

    The Vanmoof is nice Dutch design, but what I really can not understand are the cheapness of some components. For example the non-hydraulic disc brake. Or battery powered lamps in a country where there is a general complaint of cyclist not having a lamp on during the long winter period. As usually with Dutch design, looks nice, but not allowed to cost anything during manufacturing, with of course the premium price for the buyer. (but still better than bakfietsen or even worse e-bakfiets with rollerbrakes).

    • To be fair the battery charges via pedaling, which in turn powers the lights. So it’s pretty unlikely you’d get yourself into a scenario whereby the battery is dead. Even for me the bike was delivered with 11% battery and I’ve slowly increased it up to 22% with just simple around town trips.

  5. Martijn

    Interesting to read about the VanMoof experience. For the price they want for those bikes it’s pretty sobering to read.

    The 3 speed shifter hub is a Sturmey Archer (didn’t even know they still existed). Don’t know about those SA hubs but for a Shimano Nexus it’s dead simple to adjust. They should have checked it before delivery (but clearly didn’t do any check at all).

  6. Patrick Coenen

    Aaah, vondelpark in the dark and the rain. Sweet memories from a run a few years ago when on a work project in amsterdam. It has some nice feel about it. I almost always combined it with a loop in the rembrandpark

    • Interesting, I’ve run through Rembrandt park a few times, and it’s within half a block of the distance as Vondelpark. I guess I like the purely never-ending loop nature of Vondelpark versus the out and back of Rembrandt.

      That said – the cargo bike pics were taken in Rembrandt. 🙂

    • Patrick Coenen

      True, the nice loop of vondel is something special and repeatable abd reversible. mostly i did it like this: link to strava.com

  7. Thijs

    VanMoof is simply hipster crap. The pinnacle of “it’s Amsterdam so we charge premium” (or Rotterdam for that matter, it’s getting just as bad over here). You only want a VanMoof if you want to be seen on one.
    If you want a quality, no-nonsense bike that will last through the ages, stick to the classic Dutch brands like Sparta, Gazelle, Batavus.
    If you want to know how those bikes hold up over the years, visit a thrift store. You’ll see models that are easily 5-10 years old that have been seriously abused but are easy to get into completely fine working order.

    “Hard to steal” is nonsense. It’s a bike, you’re in a big city, it will get stolen. That’s why everyone rides €50 second hand bikes.

    • So far, I’d agree that the quality is subpar. Or at least the execution on it.

      However, I’d disagree from a tech standpoint and a stolen standpoint. The reality is that it’s much more difficult to get away with stealing this bike versus another. It’s going to transmit its location – so one has to be pretty quick about getting to wherever that is in the frame and disabling it. Heck, even just bumping the thing will set off the alarm. Whether or not that matters at 2AM, probably not. But sitting outside a cafe in summer is going to be way more difficult to get away with.

      It’s a deterrent, but it’s not the end-all be all.

    • Thijs

      Will it still transmit inside a (metal) van? This might sound like a ridiculous scenario, but the more expensive the bikes, the more creative the thieves seem to get 🙂 It’s definitely happened before.
      Same with those rental-bikes you unlock with an app, lots of them simply get stolen, even with GPS trackers and all, and the companies calculate that kind of stuff into their profits.

      About 2 weeks ago a scooter alarm was blaring here, just outside the station. I think 2 people out of 50 actually turned their heads, and zero cared 😛
      Don’t underestimate the Dutch mentality!

    • I actually think it would in a metal van (since it does on the base floor of our 4-floor very brick apartment building where it’s parked). What’s interesting here is that it doesn’t actually have GPS (which for the record, I think it stupid), but instead uses cellular triangulation from everything I’ve been told.

      I’m not saying that people won’t find ways to steal them. But in many cases, it requires more effort and planning. Which in lots of scenarios is enough to cause a thief to move on.

    • Eric

      As Keith Trek said: “Sparta, Gazelle, Batavus. Pick a cab.”

    • Thijs

      Found a Dutch site by coincidence that tells the story about a VanMoof being stolen within 2 days. Their replacement service apparently promises a new bike in 2 weeks… 2 weeks?

      link to bright.nl
      They haven’t been able to locate the bike.

  8. Matthew

    Thanks for reviewing the VanMoof. They’ve been pushing my Facebook feed **HARD** with ad buys, and truth be told, I’m considering an electric city utility bike in the near future. But after reading this post, thanks, I’ll be looking at the Tern offerings instead. What about your bakfiets? It’s electric right?

    • Yeah, our cargo-bike is electric. We love that thing. We’ve had some minor service stuff over the last year. Like right now the disc brakes are rubbing pretty badly and the there’s some rubbage atop the front fender too. We’ve just gotta find time to bring it in to get serviced. But they’re easy to work with.

      For a cargo bike here, I love the e-bike nature, especially when you have a 100kg in the box and are doing an uphill start over a bridge from a stoplight. Once at speed though, it honestly doesn’t matter a ton. Though is nice on windy days like today with a headwind. Just got back from the hardware store buying wood stuffs and a super stiff headwind today. I was cruising along. 🙂

  9. maxfrance

    Looks like the VanMoof is a crapton of ..er.. crap.

