Gadgets for humans

I love the new VanMoof S3 e-bike like it was my metallic daddy

Yes, I will lick your lovely frame

E-bikes are really having a moment. This has led to companies putting out some brilliant electric two-wheelers, with things like the Cowboy and Analog Motion AM1 being prime examples.

But — and I’m just gonna put this straight out there — the market has a new metallic daddy. So, please, everyone slap your rumps in honor of the just-launched VanMoof S3.

Want to know exactly why the VanMoof S3 has become my favorite e-bike? Well, I’d suggest you scroll to the top of this article and watch the rather lovely video we put together. That’ll tell you everything you need to know.

But would you rather not do that? Do you prefer having things written down? Well, because we’re such lovely people, we’ve done that. Just for you.

We’ll be expecting our thank you cards in the mail.

So… VanMoof?

It’s a Dutch company that has been described as the Apple or Tesla of the e-bike world. To put that in terms a normal person would use (ahh, marketers and their bullshit), it basically means they put a whole load technology in their bicycles.

Thing is, VanMoof actually made it work. It’s not just a gimmick.

The bikes they make combine technology and transport in an organic way, rather than just throwing it all together and hoping for the best.

Now, the last time we saw this in action was with their previous electric bike, the ES2. Honestly, the damn thing was superb. It was futuristic and a damn joy to ride. But… it had one major drawback: the price.

During its heydey, the VanMoof ES2 sold for €3,400, or in the region of $3,800. Not only does that put it out of the price range of normal people and most cycle to work schemes, you can also get a pretty nifty second-hand car for that amount of money.

The ES2 was good — one of the best e-bikes on the market even — but actually buying one was a supreme luxury. Well, VanMoof obviously realized this and addressed the issue of price head on with the S3.

The glorious new electric bike
Damn, I wish I never had to give this bike back.

The VanMoof S3 is cheap then?

Well, no.

The e-bike isn’t cheap, but it now sells for a price far closer to is contemporaries. Specifically, you can pick it up for just under €2,000 or $2,000.

That means it’s now directly competing with e-bikes like the Cowboy, which — as good as they are — are nowhere as advanced. The VanMoof S3 is about to give the whole e-bike market an almighty whipping.

How did the company manage to reduce the price so much?

It’s hard to say for sure, but there are a few theories. First off, the company has received a lot of investment recently. This allowed it to have a dedicated factory line, rather than doing production in bursts.

What this equates to is more bikes they can sell for a lower cost.

Another idea — and something we’ll touch on in the next sections — is that the S3 is a bike founded on tweaks and upgrades rather than a complete overhaul. This means the company probably didn’t have to spend as much on research and development. But that’s just a guess.

So, tell me a bit about the S3

Of course!

First off, the name. VanMoof discontinued its non-electric bikes (which were just called the Smart series), so has been referring to this range as the S3 and the X3.

If you’re wondering what the difference between the S and X is, it’s all about frames. For this review, we got our hands on the S3. Technology-wise, the X3 is identical, it just has a different shape to accommodate smaller riders:

VanMoof X3
Not quite as pretty as the other frame, but it’ll do.

Tell me more

As I mentioned in the video, the VanMoof S3 is an evolution, not a revolution. The new bike from the company has a lot of the features you’d remember from previous models. This includes things like:

  • An in-built matrix display that shows the speed while riding, as well as animations
  • A kick lock on the rear wheel so you can easily secure your bike
  • A turbo boost feature (which delivers more of a BOOST this time round)
  • Automatic unlocking when you approach your bike with your phone
  • The company’s bike hunters, who’ll track down your stolen ride — for a price

There are a whole load of other bells and whistles, but you can find more information about those in this piece on the ES2, and this one on its older (and now discontinued) Smart series — as the core functionalities remain across the bikes.

Basically, what I’m getting at is the VanMoof S3 is building off the success and advances of its previous models. The e-bike‘s main focus has been refining these issues and making them work better than ever — something it achieved with aplomb.

Praise be my bicycle daddy.

What about stuff that’s totally new?

In terms of what’s FRESH, these are the most important aspects:

  • An automatic four-speed electronic gear shifter (something VanMoof calls the e-shifter)
  • In-frame hydraulic disc brakes on both the front and rear
  • The design (which we cover below)

Aaaaand, if I’m honest, a whole load of other features you can explore here.

I’m not going to go into too much technical depth here, because although I ride a bike pretty much every day, I’m an enthusiast, rather than a nerd. I’m far more interested in how a bike feels, rather than just rolling out technical specs.

If you want a list of bullet points pretending to be an article, there are other places to go.

So, without further ado, let’s dive in and get into the experience of using the VanMoof S3.

How’s the e-bike’s the design?

Apart from the price, the design is one of the bigger upgrades with the bike. While the VanMoof S3 certainly looks like one of the company’s two-wheelers — it still has that futuristic industrial aesthetic — it now comes in a matte color. It’s also more scratch resistant than the previous model.

