VanMoof S3 test: our opinion, our laboratory measurements

If the Electrified S and S2 have made a name for themselves on the urban bicycle market, it is partly thanks to their design. Difficult for the manufacturer to change or even make it evolve, especially when it comes to significantly reducing the sale price and therefore limiting development costs. For its S3, VanMoof therefore retains the framework of the S2. We find this atypical design based on a perfectly straight horizontal tube parallel to the ground, integrating the bike’s electronics as well as its lighting system. The battery, on the other hand, is perfectly integrated in a down tube which is certainly a little thicker, but thin enough not to immediately reveal that it is an electrically assisted bicycle. Especially since the engine is discreetly housed in the hub of the front wheel.

The visual change on this S3 is ultimately to be sought in terms of paint, now satin and metallic. We thus find an even more modern look. Two colors are available: a classic black and a sky blue rather refreshing and ultimately quite unusual. The finishes are impeccable, with polished welds practically invisible between the main tubes. As for cables, they are discreet and spin in the frame to stand out right next to the organs they connect. We tick a little more on the protective casing which encompasses the whole chain and protects it from impurities. In plastic, this one effectively preserves the bottom of the pants, but we have heard it rubbed against the chain several times. A more rigid model, or better, a strap would be appreciated.

Unlike many bikes, the VanMoof S3 is only available in one size. Mounted on 28 inch wheels, it is intended for cyclists measuring between 1.70 m and 2.10 m. You have to be big enough to be comfortable there. VanMoof offers, however, an alternative to those that do not meet Dutch size standards: the X3, usable from 1.55 m thanks to a smaller frame and different geometry, associated with 24-inch wheels. The other technical characteristics of the VanMoof X3 are nevertheless identical to those of the S3. And since it is also suitable for cyclists up to 2 m long, those looking for a more manoeuvrable bike (at the expense of speed) can easily turn to this other model.

Still, the large size of the S3 goes well with the fairly relaxed riding position induced by its handlebars with the curved handlebars. In the spirit of the Dutch bikes, we ride here with the back fairly straight, unlike the sportier position of bike like the Cowboy Sport V2. On the flip side, agility is not the strong point of the VanMoof S3, which is more comfortable on cycle paths than in the middle of urban traffic.

Although the S3 aims for a certain driving comfort, it can only count on its Schwalbe Big Ben “Balloon” tires of good section (50-622) to compensate for the rigidity of its frame and its aluminum fork. Enough to absorb all the roughness of the road. Above all, we will complain about the lack of amortization when we have to drive on cobblestones, for example. The saddle of our test model being that of a S2 model and not the new one that the manufacturer promises on its S3 visuals, we cannot assess its impact on comfort. Without being very padded, that of the S2 already ensured a satisfactory reception of the glutes. Same sound for the pedals which are not those of the final S3.

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We appreciate that VanMoof has not sacrificed practicality on the altar of design. We take advantage of well-covering mudguards and ending with a flap limiting projections. The stand, for its part, ensures good stability on the bike.

No luggage rack as standard, however, the manufacturer has the good idea to offer an option for the front (10 kg load; € 99) and for the rear (15 kg, € 59). The latter is not designed to accommodate a baby carrier, VanMoof offers in its shop a Thule Yepp Maxi seat (119 €), which is fixed on the seat tube. However, it cannot be used in conjunction with the rear rack.

The lighting is integrated harmoniously into the frame, without distorting the design. Placed high enough, the rear light is clearly visible, but can be hidden if packages are carried on the luggage rack. It will then be necessary to add one more on the back. Same thing for the headlight at the front.

The latter is unfortunately not adjustable and its inclination towards the ground a little too pronounced to light far ahead. No problem in the city with public lighting, but distrust outside the built-up area, because we don’t see very far despite the 40 lux announced.

VanMoof does not take the risk of theft lightly and emphasizes the safety of the S3. In addition to the anti-theft nuts securing the wheels, there is also a rear wheel lock that can be activated with a simple kick on a button. This activates the electronic bike lock on the way. To unlock it, you must enter a 3-digit code by successive presses on the small button located at the left handle, or use the VanMoof smartphone application which can automatically connect to the bike; then just get on your mount and press the same little left button once to start riding.

If the bicycle is moved when the lock is active, the alarm will sound and a skull will appear on the screen of the horizontal tube. Rather dissuasive. If, however, thieves still loaded the bicycle, they could not in principle use it without having access to the user account linked to the bicycle by the VanMoof application. VanMoof offers an optional anti-theft guarantee “Peace of Mind”: for 290 €, the bike is insured for 3 years and the manufacturer ensures to find it (it is geolocated thanks to its integrated GPS chip) or to replace it within 2 weeks ( up to 3 times)

Smartphone connectivity not only protects the bike against theft, it also offers several functions via the VanMoof app. This gives access to the bike settings and the history of journeys (without access to the GPS track, alas). We can very well do without the application once the settings have been made.

