Around 50% of cyclists have experienced the feeling of walking up to where they locked their bike only to find it gone–sometimes memorialized with a lonely wheel or a dangling lock. Aside from the perceived danger of cycling in a city, the risk of theft is one of the main deterrents to people buying and riding a bike. And it’s certainly a barrier to buying a nice one.
The Dutch company VanMoof, which makes high-tech urban bikes, has made it something of a goal to eradicate bike theft. Their bikes, which start at over $1,000, are smartphone-connected, equipped with tracking technology, and unlock via touch–and they also come with a “Peace of Mind” service which guarantees that if a VanMoof bike is stolen, someone from the company’s team of dedicated “bike hunters” will track it down and return it to the owner (in general, only 2.5% of all bikes that are stolen make it back to their owners, so VanMoof is aiming for a pretty radical shift). Failing that, the company will replace the bike.
But for Taco Carlier, VanMoof’s co-founder, all that still only fixed the aftermath of bike theft. He wants to prevent it before it even happens.
VanMoof’s new iteration of its Smart Bike, which launches April 24 in Europe and will arrive around a month later in the U.S., does just that. “Imagine if you were a bike thief, and you touch the Smart Bike,” Carlier says. “It will make a sound something like the growl of a wildcat.” The Smart Bike is touch-sensitive and integrated with a speaker system; when it registers that someone other than the owner is handling the bike, the sound system will activate just like a startled animal, and also send a notification to the owner through the VanMoof app. If that’s not enough to deter the thief, Carlier says, the growl will intensify and the integrated lights will start flashing. If after all that, the thief succeeds, the bike will send an alert to VanMoof’s system and the bike hunters will get on trying to recover it.
“We had to ask a sound engineer to design the sound for a bike,” Carlier says. “They’d never done that before.”
While the guard-dog technology might help VanMoof owners feel more secure in parking their bikes, Carlier still recognizes that paying thousands of dollars for a bike is not a possibility for all the users they’d like to reach.