“The Vanmoof S3 is packed with excellent tech at a mid-range price and, as a bonus, it's absolutely gorgeous.”
- Eye-catching design
- Useful app
- Integrated lights and fenders
- Smooth automatic transmission
- Excellent brakes
- Lower power assist levels aren't helpful
- Feels bulky while riding
- Battery can't be removed for charging
Vanmoof was well ahead of the curve when its Dutch founders, the Carlier brothers, started the company in 2009. Perhaps too ahead of the curve. Electric bikes were treated as a novelty in 2009. Their popularity has skyrocketed in recent years, however. I regularly ate the dust of a Vanmoof enthusiast on my evening commutes from the office — back when that was a thing.
Now, Vanmoof has a pair of news bikes available just as everyone is seeking a way to tour our new outdoors-only, socially distanced lifestyle. I tried the more conventional Vanmoof S3, which sells for just a hair short of $2,000. It has a sibling, the Vanmoof X3, with smaller tires and a frame that’s easier to step over, but most other components are identical between the two.
The S3’s launch timing could hardly be better, but it has plenty of competition. Every major bike manufacturer is now in on the e-bike arena, and some offer over a dozen models. Can Vanmoof retain its lead?
One thing is for sure, there’s no mistaking a Vanmoof. The company’s design revolves around a fat, straight center tube that extends over the wheels on each end of the frame. It’s a look that’s at once classic and modern.
This is a classic bike built for modern life.
Vanmoof keeps your eyes on this key, distinctive trait by minimizing all other distractions. Like the company’s other bikes, the Vanmoof S3 is painted in either matte black or blue and has almost no branding. It’s a snappy, sleek design that directly speaks to the S3’s purpose. This is a classic bike built for modern life.
That’s not to say the Vanmoof S3 is without peer. The Gazelle Ultimate T10 is a personal favorite, thanks to its combination of ultra-modern sensibility and easy step-through practicality. Specialized’s new Vado SL is quite attractive, as well. Still, on design, Vanmoof absolutely clobbers bikes from Trek and Giant, which look more like upgraded bicycles than purpose-built e-bikes.
The S3 comes standard with front and rear fenders, plus front and rear lights. That’s a big deal, especially for an e-bike selling at $2,000. It’s not unusual for e-bikes in the S3’s price range to ditch one or both fenders, and while lights are usually standard, they’re often not as attractive or bright as those on the Vanmoof. If you buy the Vanmoof X3, which has smaller wheels and a less conventional frame, you also get a built-in front rack for carrying small items.
Assembly and first-time setup
While Vanmoof has some dealers, its network is tiny. You’ll probably order online. Bikes are big, heavy items, and they can be tough to assemble.
The company does everything it can to mitigate this hassle. Open the box, and you’ll immediately find detailed assembly instructions alongside a toolbox that has everything you need to put the bike together. There’s even a handy pull cord that helps you slide the bike out horizontally, rather than lifting it out vertically.
That doesn’t mean assembly is foolproof. I cut myself when my hand slipped while tightening an awkward plastic clip that keeps the front motor’s cord secure against the frame. Still, the overall difficulty is no greater than assembling a chest of drawers from Ikea. If you can handle that, you can handle this.
Once assembled, setting up the app is easy. Just download it to your phone, create an account, and the bike will connect automatically. It worked seamlessly, and I never had an issue with the app connecting to the bike.
The app is arguably the Vanmoof’s real headline feature. While many competitors technically have apps, they’re often basic and buggy. Vanmoof’s app, on the other hand, is great. It provides ride summaries, lets you adjust bike settings, displays the bike’s current location, and provides access to support topics, among other features.
I did find the bike’s Bluetooth range is lackluster. When stored in my garage, the app loses connection with the bike as soon as I leave the room. Other Bluetooth devices I own have no problem communicating through several walls, so I think Vanmoof could do better.
