For some folks, a assessment of the VanMoof S3 electrical bicycle can start and finish with its gorgeous design. The identical goes for its eyebrow-raising $1,999 price ticket. Each appear to go hand in hand: it is a expensive electrical bike, and it positive seems like one.
Truthfully, I’ve by no means examined a motorcycle that has garnered a lot common drool, and I emphasize that on the high of this assessment as a result of every little thing else in regards to the VanMoof X3 ranges from serviceable to questionable. My month-long testing interval was by no means interrupted with severe points when it comes to reliability or battery life, fortunately. As an alternative, I stored questioning what, precisely, this firm was charging a whopping $1,999 for. Normally, every time I had that thought, I might see yet one more passerby make a face, like I used to be a bikini mannequin in an ’80s beach-romp comedy, and assume, “Proper. It is the seems.”
Beginning with the automated gear shifter
The VanMoof caught our eye for causes aside from its aesthetics (although these did not damage). We accepted VanMoof’s supply of a tester bike primarily due to its distinctive, computerized gear-shifting characteristic. The bike’s fundamental gross sales pitch gave the impression to be: set it up by way of an Web-connected app, then comfortably journey with adjustable, motor-powered pedal assists, made all of the niftier by not needing to click on your bike’s gear up or down.
In any other case, VanMoof’s X3 (for heights of 5 to six.5 toes), very like its barely bigger S3 sibling (for heights of 5 toes, 8 inches to six toes, 8 inches), largely resembles different ebikes when it comes to options, with sufficient key variations to advantage a full assessment. Let’s begin with that computerized gear-shifting system, which is able to lead us by means of numerous different X3 options and quirks.
How does it work? Although the X3 comes full of an electrical motor, a built-in battery, and even a GSM tracker, its precise sensing of your bike movement begins and ends with a speedometer. This elements vastly into the automated gear-shifting characteristic, because it solely kicks into gear whenever you attain numerous velocity thresholds. The VanMoof app (which is not required to make use of the bike, however extremely urged by its producer) permits you to decide from three gear-shifting presets: flat, hilly, and customized. Open the “customized” tab, and you will get to choose the precise speeds at which the X3 shifts up when accelerating, and a separate listing of speeds that can set off a down-shift when decelerating.
When driving on a flat street utilizing the app’s “flat” preset, this technique works precisely as marketed—and in spectacular style. Gear shifting clicks into place whereas pedaling with nary a noticeable lurch or noticeably gradual reactions by the gear-shifting system. Once more, you are driving a pedal-assist ebike, not a journey that provides computerized throttle—riders nonetheless ought to anticipate to exert, however the effort wanted on a flat street is minimal and regular.
Nonetheless, I reside in a hilly neighborhood of Seattle, the place a mean journey—both operating errands or commuting—contains a mixture of regular inclines and declines, together with occasional excessive elevation adjustments. Earlier than driving, I poked across the VanMoof app searching for any settings which may auto-respond to elevation situations. I discovered none. The X3 doesn’t embody any sensors like accelerometers or gyroscopes to find out elevation adjustments. Consequently, this velocity-based system struggles to shortly support riders with the type of downshifting I might need the moment I hit a monstrous incline—or a mix of a maintained increased shift and supercharged electrical increase.
As an alternative, earlier than approaching a hill, I discovered myself needing to park, pull out my cellphone, look ahead to the VanMoof app to sync with the bike, after which swap my driving profile from “flat” to “hilly.” Customers should cope with the identical obnoxious stop-and-refresh requirement each time adjusting the quantity of pedal-assist increase the bike’s motor affords (provided in a quantity vary, from 1 to 4). I’ve by no means examined an ebike that makes customers park to regulate a pedal-assist system, and this significantly aggravated me with the VanMoof.
I am a comparatively athletic rider who likes to combine up pedal help on ebikes: I begin with much less help, whereas I am feeling contemporary and wanting some train, then crank up the help to both deal with main hills or ease the ultimate leg of a journey. The VanMoof takes me out of that use case, and between that and its stupidity about hills, I discovered myself leaving it at its maximum-assist setting always, lest I be caught in a pickle.
