At the time of publishing the new VanMoof Electrified S2 is being announced, and the purpose of this document was simply to give people an idea of what owning the Electrified S is like, I’m no journalist so take this to be the kind of thing you’d hear if you saw me at a pub and asked if the bike was mine. That’s happened.
The phrase “so good it hurts” is the most accurate way I think I can start this. In all honesty the first sentence was not even going to be about the bike, the 2017 model VanMoof Electrified S, but how much I hate Apple Maps. That will come later. The first day I had the bike I rode about 28 kilometres as a test ride, to become familiar with the frame. As the last decade of riding for me has been on a hard-tail cross-country, through every kind of weather Germany can provide, I was feeling a bit unusual to begin with but the familiarity has come quickly during that first trek; so much so my second ride was to Frankfurt Main and back. About 37km each way with some city riding in between. And this is why I start with “so good it hurts”, the bones in my apparently bony arse tried to dig through my skin to talk to the saddle in person. Well, my fault for cycling 80km in skate shorts I suppose, but I felt that might be something any person thinking of buying this bike might like to know in advance; this bike does not ride for you, but the assistance, the solid build and smooth rolling wheels will almost certainly make you want to ride more than usual. And it might hurt.
I wanted to write about this bike because although there is information out there on the VanMoof company and their products I felt there was a lack of information in some areas, and spending most of my time on a mountain bike the swap to an upright riding city commuter, especially at the price of about €2,400, felt a little risky. Although in all fairness VanMoof provide a thirty day trial period with free return in the case you are unhappy. They appear to be sure you will not be unhappy.
In a few cases I have contacted the company to clear up some topics and they have been pleasant and informative in return. This is good news when you invest in such a product, and I will include some of their answers as we go.
As I edit this, the first month is over and I have accumulated 421 kilometres with the bike. I think this is a fair distance to ruminate on.
Getting into it
You’ll read some places about the interesting box VanMoof bikes are shipped in, the flatscreen LCD television printed on the side to try to reduce damage during shipping. My box had seen a bit of abuse on the way for sure but the insides were fine. And although this could come off as perhaps a bit silly, I think it shows the commitment VanMoof have to identifying problems and innovating to solve them, not just with the product but how the product is handled along the shipping route.
The packaging is simple inside, minimal on plastic wrap, some cardboard for a secure hold when the delivery persons inevitably miss the THIS SIDE UP arrow. Can’t blame them, damned heavy to move alone. All the tools you need are in there and I recommend you stash them safely once you are setup because the bolts on the wheels are security keyed, there is an included adapter so you - or a mechanic you go to see - can remove them with normal wrenches. Similar with the seat post adjustment, there is a keyed tool for that. I will not describe either because it is best random non owners do not know. But do not lose them in your excitement.
The setup is to attach peddles to crank, with the direction to lightly grease the threads but no grease is included; not a big issue but I think most people do not keep bike grease handy. Adjust the seat post and set the handles to the correct position. Then charge. It takes almost no time.
Then you will want to register the frame number with your account in the VanMoof application, something I did not manage to work out. I had created my account while the bike was delivered, perhaps there was a step I skipped there but it seemed odd. Using their mobile webpage resolved this. You can name your bike. I named mine Moofing Van, because I am a lyrical gangster (Murderer). Also because I am about to move apartment and it .. yeah, never mind.
In the box are also a few optional reflectors, a Bluetooth keyfob for phoneless unlocking, the locking chain with a custom frame bag to store it, and the wall-charger.
As I have spent over a decade or two frequently using hard-tail cross-country bikes, all non-electric, the ~18kilogram Electrified S (2017) certainly feels heavy. Tank like. The bike feels to be solidly assembled and to handle easily at decent speeds. To the point I have bought a bike helmet for the first time in about 15 years; it just felt like a good idea because once that frame starts rolling an impact would be pretty hardcore.
This is not a complaint though, just an observation as this is the first time I have had an electrical bike, as well as an upright city type. With that weighty movement and momentum the disc breaks are a wise choice. I was surprised they were mechanical (with wire), not hydraulic, but I put it down to the design ethic of VanMoof appears to be reliability and low maintenance. I can appreciate the compromise there because repair will be a lot easier for the owner. I made a couple of adjustments to the cable tension on the breaks to get a tighter action out of them, but this is a personal preference. The bike will stop when told to.
At this point lets clarify what electrically assisted means; This bike does not do the work for you, it has variable levels of assisting you. As you peddle there is a sensor in the bottom bracket which the computer uses to determine how much effort you are putting in and how much it should work to get you to your defined setting. In the case of my first week I used only economic mode, setting 1. This seems to assist you gently up to 17kph, at which point it is all on you and the auto switching two-step gear. In effect you can push hard yourself and the motor will almost leave you alone, or peddle softly and get higher assistance. The motor activity indicated by how far round the circle of short dashes on the dashboard illuminate. You can see it bob up and down in concert with your own effort.
