For some folks, a evaluation of the VanMoof S3 electrical bicycle can start and finish with its beautiful 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 certain seems to be like one.
Actually, I’ve by no means examined a motorcycle that has garnered a lot common drool, and I emphasize that on the high of this evaluation as a result of the whole lot 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 by way of reliability or battery life, fortunately. As an alternative, I saved questioning what, precisely, this firm was charging a whopping $1,999 for. Often, every time I had that thought, I would see one more passerby make a face, like I used to be a bikini mannequin in an ’80s beach-romp comedy, and suppose, “Proper. It is the seems to be.”
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, automated gear-shifting characteristic. The bike’s fundamental gross sales pitch seemed to be: set it up by way of an Web-connected app, then comfortably experience 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 toes to six toes, 5 inches), very like its barely bigger S3 sibling (for heights of 5 toes, 8 inches to six toes, 8 inches), largely resembles different ebikes by way of options, with sufficient key variations to advantage a full evaluation. Let’s begin with that automated gear-shifting system, which is able to lead us by numerous different X3 options and quirks.
How does it work? Although the X3 comes filled with 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) allows 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 record of speeds that can set off a down-shift when decelerating.
When driving on a flat highway utilizing the app’s “flat” preset, this method works precisely as marketed—and in spectacular vogue. 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 experience that gives automated throttle—riders nonetheless ought to count on to exert, however the effort wanted on a flat highway is minimal and regular.
Nonetheless, I stay in a hilly neighborhood of Seattle, the place a median experience—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 seeking any settings which may auto-respond to elevation circumstances. 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 rapidly help riders with the type of downshifting I would need the moment I hit a monstrous incline—or a mix of a maintained larger shift and supercharged electrical enhance.
As an alternative, earlier than approaching a hill, I discovered myself needing to park, pull out my telephone, await the VanMoof app to sync with the bike, after which swap my driving profile from “flat” to “hilly.” Customers should take care of the identical obnoxious stop-and-refresh requirement at any time when adjusting the quantity of pedal-assist enhance the bike’s motor affords (supplied 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 notably irritated 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 sort out main hills or ease the ultimate leg of a experience. 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 enhance
The handlebars embody two buttons, although neither affords a shortcut to regulate the gear-shifting system or pedal-assist stage. 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 “enhance” mode. This delivers an additional jolt of battery-boosted pedaling power in a pinch—like, say, when it is advisable to climb a hill. Whereas this button is held down, the engine will drive extra pedal help.
Each of those buttons underwhelm, nonetheless. The horn could be personalized with certainly one of three prebuilt sound results accessible within the VanMoof app, however there is not any getting round how weakly this sound impact carries in a median experience by 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 enhance button appears to supply a predefined enhance above your present pedal-assist stage, versus a common most. Which means: when you’re driving with a light pedal-assist stage (2 out of 4) and strategy an excessive hill, the enhance button will successfully get your pedal-assist stage to a 3. For a number of the excessive Seattle hills I’ve confronted, that is not sufficient enhance. On this case, you will have to get the app out, swap the pedal-assist to the max of 4, then use the enhance button to throttle your pedaling as much as a “5”-ranked enhance.
To be clear: that enhance button is not an automated, engine-driven throttle. You’ll be able to’t press the button and count on the bike to surge ahead routinely. Worse, holding the enhance button does not instantly up-shift the gear system. After 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 enhance button held.
Battery and lock
After coming to phrases with these points, I settled on an excellent VanMoof X3 driving setup: the “flat” gear-shifting preset, the utmost “4” pedal-assist setting, and a severe reliance on that enhance button at any time when I reached a reasonable hill. (I nonetheless needed to swap the gear-shifting preset at any time when 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’ll be able to count on an ample quantity of pedal help with both the “3” or “4” preset enabled, and between these and the enhance button, I by no means discovered myself needing to face up and exert to be able to easily speed up to a pace 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 504Wh 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 would not really feel fairly that heavy to experience with zero help—which I realized after driving for 2 blocks with the motor off.
Sure, you will really feel the distinction with out energy, but it surely’s good to know that the bike would not lock up with out energy. The system will seize up if the built-in lock is engaged, after all. And when you’re notably protecting about your expensive bike, you will admire the just about feather-touch sensitivity of the X3 when its built-in lock is enabled (which may both be engaged by 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 making an attempt to maneuver the bike, and that noise will get louder and extra constant. Personally, I critically want the settings menu included a toggle for a a lot softer preliminary chirp—like, say, when you could have the bike parked at a busy rack, the place it should doubtless be innocently jostled. Like, depend to 5 earlier than freaking out, VanMoof.
The built-in GSM tracker affords the entire built-in overkill monitoring you may want for a dear bike, ought to somebody resolve to raise your screeching bike off the bottom and cargo it into the again of a van. Burglars would apparently have to noticed the bike in half to choose that tracker out of it. You too can 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 twine 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 experience. 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 outdoors. A full cost takes about 4 hours, whereas a single hour will recharge to about 50 p.c.