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Attention commuters and adventurers, VanMoof’s S3 e-bike is a tempting proposition. While there are plenty of technical capabilities and intriguing features, the concept of the S3 is simple: It’s a bike that offers powered pedal assistance to help you get somewhere with less effort.
The pedal-assisted e-bike category is growing in mainstream popularity as models like the S3 bring down the cost and barrier for entry (the fact the designs have greatly improved helps, too). There’s a battery tucked into the bike’s frame and motors in the wheels which add power as you pedal to make rides easier. There’s even a boost button to max out the motor for hills and inclines.
This bike is not a moped or one that you can simply push a button and glide along without pedaling — for that type of transport, you’ll still be best served by a scooter or something similar. S3 is, in most instances, a traditional bike with the added benefit of assisted pedaling so its rides are less of a chore and more enjoyable.
I spent over a week with the S3to get a feel for it in different uses. I’ve previously reviewed other electric modes of transportation, like Boosted Board’s electric skateboards and the S3 is an intriguing option for getting around a neighborhood or city in comparison.
The setup process
The setup process is a simple process for anyone with any previous bike experience. For those without, however, it takes roughly an hour (or more) to get everything fully ready for your first ride.
The bike came with the back wheel already attached but it needed the front wheel, electronics cable, and pedals to be connected and the front handlebars to be straightened. On top of the physical requirements to get the pieces attached is the app setup process which controls and tweaks settings like the S3‘s alarm, speed, lights, and location.
The bike is packaged in a way that it literally pulls out of the box and is ready to begin assembling. The bike can be built with a single person but getting the front wheel on is much easier with two sets of hands. Following the included instructions was straightforward enough, but again, for first-time riders, it will likely take more time than those that have any familiarity with bike parts. One hangup was that I couldn’t find the reset button or charging port for over a minute of searching, despite looking at the instruction booklet.
The S3 is just as much of a tech product as it is a mobility device or something for exercise. The parts, tools, and boxes are all labeled and present. Also, while you can ride the bike without setting up the app first, I’d recommend you take the extra time to do it. The app has more information about the locking feature, its charge and battery life status, and alarm.
- 50% charge in 80 minutes – Full charge in 4 hours
- 37 miles of range with full power – 93 miles in economy
- 504Wh capacity Integrated LG cell
- Wheels: 28” (For riders 5’8″ – 6’8″)
- 41 pounds
- Front and rear hydraulic disc brakes
- Integrated automatic 4-speed hub – Electronic automatic shifting
Similar to how Boosted marketed its electrified skateboards, VanMoof appears to be following a similar path with its bikes. Half of the appeal is the S3’s sleek look and highly integrated tech features, beyond its basic function as an e-bike.
Nearly every feature can be controlled on the bike without the accompanying app, but it makes locking and unlocking much simpler than without. All you have to do is walk up to it and turn it on by tapping the button on the right side. Also, enabling the location setting and tracking your rides needs the app to capture and display that data.
I used a pre-made account for the test bike, but beyond the actual registering process, it was a standard consumer account.
A neat aspect of the bike is its dot-matrix type display built directly into the frame. The pre-production model I used had a thicker coat of paint which at times made it a little hard to see, but I’m told the consumer versions don’t have any visibility issues.
While the bike is turned on in use, the screen displays your current speed which is always fun to see and monitor as you ride. It’s also helpful in knowing when to use the boost button (located on the right handlebar) for extra speed. If you’re already going 20 MPH on a flat stretch of road, there’s no need to hit the button and potentially waste any extra battery power.
The kick lock on the left-hand side of the bike is engaged by giving it a tap with your foot. This not only engages an alarm sound if it’s moved without your permission, but it also won’t allow the motor to start. As further protection, you can pay for VanMoof’s extra security feature which permits the company to track down a stolen bike within two weeks or replace it with a similar or better bike. This service is only available at purchase for $340 which covers three years.
On the left side of the handlebars is another button similar to the boost button. Its primary function is a sort of bell to use when riding. There are three choices of sounds in the app to choose from. I wasn’t a fan of any of them, though the VanMoof sound was the one I used the most. The speaker for the bell is underneath the matrix display and it’s also the sound for the alarm and all other alert noises.