    Typical overpriced-under reasonable quality standard product.
    Kudos to the genius who makes a lot of money selling huge markups stuff.

    But more kudos to Ray who warns us about bad ways to invest our hard earned money.

  10. Mikkel Andersen

    Looks like the new eTap on the road bike?

  11. gingerneil

    Another cracking night photo! Gopro again ?
    I’m considering the marathon in October – ferry over the Harwich and then driving up to Amsterdam. Any plans to run it ??

  12. Rob

    I remember having to stop pedalling (or was it even back pedalling?) when I was a kid to change gear with my 3-speed Sturmey Archer! Thought things had moved on in the intervening decades!

    • Yeah, you can either briefly stop, or slightly backpedal. I remember that back in the day too. I also haven’t had a bike like that in decades.

      Maybe it’s still a thing, but it definitely shouldn’t be a thing on a trendy $1,000 bike. Full stop.

    • karl

      Let’s see.
      flat tires
      dusty
      battery at 11%
      SA shifter (had that in the 70s also, but mine shifted properly)

      “If you’ve got problems they just take care of it for you.”
      Given that they don’t seem to be able to take care of it when they sell it, do you really think they can afterwards?

  13. Reginald Brown

    “Still, it is a really pretty bike.”

    You and I have very different taste….

  14. Ronald Wielink

    “the Ronde loop” I think that should be De Ronde Hoep loop.

    As for VanMoof, i would drop it and go for the low tech approach to bike as a service if that’s something you want to try, for example from Swapfiets. You must have noticed the blue front tyres all aroud the city.

  15. Andrew

    Maybe the bike is really ugly to make it less desirable to steal?

  16. Ragnar

    Have you checked out Ampler?
    https://amplerbikes.com

  17. Neil Jones

    Re Zwift virtual bike frames; I was also having a nose around what to spend all my drops on and couldn’t resist a Specialized Roubaix frame as a match for my “real” bike, as it was even shown in the same colour scheme (black with orange accents). So I was a bit disappointed when I dropped some drops (??) on it only to find that what I got was just a single colour frame with no accents – and although I can change the colour with the spray can, the one colour it won’t do is black. Hardly the end of the world, and I’ve still got more drops left than I’ll ever know what to do with, but after the “hey, that’s my bike!” moment it was ultimately just a bit meh.

    • Neil Jones

      …and why on earth did the devs think that the best place for the Drop Shop (and the rest of the settings/customisation menus for that matter) was within an actual activity? Why do I need to start a ride/run to access these, wouldn’t it make more sense to have them accessible from the main menu screen?

    • Agree. It’s the one thing that *shouldn’t* be in the main app. It should be in the companion app. So clunky.

  18. Mike E.

    The smart kids play places always make sure they have a good experience for the adults. The kids will have fun no matter what, but if the parents feel like it is a chore and a half to hang out for an hour or two, they won’t come back. One place we did a party at years ago in the DC area even had beer for the adults.

  19. Ken

    I dropped 375k drops on a BMC frame to match my TeamMachine.

    Also no red accents.

    Now I have buyer’s remorse, and 1M more drops to not spend on anything worthwhile. They could have spent those programming resources on customized HUD, which is something we all want more than buying virtual crap.

    “My zwiftkingdom for red bike accents!” Said King Richard III

  20. Dieter Neirinck

    Have you checked Cowboy, the Belgium based connected bike startup ? They offer test rides, also in Amsterdam, where they bring the bike to you so you can try it out.
    link to cowboy.com
    Connectivity and apps seem comparable to Vanmooff
    Bike looks a lot nicer to my taste and seems to have better quality components (hydraulic brakes, belt transmission, brooks grips, schwalbe tyres.
    Would love to hear your opinion on it.

    • Raul V.

      Impossible to find any price. I guess it will be that of a small car, a few weeks holiday trip, a year living in a Third World country.

  21. Wouter Hoekman

    Every ones in a while somebody complains in a comment about the terrible Dutch weather but did you know that Gerard Poels kept track of getting wet during 10 years of commuting? He found out that over 90% of his -single distance 18k- rides were dry.

    link to hetregentbijnanooit.nl

    Unfortunately the site is in Dutch but you can easily figure out the graphs.
    (Note that my comment is for personal motivational purposes of course as it is raining in Utrecht for 3 consecutive days now 🙁 )

  22. Nice! I just found your blog and I’m from The Netherlands myself. Good to hear you had fun.

  23. Bart

    Any chance you sell that Trek city bike? Very interested in that one..

    • Nah, no plans to sell that at the moment. I like that bike, but some of the impetus for a new bike was just wanting a much lighter bike. The Trek is pretty, but also heavier than a tank.

  24. Raul V.

    Same ambivalence here. I like to have the data but wonder if it’s of any importance. Bit like the cycling dynamics.
    Cadence and stride length are thrown into the basket to make it more impressing. Just marketing!!
    Cadence usefulness is undisputed I think. P.e. when switching to middle/forefoot landing. Stride is more ore less following that.