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VanMoof S3 e-bike review

12 Aug 2020
Verdict:

The latest VanMoof is the brand’s smartest & cheapest bike yet. With automatic gearing, smart locking & a boost button, it’s a smash hit

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£1,798
For 
Superb features • Fun to ride • Very secure
Against 
Non-removable battery • Front motor

Two smart electric bikes, each in a single size, and sold out of dedicated city-centre shops. With such a limited range, no amount of slick marketing or clever app-design is going to save VanMoof if its bikes suck.

Luckily, this third-generation model is as close to perfect an e-bike as you’ll find.

 

First impressions

On the day I collected the VanMoof, the streets around its posh Covent Garden shop were buzzing with people trying out its wares. I’m providing this scene-setting only because it’s worth noting VanMoof has gone all-in on customer experience.

Producing just a pair of bikes and selling them at volume through dedicated outlets, it’s a drastically different business model to the sprawling ranges offered by many other shops and brands. Now concentrating solely on e-bikes, I’ve tried several of its previous machines, finding both lots to like and also a few less-pleasing quirks.

Buy the VanMoof S3 from VanMoof here

Crucially, at over £3,000, the old S2 was overpriced and under-specced. However, with hydraulic brakes, instant smart-locking and automatic gearing, the new VanMoof S3 model packs in better features, yet manages a reduced price of £1,798.

Having now brought almost all production in-house, VanMoof says it’ll need to shift 100,000 of them to break even. Given my experience, I reckon they’ll have plenty of takers.

 

Smart bikes

Besides styling, VanMoof’s key talent has always been its smart integration. The S3 builds on this tradition to offer four-speed automatic shifting, in-built lights, anti-theft tracking and a proximity-based immobiliser.

Driving the whole lot forward is a captive 504Wh battery and 250 watt front hub motor, while stopping the bike are uprated hydraulic disc brakes.

If your first go on an e-bike felt like a leap into the future, the S3’s smart app-integration and automatic gearing feel as if they push things forward a few decades more.

First, the bike unlocks via the app or a keycode tapped in on the handlebar. Once activated, a display on the top tube gives you all the vital stats, which can also be tracked and adjusted via the interface on your phone.

Mechanically, things are just as slick. For starters, once powered up, the bike’s four-speed hub will automatically shift gears.

Adjustable via the app to match your style of pedalling, it means you’re normally in the right gear; no brain power required. The system will even shift when the bike is static, so you’ll always be ready to pull away from the lights.

With variously adjustable levels of assistance, besides the grip is a boost button. Push it and you’ll get maximum assistance to drag yourself up the steepest hills or zoom off from stationary. Just be warned, those with poor impulse control will have to resist the temptation to leave it permanently pressed, as doing so will soon rinse through the battery.

Luckily, if you do manage to flat it, running beside the main powerpack is a smaller second unit which always retains enough charge to activate the bike’s lights, gears and smart features. This means you’ll never find yourself locked out and it’ll also power the bike’s GPS tracker should it go missing.

Buy the VanMoof S3 from VanMoof here

For all the S3’s clever controls, the bike’s motor itself is a fairly standard front hub model. This seemed cheeky when it cost more than £3,000, but in reality, it gives away little compared to more expensive mid-mounted alternatives and is decent enough given the new price-point.

Powered by a captive 504Wh capacity battery, its claimed range of 60-150km seems about right, as did the charge time of four hours.

You can also buy the VanMoof PowerBank for £315 that gives 45-100km extra distance and that, the brand says, takes three hours to charge fully.

Buy the VanMoof PowerBank here

 

Features and security

Despite being a valuable bike, the S3 is perhaps the least nickable machine I’ve ever ridden. For a start, the average mechanic would struggle to set about disassembling it. Its wheels bolt-on using unassailably secure keyed nuts, while the saddle also adjusts with a recessed Torx key.

The bars and stem are one-piece, the lights inbuilt, and you’d have a hard time prying off the brakes.

