VanMoof, the maker of some of our favorite electric bikes, has just announced the PowerBank, a range extender that also charges the internal battery of the company’s S3 and X3 models. Not only does the emotional support battery promise to reduce anxiety by expanding the spread of VanMoof e-bikes by an alleged 45 to 100 km (28 to 62 miles), but it also addresses VanMoof’s biggest limitation: non-removable batteries that allow for a smooth look. but it might be necessary to tow 19 kg (42 kg) bicycles indoors to charge.
I got a new VanMoof S3, improved for 2021 (more on that later), with a PowerBank from Friday. After 3 hours in the saddle in two 90-minute rides, I can confirm the extended range and more convenient charging. It’s not cheap and it’s not perfect and I haven’t gone as far as VanMoof claims, but PowerBank is a compelling case to buy.
The 378Wh PowerBank attaches in seconds (about 20). It has an on / off button, so you can choose when to charge a larger 504Wh battery that is found in both the full-size S3 and smaller X3 e-bikes. It is charged from standstill or while riding, and adds an additional 2.8 kg to the total weight of the bike. It’s a reasonable (and unobtrusive) compromise if it means you’ll never have to carry a bike up the stairs to your apartment again. It also adds 348 USD / 348 EUR / 315 GBP to the cost of a bike already starting at 1,998 USD / 1,998 EUR / 1,798 £.
The PowerBank is mounted on a permanent bracket that you must first attach to S3 or X3 e-bikes. The PowerBank battery is then driven into the frame and secured with the supplied wrench, and further secured with two Velcro straps. A third velcro strap is used to keep the charging cable from floating as it snakes to the underside of the top tube and into the bike charging hole. I was driving on rather uneven brick roads and I didn’t hear any rattling from the gathering.
The thick velcro straps, although not elegant, fit nicely into the dark black S3 model. But the straps and bulky battery are visually annoying on the smaller, light blue e-bike X3.
Although the first for VanMoof, range extenders are not uncommon among e-bike manufacturers, especially for electric mountain bikes. Last month, Specialized announced the Como SL suburban e-bike with an optional $ 449.99 range extender that it says adds about 55 miles of range.
Over the weekend, I tested the PowerBank built into the all-new VanMoof S3 on a 76.7 km (47.7 miles) round trip from Amsterdam to the coastal hamlet of Castricum aan Zee and back. That’s more than 60km of VanMoof’s stated range driving at maximum power, and far more than 47km that I drove during S3 range testing in April 2020. VanMoof claims that a fully charged S3 battery connected to the PowerBank has a range between 105-250km (65-155 miles), depending on the level of propulsion assistance you use. I wasn’t even close to that.
I drove at full power (level 4) on extremely flat Dutch terrain, liberally using the Turbo Boost button. Just over half of my testing was directly on a fairly strong 14-knot wind, and the rest benefited from 6-knot winds. In total, I would estimate that I was able to cross about 80 km before the S3 and PowerBank batteries ran out. In other words, the VanMoof PowerBank connected to the new S3 has extended my range by about 70 percent compared to the 47 km (29.2 miles) I drove last year.
During testing, I noticed that the S3 battery discharged faster than the PowerBank could charge while driving at maximum power with a lot of pressure on the Turbo Boost buttons. (VanMoof confirmed this behavior after completing my testing.) Instead of risking stopping and recharging on the way home (or driving in a less fun economy mode), I used the 20-minute ferry wait to complete the S3 battery when it showed the remaining 15 percent. I would probably get home the last 7.9km even at no extra charge, but the whole point of the PowerBank is to avoid the fear of range and I was in a hurry to get back.
As for my butt, well, I should honor VanMoof’s custom saddle. It’s surprisingly comfortable, and the first time I rode it – my S3 motorcycle was fitted with a different saddle last year. Although I noticed a little discomfort down when I climbed the bike for my return trip, it was far less than expected.
Despite the fact that my test went under the lowest the range estimate for PowerBank, VanMoof still stays at its numbers. “It should provide an additional 45-100km range to most drivers, depending on the conditions and level of use of the individual,” the company said in an email reply to my findings. Obviously, my aggressive driving style, weight (86 kg / 86 kg), height (183 cm) and ambient conditions on the test make me unusual.
Some other observations …
VanMoof e-bikes do not offer a USB charging port for handset-mounted phones, and the arrival of the PowerBank does not change that. That is an oversight in my opinion. The range extender allows drivers to travel longer distances, which often requires GPS navigation on a phone that works at maximum brightness and is paired with a Bluetooth headset for detailed instructions and perhaps some music played through your 4G / 5G connection. My three-year-old iPhone wasn’t up to the task, which meant connecting to another battery I had to carry in my jacket. I forgot about the cable when I stopped at the ferry crossing, almost overturning me.
VanMoof says the USB port was considered, but was eventually stopped for “waterproofing reasons”. Shame.
I should also note that the S3 I tested was one of the models that recently added support for Apple’s Find My network. While this was the main item, VanMoof’s X3 and S3 e-bikes have also been upgraded with improved displays on the bikes that are more visible in direct sunlight and electronic transmissions that are more accurate. Last year I complained about the readability of the screen and it has improved a bit. More importantly, the e-transmission seems to have improved significantly compared to the S3 variant I reviewed at launch in April 2020. At the time I said it broke down in 2 out of 100 shifts, but the automatic four-speed on my new S3 is roughly 1 of 100+ shifts during my three hour drive. I characterize the error as an unexpected mechanical “rattling” sound, a surprise of a free pedal wheel when you expect to feel resistance or an obvious feeling that you are at the wrong speed.
VanMoof, unlike many e-bike manufacturers, is able to continually improve the hardware and software of its e-bikes because it has a dedicated factory and relatively tight control over the supply chain with custom VanMoof parts. This means it doesn’t have to compete for Shimano gearboxes or Bosch engines, for example, which has left many bike manufacturers without parts for months after the recent rise in demand for e-bikes. And a good thing. The first deliveries of the S3 and X3 models were plagued by release rates of as much as 10 percent, the company’s co-founders told me last year.
VanMoof says it has also improved the internal wiring of its bikes for greater weather resistance, added new pedals for better grip and new flaps on the fenders to reduce excess splashing on wet roads. It has also made shipping boxes more environmentally friendly – which is important considering that since September 2020, VanMoof has been delivering about 12,000 of these giant boxes a month.
All of this is to say that the 2021 S3 and X3 models, the ones with the “Locate Using Apple Find My” label printed under the top tube, are the best VanMoof e-bikes to date, which really says something. The new PowerBank option is just the icing on the cake.
All photos by Thomas Ricker / The Verge, unless otherwise noted