And damn, it’s goddamn delicious.

VanMoof ES3 matte finish
Mmm, so sophisticated.

The company has also altered the handlebar shape:

VanMoof ES3 new handlebar shape
A subtle change, but still a change.

The VanMoof S3 also has a new seat design and pedals, but these weren’t on the review model I had.

The simplest way I can put it is the VanMoof S3 is just a joy to look at. For a little while, it felt like other people using bikes envied me. I mean, of course, they didn’t, but that’s what power’s like, isn’t it?

And what about the technological side of the VanMoof S3?

Using it’s a goddamn breeze. The bike unlocked easily either with the app, or when you set a passcode using one of the S3’s buttons. The whole experience felt slick and professional.

Effectively, VanMoof has found a way to seamlessly integrate technology into the bike. Using it feels like a natural extension of the experience, not just something jammed in for gimmicks.

VanMoof S3 matrix display

The matrix display (pictured above) veers on the gimmick side of things, but is also really fucking cool. Having it embedded in the bike like this — rather than being an external display — gives the VanMoof S3 an extra, boutique feel. Still, as much as I enjoy it, the way it’s constructed does make it a bit tough to use in broad daylight.

I’d take the trade-off for how badass it looks for that though.

Another upgrade that I really enjoyed was the speaker. This thing is substantially louder in the ES3 than it was previously, which made beeping people with the horn (of which there are an extra two sound options now) extra satisfying.

Oh, and it’ll probably help stop thieves too.

I was also impressed with the improvements on the app. Last time I used it, it felt buggy and, well, a little shit. Things have improved since then.

In my time with the app, it was more reliable and useful than before. One of these updates involves the gears, which we’ll talk about in the next section…

How does the VanMoof S3 ride?

Like a dream. Truly. It’s one of the smoothest biking experiences I’ve had.

Not only is actually riding the bike comfortable (I’m a huge fan of the city-influenced design, where you sit up while cycling), but the way the motor works is terrific.

Basically, the VanMoof S3 moves through gears when it reaches a certain speed. Using the app, you can specify the precise speed you want this to happen, which is a damn cool feature.

VanMoof S3 brakes
Here’s the brake disc. Enjoy.

But yeah, I can’t overstate just how great riding the S3 through Amsterdam was on a sunny day. The e-bike felt powerful, controlled, and just a sheer joy to ride. The new brakes were sharp and responsive, and the whole experience was phenomenal.

At times, the automatic gear shifting can feel a little awkward or clunky, but this is few and far between. The majority of cycles, it’s like sliding through butter.

Speed-wise, it’s locked at 25km/h in Europe and 30km/h in the US (of course you can go faster than this, it’s just when the motor stops assisting you).

The battery range will get you anywhere between 60km and, on economy mode, 150km. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to test how well this holds up over months, but in my time with the S3, it seemed accurate-ish.

I was trying to think what else I could say about the riding experience, but I think this puts it best: Since I’ve given the VanMoof S3 back, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering to buy one.

And I really don’t need an electric bike.

VanMoof S3 riding
Feel like shit, just want it back.

What about the negatives?

Now, I love the S3, but it’d be ridiculous if we didn’t chat about the negatives.

The biggest downside is the battery. You charge the VanMoof S3 with a mains adaptor. And the bike is 19kg.

While this might be fine if you live somewhere with ground floor access, carrying it up the stairs is a fucking nightmare. I did it once and never again.

I’m sure a lot of people will charge this at work, but I couldn’t recommend you buying the bike in good conscience if you don’t have easy access to a secure, ground-level charging spot. It just wouldn’t be worth it.

Another thing I feel I should mention is I’ve heard anecdotal complaints about the build-quality of some VanMoof bikes. I didn’t see anything to suggest this with the S3 — and I’d hope VanMoof would’ve addressed these in the development process — but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Also, it goes without saying, but the VanMoof S3 is a city bike. This is a two-wheeler built for zipping around cycle lanes and traffic. It’d be an odd choice if you were buying one for cross-country trips or off-roading, but hey, I’ve heard weirder things.

VanMoof S3 handlebar brake

So, what do you think of the VanMoof S3?

I fucking love it.

Hands-down, it’s the best e-bike I’ve ever used. Is it perfect? No, but it’s the closest I’ve seen an electric bike to being so.

What VanMoof has done is combine technology and a vehicle in a way that feels natural and focused on the user, something I’ve seen no other bike maker come close to achieving.

This is made all the more remarkable by its current price. There really is no other competitor with an e-bike on the market that comes close to the S3 in general, let alone at $2,000.

If I was on the market for an e-bike, my decision would be easy: I’d buy the VanMoof S3. And from that point on, I’d love and cherish my metallic daddy with all my heart.

(Update, April 22: The price of the S3 in the US is $2,000, not $2,200)

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Published April 21, 2020 — 15:03 UTC