VanMoof S3 review: hipster e-bike is best ever urban ride and the bike bargain of 2020

VanMoof S3 electric bike improves on its excellent predecessor the S2 in several critical ways and is WAY cheaper

VanMoof S3 review
(Image credit: Future)

Looking for the VanMoof launch event? You missed it. This is the The Van Moof S3 review. Much better. 

As you probably know, the VanMoof S3 electric bike is an update to, logically enough, the S2. That was perhaps the best electric bike you could get, at least if you didn't need a folding one. It cost £3,198/$3,198. Now, I've been riding on the VanMoof S3 and I would say that broadly speaking, it rides exactly like the S2 – which is to say that it's a fun but very secure-feeling ride. Yet it also has a few very significant upgrades, most notably more gears (four on the S3; the S2 only had two) and disk brakes. And there is now a choice of three electronic 'bell' noises. Yes!

So the VanMoof S3 is a newer and better electric bike, and yet it costs only $1998, £1798 or €1998 – over £$€1000 less than its predecessor. Maybe that isn't exactly 'cheap' but that is certainly quite the bargain.

What is the catch? There is no massive catch, except that VanMoof does like to pack its bike with tech, almost to the point where it's like adding tech for the sake of having more tech. But most of the unique innovations on the S3 work well, and overall, it's ever so hard to knock what VanMoof has created here.

VanMoof S3 review

VanMoof S3

(Image credit: VanMoof)

VanMoof S3: price and release date

The VanMoof S3 costs £1798 in the UK, $1998 in the USA and €1998 in Europe-land. That is more than reasonable for for a quality e-bike, which the S3 definitely is.  

• Pre-order the VanMoof S3 now, it will ship in May 2020.

VanMoof S3 review

VanMoof S3 (left) and it's smaller brother the X3. Both bikes come in those same two, scratch resistant colour finishes

(Image credit: VanMoof)

Also available, at the same price is the VanMoof X3 (on the right of the above image). This is essentially the same thing but smaller. I've not tried this or its predecessor the X2 but usually, electric bikes with smaller wheels feel a bit nippier but less inherently stable.

VanMoof S3: Design

VanMoof S3 review

Front and rear lights can be kept on at all times or used when needed

(Image credit: VanMoof)

It would be harsh to say that VanMoof is all about design, like it's all style-over-substance nonsense aimed at ageing hipsters. I can imagine some people might think that is the case, but while the S3 is undeniably edgy of design and hip by nature, it's also very sturdily built and well engineered. 

The VanMoof S3 electric bike is also one of the very small number of bikes – electric or otherwise – with a screen implanted into its crossbar. This displays battery information, speed in your choice of mph or kmh, and a sort of 'breathing' animation, to reassure you that your bicycle is not dead. 

The extended crossbar houses front and rear lights of decent strength, which can be set to be off, on, or to come on automatically when it gets dark. If you found yourself riding through the countryside at night, I think you'd want to bring a few additional best bike lights, but on comparatively well-lit city streets, the S3's integrated lights are perfectly adequate. 

Before you even get on to the ride technology, there's also the VanMoof S3's integrated security features to consider. these include a magnetic rear wheel that you kick to close, and open with the VanMoof app – more on that later.

Coupled with a more traditional best bike lock, this renders the S3 hard to steal, and potentially worthless if someone does steal it – an immobilised bike is no fun to ride, and removing a magnetic lock is extremely hard without getting the old angle grinder out and probably ruining the bike for good.

Oh, did I mention the alarm? There's an alarm too. If any bad slag starts trying to mess with your ride, an animated skull appears on the crossbar display, laughing at them, while an unpleasant noise issues forth. If the would-be thief continues to interfere with your property, a considerably more unpleasant noise is produced, and a GPS tracker is turned on, so the bike can subsequently be found. 

Even more remarkable, VanMoof will even send people to collect your bike in the event of theft. I am not sure that's a job I would like to do, but some guys just love danger. Danger, and spending lots of time around market stalls and shops that sell 'second hand' bikes. 

VanMoof S3 review

VanMoof's app lets you change everything from electrical assistance level to whether the built-in speedo shows mph or kph

(Image credit: VanMoof)

The bike alarm and lock are deactivated via the app. This can either be based purely on proximity, via Bluetooth, or you can choose to have to open the app and press a button. Whichever you opt for, you then have five seconds to press a handlebar button to complete unlocking. 

