In the post-lockdown world, commuting by bike – and ebike – is set to boom. Could the VanMoof S3 be the most desirable ride of 2020?
For several years, electric bicycles have been hailed as the Next Big Thing, with trend forecasters promising that they will transform the way we travel, any day now. So why haven’t they taken off? In 2018, 2.5 million bicycles were sold in the UK, but only 70,000 of them were battery-powered. Now, of course, bicycles are as scarce as loo rolls once were. And electric scooters have yet to be legalised in the UK for use on roads.
Perhaps the prices of electric bicycles have been too high or maybe health-focused riders haven’t seen the point; or possibly there just hasn’t been an ebike on the market that captures the imagination of consumers looking for their next major, must-have lifestyle purchase. However, it's quite possible that the inflection point for ebikes has just arrived courtesy of everyone's fear of public transport and the massive change in travel infrastructure in cities throughout the world, designed to get people walking and cycling - and, probably, ebiking.
So, let's start with the all important question: how much do they cost? Prices for ebikes vary considerably but if you're after a VanMoofS3, it'll set you back £1,800. However, a lot of commuters in London and other major cities will be spending close to two grand annually on public transport. So the S3 is affordable in a relative sense, and it does give you a lot of bang for your buck. For how much bang, read on.
It’s clear as soon as you see the clever, tactile packaging (which shouts 21st-century tech start-up rather than bicycle brand) that this is something out of the ordinary. Unlike most ebikes, which have a plug-ugly external battery (or oversized tubes if the battery is inside the frame, which aren’t fooling anyone), you wouldn’t know it was an electric bicycle at all at first glance.
Matte black (Batman style) or a dark duck-egg blue.
It’s not a huge overstatement to say that thinking about the S3 as just a bike is a bit like thinking of the first iPhone as just a mobile telephone – there’s so much more going on.
An automatic four-speed e-shifter, with customisable shifting levels, means no more manual gear changes. There are hydraulic brakes (maintenance free, VanMoof says), plus inbuilt GPS and Bluetooth to connect to the VanMoof app, while a matrix light display built into the crossbar shows the current speed and battery level.
You can choose from four levels of electric pedal assist: 1 being minimal assistance (I still want to get fit), 4 being much less human effort (I’m lazy and I’m late for work). While on the right handlebar, a discreet boost button provides an extra blast of torque for pulling away at the lights or tackling a steep hill with ease.
VanMoof claims is good for between 37 and 93 miles between charges, depending on your level of assistance.
The thoughtful design means the S3 provides a really comfortable, stable ride. The big (28 inch) wheels and large frame mean it might not be the most agile bike for tight cornering, but the cushioned seat and well positioned handlebars provide an ache-free experience, even over long distances, and an excellent upright riding position, perfect for busy urban streets.
It’s as quiet as a monk too. Even on full power mode, the S3 makes significantly less noise than my rattly, clangy non-electric bike; there’s nothing more than a faint hum.
Speed & Safety
Like any bike, it’s as fast and as safe as the person riding it. Deploy the boost button on setting 4 and, even from a standing start, within a few seconds you’ll be zipping along at high speed, although the motor will stop helping you once you go beyond 15 mph. (That’s unless you change the app setting from EU to US, in which case your top assisted speed will be 20 mph, but obviously no law-abiding British cyclist would do such a thing.)
VanMoof have gone to great lengths to make the S3 as thief-repellent as possible. First, a nifty “kick lock” button locks the rear wheel and activates the on-board security system, so no one will be able to ride off on your expensive new toy.
The bike is automatically unlocked via the app when your phone is within Bluetooth range. But if someone other than you starts manhandling it, the bike emits a few warning beeps and an ominous skull icon appears on the crossbar display. If a potential thief doesn’t let go at that point, a full alarm sounds.
Even if the bike is stolen, that’s not the end of the story. For an additional insurance fee (£270), VanMoof’s team of Bike Hunters will track it down for you via GPS. If they can’t locate it, they’ll simply replace the bike.
VanMoof have also got closer to solving concerns around security and theft than any other manufacturer to date (although you’ll still want to invest in a decent lock of your own – bike theft is up 50 per cent since lockdown began).
The bad news is that if you want to join the world’s 120,000 VanMoof riders, you’ll have to wait until at least late September, and the waiting list is growing daily. Seems everyone does want an ebike after all.
If you try to order one over the phone, remember VanMoof rhymes with loaf, not hoof.