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VanMoof S3 e-bike review: better than the best

And less expensive, too

Electric bikes, like cars, come in tiers of quality and prestige. Dependable commuter bikes start at around $1,000. At $1,500, they start to look nice, with batteries and motors integrated into the overall aesthetic. Above $2,000 you start seeing sleek designs, advanced electronics, and a preponderance of high-end or original components. On that scale, VanMoof’s premium prices have made it the BMW of e-bikes (or Tesla, if you prefer).

VanMoof is now taking preorders for its newest pedal-assisted electric bikes: the S3 and X3. They’re follow-ups to the full-sized S2 and compact X2 theft-defying e-bikes released in 2018 and two of the highest-rated e-bikes we’ve ever tested.

Despite a similar appearance, VanMoof says the S3 and X3 are “an upgrade to the S2 and X2 in every way,” yet they cost $400 to $1,400 less than VanMoof’s previous generations of electrics. Priced at $1,998 / €1,998, VanMoof is aggressively setting a new entry point for premium e-bikes that can cost well over $3,000.

Better and cheaper? That’s a bold claim that I put to the test for a week in VanMoof’s European home city of Amsterdam.

The S3 and X3 models are essentially the same under the “hood,” differing only by frame types and wheel sizes. The S3 is designed for riders ranging in size from 170 to 210 cm (5 feet, 7 inches to 6 feet, 11 inches), while the compact X3 fits riders from 155 to 200 cm (5 feet, 1 inch to 6 feet, 7 inches). Both are available in “light” (white with a bluish tint) or “dark” (dark gray) models. I’ve been riding a dark S3 model for the last week.

The S3 and X3 feature a number of improvements, headlined by the following:

  • New four-speed electronic gear shifter
  • More powerful and immediate Turbo Boost
  • Smaller and nearly silent 250W / 500W front-hub motor
  • Front and rear hydraulic disc brakes for more accurate braking and less maintenance

Let me put it plainly: the S3 is the most sophisticated ride I’ve ever experienced on an e-bike. Shifting is incredibly smooth the vast majority of the time, without requiring a pause between downstrokes like the $5,000 Gocycle GXi. Occasionally, maybe one out of every 50 shifts, I felt my feet chase the new gear for about a third of a revolution, or I heard a mechanical “clink” as the gears advanced. Otherwise, it was silent and glorious, allowing me to pedal along with constant pressure as the gears shifted beneath me, always returning to first when I stopped. The VanMoof app allows you to tweak the “shift down” and “shift up” moments, but the defaults felt just right for me. I was happy to have that fourth gear, too, something I missed on the Gocycle’s electronic three-speed once I got the GXi moving fast.

Cutaway of the new 4-speed electronic shifter.
GIF: VanMoof

VanMoof’s previous two-speed automatic shifter was purely mechanical, relying on a centrifugal clutch. The new gearbox is built around an electric e-shifter. Don’t worry, I also tested the S3 with the motor off, and the gears continued to shift, making it easy to ride without the pedal-assist function, despite the bike’s 19-kg (42-pound) bulk. If you do run out of battery, VanMoof tells me that the bike holds enough power in reserve to operate the lights and shifting until you get home to a charger.

The bike’s smaller, more refined front-hub motor, like the gears, is also dead silent, even as it pushes out 250W to 350W of continuous power (500W peak). It’s as quiet as a Cowboy. I had to strain to hear it above the wind, easily making it one of the quietest motors around. And the bike is so balanced that I often found myself sitting upright, hands off the grips, riding with “no hands” on long, lonely stretches of asphalt during my range test. Likewise, popping bunny hops off speed bumps was a breeze.

Every e-bike should have VanMoof’s Turbo Boost feature. The button, accessible from the right grip, is now even more powerful and torquey, giving a near-instantaneous boost without feeling jerky. Push it when you want to make a fast start, climb a hill, or overtake someone quickly. It’s not a throttle, but who cares?

VanMoof says that the 504Wh-capacity battery will eke out a range of 60 km (37 miles) when riding at full power or up to 150 km (93 miles) when riding in economy. When I tested the X2 last year against similar claims, I averaged about 60 km per charge. I didn’t get that on the S3, despite it having the same capacity battery — but I tested with an S3 running pre-release firmware that restricted some of the available power to protect the battery. As such, I only made it 47 km (29.2 miles) before empty. I did my test while riding in the 32 km/h (20 mph) US mode (an app setting I could choose after swiping away a warning that I was located in Europe), the maximum of four power-assist settings, and using the Boost button heavily to get started pedaling or to climb hills — just like I tested the X2. With the production firmware, my range would have been extended, VanMoof tells me. My S3 charged to full in about four hours.