There is also a completely manual override in case your phone runs out of battery, or is stolen by criminals enraged by the fact that they cannot steal your fancy-pants e-bike. 

VanMoof S3: what's it like to ride?

VanMoof S3 review

The battery is housed in the downtube and is not removable by you

(Image credit: VanMoof)

Like all electric bikes the S3 is on the heavy side, although at 19kg, I have definitely had worse. The up side of this is that it feels very stable. I was unfortunate enough to ride it into a pretty full-on headwind that swirled into a crosswind. While it wasn't a pleasant experience, the S3 didn't feel in much danger of going out of control.

Electrical assistance is to the standard 15mph in the UK and 20mph in the USA – you can choose where you live (or want to pretend to live) in the app. The app also lets you choose between four levels of motor assistance, although I am pretty sure nobody ever chooses anything other than '4' from this particular menu. 

VanMoof S3 review

(Image credit: VanMoof)

On the right handlebar sits a 'turbo' button that gives extra assistance, which is useful when pulling away from lights, and at all other times. On the left handlebar is an electronic bell, which can make a noise chosen from a menu of three: a shrill ring, a highly annoying 'party blower' noise and a kind of submarine sonar ping. 

The 500 Watts of assistance on offer are not going to make anyone too terrified, but acceleration is pleasingly fast. There is a school of thought that 15mph is not fast enough for riding in traffic but the S3 does not grind to a halt as soon as it reaches that speed – you can accelerate fairly easily to 20mph and beyond the old fashioned way, ie: by using your legs. 

VanMoof S3 review

Cutaway view of the S3's automatic, four-speed gear shifter

(Image credit: VanMoof)

I say 'fairly' easily because VanMoof has decided to fit the S3 with automatic gear shifting. It has four gears. Who needs to have gear changes made for them when there are only four gears? Especially when the first two are, while I don't have the exact ratios for them to hand, what I personally would call 'bloody slow'. The third gear is hardly express pace either.

I don't really understand why there isn't a manual shifter or at least some sort of manual override. Not least because on the early model I rode, the automatic shifting kept breaking down, leaving me quite literally stuck in second gear, like it hadn't been my day, my week, my month or even my year. 

That said, when the shifting was working, it worked way better than on the old S2. That's partly because the S3 has four gears to the S2's two – seriously, having automatic shifting on that model was really ridic – and partly because the top gear on the S3 does actually give you a bit of a feeling of power. Mainly, it's because the app now lets you choose at what speed the shifts occur, rather than choosing for you, like you're a nine-year-old or elderly and confused, or something.

Anyway, teething troubles with the unnecessarily complex gear system side, the VanMoof S3 is a textbook electric bike riding experience in 2020. It flattens out hills, it keeps you almost constantly at about 15-20mph with minimal effort, and it lets you put the hammer down a bit if you want to, thanks to that top gear. Although I dare say that on busy city streets, most VanMoof riders will be perfectly happy breezing along at 15-17mph with practically no effort whatsoever.

VanMoof S3 review

Disk brakes will bring you to a safe, quick stop

(Image credit: VanMoof)

Speaking of which, the other big upgrade from the S2 is that there are now disk brakes, to bring you more smoothly and safely to a halt. Which is always a plus.

VanMoof S3: early verdict

VanMoof S3 review

VanMoof S3: built for urban environments

(Image credit: Future)

The VanMoof S3 is a lot of fun to ride and cuts a dash with its urban styling. It handles really well for a big bike, but feels reassuringly sturdy, and you can get it up to a decent speed. Range is quoted as 60km to 150km – obviously that upper figure is based on having minimal electric assistance and never turning on the lights. The VanMoof S3 can charge to 50% in 80 minutes, with a full charge taking four hours.  

As noted, I found the automatic shifting a bit superfluous, but I expect I'd get used to it.

It does have a few other quirks based on its innovative design. I stored the S3 in my apartment and because I was always near it with my phone, it never turned itself off, and would issue occasional weird noises to remind me of its presence. I eventually worked out that turning off my phone's Bluetooth remedied this, though.

A lot of people are very interested in cycle commuting right now, as they understandably don't relish the prospect of taking a bus or train. For urban commutes, I don't think you could get anything better than the VanMoof S3.