VanMoof E-Bike Bankruptcy: The Risks Of Cloud-Connected Transport

When the bankruptcy of VanMoof, the company behind a series of e-bikes, was announced recently, many probably shrugged at this news. After all, what is an e-bike but a regular bicycle that has some electronics and a battery strapped to it to assist with cycling? Unfortunately for owners of a VanMoof e-bike, their fancy wheels come with a Bluetooth-connected smartphone app that somehow involves storing a special encryption key on the VanMoof servers, as detailed by [Gergely Orosz] at the Pragmatic Engineer. Without this key that is connected to your VanMoof account, your VanMoof app cannot communicate with your VanMoof e-bike.

Although basic functionality of the e-bike will be retained, features such as setting the gear modes, changing assistance mode, locking the bicycle and other features not exposed on the bicycle itself will be lost. Essentially this is the equivalent of losing the remote control to a modern-day TV and getting locked out of 90% of the device’s features.

Fortunately, as [Gergely] and others are (urgently) pointing out to VanMoof e-bike owners, this special key can be downloaded with a Key Exporter project on GitHub, as well as obtained and used with an alternative app by Cowboy Bikes, which is a competitor of VanMoof. The unfortunate reality remains, however, that should you lose this special key, you are going to be in a world of pain as your expensive e-bike now is mostly an e-brick.

(Thanks to [Jan Praegert] for the tip)

66 thoughts on “VanMoof E-Bike Bankruptcy: The Risks Of Cloud-Connected Transport

    1. of course how else are businesses going to creep in and make using your bike a subscription based model like the auto manufacturers are doing. And no this is not a sarcastic comment this time I am being 110% serious.

          1. Realize that before a very short period in history, it was very very cheap to own not only a bicycle but a motorcycle or a car. And a house for a family of five. With a high school education. This was stolen from you, and you should approach the issue as such. Who got that pile of cash?
            People not only alive today but still quite young laugh at you for looking at an electric bike costing over three thousand USD. You’re getting sheared like a sheep. It’s all about the austerity.

    2. To change gear modes it says, not gears. I guess it’s setting the cadence thresholds for automatic gear changes, which isn’t the type of thing you’d expect to do directly on a bike, and before cloud servers would probably have involved a parallel port cable and a dodgy bit of software which only worked on Win95, which is probably a worst situation for anyone who isn’t a HaD reader.

    3. As I understand it, this bike has automatic shifting, so you’d only need the app to tweak that (like, to adjust the speeds that it changes gears at) rather than to using the app each time to change gears during your ride.

      It still strikes me as an unfortunate design choice, but it’s better than it sounds at first.

      1. Gear modes will be what speed shifts happen at, potentially with some torque sensing for hills. It’s silly that this is on an app but it’s a useful feature if you’re wanting a bike with an auto gearbox to work best for both the relaxed cyclist and someone wanting a workout.

    1. They can’t, for two reasons: a deliberate reduction of asset values would be illegal and only VanMoof in NL is bankrupt, not the entities elsewhere. We’ll have to wait for an investor to buy the remains and see if and how the company is reorganized.

      1. Competitors “could” provide a solution/option for those affected, but what financial incentive would be for them to spend the time/effort to provide this? After all, the original sale of the bike went to others. Also, until the dust settles, the IP associated with the bike could be sold and so competitors could have some level of legal exposure.
        Lastly… some competitors may not want to support the competitor bikes at all… as now they can sell you a full replacement. This is exactly what is going on in a few industries and those customers that had invested $M’s in now unsupported hardware/firmware… and so are hooped.

        1. that it works with a competitors app “cowboy bikes” once you have the key, indicated that neither of them owns any IP, they just sold bikes made by some other company and added their own logo to an app for their “brand” of bikes

      1. The problem is that:

        a) bankruptcy proceedings take years. I’m still getting winding up updates from the liquidators of a client who collapsed over 5 years ago.

        b) the server and the app ecosystem will be part of the assets that another company might buy, and possibly one of the few items of value left as it represents a future revenue stream by subscriptions. And liquidators need to try to sell that so that creditors (e.g. the small guys like us who designed but for them and haven’t got paid for our work) can get paid. Though in practice liquidators charge so much that there’s rarely anything left for creditors.

    1. Too many “cloud” devices. Too much IoT. It just creates a vulnerability where a bad actor be it a thief, hacker, or malicious corporation can deprive you of your property in a moment.

        1. Mmm. They’ve been trying to give e-mail the hug of death for years. With a few other companies, to be fair.

          They don’t want to block solicitation (or outright garbage), just solicitation they weren’t paid for.

  1. LOL, buying expensive hardware that requires an external server online “just because”… this is really dumb and people need to learn. How would you lock/unlock your bike ina place with no internet connection? People! Start thinking…

      1. But, pay-as-you-go has _always_ been the norm for phone service. (When I was a kid, we weren’t even allowed to own the telephone. It was rented from the phone company.)

    1. People who buy an e-bike like this are not in places that have no internet connection, however there’s a backup coded unlock process that requires no connection or phone.

      its really not as bad as the article makes out.

    2. You know what? It actually works. You don‘t need anything to unlock but the 3- digit-code you had created in the first place as a informed owner. Press the left button accordingly- your bike is unlocked.

      1. I couldn’t get into app from my android phone, had the lights switched off. Hearing the news I was worried about not getting them switched on again, but downloaded the app on my ipad, after a bit of logging in and out it connected, so have lights switched to permanently on, just in case. That is me set should the app switch off. I know how to unlock my bike manually, do it all the my phone app hasn’t worked in a long time.