My problem with the speaker was that it was either too loud when I’m next to it and it’s unlocking or powering on, or it’s not loud enough as a bell on a busy road. On top of that, there’s no way to change the volume, even in the app. This is an easy software fix to adjust the volume or let the user adjust the volume that I hope comes to a future update.
Performance and speed
Beyond all the bells and whistles is the question of how does the e-bike perform? The VanMoof S3 is a pedal-assisted bike which means it won’t go on its own without you pedaling. In that regard, it’s a blend of the analog and electric world. The electronic gear shifter worked as expected and can be adjusted in the app if it’s not changing at the right speeds for your liking.
The turbo boost button on the right side of the handlebar provides adequate assistance for hills, but after you get used to the top speed, you’ll wish it went faster. The boost assists you to around 20 MPH at full speed which does still feel breezy on an incline. Even the second (of four) speeds did their job of assisting my pedaling. I quickly found after I got my footing that I preferred the all-or-nothing approach and kept the speed at the highest level.
At that highest level, VanMoof advertises 37 miles of electric-assisted range. My experience was always fairly close to that, typically falling between 30 to 35 miles before needing to recharge the battery. When biking on the lower levels, you can get into the 90-mile range.
The bike’s comfort is debatable, though I did feel that its frame, which is advertised for people from 5’8″ to 6’2″ tall, felt just right for my 5’11” build. The seat is where comfort became questionable. The seat was never initially uncomfortable, but after the first 15-mile ride I noticed bumps in the road more. And on the next day’s ride, my butt was definitely sore in the shape of the seat — as was the case the third day, too. The seat comfort didn’t start to feel fine until roughly a week in when it became far less noticeable.
If it is too hard for you, this is easily fixed with a new seat or even a gel seat cover. This experience may differ for some, but it was one of the few sore spots, literally, in my overall impressions.
The electronic gear shifter also worked fine but wasn’t completely invisible. I tended to notice it most when it was downshifting from more to less resistance. This is a user-facing option in the app so you can adjust at what speeds the gears change if it isn’t working how you’d like it.
Also, if you’re worried about the battery dying the bike does keep a reserve to make sure its gears continue to shift so it can be used as a standard bike without any pedal assistance in a pinch.
As long as I remembered to fully charge the bike, I felt like I could go anywhere around town. It performed better than expected as an electric mode of transportation and was just plain fun to ride.
A few drawbacks
A huge downside of having all the features and tech built into a bike is that it needs to be charged regularly — a perennial fact of literally any e-bike. It’s annoying to find a place to store the bike that’s also close to an outlet and it can be more than annoying if you are relying on the functionality but forget to charge it for some reason. This is less of a knock at the S3 and more of a reminder that electric modes of transportation like pedal-assisted e-bikes need attention to operate properly.
At 41 pounds, the bike isn’t light, either. I never noticed this aspect or had a problem with it storing it inside a garage, but if you’re going up or down flights of stairs, be aware.
Should you buy it?
At $2,000, it’s certainly an investment but if you’re in the market for an e-bike, the S3 not only delivers in terms of performance but won’t break the bank (as far as other e-bikes are concerned).
What are your alternatives?
The Electra Townie Go! e-bike is a little cheaper coming in at $1,500, but it isn’t quite as attractive as the S3 — and certainly doesn’t have the same feature set available. Our reviewer did enjoy the actual ride it provided, so it’s worth consideration. The Schwinn Monroe is also a similar price but is lighter and sleeker while on the higher end, the Trekker GT is Triumph’s first electric bicycle that sells for around $3,000, features 93 miles of range, and has premium components.
The bottom line
After more than a hundred miles on VanMoof’s e-bike, I’m impressed. I was expecting to enjoy a pedal-assisted ride but it really made me reconsider commuting. If you do live roughly 15 to 20 miles from where you work and you don’t need to use a freeway, an e-bike could get you there in a faster time, with much less sweat (if any) than a traditional bike. The S3 is very tempting for that use alone.
Plus, if you’re looking to just buy a new bike in general, the S3 is a strong consideration for the fact that it’s close to the price of a nice traditional bike but with the added benefits of a battery and lots of technological benefits packed in.
Pros: Plenty of range, advanced technology integrated, attractive look
Cons: Could use more user-facing app features