The biggest criticism I have of the S3 applies to all VanMoof e-bikes: the battery can’t be removed for charging, although it can be removed for service. That could be a deal-breaker for many city dwellers, if your only option is to charge the bike in your living room. Yes, the X3 is smaller in size, making it easier to maneuver through the front door (or into a lift), but it still weighs the same as the S3, making it very difficult to carry up any stairs.

Other new features found on the S3 and X3:

  • New one-piece saddle and pedals (unfortunately, neither was ready for me to test)
  • Scratch-resistant matte finishes after owners complained of scratching on the glossy S2 and X2 models. The matte grey S3 also looks much better than the glossy S2, in my opinion.
Fortunately, most of the sounds can be disabled in the app.
  • New “Ding dong” horn option sounds just like those big traditional mechanical bells. That’s good because the old VanMoof sonar “ping” didn’t sound like a bell at all, meaning people sometimes wouldn’t move out of the way. It was also embarrassing to use, though not as embarrassing as the new “party” bell. It’s cute, but please, don’t ever use this. (You can disable most of the sounds in the app.)
  • New grips claim to handle water better (I did not test this claim, nor do I pretend to understand it)
  • The integrated Matrix Display on the top tube now shows the gear you’re in with a dot that progresses four ticks across the display, as well as the accurate charging status. It’s mostly visible in daylight, although direct sunlight can obscure it, not that it’s something you’ll be staring at while riding anyway. It still looks very cool.
  • Fender flaps now help reduce spray and flying debris
  • New one-piece steel discs and brake calipers with the hydraulic elements integrated right into the frame for a clean look
  • More compact 36V 4A charger
  • New snap spacers adjust the one-piece handlebar height without having to remove it
  • The bikes ship in smaller packages for less waste
  • Every bike now comes with a foot pump and toolbox with wrenches, lubricant, reusable yellow restraining belt, and... confetti
  • App will allow you to track your journeys later this summer showing the total number of rides, average speed, distance, and duration
  • Oh, VanMoof doesn’t use the “Electrified” name anymore with the S3 and X3

That’s a lot of newness! It’s also more opportunity for things to go wrong over time. The VanMoof S2 and X2 were already made of mostly custom or original parts of VanMoof design, and the S3 and X3 use even more, I’m told. VanMoof credits “industry-first full supply chain control” and the scale of its e-bike sales for helping bring down prices. Let’s hope that also ensures a high level of quality control to keep repairs to a minimum. Otherwise, that 4-speed electronic shifter is sure to flummox more than a few local bike shops.

The S3 and X3 also carry over an impressive list of features from previous VanMoofs:

  • The integrated Kick Lock secures the rear wheel and activates the alarm with a kick of the protruding button. It still requires proper alignment of the rear wheel to engage, which can be a finicky maneuver, especially at night when you can’t see the guides. The lock can be opened in the app or by tapping out your secret code on the Horn button mounted on the left grip (my preference). The Kick Lock can feel gimmicky in theft-happy places like Amsterdam where a bike requires two locks to be secured, but it’s all you need in cities like Tokyo.
  • The built-in alarm system slowly escalates in intensity before disabling the bike’s motor and begins broadcasting its location to VanMoof and the owner. The optional Peace of Mind theft recovery service costs $290 / €290 for three years. If VanMoof’s Bike Hunters can’t locate your bike within two weeks, they’ll replace it with a bike of similar or better age and condition (first replacement is free, 2nd and 3rd cost $98 / €98).
  • A Smart Cartridge in the top tube hosting the computer, GSM and Bluetooth theft tracking, and speaker can be removed by the user, as can the battery pack in a pinch, and sent to VanMoof for servicing (instead of the whole bike). It’s something you may need to do if you don’t live close to one of VanMoof’s global stores / service centers in Amsterdam, Berlin, London, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Seattle, Taipei, and Tokyo.
  • Most cables are hidden, but two cables still snake out of the handlebar, making them susceptible to snagging in bike racks. It’s a shame they’re not completely hidden like the cables on Gocycle bikes and other premium rides.
  • Chunky 28-inch (S3) and 24-inch (X3) Schwalbe puncture-protection tires
  • Automatic chain-tensioning system that requires a few drops of oil now and then
  • Bikes can be updated over the air when necessary
  • Large lineup of custom accessories, including front (coming this summer) and rear carriers and panniers

VanMoof is back with two bikes that are remarkably better than the best e-bikes it’s ever built. They may look similar, but the ride is much improved. Incredibly, they’re priced less than $2,000 for the first time, which is all kinds of impressive for a premium e-bike that offers premium features and a premium riding experience. That’s approaching a mainstream price for a high-quality commuter bike you’ll depend on for daily use. To call the S3 and X3 the best e-bikes below $2,000 is easy, but these might be the best e-bikes at any price.

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