Honk and increase
The handlebars embody two buttons, although neither affords a shortcut to regulate the gear-shifting system or pedal-assist degree. Whereas driving, the left-hand button prompts a “horn,” which performs a digital sound impact from a built-in speaker, and the right-hand button toggles “increase” mode. This delivers an additional jolt of battery-boosted pedaling energy in a pinch—like, say, when you must climb a hill. Whereas this button is held down, the engine will drive further pedal help.
Each of those buttons underwhelm, nonetheless. The horn may be personalized with one among three prebuilt sound results accessible within the VanMoof app, however there is no getting round how weakly this sound impact carries in a mean journey by means of site visitors. Ought to security be a precedence on your commute, you will need to connect a bodily higher-frequency bell as quickly as potential.
In the meantime, the increase button appears to supply a predefined increase above your present pedal-assist degree, versus a common most. That means: in case you’re driving with a gentle pedal-assist degree (2 out of 4) and strategy an excessive hill, the increase button will successfully get your pedal-assist degree to a 3. For a number of the excessive Seattle hills I’ve confronted, that is not sufficient increase. On this case, you will must get the app out, swap the pedal-assist to the max of 4, then use the increase button to throttle your pedaling as much as a “5”-ranked increase.
To be clear: that increase button is not an computerized, engine-driven throttle. You possibly can’t press the button and anticipate the bike to surge ahead mechanically. Worse, holding the increase button does not instantly up-shift the gear system. Once I wished to quickly speed up from a lifeless cease to cross a busy site visitors intersection, the VanMoof may really feel dangerously sleepy, even with the increase button held.
Battery and lock
After coming to phrases with these points, I settled on a perfect VanMoof X3 driving setup: the “flat” gear-shifting preset, the utmost “4” pedal-assist setting, and a severe reliance on that increase button each time I reached a reasonable hill. (I nonetheless needed to swap the gear-shifting preset each time I reached a very steep hill, then switched it again to “flat” as soon as I returned to affordable inclines and declines.)
With these settings straightened out, I discovered that the bike primarily labored as marketed. You possibly can anticipate an ample quantity of pedal help with both the “3” or “4” preset enabled, and between these and the increase button, I by no means discovered myself needing to face up and exert so as to easily speed up to a velocity of roughly 20mph.
I by no means bumped into points with battery life dramatically depleting, and VanMoof’s estimate of 37 miles on a full 504MWh battery (at level-4 help, with daytime operating lights) comes near matching my very own testing expertise, maxing out at roughly 32 miles. In excellent news, ought to the bike’s battery solely deplete, its 41-pound physique does not really feel fairly that heavy to journey with zero help—which I discovered after driving for 2 blocks with the motor off.
Sure, you will really feel the distinction with out energy, however it’s good to know that the bike does not lock up with out energy. The system will seize up if the built-in lock is engaged, after all. And in case you’re significantly protecting about your expensive bike, you will recognize the just about feather-touch sensitivity of the X3 when its built-in lock is enabled (which might both be engaged by means of the app or by tapping the “lock” button on the facet of the again wheel). Transfer the bike in any respect, and a loud, high-frequency speaker will aggressively chirp; maintain attempting to maneuver the bike, and that noise will get louder and extra constant. Personally, I severely want the settings menu included a toggle for a a lot softer preliminary chirp—like, say, when you will have the bike parked at a busy rack, the place it can doubtless be innocently jostled. Like, depend to 5 earlier than freaking out, VanMoof.
The built-in GSM tracker affords all the built-in overkill monitoring you may want for an expensive bike, ought to somebody resolve to carry your screeching bike off the bottom and cargo it into the again of a van. Burglars would apparently must noticed the bike in half to choose that tracker out of it. You may as well pay VanMoof an extra theft-proof payment to get a 100-percent free bike from the corporate ($350 for a three-year assure), ought to some scofflaw efficiently steal yours.
Sadly, the built-in battery is simply as wedged into the bike’s physique because the GSM tracker is. Any X3 recharging requires operating a wire from a wall outlet to the bike itself—plus, you’ll be able to’t stash and swap a backup battery for a very lengthy journey. The included energy brick’s cables max out at round 108 inches, which is not lengthy sufficient to run from my entrance door’s nearest energy outlet to the most secure place that I can park my bike exterior. A full cost takes about 4 hours, whereas a single hour will recharge to about 50 p.c.