How great would it be if you had a tracking beacon in your bike which meant you could locate it if it was stolen? Pretty damn great. I first found out that VanMoof electric bikes (opens in new tab) included an integrated SIM to do just that some time last year, and then this year VanMoof announced a new and improved e-bike series that cost less, coming in under £2,000.
The S3, which is the model I tried, has a more traditional frame and is designed for taller riders (1.77m-2.07m) than the X3, with its more compact frame (for riders 1.52m-1.95m) and smaller tyres, which can accommodate taller users but is really designed for smaller people or a range of riders – for instance if one is bought to be used by multiple members of the household. Apart from the frame size, the bikes are identical.
Despite that more traditional frame, it was not the bike I thought it would be. Despite the swept-back handlebars I had assumed this would behave similarly to the flat-bar hybrid e-bikes I’ve ridden, and other electric bikes that hide the battery in the frame, like the Ampler Curt, Cowboy, Ribble ALe or Canyon Roadlite:ON. Boy was I wrong.
VanMoof makes Dutch-style upright bikes with automatic shifting electric gears. The upright position means that I had to adjust my normal riding position from leaning forwards to sitting straight, otherwise I felt like I was sliding off the seat. That position has its advantages in city riding, with a head-up posture that means it’s easier to be aware of what’s around you. It also makes riding feel more relaxed, which suits an e-bike: motor assistance on e-bikes legally has to cut out at 25km/h in the UK and, due to the extra weight of e-bikes, going faster under your own power quickly becomes a sweaty business. Rather than hare through traffic, I believe cruising is the better default riding style, and the VanMoof suits that down to the ground.
The VanMoof is 19kg, and although many e-bikes pass the 20kg mark this is still pretty hefty. You wouldn’t want to carry a VanMoof up multiple flights of stairs.
There are two buttons on the bike, one on the inside of the left handlebar and one on the inside of the right, both of which are easy to press with either thumb. The left button triggers an electronic bell which is loud and grating. You hold the right button for a boost, selecting the highest level of assistance. With the assistance set to level two of four, I could whack on the boost whenever I had to put in any amount of real effort, whether because I was going up a hill or the automatic shifting hadn’t picked the ideal gear. This saved me having to put the work in myself and got me back to easy cruising straight away. Even though you could just set the max level of assistance permanently a manual button is exceptionally useful for when the electronic gear shifting puts you in a sub-optimal gear and you can’t change it.
The bike switches gear according to your speed, something you can tweak in the app. It worked reasonably well, although it didn’t change exactly when I would have, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to personalise to the point where it always felt natural. I can see how it might prove useful for someone who hasn’t cycled for a while and could do with one less thing to manage while making sure they can cycle safely in urban traffic.
The gear changes were neither smooth nor jarring. A little clunky is probably a fair assessment. The highest gear is powerful enough to take advantage of a decline and build up some speed, something I’ve found isn’t always the case with e-bikes. Gocycle e-bikes use three-speed manual electric gears, but even in the highest gear I found I was still spinning the pedals ineffectually down hills.
The gearing mechanism and drivetrain is enclosed so you don’t have to worry about getting grease on your clothes, and a chain-tensing mechanism means you shouldn’t have to worry about chain wear either. VanMoofs also come with mudguards as standard, which is admirable because many e-bikes in this price range charge extra for mudguards. There are built-in front and rear lights, as well as reinforced tyres. It makes for a well-thought out package where almost everything’s been taken care of. The exception is luggage racks, but front (£90) and back (£55) can be added when buying.
The one inconvenience is the fixed battery, with the plug hidden under the crossbar, which means you’ll probably have to bring your bike inside (or run a cable outside) to charge it. VanMoof quotes four hours to charge the battery, with 80 minutes giving a 50% charge. A full charge should last you a minimum of 60km – plenty for any urban trips, which is what this bike is designed for.
As for the theft protection, you can lock and immobilise the bike (although do use a bike lock too), making it useless when stolen. As VanMoofs become more popular that is the feature which may be the most useful, because without a resale value thieves may wise up and steer clear. But if a thief does get away with yours, having purchased “Peace Of Mind” cover (£270 for three years) means a VanMoof team will track your bike down and if it can’t recover it, it will replace it (up to three replacements during the contract term). That final part is a sting in the tail, as £270 is not too far off what you’d pay for theft insurance on a similarly priced e-bike.
Despite that, there’s a lot to recommend the X3 and S3 and it could really suit people who haven’t cycled since childhood looking for a new means of getting around the city. You’ll have to wait though, buy a VanMoof right now and a September delivery is the best you can hope for. If you’re in a rush the Ampler Curt is delivered in 14 days.
Buy from VanMoof (opens in new tab) | £1,798
Jonathan Shannon has been the editor of the Coach website since 2016, developing a wide-ranging experience of health and fitness. Jonathan took up running while editing Coach and has run a sub-40min 10K and 1hr 28min half marathon. His next ambition is to complete a marathon. He’s an advocate of cycling to work and is Coach’s e-bike reviewer, and not just because he lives up a bit of a hill. He also reviews fitness trackers and other workout gear.
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