Conventional wisdom says you should test ride a new bike on your usual route. But scratch conventional. And “usual route” while you’re at it, because has Ties Carlier really ever done either?
How VanMoof co-founder Ties stole a prototype of the new Electrified X bike and disappeared for 2 weeks into the Japanese countryside.
The jury’s still out on why our co-founder would hop on the yet-to-be-launched VanMoof Electrified X and without any ado, cycle 800 kilometers up the coast of Japan in sandals.
All we know is that Ties finally pulled up at the VanMoof Tokyo store after going AWOL 14 days earlier in Osaka. This is his test ride saga.
OK, Ties, level with us. Why the insanely long test ride?
When it was time to test the first production samples of the new compact electric-assist bike we’d designed for Tokyo, I knew exactly where we should test ride. This wasn’t just about pushing the Electrified X to the max. I wanted to learn more about Japan; the culture, the people.
Every time I’d fly to/from Tokyo, I’d mark down all the best spots I saw from up in the air — a white beach, a big forest, green mountains. Over time I realized these were all in the straight shot between Tokyo and Osaka, right before the plane turns east towards Taipei, where I live. And so the mega test ride was born.
Was it hard work, or did the Electrified X do it all for you?
In the city, I ride purely for quick transportation; I like to get where I’m going as fast as possible with minimal effort. But on this trip, speed wasn’t my biggest concern. Riding whole days is so different from riding in the city, and putting in some effort feels great when you’re on a long pleasure ride like this.
For most of the trip I used the Electrified X in Level 2, with less power assist. I managed around 80–100 km per battery charge, more than enough to reach my daily distance goal. I’m not a trained bike rider, not in a sporty way, but this was still very easy riding, with plenty of time to swim, eat and rest during the day. I biked about 5 hours per day, most of it in the morning.
Man, it’s beautiful. Had you seen this side of Japan before?
I did very little prep, didn’t plan the route well, and didn’t even know if it was suitable for riding or if the area would be nice. But no matter where I ended up, I was totally blown away by the beauty.
In Japan, they keep the old routes intact even after building new roads. These super small paths were amazing. They took me by old temples, waterfalls and tiny old restaurants. I barely saw any traffic here. Even though there were bike paths everywhere, I was surprised to see no other holiday riders, and only about 4 or 5 race bike riders the entire trip. That’s it.
You win the tiny bag award. What did you bring on the road?
The goal was to fit it on the Electrified X’s compact front carrier. It did, no sweat. I brought clothes for 5 days, which is a lot considering every hotel in Japan has laundry facilities, and even took extras like a laptop and trousers for a business meeting in Tokyo. I also had a bike charger for nightly top-ups and a bike cover bag for the two short train trips I started and ended the trip with. Next time, I’d bring even less. I rode in my normal clothing and wore sandals to keep it easy and comfortable. No extra sports gear on a VanMoof, nope!
Was it hard to find spots for battery charging?
Not at all, actually. Japan has power sockets outside everywhere, and I was always welcome to charge my bike. Outside convenience stores I just plugged in, but at restaurants I always asked first. I typically charged the bike overnight at hotels, and during the day I’d sometimes use my lunch or swimming breaks for a little extra battery top-up.
What stuck out to you most riding through Japan?
Most people I met were over 50 years old. I’d heard about the aging problem in Japan, especially in smaller towns. But after seeing it in person, it really made me think. For days in a row I rode through beautiful old villages slowly turning into ghost towns. A lot of businesses were closed down, and I sometimes had trouble finding a place to eat. I’d look forward to a nice coffee after finding a spot on Google, only to find a closed door when I pulled up. This happened often.
This was a pretty spontaneous trip. Did you freestyle navigate, too?
I’d set Google Maps to “Walking Routes” and just see where it would send me. I’d always choose the route with the smallest roads to avoid cars. I also took a lot of off-road routes, which was a great way to test the Electrified X’s hardware. One of these routes was a 10 km beach ride: perfect for a 2-wheel drive.
Biking for 2 weeks straight, did you have any accidents?
Cycling in Japan is very safe. 99,9% of car drivers I saw were extremely careful with cyclists and gave me a lot of space on the road. Unfortunately the other 0.01% exists, too. I never experienced it in Tokyo, but in the countryside I had a few cases where a car drove too fast and close to me. I learned to avoid this by checking the roads on Google Streetview first. If they looked too narrow or busy, I chose an alternative route.
Top highlight of your mega test ride?
When an elderly local man in a fishing village invited me to sleep at his place, because the local guesthouse was full. After some hesitation I took him up on his offer, and it turned into a truly epic night of talking and drinking sake, with views over the old fishing harbour. We didn’t understand each other much, but with the few English words he knew (alright, and a lot of sake) we had a great evening.
So how did the Electrified X handle 800 kilometers?
I’m so proud of it. It handled amazingly well. I really didn’t have to worry about anything.
Smooth sailing the whole way, really? No crisis moments?
A trip like this has a lot of ups and downs, especially if you travel alone, but I can’t complain too much. The biggest problem I had was not finding a hotel one night. I tried sleeping on the beach, but after an hour I decided to keep riding in search of another town off the route. Within 1 km, I discovered a small road-side hotel with a nice restaurant and a very friendly owner.
Any “aha!” moments on how to make the Electrified X even better?
I think it’d be really good to add an external battery pack, like an extra power bank that you can plug into, to extend the bike’s range in the mountains and be able to use the Turbo Boost function more.
And -- after riding this new bike two weeks through Japan, I’m convinced we need to make the Electrified X available in other countries.