(Pocket-lint) - VanMoof has managed something borderline remarkable with its new S3 and X3 electric bikes: the company has not just improved the previous models in a host of ways, but has somehow done so while slashing prices by about a third.
It means that picking up the S3 - which, spoiler alert, is probably the best electric bike we've ever used - is an even more attractive proposition than the already-impressive S2 could manage. We've been riding it around London, putting it through its paces, and seeing if it can live up to the justifiable hype.
This is a beautiful bike, all in all. The new S3 looks at first glance a huge amount like the S2, which is because VanMoof's trademark frame is still just as elegant and distinctive as it ever was, with the front and rear lights jutting forward slightly.
The bike comes in a choice of black or blue, both of which look great. The blue model we were riding has that sought-after pastel class to its finish, with a black accent. Both bikes feature those built-in front and rear lights, that can be set to turn on automatically if you like.
It's matte all-over, with a slightly curved handlebar that immediately emphasises this isn't intended as a replacement for anyone's high-performance racing bike. It's more about comfort, and the ride is relaxed and responsive to that end.
Its thick Schwalbe tyres are puncture-resistant, although what decent tyres aren't at this point? You'll need that in any city.
The-bike has a kickstand by default - always a nice addition - and disc brakes that are impressively efficient even at high speeds, although we think the cables that could possibly be tucked away a little more comprehensively. Still, it rounds out as a comprehensive package away from the obvious topic of the electrification.
The core of the e-bike experience is that electric assist. And VanMoof's is right up there with the very best. It's got a four-speed motor that kicks in pretty much immediately to help as you pedal.
Gears change super smooth and quick, so rapidly speeding up or down does nothing to bamboozle them. The optimal word here is indeed smooth - everything about riding the S3 is easy-going and elegant. This is cycling without the sweat and elbow grease.
A subtly positioned button on the right handle gives you the option to boost forward with extra power whenever you need it. Once you start using it as traffic lights go green or to get to top speed faster, you'll struggle to live without it.
A smart matrix array of LEDs embedded in the e-bike's frame between your legs keeps you appraised of key information while you ride - namely, it displays your speed and the broad amount of battery life you've got left to rely on. This is a cool little display, even if you frankly won't look down at it all that much given its placement.
The left handle's button, meanwhile, triggers a bell that's loud and effective, with three sounds to choose from in the companion app, which we'll touch on more later.
Whether we were going for a longer bike ride or cycling 10 minutes to pick up some essential groceries, the VanMoof ticked the box of making our life easier every time. It made journeys quicker and less tiring, and it's clear to us that this would be a superb e-bike for any commuter. The smaller frame of the X3 could be a great alternative, but if you're looking to cycle to work without exhausting yourself or needing a change of clothes, look no further.
Range is excellent, too, with a 37 mile (60km) maximum if you're at full power. There are four levels to choose from, which can only be changed when you're stopped. If you move down to the lowest level of assist, range goes up to a whopping 93 miles (150km).
The embedded battery - which takes about four hours to recharge - leads us to one of the few negatives of VanMoof's bikes. Why? Because it's non-removable.
This means that charging the bike is a faff, plain and simple, needing either an extension cord or a space in your home where you can leave it plugged in. On the one hand, this is still typical of much of the market, but on the other, companies like Cowboy have already demonstrated how useful and attainable a removable battery is by comparison.
VanMoof's app is where you'll control a bunch of the settings, including turning the degree of pedal assist up and down. You can go more granular, too, by changing when the shifts up and down are triggered, although the defaults will likely work for most people.
You can change the lights on or off, or set them to automatic, as well choosing between three horn sounds. The "ding dong" option is a palatable, if hugely loud, rendition of a traditional bell. But the standard VanMoof ping and "party" horn are both frankly revolting noises. You can also turn off the e-bike's wake up and unlocking sounds, both of which we found a little embarrassing after the first couple of uses.
Unlock settings also let you decide if and how the e-bike automatically unlocks, as well as controlling its alarm settings. You can also directly unlock the e-bike from the app, and review your past rides if you allow it to track them. These give you a look at your speed through a ride, the distance you travelled and how much battery it ate up.
Finally, you can access a range of FAQ articles if you're in need of help, and view your e-bike's frame number in a profile tab - this is also where you can report it stolen if it goes missing.
It's a pretty slick app, with nothing extraordinary going on but few gremlins to worry about. Being afforded some control is nice. Plus, the fact that the e-bike can be updated over the air means that there's scope for it to improve even further with time, too.
Theft and security
VanMoof's pushing the security angle pretty hard with the S3 and X3, and it's easy to see why. When you're spending this amount of money on a premium electric bike, the prospect of theft is a worrying one - especially given how hard it can be to secure a bike.
There are a few deterrents built into VanMoof's bikes. By the rear wheel there's a little kick-activated button that engages a wheel lock, provided you've aligned it right - the sort of lock that's both elegant and questionably useful. While it's engaged, in the absence of another lock, the e-bike will very much look unlocked, and while some cities might be trustworthy on that front, we didn't feel confident leaving it like that in London's Zone 2, where we live.
Still, when it's locked like this there's also an alarm that'll trigger if it's moved, which we were certainly put off by when demonstrating it. Whether it'd stop a thief is a more theoretical exercise.
To unlock the bike yourself you can use the app, or a clever system that lets you set a three-part code that you can tap out on the left handlebar button - it's an elegant solution, although we found the app a bit easier to default to.
Probably the most eye-catching feature VanMoof offers in this area, though, is a three-year theft package - that guarantees your bike directly with VanMoof. As it describes it, once you report the bike stolen in the app, its "'Bike Hunters' will immediately get to work and recover your bike within two weeks. If they can't, we'll replace your bike with one of the same (or better) age and condition."
That's a lofty promise and comes at a chunky extra cost, but as guarantees go it's pretty ironclad. Time may tell how users find this pans out in reality.
The more we rode the VanMoof S3, the more we didn't want to give it back - it had that sort of impact on us. Its delightfully smooth riding experience left us wanting to use it to explore the city even more, which we think would the result on any new owner.
This e-bike looks great, to the point where it drew compliments, and absolutely fooled people who didn't realise it's electric, while hiding a range of great features to make your travel easier and more comfortable. The range is really solid, while the software experience is smooth and easy.
While not being able to detach the battery to charge it more easily is a drag - and one that we hope VanMoof could address in subsequent bikes - it's not enough to significantly detract from what we feel is the new high bar in commuter e-bikes.