However, you will have to be content with the information provided by the LED display on the top of the horizontal tube. The instantaneous speed, the battery level and the assistance mode used are displayed. The display is fairly basic, but the essentials are there.

Unlike its competitors Cowbow Sport V2 and Angell both of which use a rear hub motor, the VanMoof S3 maintains a motor housed in the front wheel hub. A solution that is usually found on entry-level bikes, since it is the simplest and least expensive to implement. VanMoof nevertheless made this choice for two reasons: on the one hand, it did not want a central motor so as not to disturb the design of its bicycle with a large block located in the crankset; on the other hand, he could not use a rear hub motor since the bicycle uses a hub with integrated speeds.

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The VanMoof S3 therefore leaves with a certain handicap on paper, since the electric assistance by motor with front hub is in our opinion that which is the least natural and the least sure in terms of driving. However, we have to admit that the S3 has somewhat reconciled us with this front-wheel drive operation. Even when set to the maximum, the assistance remains gentle and we have never felt any danger, which is not always the case with certain bikes whose front hub-motor delivers its power too suddenly. The assistance here is linked to the speed and remains fairly gentle during low-speed maneuvers, which avoids being knocked off. However, we can feel it helping us when the speed increases, without necessarily triggering it unexpectedly. A good surprise therefore.

We can simply regret that VanMoof still does not use a force sensor in its crankset, which could have made the assistance more progressive and especially adapted to the effort actually provided by the user. In its absence, a simple rotation of the pedals is enough to start the engine, even when it is not especially necessary (on a flat or slightly downhill), while on the climb, on the contrary, a little more assistance n would not have been refused.

The electronically controlled Sturmey-Archer hub with integrated speeds.

The electronically controlled Sturmey-Archer hub with integrated speeds.

Fortunately, the S3 has a 4-speed automatic transmission that streamlines pedaling in addition to relieving the engine. The gear change is exclusively automated and is done only according to the speed of the bike, which is not without causing some problems. Indeed, although you can modify the gearshift levels in the VanMoof application associated with the bicycle, it is impossible to manually shift them. However, we find that the pedaling cadence drops too quickly when we arrive on a climb, so that we quickly lose speed without the possibility of regaining rhythm. The descents of speeds are often too late, thus obliging to force, even to get into a dancer on the bike to maintain a good pace. We finally come to use the secret boot of the VanMoof S3: the boost button!

Fortunately, there is this boost button, since it compensates for the lack of sensors in this S3 and allows you to get out of delicate situations. However, it also profoundly changes the use of electric assistance. We end up using it from the slightest climb or even to start, until the engine takes us to 25 km / h. Always pedal, otherwise the electric assistance will not activate, but you lose the naturalness of the bike somewhat. Note in passing that this boost is not miraculous either, especially when it comes to starting on a hill. Without a pedal turn, activation point of the boost, which can require a lot of effort if the slope is steep. Even more annoying, the assistance mode cannot be changed while driving, it must be done when stopped! We come to prefer mode 4 to cope with all situations, even though we could be satisfied with a lower mode on more rolling road sections.

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It should also be noted that if this bike has received European homologation and complies with the legislation in force (which makes it eligible for purchase aids), VanMoof leaves it to the user to choose his region in the application. We can thus quite define it on “US” rather than “EU” to benefit from an assistance which works this time up to 32 km / h (the limit in the United States)! Illegal, but accessible, even though geolocation could have allowed this “jailbreak” to be prohibited.

Anyway, once launched at 25 km / h, we are very happy to find this time hydraulic disc brakes on this S3, when the S2 was satisfied with mechanical disc brakes. Braking is very progressive, even after running in. The bite is not exceptional, but that does not prevent an emergency stop in less than 3.50 m. The bike remains stable despite a slight overweight of the front wheel due to the engine.

With its 504 Wh battery, the S3 can travel 60 km at maximum power (mode 4) and up to 150 km in economy mode (mode 1), according to VanMoof. On a mainly road course, with a few urban loops dotted with climbs requiring us to use the boost button, we were able to drive 68 km in maximum assistance mode. A satisfactory result. The electric assistance switches off when only 5% of the battery remains, in order to continue to power the electronic transmission and the lighting. In purely urban use, with many stops and more frequent use of the boost button, we will be content with 50 to 60 km instead. This can be enough for a good number of “bike operators” who do not exceed this daily distance or have a parking place provided with a power outlet to charge the bike.

Because the biggest criticism that can be made of the VanMoof S3 is indeed the impossibility of removing its battery to recharge it. It is only removable from the bottom of the down tube, for maintenance or replacement. Therefore, you must necessarily drive your bike near a power outlet to charge it. A major difficulty if it is necessary to climb floors by lifting the 19 kg of the S3.

Once the 4 A charger is plugged into the socket concealed under the horizontal tube of the bike, it takes almost 3 h 45 min to fully charge the battery. If you are in a hurry, you can nevertheless regain 50% of capacity in approximately 1 h 20 min.

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