Assuming it stays in one piece, with a GPS tracker hidden inside if someone manages to separate you from the bike, VanMoof also offers a three-year insurance and recovery programme for £270. This means if its bike-hunters can’t retrieve your bike, they’ll replace it with one of a similar condition.

Not that nicking it in the first place would be easy. When leaving it on the street, the S3 has a motion-sensitive alarm that gets progressively louder, while flashing a skull and crossbones at anyone fiddling with it.

It also has an incredibly clever immobiliser. Activated by kicking a button beside the rear hub, this turns on the alarm, while locking the rear wheel. If you’re happy leaving your Bluetooth on, both can be automatically deactivated based on your proximity, letting you hop on and ride straight off.

Integrated into the bike’s frame are powerful 40 lux lights, which switch on automatically as it gets dark. Always just on the right side of gimmicky, the S3 also features an electronic bell you can switch between ding-dong, submarine or party horn modes.

Less high-tech, but just as welcome, an enclosed chaincase, mudguards and a kickstand are included as standard, while a rack is available as an extra for an additional £55.

 

On-road

With a relaxed head angle and long wheelbase, the S3 feels somewhat like a light electric vehicle. Yet turning off the motor reveals it rumbles forwards relatively efficiently despite its 19kg weight.

Combining an upright front end and backswept bars, it provides a solid perch from which to survey traffic. Without suspension, comfort is provided via huge Schwalbe Big Ben puncture-resistant tyres which allow you to point it at most surfaces. With nothing to rattle, this means it’s happy barreling over cobbles or taking less well-paved routes.

When car ads use the term ‘for safer overtaking’, I assumed this was code that you could drive it like a jerk. However, the S3’s boost button did provide the extra torque to help safely navigate traffic, especially when overtaking or accelerating. Although adjustable, the assistance tends towards the fully-charged, a trait that’ll suit most users.

Increasing safety over the previous version, the newly hydraulicised disc brakes are more than adequate to stop the bike in all conditions.

 

Conclusion

It’s bikes like the VanMoof that’ll reach demographics cycling has previously missed. Going back to the idea of the bicycle as independent personal transport and reimagining it for the modern-day; riding and operating it feels effortless.

Both its electronics and mechanical bits are hidden away, leaving you to get on with your journey. There’s no sweat, there’s no grease, and there’s very little to go wrong.

It’s so self-contained, people used to conventional bikes might be a little spooked. And the S3 probably isn’t the e-bike most likely to appeal to people that normally commute in lycra. However, I’d challenge anyone to ride it and not find it a massively enjoyable experience.

Instead, the main market for VanMoof is probably the general public. Take anyone who can already balance on a bike, but doesn’t use one as much as they’d like and I guarantee they’ll want to buy the S3.

Buy the VanMoof PowerBank here

Forgive the London-centric example, but now it’s cheaper than a yearly Zone 1-4 travelcard, I think a lot of people will be doing so. In fact, the VanMoof S3 is so good, I reckon its main competitor is another VanMoof.

The S3 I rode is sold as fitting riders between 5’8” (172.7cm) – 6’8” (203.2cm), while the x-framed X3 caters for those 5’ (152.4cm) - 6’5” (195.5cm), but with the X3 supplying more standover plus an integrated front rack – who wouldn’t want those extras? This means if you can fit on it, I’d recommend the X3.

However, if you’re desperate for a conventional frame or exceptionally tall, the S3 will do just fine too.

So what can I find to grumble about? Not knowing exactly when it’ll shunt the gears, you might get the occasional slipped shift courtesy of the auto-change mechanism.

It’s a little heavy, comes in a single size, and with an enclosed battery it’ll need to come indoors for charging. That’s it. Oh, and it’s likey to annoy anyone who paid full-wack for the previous version.

Otherwise, the VanMoof S3 is superbly slick, very modern and near-flawless in its operation.

All reviews are fully independent and no payments have been made by companies featured in reviews

Buy the VanMoof S3 from VanMoof here

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