The bike doesn’t have an LCD display, and instead uses a nifty grid of LED lights to show speed, battery life, and other information on the center tube. Vanmoof calls this a Matrix Display. It’s a unique touch that makes the bike’s design feel more cohesive. The Matrix Display is bright and always easy to read, even at noon on a sunny summer afternoon. Oh, and if you want a laptop to match the bike, check out the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14.
It’s the pairing of the app with this Matrix Display that sets this bike apart in daily use. Most e-bikes have a small, black-and-white LCD screen, and controlled through buttons or twist grips. This is effective, but simple. Vanmoof instead uses the Matrix Display only for critical information, pushing most control of the bike to the app.
This speaks to the bike’s focus on running errands and commuting to work. It’s built to ride wearing whatever you’d normally wear, going places you’d otherwise get to by car or transit. Using the app is great in this context, since your phone is always in your pocket, and you’ll make frequent stops. Your phone’s display is far brighter and easier to use than any LCD you’ll find on an ebike.
Vanmoof bikes have “integrated anti-theft” technology. This includes a lock for the rear hub, an alarm, and an optional paid service that promises to track down the bike if it’s stolen, and replace it if it can’t be located.
The lock is activated by aligning a mark on the hub with the same mark on the rear chainguard and then kicking in a button near the rear frame dropout. Once locked, an alarm will sound whenever the bike’s rear-wheel moves.
It works as advertised, though I wouldn’t put faith in it. The alarm could be louder, and a thief could pick up the bike and haul it away (though given its sensitivity, doing it without triggering the alarm would be difficult). You should always use a beefy lock to secure your bike to a permanent fixture. Still, Vanmoof’s alarm is a reasonable back-up that could give opportunistic thieves pause.
If the Vanmoof S3’s commuter-friendly design isn’t already obvious, you’ll certainly feel it when you first hop on the bike. The bike’s relaxed frame and swept-back handlebars offer an upright feel and excellent visibility. As often true of an upright riding position, this convenience comes at the cost of agility. It’s an easy bike to turn at low speeds on a narrow street, but it doesn’t feel eager or nimble.
The S3 weighs in at 42 pounds. That’s heavier than most conventional bikes, but it’s light for an e-bike. The Specialized Como is 45 pounds, while the Gazelle T10 Ultimate is 51 pounds. The S3 doesn’t feel light on the pedals, but your back will love the light frame when you haul the bike up stairs or over a large curb.
Fat tires help the S3 deal with small bumps and potholes without issue. It’s a smooth ride across well-kept pavement or densely packed gravel. When you encounter large potholes, though, the bike’s stiff frame and lack of suspension can send big jolts through the handlebars.
The S3’s electric motor is attached to the front wheel and delivers power at your choice of four levels or can be turned off entirely. The lowest power level is worthless, but higher settings are strong. I generally cruised around at level three, or turned power up to the maximum for paved bike paths. The bike’s motor cuts out at 20 mph, as which is the maximum speed permitted for a Class 1 ebike like the S3. There are settings to comply with European and Japanese regulations, but as you might expect, that nudges the maximum speed even lower.
Adrenaline junkies should look elsewhere, however. Power delivery is timid compared to racier options like the Specialized Vado or Giant ToughRoad GX E+. While the S3 has a “turbo” button, slapping it provides only modest go, and it’s most useful when you need a little extra juice on a steep hill.
While the S3 lacks thrills, it’s smooth. The front hub motor pulls with calm poise. Don’t take that for granted. Many e-bikes in the Vanmoof’s price range, like the Pedego City Commuter Lite, use a rear hub motor. A rear hub can dramatically shift a bike’s balance rearward, making wheelies a little too easy to execute. The S3’s balanced, refined power delivery is good for any e-bike, and excellent for one priced at $2,000.
The S3’s brakes activate with a smooth, precise feel that inspires confidence.
