The Vanmoof S2 comes close to being the best ebike on the market as long as you attach a few provisos. The S2 is a commuter ebike for flat city and urban areas and is built for the functional bike rider, not speed-demons. Even if this still hits the mark, there are still a few more crucial details that you need to know which will be revealed further on. At a glance, the Vanmoof ebike is simultaneously minimalistic in design and advanced in features while retaining a fairly competitive price-point that makes it hard to resist.
When the first Vanmoof city bike (non-electric) was released in 2009, it really captured my interest. I was on the verge of buying one, though common sense reminded me that I already had a capable commuter. The attractive angular design with visible aluminium frame and extended top-tube is still an iconic design. The following model (F5) with integrated bike lock lost me as fan and fast-forward to mid 2018 where they released electrified versions of their Smart S (and Smart X) bikes.
In their own press releases, Vanmoof called it the “world’s most successful bike launch”. My eyes usually glaze over with this type of reporting, especially when it is directly from the brand, (it refers to a pre-order campaign that raise 15 million Euro). It was only when I saw the S2 ebike in the flesh at VeloBerlin and started looking at all of the details that they had my attention again and I will share some of the main reasons why I think that the Vanmoof S2 is probably one of the best ebikes on the market.
But there is a catch… this brand is not available in Australia or New Zealand. Only the original Vanmoof was imported into Australia for a few years and the original importer has cited increasing purchase costs and strong brand control as the reasons for dropping Vanmoof. Private imports of ebikes into Australia are generally difficult and costly because of the regulations surrounding the transport of batteries.
Until Vanmoof begin selling to Australian and New Zealander customers, This is a glimpse into excellent ebike design and covers some of the traits of a good ebike which you can use to weigh up your next purchase.
Bikes as a Service
The Vanmoof S2 ebike borrows a lot of features from its’ predecessor, the Smart S, in which the bike security is managed via an app. This functionality also provides the ability to remotely lock a bike so that it is virtually unusable for thieves. And if you happen to live in one of seven supported international cities, rather than buying, you could lease the bike and are able to return it at any time. This subscription service includes cover for theft and in this case, the bikes are trackable and will either be recovered or replaced by Vanmoof.
While bike hire schemes also offer app-driven access, the Vanmoof subscription is more like leasing and gives you a superior bike (compared with a typical city hire bike) and lower costs over time if you ride regularly.
In context, it is akin to Airbnb and Uber shaking up the markets for temporary accommodation and for travel because it changes traditional bike ownership. Although for now, there is only very limited availability and it is brand specific. But until we see other brands rolling out similar leasing and technical solutions, it sets Vanmoof apart.
The Tech of a Good E-Bike
In my book, a quality ebike has a Mid-Drive motor which is located in the middle of the bike and drives the pedals. This is because Hub-Drive motors, which are in the front or rear hub, affect the weight distribution and handling of the bike. So it is even a surprise to me that the Vanmoof S2 ebike, which I am claiming is excellent, has a Hub-Drive motor.
Vanmoof have improved the weight balance of the bike and lower the center of gravity by putting the heavy batteries inside the frame in a fairly low position of the downtube rather than mounting batteries externally on a rear rack or an external frame mounted battery.
A general criticism of hub motors is that they tend to have the on/off effect when the motor starts or stops while riding. However this is still true of mid-drive motors as well, even the motors from leading brands Bosch and Shimano have still not yet mastered the seamless transition by they are improving over time.
Optically, the ebike appears to be well integrated, the motor is not obvious and the S2 doesn’t appear to be an ebike. Front and rear lights are integrated into the frame, there are no superfluous cables, the brake cables for the disc brakes are routed internally and like any good commuter, it has mudguards.
There are not extra display or control units, instead a (matrix) display incorporated directly on the downtube and it is simple and futuristic. The display shows the current battery level, the boost setting and gives visual feedback when you unlock the bike. A discreet button on the bars changes the level of motor assist or can engage a booster when it is held down.
I liked the ‘one-piece’ stem and handlebar which helps to give the bike a very clean appearance. Welded from two aluminium parts and nicely machined, there are less screws and parts.
On a contemporary bike you may expect it to have a belt-drive rather than a chain. Belt drives are wonderfully silent and smooth however most of the belt drives require a frame redesign to allow the belt to be changed and tensioned. In essence the frame now has a joint (which can be broken) and affects the design and integrity of the frame so a regular chain is a far easier solution.
While a chain is old technology, Vanmoof do it well by completely enclosing the chain which not only protects it from the elements, it also protects your pants and socks from grease marks. One of the subtle features that caught my eye was a chain tensioner – the average person would hardly notice or think about this however it is one of the details that increase the lifespan and efficiency of the drivetrain.
There are no external gears and only a two speed internal geared hub. In this respect it is like a classic Dutch commuter bike featuring limited gears and perfect for flat terrain. Riders who have more hilly terrain get assistance from the motor though the limited gear range could still be a dealbreaker for some commuters.
The final feature that really gave me the ‘Wow’ moment is the ‘Stealth Lock’. This is similar to the classic wheel lock on Dutch bikes which prevents the bike from being ridden (though it can be picked up and taken) The Stealth Lock is a discreet button located near the rear axle and can be engaged by pressing it in with your foot or a finger. When engaged, it blocks the disc brakes.
The wheel lock should compliment your regular lock (D-Locks are usually the best) and together they make it substantially harder for a thief. Because the S2 is ‘smart’, it can also be locked remotely by Vanmoof. On top of this, security bolts are used for some of the parts to prevent parts from being removed with standard tools. The cards are stacked against anyone trying to steal this bike.
Elegance and Integration
There is a big difference between your run-of-the-mill ebike and the Vanmoof S2. While many of the traditional bike brands still provide a lot of the features in their ebikes and are perfectly functional, they can be cumbersome and overloaded. This has pushed a generation of young brands to both simplify and style their ebikes.
The S2 stands out because of the holistic design and feature integration. There are standout features such as the integrated matrix display on the frame and the stealth lock but it doesn’t mean that other things have been forgotten.
If you are interest, the prerequisites are that two gears along with some motor power is enough for your commuting needs… and you live somewhere where the Vanmoof is available. Added to this, the reasonable European pricing (£2,398 / ca. 4,450 AUD) tends to become inflated once the ‘Australia Tax’ is added.
Even if the Vanmoof is not for you, the take-away from this article is to look beyond just the specifications alone for your next bike purchase because integration and even ownership options for daily commuter bikes are evolving.
Vanmoof S2 Ebike (UK website)
£2,398 (ca. 4,450 AUD)