Vanmoof is a slick Dutch company that’s bringing a design eye to commuter bicycles. They ponder bikes like sculptors, and then they build them like tanks. Recently, they dipped their toes into the electric pond, launching the Electric 3 ($2,998) — a bike they herald as “the world’s first intelligent commuter bike”. I took their word to the road, pedal testing to see if something worthy of the Stedelijk can hang on American tarmac.
The first thing to note is that the bike comes with a remote. It’s yellow and about the size of a car key fob — and if you’re looking to keep the keychain streamlined, it’s a pest. There’s something to “turning on” a bike, but carrying its on/off switch is more irritating than fun. But once it’s powered on, the bike breathes: a cool blue circle is illuminated, indicating a full battery charge (it turns to red when power gets low); below it, two circular lights indicate your power mode (half-assist or full-assist), and lights (on/off). It’s an intentionally simple touchscreen display, meant to keep attention on the road.
Starting out, the bike rolls easily enough on flat ground, and the pedal assist, after a minor delay, kicks in from the front wheel-mounted engine. For the sake of testing, I drew on the half-assist mode for the start of the ride, but impatience set in quickly and I spent the rest of the route in full-assist. Unless you’re looking for lactic burn in your morning commute, you’ll do the same.
Vanmoof boasts that the bike generates “an astonishing 80 percent” power boost to your pedal stroke. On paper, sounds astonishing. In practice, it’s underwhelming.
While on road, a two-gear internal hub on the rear wheel shifts automatically when you reach 11 mph, and disk brakes slow things down cleanly and concisely — not a simple feat for a 42-pound bike plus a rider. The bike has front and rear lights, proudly branded by Philips, which run on power generated from a dynamo in the front wheel. The whole contraption garners 25 miles in one charge, and the battery can be re-charged by an external charger that plugs in on the underside of the down tube.
But most importantly, how does it ride? Vanmoof boasts that the bike generates “an astonishing 80 percent” power boost to your pedal stroke. On paper, it sure sounds astonishing. In practice, it’s underwhelming. For those who’ve toddled into the burgeoning e-bike world, the 80 percent boost seems juvenile, underdeveloped; by comparison, Bosch’s pedal assist system, in “Turbo” mode, generates 275 percent — and can still get around 25 miles range. The Vanmoof assists, but only a touch more than offsetting the extra weight of the motor and battery. If you’ve ridden a Felt Electric, Haibike, or Specialized Turbo, you know the feeling of pure electric acceleration — the kind that makes you pay your legs undue compliments. The Vanmoof won’t toss any compliments toward your quads, and you’ll work for most of your miles.
No Motor, No Problem
In a full day of Vanmoofing, I also saddled up the S3, the brand’s top-of-the-line commuter. With 8-gears, disk brakes, and dynamo-powered front and rear lights, the bike gives all the perks of a commuter bike, packaged nicely in the industrial, symmetrical, tubular alloy frame. Vanmoof calls the riding position “semi-upright”, and with the wide bars it feels casually comfortable with enough pedal leverage to accelerate when needed. Overall, it took on a smooth, enjoyable ride, an ultimately solid commuter; and as an added bonus, the bike matched the modern, discerning style I’d like to cultivate. In the S3, the Dutch may have the most prolific Van Go(gh).
Significantly, the bike is equipped with only two gears; riders will quickly learn to fear hills. Overpass-like inclines were fine, but anything more, and the bike struggled up the ascent like a golf cart on E. If you meet a serious hill — the kind that are rampant in San Francisco — be prepared to walk. It’s also worth noting that the front hub engine takes a second to react, and once it does it hums along audibly. At first, the aluminum din registered as a nice reminder of the tech hidden in the frame. After ten minutes, I missed the quiet roll of manual ride.
As for tech in an “intelligent commuter”, the display, while streamlined, lacks pertinent data. While clean lines are great, I’ll still take a display with speed, range, and battery life to an ultra-minimalist interface. On e-bikes, knowing battery life is part and parcel with survival, and I always like to know where I stand. In the route I took, I ended up reaching the “red glow” of low battery about 4 miles from home. I conserved as best I could, but still spent the last mile slogging along with no assist — a very slow roll.
On e-bikes, knowing battery life is part and parcel with survival, and I always like to know where I stand.
The bike’s equipped with GPS to locate the frame in case the bike is stolen, but if you’re leaving $3,000+ of equipment around without a hungry Rottweiler by its side, you clearly have different priorities. And if you do recover your stolen bike, it’s a fair guess that everything will be stripped by the time you find it. The GPS is a novel thought, but doesn’t seem particularly practical. For my luddite leaning, I’d take bottle cages (something not equipped on the Vanmoof) over GPS.
As fate would have it, my feelings on the bike were best summed up by a passerby. Stopped at an intersection, I got one inquiry as to my two-wheeled whip. I explained the bike’s merits briefly; his apt evaluation of the bike, as the light changed, was a casual, half-hearted, “Huh, looks cool.” It’s obvious Vanmoof has the design nailed, but for noteworthy performance in the e-bike realm, the Electric may still be a few iterations off.