Power is routed through a slick four-speed automatic transmission. That’s right, you don’t even the need to ever shift for yourself. Four speeds aren’t many, and I felt that on steep hills. Still, I’ll take this automatic transmission over the bargain-bin six-, seven-, or eight-speed gearing found on most e-bikes in this price range.
The S3’s deceleration is more impressive than its acceleration. The bike has hydraulic disc brakes front and rear. While nearly all e-bikes have disc brakes, some mid-range bikes have a mechanical disc brakes, a setup that can feel clunky or wooden. The S3’s brakes activate with a smooth, precise feel that inspires confidence and avoids accidentally grabbing too much brake.
Battery life and range
A 504 watt-hour battery is nestled in the Vanmoof S3’s large top tube. Range is quoted at 37 to 93 miles. You’ll end up closer to 37 miles than 93 in most situations.
My most demanding journey was a 23-mile trip at maximum power on a paved, level bike path. This ate up nearly half the battery, suggesting I’d see total mileage in the mid-40s if I’d continued on until the battery was dead. I also took numerous short trips, around 10 miles each, at power level three.
These results are typical for a modern e-bike. Most bike commuters travel short distances (fewer than 10 miles), so the S3’s range should be enough to last several days, if not an entire week.
You can’t easily remove the S3’s battery (Vanmoof says it can only be removed for servicing) and charge it away from the bike. That could be inconvenient if you have a small apartment and intend to store the S3 in a communal storage area.
Vanmoof’s S3 is a feature-rich commuter bike that sacrifices little despite a midrange $2,000 price tag. This bike is an excellent choice if you want a bike for errands around town or daily commutes of up to 20 miles round-trip.
Is there a better alternative?
While the Vanmoof S3’s $2,000 price tag might seem steep next to the $600 bikes you can purchase on Amazon, I generally recommend avoiding those. They get the job done but use the most inexpensive components possible, which has consequences for longevity. They also tend to have small batteries.
Propella’s e-bike is the best low-cost alternative. Starting at $1,100 for the single-speed, or $1,300 for the seven-speed, it’s a less complicated option with a smaller battery and inferior brakes. Still, it’s a nice entry-level bike with decent components, and it’s well-suited to commutes around 10 miles or less.
RadPower is another strong choice. The brand makes a variety of electric bikes that offer excellent value, like the affordable RadRover and its heavy-duty RadWagon. RadPower is all about function, though, so you’ll prefer Vanmoof if design and technology are important to you.
The Vanmoof S3 has few strong competitors that closely match its $2,000 price. Pedego’s City Commuter Lite isn’t nearly as refined. Trek, Specialized, and Giant skew toward a higher price bracket, so their bikes sold around $2,000 usually aren’t competitive with the Vanmoof.
Don’t forget the Vanmoof S3’s sibling, the X3. The bikes are similar, but the X3 has smaller wheels, a lower top tube, and an integrated front rack. I’d expect the X3 to be even better for short commutes and around-town errands, while the S3 will be better for long commutes and exercise.
How long will it last?
A bicycle can last a very long time, though e-bikes will be limited by the longevity of the battery and durability of other electronics. You should also know that e-bikes will require more maintenance than a standard bike. Still, I’d expect five to 10 years of service, at the least, and that could be extended so long as replacement batteries are available.
The bike comes with a three-year warranty against defects, which isn’t particularly long for an electric bike. Vanmoof has a smaller dealer network than its larger competitors like Specialized, Trek, or Giant, and that could make service hard to come by if you don’t live near a dealer.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Vanmoof S3 is a mid-range commuter e-bike with standout design and great tech features.
- 2020 Juiced Bikes Scorpion review: The Cadillac of e-mopeds
- Unagi Model One E500 Dual Motor e-scooter review: Urban luxury
- Canyon Grail:ON review: Rule roads and turn heads
- Future cars: The best upcoming cars worth waiting for
- 2021 Toyota Prius vs. 2021 Toyota Prius Prime