Mention the word VanMoof to anyone who spends time in the cycling world and you’re almost always guaranteed to get a swoon in response.
The Dutch bike company was founded in 2009 by two brothers, Taco and Tiers Carlier, and its high-tech e-bikes are the stuff of legend. With 120,000+ riders around the world, buying a VanMoof is like being welcomed into an exclusive club.
“Our initial thoughts have never changed: this was to get as many people on bikes in San Francisco, New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, as we have in our home town of Amsterdam,” says Taco. “We believe that bikes can change cities into healthier, greener, more liveable places, just like they did with Amsterdam.”
The company’s newest models, the X3 and S3, were released in April and getting your hands on one is like gold dust, with the website saying shipments won’t be until August at the earliest. Within six weeks of the bikes being on sale, the brothers say they shipped more bikes already this year than the whole of 2019.
So how does it stand up on London’s roads and is this the ultimate commuter e-bike?
The S3 I received is a little different to the one you’ll be buying from the website. For instance, it arrived fully built but for customers, your new VanMoof model won’t have the front wheel on so this is something you’ll have to build yourself. Get yourself a friend who can help you as this can be tricky to do solo.
The test bike featured different pedals and saddle to the one on the commercial model but during my test ride I didn’t have any complaints about the versions I tried.
This is a sleek bike, which makes sense since it was awarded a Product Design award by Red Dot for its minimalist design. For starters, the wires are all integrated into the frame so there’s nothing to break up that smooth design. The battery is integrated into the bike so it looks like any other road bike you’d see out and about in the city, and there are no signals to betray its internal power. Whilst this looks great, it might get annoying having to bring it inside all the time to charge, particularly in London flats where space is often limited.
I tried out the Dark version, which has an anti-scratch design to minimise any damage, and it looks smart. At 19kg, this is on the light-side when it comes to e-bikes, even with that integrated battery so that’s a major plus.
With 28” wheels, the S3 is designed for riders who are 5 ft 7 and above. I come in slightly under this at 5 ft 6, and at first, I was concerned the bike was going to be too tall for me to ride but once I was on the go, I didn’t notice any issues though balancing at traffic lights took some getting used to at first. If I was going to purchase a VanMoof, I’d probably go for the X3, for those 5 ft and above, just for extra ease. For those who are on the border between sizes, you could always pop into one of VanMoof’s stores, like in Seven Dials, to help make a decision.
The S3 is a dream to ride. You open up the accompanying app and set the level of help you want, between 1 and 10, and also the speed limit depending on your area – there’s no UK option so I went for Europe. And then off you go. You can barely even hear the motor as you’re riding along, so you can wow other cyclists with your speed skills without them realising you’re cruising on an e-bike.
For casual cycles around south London, I stayed in the lower levels, between 3 and 5, but when you want an extra boost, say for a hill, you can just hit the turbo boost button and off you go. This is one of Taco’s favourite features on the new model. “When you’re waiting at a traffic light and push the boost button and hit the pedal, it’s almost like a Tesla in how fast it accelerates,” he says.
The automatic gear shifting is an extremely cool feature and you can feel it subtly changing during rides. If you’re not a super confident cyclist and are getting your head around gears, which after a long break from cycling can be tricky for us all, then this helps boost your ride that little bit more by shifting up on the go and back down again when you break. It also plays into the accessibility factor of the bike too.
This a bike designed for commuters, which is worth considering if you’re looking for something that can do off-road performance too. However, cruising around on this bike even in London’s summer heat, you barely even break a sweat which is always a good thing.
The VanMoof S3 is packed with loads of extra features, this is a seriously high-tech bike. You control everything through the accompanying app, which shows the location of your bike and the battery. There are also handy guides for getting to grips with things like unlocking the bike and setting the alarm. VanMoof says it also delivers over the air updates to the bike so it gets smarter over time.
The anti-theft tech is where things get really smart. Once you park you bike, you check the back wheel is aligned and then kick a little button to lock it up. If someone comes along and tries to tamper with it while it is locked, a skull comes up on the Matrix display, a new feature for the 3 Model, and an extremely loud alarm starts ringing. I accidentally set this off when I was setting up the bike and can confirm: it is alarming when it happens.
You can unlock this in the app and you can also set a back-up code so you don’t lock yourself out by accident.
If a VanMoof bike does get stolen, it’s easy to lock it down remotely so it won’t function and the company dispatches its bike hunters to get it back for you. So far, VanMoof is able to recover 70 per cent of its stolen bikes in a mere two weeks and Taco hopes that the improved anti-theft tech will bring this down. In Amsterdam now, thieves don’t even try and steal them because they know there’s no point, he says.
In terms of the battery, it has 504W capacity and can do between 60km and 150km which is at the top end of the spectrum for e-bikes. It can charge 50 per cent in 80 minutes and is fully done in a mere four hours, so it’s easy to do in an evening.
Let’s talk about price
E-bikes are expensive and previously VanMoof models have been at the top end. The previous generation X2 and S2 were available for €2,398 for only the first 2,000 orders, after which the price jumped to €3,398. Devastating for the 2,001st buyer.
But now the company is a lot bigger, it’s been able to bring down those prices to a starting price of £1,798/ €1,998 in Europe. That’s a big difference, something Taco describes as a radical move.
“The company has grown so fast we were able to lower the production prices because of scale so the cost price went down,” he explains. “We were quite scared to do that but I think it was the right thing to do. The mission is to get the next billion people on bikes and change the way cities move around. And if you want to have bike dreams, you have to make bolshy decisions.”
It’s worth noting that if you want the Bike Finder services, that’s an additional £270 on top. For the X3 model, you can also add a basket or space for a pannier on the back.
From the minimalist design to the high-tech riding features like boost and automatic gear shifting, not to mention the anti-theft bonus, there’s a lot to love about the VanMoof S3 bike.
The integrated battery may be annoying for some and the height is also worth considering before forking over your credit card.
But, when combined with the more affordable price tag, if you’ve ever wanted to own one of these bikes then the time is now.
Prices for the S3/X3 VanMoof bikes start from £1,798 from vanmoof.com or its Seven Dials store