The new VanMoof Electrified S3 retains the iconic form factor of past models – which is a good … [+]
In the fall of 2019, I reviewed VanMoof’s Electrified S2 electric bicycle and was duly impressed. Its combination of sleek style, smart design and usable performance made it a winner in my book, with perhaps the only real issue being the rather steep $3,398 price tag. Premium product, premium price.
Now, VanMoof has released the S3, and while it is visually almost identical to the S2 (a good thing), changes under the hood have upped performance and it’s a genuine bargain at the introductory price of just $1,998. VanMoof sent Forbes an early production S3 ahead of their unveiling so we could sample what’s new with the iconic, award-winning commuting bike, and its sibling, the smaller X3.
Tech and Design
The new VanMoof S3 ebike is $1,400 less than the previous model, despite including several notable … [+]
Perhaps the highest compliment we can give the S3 as to what’s new is “not very much” since it rides and operates pretty much like the standout S2. While not messing with success can be viewed as either a sign of design strength or a reluctance to mix things up, in this case, I’d say the former applies since the incremental changes are all worthy improvements while keeping the iconic form factor and excellent riding experience intact.
The first noticeable change is the brakes: The S3 upgrades the stoppers to hydraulic binders from the previous cable-operated units, which were actually highly effective for cable bits. But the hydraulics are a step up again in terms of power and feel, and another thing riders don’t have to worry about adjusting. Befitting the VanMoof design ethos, the brake fluid reservoirs are low-profile and nicely integrated into the handlebar, and the rear brake line snakes through the frame to help preserve the ultra-clean design of the bike. Single-puck calipers grip nicely-finished solid rotors at both wheels. While most bikes use drilled rotors, the solid stars at each wheel look great. In my book, the VanMoof design continues to be one of the cleanest, most modern-looking bike designs out there, electric or otherwise.
More subtle changes: The 350-watt (500 watts peak) motor in the front wheel is physically smaller than on the S2 despite making the same amount of power, making it even harder to tell this is an electric ride. The LED display built into the top tube has seen some tweaks and there are subtle changes to fenders and a few other bits. The battery remains at 504Wh and will go from dead to full in about four hours. Range is about 37 to 90 miles depending on how much assist you dial in. And now instead of just two gears, the S3 has a four gear system in the rear hub.
The S3 motor puts put the same power (500 watts peak) as the S2, but it’s a bit smaller.
VanMoof has been ahead of the curve on integrating smartphone-based app tweaks into their products, and S3 owners can get pretty granular on tuning the bike to their tastes, including the new ability to pick specific shift points for the bike’s automatic transmission system. There are no gear levers on the S3; the bike shifts both up and down for you, so the ability to make changes to what was factory pre-set in the past is a nice new perk. Also new in the app: Options for the built-in “horn,” which is speaker-based and activated by the left handlebar button. You have a typical bike-bell sound option, a “VanMoof” option (hard to describe), and a party favor horn selection for bringing a bit of fun to the ride (my son’s favorite choice). I usually went with the bike bell sound, which is now louder and clearer than on the S2. It gets attention, even around noisy car traffic. The app also lets you track your bike’s location and report it as stolen, and since VanMoof has essentially smartphone-ized their bikes, if someone does steal it, users can contact VanMoof and they will endeavor to get it back. According to the company, they have a 75% successful recovery rate, which handily beats the single-digit results of getting any other bike back.
That little nub with the yellow ring is the kick lock. You tap it with your toe and the rear wheel … [+]
To that end, the S3 retains the rear wheel-disabling kick-lock feature that is very handy to be sure, but at just over 40 pounds – light for an ebike – it’s still pretty easy for the S3 to sprout legs as it were, at least in my neighborhood. Scofflaws attempting to heist an S2, S3 or X-series bike will be warned off with a loud roar from the bike and a flashing skull on the LED display. Further disturbances activate a more strident alarm and a notification to your phone. The alarm is configurable in the app, which will also unlock the bike, but a settable button-based code sequence on the bike also allows unlocking if your phone is dead or not with you. It was simple and quick to set it all up in the well-designed app.
