Riding an electric bike can be the worst of all words. Other cyclists look down on you. White van drivers still shout at you. And taxi drivers hate you. Thankfully when you’re on a bike as fun to ride as the VanMoof S3, none of that is likely to bother you.
Until recently, unless you were willing to fork out a small fortune, the options were limited when it came to electric bikes. If you wanted a decent electric bike with change for two grand, it invariably meant purchasing a bike which looked, well, electric. A bike with a chunky bolt-on battery was the best you could hope for. VanMoof – a Dutch start-up, which is now one of the leading e-bike makers in the world – is hoping to change all that. Its newest bike is good looking and a joy to ride. Riding it feels a bit like a tailwind is pushing you along. And that’s even before you press the boost button, which gives you an extra push if you’re feeling lazy or need to get ahead of traffic at the lights.
On London’s bumpy, potholed streets, its big tyres are useful and ensure that the inevitable potholes you encounter on your daily commute aren’t an issue. As for hills, the S3 handles even the steepest incline with ease. My daily run is fairly flat until you hit the suburbs, not something to look forward to when your legs are tired and it’s pouring it down. But on the S3, it is hard not to feel smug as you easily overtake Strava-watching cyclists without getting puffed out. The bike helped shave off about ten minutes of my 50 minute commute and also meant I could leave the lycra at home.
Even when you’re not riding the bike, there are plenty of nifty features designed to make your life easier. There’s a built-in alarm which sounds if someone tries to pinch your bike. And the VanMoof app allows you to customise the bike to give you more or less help, depending on how much of a hurry you’re in (or how lazy you are feeling).
But perhaps the biggest plus with VanMoof’s latest offering is the price: it costs £1798, a bit more than the price of an annual London travelcard for zones one to three. Given that the previous version of this bike cost £3000 – and this one is an upgrade – this is a remarkable achievement made possible by VanMoof bringing the bike-building in house.
What’s the catch?
There’s no denying this is a heavy bike. It weighs in at 19kg, which is perfect for putting off thieves if the built-in security features don’t work, but might also give you a hernia if you lug it up the stairs too often.
The built-in battery – while ensuring that this is an electric bike which doesn’t actually look electric (to the bafflement of those other cyclists you overtake) – also means this is a bike that will have to live indoors unless you’re lucky enough to be able to charge it in the garage.
There’s also a considerable wait to get hold of one of these. Bike companies have been one of the big beneficiaries of the pandemic and that means you can expect to have to sit it out for a few months if you want an S3 for yourself.
Perhaps more worrying for VanMoof, though, are the stories shared on Facebook forums of technical problems. Fed-up customers say they have waited for their bikes only to get one delivered that doesn’t work properly. How representative are these stories? It’s hard to tell, although the bike does come with a three-year warranty, which perhaps shows VanMoof is confident about its bike. The company says it currently has a return rate of one in ten bikes and that it is ‘working hard to address all quality control issues’. But reliability – rather than the bike’s good looks – is what you will be counting on when you’re commuting on a cold November night.
If VanMoof can address these issues, though, it’s hard to see how anyone who rides one of these bikes won’t become an instant convert. As well as the smattering of unhappy customers online, there are many more people who have purchased an S3 and are delighted. Based on my experience, I’m not surprised. This is a bike that is fun to ride, will make your commute easier and quicker and looks good – and at £1,798 you won’t find a better bike at this price.