It will be apparent then that the settings 2, 3 & 4 are the various levels of motor assistance you wish to have up until the country speed limit (for a small vehicle not needing a licence). This ultimately alters the amount of time between charges and the distance the charge will last. The claim of ~120km on setting 1 seems reasonable to me as I managed to get 34,19km over 2 hours using only 9% of the battery. On the way home I used the boost button liberally and consumed more battery than the way up, but got home faster. And this is what I want from the bike, help on demand, not replacing my own effort entirely.
As mentioned earlier the weight is something you need to get used to if you usually ride lighter bikes; you will not be hopping up curbs on a whim, you will learn to look for a way up that will not destroy you and the bike. Similarly the automatic two gear rear hub works well with the high gear being easy to get a smooth start and the low gear requiring more effort but easily propelling you along at 25~30 kph on flats. That automatic switch, however, can initially come unexpectedly, and I found my foot to slip on the peddle many times as it made the jump to low. Perhaps just my flat soled shoe, it becomes more predictable as you feel out the bike.
Simple sentence here; the boost button is like fucking magic. It’s a smooth confident pull forward as soon as you press it. It will go until the set speed limit with only a facade of peddling needed to keep up appearances.
Now, saying that, it may sound like the assistance is more overpowering than suggested. Using an Apple Watch to track the majority of my rides I find that overall my calorie burn and heart rate still reflect real effort on my part, yet at the end I feel less punished than I often do when smashing through town on my cross-country. This has been incredibly welcome because I am still benefitting from the cardio work but arriving with energy to do whatever it was I was there to do. I did do a pseudoscience speed test for the sake of it, on a mild incline with mild headwind the boost button and almost no peddling got me from ~0 to ~25 kph in ~7 seconds. That’s a lot of ~~~ I know, but you hopefully ~get the feeling.
As for the first time I can remember using the upright position “moustache” handlebars, it took me a few adjustments to get them in a position that did not feel like I was going to snap my hands off on rough roads, after finding the sweet spot it has been quite comfortable. The less sporty saddle has also, as previously hinted at, left me a bit sore-arsed. In fairness I wear jeans or skate shorts and did over 200 km in a few days so that may not be a real issue. The air-suspension in the saddle seems to work better after a few rides, softening up the air bubbles.
The long ride
With the initial ride or two totaling just under 30 km of local area I decided to up that gently to Frankfurt Main and back. That, with the cycling in the city was about 80 km total. I think perhaps the upper limit of my stamina on a city bike, but not so for the battery.
The ride there took me almost bang on two hours and covered 34 km. This was on fairly level ground, a few forest paths, a few mild hills and a lot of road. I found the journey to be quite a pleasant experience having gotten my saddle and handlebar adjustments just-so in the previous days. This with assistance set to Economical (1) and minimal use of the boost button used 8% of the battery.
There was only one true point of agony and I say this with all sincerity so please, take this to heart:
APPLE MAPS IS FUCKING AWFUL.
At least in Europe, at least in Germany. Perhaps it good for driving but the “walking” directions I asked for due to the lack of cycling ones are fucking suicidally bad at some points. I really had to get that out. Why did I use it? I imagined the watch for directions would be useful.
Having arrived in FFM I took a few hours to walk around, occasionally pick up the bike and go somewhere else, generally idle around the place to recuperate before the trip back. In these moments I came to really appreciate the locking mechanism, that the nature of having the pin lock into the frame of the bike means you do not often need to lean the frame against the object used as an anchor as you can just loop the chain around it then let the bike rest on its built in kickstand. This also grants a bit of extra reach for the chain to get to awkward anchors.
And so at this point I would like to address the questions I have come across while reading other reviews and while riding. The bike is an investment and an unknown for some of us so I hope here to provide some useful bits of information.
The 2017 edition is differentiated primarily by the more efficient motor, but also the press material mentions that there is a new G-Sensor to implement tamper detection, specifically mentioned was the phrase “sends a signal” I decided to ask:
> I’d like to ask a question about the subject, having read the press
> release and just obtained a 20017 model. It is stated an integrated G
> Sensor can detect tampering and “sends a signal” which I would interpret as
> a notification to the application if jostled. I have given the bike a shake
> while attaching the reflectors and the phone is very much out of range, as
> was the key-fob, and the back light did flicker a fair bit but nothing else
And received the reply:
Thank you for your email!
We added the G-sensor for the Electrified S 2017 as an extra (future proof) feature. It now doesn’t connect or send signals to the app yet and indeed is a stand alone feature to scare off thieves as soon as you move the bike.
If you have any further questions, please let me know. Also really curious about your review, so don’t hesitate to forward it or ask for feedback.
Have a great day and happy riding!
So there we have the answer! This makes some sense in a way, VanMoof describe themselves as a company that have self funded from the start, no outside investment, just innovation and sales. Although they are going global I would imagine that paying for the data to send a notification every time someone accidentally moves a bike could seriously cost them. I would prefer they remain in business. This explains why the application does not offer live tracking but reporting the bike stolen enables tracking from that point onwards. A trade off for a desirable function and service.
