VanMoof just announced its latest premium electric bikes: the full-sized S5 with 27.5-inch wheels and the smaller A5 with 24-inch wheels and, in a first for the company, a step-through frame. They bring a host of refinements as VanMoof attempts to capitalize on surging demand for e-bikes from first-time buyers, even as it raises prices above the emotional $2,000 threshold.
“Only a handful of parts remain from our previous models, the S3 and X3,” says VanMoof CEO Taco Carlier in a statement. “Every last detail from the frame down to the chip sets and sensors has been engineered for the smoothest, most powerful ride ever.”
I had a chance to test-ride near-final engineering prototypes of both the S5 and A5 at the company’s new Amsterdam HQ. The company grew from about 250 people at the time of the S3 / X3 launch in 2020 to almost 900 people now. Importantly, many of those new hires have joined the support and engineering teams in order to meet VanMoof’s goal of getting 10 million riders onto its e-bikes by 2026, while avoiding a repeat of the missteps that plagued the early days of the S3 / X3 launch.
One of the biggest changes coming to the S5 / A5 is the replacement of VanMoof’s iconic top-tube display with two lighted “Halo Rings” near the Bell and Boost buttons alongside the left and right grips. According to the company, the lights make you more visible on the road, and the new handlebar interface conveys real-time information like battery life, speed, lock status, and more to the rider — all without having to take their eyes off the road ahead.
VanMoof knows the decision will be controversial. Sometimes you have to “kill your darlings,” said Carlier with a laugh during a Q&A with reporters last week, echoing the idiom that guides designers into dispensing of anything they find personally exciting but fails to add value for the user.
If you want more information during your ride, you’re in luck: VanMoof co-designed an optional phone mount with SP Connect and added a new 5V USB-C jack under the handlebar. That way you can keep your phone charged while the VanMoof app is opened to a new dashboard view. Price and the official reveal of the mount are still TBD.
Both bikes feature a top speed of 20mph in the US and 25kph in Europe off a reworked 250W “silent” fifth-generation front-hub motor of custom VanMoof design, with a boost button that now provides a bit more torque (68Nm) than before (59Nm). Also new is a three-speed automatic transmission coupled with a new torque sensor that now comes standard in all regions. Combined, the S5 and A5 are said to offer a smoother ride than the four-speed S3 and X3 e-bikes.
Powering that motor are new higher-performance 47V/5A batteries with a 487Wh capacity in the S5 and slightly smaller 463Wh capacity in the A5. The 23kg (almost 50 pound) S5 has a slightly higher range of between 60–150km (37–92 miles) compared to the 22kg (49 pound) A5, which has a range of 55–140km (34–87 miles) when riding in full power or eco modes. The non-removable (except for service) batteries charge from 0 to full in a slow six hours and 30 minutes with a smaller and lighter 48V/2A charger that comes in the box, though an optional 48V/4A Speed Charger drops that to 4 hours and 30 minutes (price TBD).
Whereas previous VanMoof S-series bikes were criticized for being too tall for many riders, the S5 frame height has been lowered by 5cm (2 inches) to accommodate riders of 165cm (5 feet, 5 inches) and taller. The diminutive A5 caters to riders as small as 155cm (5 feet, 1 inch) and uses a more angled frame compared to the X3 it replaces, allowing for easier step through.
Another notable change was made to accommodate a redesigned “Click-On” extended battery coming in “early summer.” The optional 463Wh add-on battery (price coming at launch) nearly doubles capacity. It can power the motor directly (or charge the main battery) without all the messy cabling and velcro found on the VanMoof PowerBank it replaces. It attaches to the S5 and A5 via a new “Lock Dock” mount that doesn’t fit older VanMoof e-bikes.
Other changes include brighter front and rear lights that are now more visible from the sides, a new auto-retracting pin on the integrated Kick Lock (no more requirement to roll the bike after unlocking it), integrated environmental sensors for air quality and temperature, better cable management, and improved location tracking using a combination of GPS and LTE-M (a type of low power wide area network). Both bikes offer a variety of front- and rear-cargo options, including a heavy duty rear rack for both the S5 and A5 that can carry up to 27kg (almost 60 pounds). Features like integrated Apple’s Find My network, theft recovery, and the built-in alarm carry over from previous generations.
The S5 and A5 are only available in gray at launch.
In my brief test rides with the prototypes, I can confirm that the S5’s slightly smaller wheels and lower overall frame height make it noticeably easier to mount than VanMoof’s notoriously tall S-series bikes. The smaller A5 is much easier to get onto thanks to the new step-through design that improves upon the straight X3 frame it replaces. I can’t comment directly on the much-touted improved “smoothness” since I was testing non-production firmware on a short test track. I do hope, however, that the shipping bikes maintain the power, fluid shifting, and quick torquey starts (assisted by a press of the Boost button) I achieved when mashing the pedals on the prototypes.
The jury’s still out on the advantages of the Halo Ring interface. On my left side, I saw a solid ring of static white lights as I rode, while the opposite ring rose and fell without an obvious 1:1 correlation to what I was doing — was it showing pedal-assisted power, speed, or something else? Also, when do I use the new secondary buttons located below the boost and bell buttons? VanMoof tells me that the new multi-function buttons will be used to control the Halo Ring functionality, enter a passcode to unlock the bike, and change between the four pedal-assisted power levels. None of this was immediately obvious despite VanMoof’s hope that first-time riders wouldn’t need to consult a manual. In fairness, I only rode the bikes for all of five minutes and even VanMoof’s old interface required some education.
Unfortunately, VanMoof, like nearly every other e-bike maker, has been forced to raise prices in the face of chip shortages and surging transportation costs. The S5 and A5 can be ordered today priced at $2,998 / €2,498 with deliveries starting in July — that’s well above the current $2,448 / €2,348 price of the S3 / X3 models, and far above their $1,998 / €1,998 introductory price from just two years ago. And if anything, those prices will be going up in time, not down, said Carlier when asked by The Verge.
Even at those higher prices, Carlier says the company is preparing to produce about “15 times” as many S5 and A5 bikes at its Taipei factory compared to its pre-pandemic production rate. While Carlier wouldn’t give an exact number (he says it’s “less than 100,000” a month), the company needs to ramp up production dramatically to reach its five-year target of 10 million VanMoof riders — considerably more than the 200,000 or so riders it currently has after more than a decade in operation.
And yes, for those paying attention, VanMoof is skipping over the “S4” generation of bikes with its naming. If you ask Job Stehmann, head of product design, he’ll echo his CEO and say it deserves to skip a number because the bike is such a major advancement over the S3. (Carlier conceded during the Q&A that four is also an unlucky number in Asia.) It’s also worth noting that VanMoof released a number of updates to the S3 / X3 bikes in early 2021, in addition to smaller refinements made throughout 2020, without ever incrementing the model numbers.
VanMoof is good at generating hype for its very popular e-bikes. We’ll see if the new S5 and A5 models are worthy of it just as soon as we can do an in-depth review. Here’s hoping the brothers Carlier can apply all the lessons learned over the past two years by shipping a better, defect-free product without support issues to justify these higher prices.