The search for new bikes

In my last post I described why we bought an electric cargo bike, the Gazelle Makki. For those who are looking for an electric cargo bike and have a budget of around € 5,000 I can certainly recommend this bike. Compared to an Urban Arrow Family the Gazelle Makki uses a belt instead of chain (less maintenance and lasts longer), the rear carrier is standard and the suspension is better. The chassis is slightly wider which gives the children slightly more space and the children can climb into the bike themselves. In its pricing the Makki has a slight edge over the Family. Another consideration is that the Makki was judged to be the winner in the cargo bikes category of the 2021 bike test published by the Algemeen Dagblad (AD), a Dutch newspaper.

I wrote that next to the cargo bike, I was also looking for an electric city bike for Stephanie. By now she has doubts and she decided to continue using her car for commuting for now. Yet I would still like to reflect on the selection criteria I used in my search for this bike. The design has to look good, but the bike has to be practical as well. This means the battery has to be integrated into the frame, the headlight has to be integrated into the frame (a non-integrated headlight is more easily damaged in a bike stand and doesn’t look as attractive), it has to use a belt rather than a chain and finally it has to have a luggage carrier at the back of the bike.

Many electric bikes fail to meet these criteria because they have their battery mounted on the rear luggage carrier. In general I think many designs are just ugly. If I allow myself to be guided by the winners of the AD Bike Test my options are narrowed down to two bikes: the Decatt Zoom for € 2,650 and the Gazelle Ultimate C8+ HMB Belt for € 3,700. Both Decatt and Gazelle are Dutch.

The Decatt meets all criteria perfectly and still manages to be relatively affordable for an electric bike. The sole complication is that there are just three physical dealers in The Netherlands. Inconvenient if you want to have a test drive, potentially difficult if you have warranty issues or need larger maintenance. The Gazelle could therefore be a safer choice because our local bike mechanic sells it. Our bike mechanic would have more possibilities to fix issues with that bike. The design of the Gazelle looks good, but it’s noticeable that the headlight is mounted on the stem. While this is an unconventional choice, it still looks nice. But compared to the Decatt the extreme difference in price for the Gazelle seems hard to justify. I don’t see so much difference between the two when comparing functionality and quality.

I’ve also investigated the bikes of VanMoof. I’ve read reviews of the S3 which were less laudable. This makes us wonder if VanMoof managed to fix the shortcoming with their latest bike, the S5. I do think this bike is the most beautiful, with it’s minimalistic design. At a price point of € 2,500 I would expect a belt drive however. I can live without the belt drive, but the rear luggage carrier not being standard is making the case for this bike even harder. Imagine the amount of sweat being secreted from your back on a hot day if you can’t put your backpack on the luggage carrier. The rear luggage carrier is available as an accessory for € 60, but you can’t use it to mount a child seat. The greatest problem of this bike may be that the battery can’t be removed. This can be a major inconvenience if you can’t park your bike next to a power socket. Finally, maintenance can apparently only be performed by a limited number of VanMoof dealers.

For myself I’d like to replace my ordinary city bike, a Gazelle Paris C7 from 2016, with a newer non-electric city bike. That will be the Union Lite, which can be purchased for € 1,000. It’s striking that the price difference with electric bikes is still so large. The Union Lite has a belt drive just like the bikes mentioned before, while my current bike has a chain. I’m attracted by the minimalistic design of this bike, which has a headlight which is nicely integrated into the frame. The fact that both the front and rear light are both powered by the dynamo is one of the most important reasons to buy this bike. I’m tired of replacing batteries for the rear light, especially in the winter months. I get surprised too often by batteries which run out sooner than I expected. This is detrimental to my safety in the traffic.

I have some limited criticism of the design choices of this bike. The rear luggage carrier can’t take a child seat and the maximum weight of the rear luggage carrier is merely 15 kilos (similar to the VanMoof S3). A much cheaper Gazelle Espirit offers a rear luggage carrier which can handle 25 kilos and a child seat for just € 550. Curiously the Espirit is slightly lighter than the Lite, 16.9 kilos versus 18.4 kilos. I had expected that the more expensive Lite would be lighter because it is marketed as a minimalistic city bike. The Espirit also has a headlight integrated into the frame and a rear light which is powered by the dynamo. The only remaining reason to get the Lite is the belt drive.

I concluded that I want to buy the Lite in early June. I have the benefit that my employer, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, contributes € 500 for a bike if it’s used for commuting. The other € 500 can be substracted from my gross income. This means I save € 235 in income taxes. If I can sell my old Gazelle Paris C7 for more than € 265, I can even make money on my new bike!

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