Mind you, if I pay €240 for three years Peace of Mind service, which I do believe is a fair price for the offer, but assuming my bike will NOT be stolen, perhaps that pays for my notifications?
In a similar request for information I asked what VanMoof thought about this video I found while attempting to answer the question of what happens if the battery expires while locked far from power, for example, the middle of a city? You see, there is the main charging port but there is also a micro USB port, which goes unexplained. Firmware updates are over the air, so…
Thank you for your mail. We gladly help!
I understand your response on the video, it seems like the bike went to sleep mode and could not be unlocked. The sleep mode was developed for shipment from Taiwan to Europe, but sometimes the bikes can go to this mode without any reasons.
If that happens ( which is pretty rare), you can do a reset through connecting a powerbank to the bike, which activates the bike again.
We hope this doesn’t happen to you, but sometimes this problem occurs with some customers that are using the bike. We are looking for a fix with the firmware of the bike so this problem shouldn’t occur anymore.
And just to be absolutely clear I asked if this meant USB/portable battery
Thank you for your reply. Lets be confident and hope this doesn’t happen.
To prevent this, I recommend carrying a powerbank ( a portable battery to charge your phone with) so you can do the reset if this problem would occur.
You can connect the powerbank to the micro USB port so the reset procedure is getting activated on the bike.
So there you go, no fear of being locked out with nowhere to go. Firmware fix coming, pretty accommodating solution should it happen meanwhile.
As for the application it seems they are interested in incremental improvements rather than blasting features, which if you use iOS 11 you'd probably agree with. If not, what I mean is iOS 11 is broken as it gets. As the application remembers the last place the bike was left and shows the maps showing your location to it I think it would be an intelligent addition to just add a button to open walking navigation in your preferred application; it just makes no sense entering that location manually, especially in a large winding city.
There is a basic odometer in the application but not much else, perhaps a timer between services paired with the distance cycled would be handy to keep in mind the need for periodic maintenance.
The saddle is said to be water resistant and I have had a few opportunities to test the one-wipe and dry claim. It is true.
As the bike has an auto-wake on Bluetooth proximity (optional) I wondered if there was an auto-sleep when left alone, and I think this is true as I was sure I had forgotten to use the on/off button once or twice but got the flashing lights indicating wake up every time I walked close.
At this point I have been riding far more than taking notes, and moving apartments and working and so on. This may feel disjointed.
The Electrified S is a joy to own in a city.
I absolutely did not notice I parked at Tesla until leaving.
After the initial price/shine anxiety fades away and you begin to use the bike as VanMoof intended, as a method of transport you are not intended to treat like a frail puppy, the commute is smooth and enjoyable. The motor for me is largely unused past the initial “get this 18kg bike moving” where the second gear clicks in at 19kph and at this point the bike is nimble and solid, the ride is smooth thanks to the large balloon tyres and lightly shock absorbing saddle. But when you do hit a large hill with a courier bag full of groceries it really makes the difference. Assistance, not muscle replacement, I like that.
But more than this the feeling that locking it up anywhere is safe. The lights are not going to be stolen, the saddle, the wheels. The Bike. It all feels safe, like leaving a locked car on a side street.
However this leaves me with two questions I was not really able to get answered and seem potentially important. If you pay for the Peace of Mind (read bike hunters) service it is vital to know that this is only available if the bike reports it was locked with the included chain. Now, that chain certainly feels solid but I wonder sometimes if someone manages to somehow rip it out, will the bike report that it was locked or not? If someone manages that, although I locked it, will my insurance cover it?
On the topic of “what about..” there is also the nature of the custom design; although built to be serviced by any knowledgable person when needed there is still the very intricate built in computer, battery and locking system. The solution there is simply “see our bike doctors” which for me is an annoying journey and overnight stay in Berlin by train, but for you.. Perhaps you live much further away. Better hope those parts are robust.
Although these are potentially big topics in rare circumstances VanMoof as a company seem absolutely dedicated to their mission to make city bikes worth the money again, worth the ride again. And to do this they commit to helping their customers (it seems, so far, anyway). I am hopeful that this extends to such situations should they arise.
Riding at night is interesting and not worth much more than a sentence; the lights are powerful but do not aim where the wheel aims, but where the frame points. I have found this to be no issue but it is something to adjust to, or add another handlebar light if you need.
The waterproofing is welcome too, I have seen leaving my bike in the rain to be similar to cleaning it. It remains clean despite the on and off-road use between storms.
And this is enough I think. Do you use a bike as your main transport? Do you spend more time on roads of some sort than on trails? Can you afford to pay this price to augment your daily ride? (Subscriptions are coming). If you say yes to these three questions then I think the Electrified S will be something you will cherish.
Your rider and writer is a long time cyclist, but let me be clear, the kind who rides everywhere refusing to dress in spandex nonsense for simple trips, and likes to drink like tomorrow is not coming. So this review should be taken from the point of a somehow healthy person who moves a lot.
This nonsense was churned out with the bike firmware at v0.0.4, application v2.0 on iOS 11.3.1. And the rider largely hungover. And a bad writister.
Can totally be trusted.