  2. There are some things, imho, that don’t need to be in the cloud. I can’t see any advantage to storing anything in the cloud when it comes to the operation of a bicycle. I can see storing usage date, like how long you rode for, or even your path, maybe. But getting your tire pressure or switching gears, nope, don’t see it. (I can see having the ability to lock the bicycle remotely if it’s stolen, but that’s not going to make your bike a brick on wheels if you lose access to that.)

      1. It could be easily beaconed via BLE and picked up by an app. Trivial to make it open too, just have a pairing button somewhere, or it’s only pair able for 30 seconds after power on. There’s zero reason for internet access here.

        1. Very likely that the bike uses BlueTooth and it’s the app that’s relaying the data to van Moof’s servers. The servers authenticate the user and send the key to the app.

          But with no servers, there’s no key, so no control beyond what’s built into the bike.

  3. Solution is to just get a ‘normal’ mechanical bike that has worked for ages and leave all the expensive electric nonsense behind. :) One of those ‘problems’ that doesn’t need fixing. As the company found out. Wish they’d do that for a lot of our vehicles too to lower cost of ownership and maintenance. Keep It Simple S…..

    1. Or just a regular e-bike? You can do lots with an e-bike that you can’t (or at least, I can’t) with a regular bike, like make it to the shops up the hill on my lunch real without sweating. I do things on an e-bike I was just never going to do on a regular bike, so I’m outside and exercising more than I would’ve otherwise.

    2. They make more sense in certain geographical locations due to weather or terrain or both. It’s easy to sit there in Oakland, CA where there weather is 70f year round and you could walk to any place you need or take the BART and wag your finger at peoplefor being “S…”

    3. They’re incredibly popular in NL, where folk routinely ride 15km to work rain or shine, and it’s nice to have a little e-support, so why not have a fancy e-support with nice features and an app. Personally I still use my legs only, because my 200 quid used road bike does the trick for 12 years so far, but I absolutely could be convinced if I lived in a hilly city, or a long way from it, and chose to leave the car behind more often. No-one expects a company to go bankrupt, it’s actually quite rare for a large company to do so in the UK at least – the data I have suggests maybe 15K companies go bust each year in the UK (mostly small ones), whereas in the US the number seems to be about 25 times that (with about 5 times the population). In the Netherlands, that’s closer to 5K per year.

      1. Whatever statistic you’re looking at is probably counting a estimated number of no-cost unincorporated sub-entities in the USA as “businesses”.

        375,000 business going out each year would mean that each of us was trying out at least one business every ten years or so. Probably including some minors and octagenerians.

        I don’t think we’re *that* industrious.

    4. i like my acoustic bike but i’m not gonna deny that electric bikes are compelling. the hill assist is a game changer for a lot of people. as is the greater speed, allowing them to more safely and comfortably interact with car-first facilities.

      and i like my current parking method but i’m not gonna deny that a bike which automatically locks when your phone walks away from it is awesome.

      (not sure if the vanmoof actually does that or not, but)

    5. Well, with that premise we all still would be walking. But just use an ubiquitous Bosch motor, tried and tested, and if broken, easy ti swap instead of waiting 9 months for a new van Moof motor. Use tried and tested battery, that is also easy to swap and make sure it can all run without an app

  4. Ah the Always Sunny ep of Dennis takes a mental health day to a t. Just a ridiculous world we live in with the need for so many tiny hands in the cookie jar. Oh well.

      1. there really is something inherently wrong with functionality through an app, unfortunately. android itself is a moving target. if the product is capable of aging, then it is inevitable that the app that came with it will eventually suffer in some way as you regularly replace your phone.

        it is possible for an idealized vendor to work around this, but it is very rare. they need to both update the app for new android at the same time as continuing to test its interoperability with old versions of their product. almost every vendor fails that game, including google itself.

        and, as Andrew pointed out, there are open/standardized interface options. these downsides are avoidable.

  5. There are various issues with this bike, but the one that strikes me most is simply that the rear light is easily covered as it is located underneath the saddle in the horizontal bar. Sure it is safe (difficult to brake accidentally) but useless when you coat is hanging over it. Who tested/approved this?

    It doesn’t have a bell, it has some sort of horrible beeper, that sounds more like a squeaky set of breaks that a bell. The first time I heard it I was very surprised instead of warned, very awkward inappropriate sound.

    There is no luggage carrier (on the basic model).

    These are very fundamental things, existing on bikes for a century, but this new fancy bikes screwed it up completely. To be honest, I’m not surprised they screwed up the complicated things too.

  6. Why not reverse engineer the electronics, at the end it is an E-Bike:
    motor, cranc sensor, battery, Frame wheels ansd gearhub.
    For the hub (eshift system) there are allready people who create an alternative.
    The motor controller alternative is alse al created by someone.
    The frame desin is really nice.

  7. Van Moof is the perfect business case study of a a startup that does everything wrong that can be done. They wanted to make everything themselves: frame, software, engine, gearbox. On top of that one could not have the bikes repaired in a regular bikeshop, but in a specialised bikeshop trained on van Moof, and one needed special tools, that were also made by van Moof.
    That may al work…till things go wrong. Van Moof bikes needed lots of repairs, repairs could take months and not seldomly a repaired bike would be dysfunctional tagain the day after it was ‘fixed’.
    Even if you wanted an add on, like a luggage rack, it would take months.
    i pity the peoplewho bought such a wreck

    1. that you can use a competitor as long as you have the key doesn’t that indicate that they didn’t do it themselves they just added their logo to some software from someone else that makes it for several manufacturers?

  8. Other problem with that fantastic van Moof is that you could not take out the battery. Want to charge your battery and you life 4th floor without elevator? have fun carrying your bike up

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