I’m not exactly built like a bike racer, but I love riding bikes and the S3 fit me just fine. … [+]
Thankfully, cruising around on the S3 was the same zen-like experience that I enjoyed on the S2. The ride is firm but comfortable (there is no suspension) and it feels well-connected to the road at all times. Despite my XL size, the bike fit me well, the controls fell to hand naturally and the biggish 28-inch wheels wearing excellent Schwalbe city tires rolled over obstacles easily and are grippy when called upon in corners. The metal fenders fended off the Oregon rain in fine fashion and now include small extensions that do an even better job of keeping your feet and backside dry. The new brakes are a definite upgrade in power and feel, even though the old ones weren’t underperformers in any way. I looked forward to riding the bike every day, as did my teenage son. It got ridden a lot for this review.
As I described in my S2 review, the VanMoof is a Class I “pedelec” bike, so it will only add power while you are pedaling, and offers four levels of assist (or five if you count the “zero” setting, more on that in bit). There is no thumb throttle for free-wheeling under motor power alone. But since the S3 is so light, that is never really an issue. The right side handlebar button applies a “turbo” boost and zips the motor to its full 500-watt output, but in a gentle, ramped kind of way. I’m a big rider (6-1, 230lbs) and to me the power profile was spot-on at the 2, 3 and 4 settings, with 4 great for rolling at 20mph continuously on long runs. The boost tapers off right at 20 miles an hour, there is no speed creep here. One fun new way I enjoyed the S3 was setting the boost to Zero, and pedaling it like a normal bicycle, and then using the boost button for a bit of assist as needed. The S3 is pretty much as easy to pedal as a regular bicycle (not all ebikes are) and with the option to pick gear changes in the app, it made for a great slower-speed option while out for neighborhood rides. I even took it down a light trail in a nearby park with no problem.
The dot-matrix display on the top tube shows a lot of info. This says the headlight is on (top dot), … [+]
I also took the S3 out at night as I often have to commute in the dark, especially in the winter. The 40-lux headlight is built into the top tube, so if you’re used to a handlebar-mounted light, there’s a little bit of lag time before the headlight beam, which is wide and very bright, swings around to your heading in a big turn. You get used to it. Out back, the signature red tail light caps the other end of the top tube, but it’s an on-or-off only affair, and it would be nice to have a blink option in the app, and nicer still to have it work as a brake light, which is something I’m seeing more and more on other ebikes. The app does allow riders to turn the lights on or off, or set them to automatic.
When I heard about the new low price of the S3, I feared there would be compromises from the excellent S2. But VanMoof has taken a page from Tesla and brought as much of the design, construction and technological development in-house as possible, streamlining their supply chain and operation. No doubt, that has helped cut costs. But the other reality is that ebike prices are quickly falling in general, and at $3,400, the S2 was a premium product at a premium price to be sure. Even at the new introductory price of $1,998, the S3 is still a few hundred dollars over the median ebike price, which seems to be between $1,300 and $1,700 these days. But the VanMoof S3 has arrived without any feared compromises; indeed it’s a better bike than the S2 in many ways while retaining all of the S2’s best features, making it an absolutely great deal for the price. It’s just a fun, peaceful, entertaining electric bicycle that riders will enjoy for years with a minimum of hassle. That’s how an electric city bike – and really, any workhorse bike – should be.
Quick final note: VanMoof has also upgraded their direct-buy delivery experience with a new box design that makes it super easy to slide the bike out and put it together. A complete set of simple tools and a brief assembly manual are included. I was up and riding in about 15 minutes after delivery. Basically, you have to put the front wheel on, attach a power cable, attach the pedals and tighten up the handlebars. Spacers are included for customizing bar height, along with reflectors and some other bits. Definitely an Apple-level unboxing experience a lot of other bike makers could learn from as direct delivery becomes more common.
• Great price for an upgraded bike
• Improved brakes
• Same great riding experience made even better
• Easy setup with included tools and app
• Would be nice to have multiple user setup profiles in the app
• Rear light should work like a brake light