VanMoof, maker of some of our favorite electric bikes, 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 alleviate range anxiety by extending VanMoof electric bike rides from 45 to 100 km (28 to 62 miles), it also addresses VanMoof’s biggest limitation: non-removable batteries that allow for elegant appearance. , but 19 kg (42 pound) bikes may need to be transported indoors for loading.
I had a new VanMoof S3, improved for 2021 (more on that later), with PowerBank from Friday. After 3 hours in the saddle on two 90 minute rides, I can attest to the extended range and the most convenient load. It’s not cheap and it’s not perfect and I didn’t get as far as VanMoof claims, but the PowerBank is a compelling case for purchase.
The 378 Wh capacity PowerBank connects in seconds (approximately 20 of them). It has an on / off button so you can choose when to charge the larger 504Wh battery found inside the smaller full-size S3 and X3 e-bikes. It is loaded from standing or while riding and adds an additional 2.8 kg (6.2 lbs) to the total weight of the bike. That’s a reasonable (and unnoticeable) trade-off if it means never having to take the bike back up the stairs to your apartment. It also adds $ 348 / € 348 / £ 315 to the cost of a bike that already starts at $ 1,998 / € 1,998 / £ 1,798.
The PowerBank is on a permanent bracket that you must first connect to the S3 or X3 electric bikes. The PowerBank battery is then snapped into the frame and locked in place with a supplied key, and further secured with two velcro straps. A third velcro strap is used to prevent the charging cable from moving as it slides down to the bottom of the top tube and into the bike’s charging port. I traveled some pretty bumpy brick roads and didn’t hear a single rattle from the assembly.
The thick velcro straps, while inelegant, go very well with the dark black S3. But the straps and bulky battery are visually jarring on the smaller, light blue X3 e-bike.
Although new to VanMoof, reach extenders are not uncommon among electric bike manufacturers, especially for electric mountain bikes. Last month, Specialized announced the Como SL electric commuter bike with an optional $ 449.99 range extender that it says adds about 31 miles (55 km) of range.
Over the weekend I tested a PowerBank installed in a new VanMoof S3 on a 76.7 km (47.7 mile) round trip from Amsterdam to the coastal village of Castricum aan Zee and vice versa. That’s beyond the stated 60km range of a full power mounted VanMoof, and well beyond the 47km I drove during my S3 range test in April 2020. VanMoof claims a fully charged S3 battery coupled to a PowerBank has a range of between 105-250 km (65-155 miles), depending on the level of power assist you are using. It wasn’t even close to that.
I rode at full power (level 4) on extremely flat Dutch terrain making generous use of the Turbo Boost button. A little over half of my tests were conducted directly in a fairly strong 14 knot headwind, the rest benefited from a 6 knot tailwind. In total, I would estimate that it could have covered about 80 km (50 miles) before the batteries in the S3 and PowerBank were empty. In other words, the VanMoof PowerBank paired with the new S3 extended my range by roughly 70 percent compared to the 47 km (29.2 miles) I drove last year.
In my tests, I noticed that the S3’s battery drained faster than the PowerBank could recharge it while driving at full power with many presses of the Turbo Boost button. (VanMoof confirmed this behavior after completing my test.) So instead of risking having to stop and recharge on the way home (or travel in a less fun economy mode), I took advantage of a 20 minute ferry wait to complete the S3 Battery when it was showing only 15 percent remaining. I probably would have made the last 7.9km home even without recharging, but the whole point of having a PowerBank is to avoid range anxiety and was in a rush to get back.
As for my butt, well, I should give VanMoof’s custom saddle an honorable mention. It’s surprisingly comfortable, and the first time I rode it, my S3 review bike was equipped with a different saddle last year. While I did notice a bit of discomfort down there when I got on the bike for my return trip, it was a lot less than expected.
Even though my test came in below the lower Range estimate for PowerBank, VanMoof is still holding firm on its numbers. “It should give most cyclists an additional range of 45 to 100 km, depending on the conditions and level of use of each individual,” the company said in an email in response to my findings. Apparently my aggressive driving style, weight (190lbs / 86kg), height (6ft / 183cm), and environmental conditions in testing make me an outlier.
Some other observations …
VanMoof e-bikes don’t provide a USB charging port for handlebar-mounted phones and the arrival of the PowerBank doesn’t change that. That is an oversight in my opinion. A range extender allows passengers to travel longer distances, often requiring GPS navigation on a phone that runs at maximum brightness and is paired with Bluetooth headsets for turn-by-turn directions and maybe some music playing. through your 4G / 5G connection. My three-year-old iPhone was not up to the task, which meant connecting it to another battery that I had to carry in my jacket. I forgot about the cable when I stopped at a ferry crossing, which almost made me fall.
VanMoof says it was considered a USB port, but was eventually dropped for “waterproof reasons.” Pity.
I should also note that the S3 I tested was one of the models that recently added support for Apple’s Find My tracking network. While that was the main theme, VanMoof’s X3 and S3 e-bikes were also updated with improved on-bike displays that are more visible in direct sunlight and electronic shifters that are more accurate. I complained about the readability of the screen in my review last year and it has improved slightly. More importantly, the e-shifter looks a lot better over the S3 variation I reviewed at launch in April 2020. At the time I said it failed 2 out of 100 shifts, but the four-speed automatic in my new S3 it was failing roughly. 1 in 100 shifts during my three hours of driving. I characterize a failure as an unexpected mechanical “clink” sound, an unexpected free-wheeling of the pedals when you expect to feel resistance, or an obvious sense of being in the wrong gear.
VanMoof, unlike many electric bike manufacturers, is able to constantly improve the hardware and software of its electric bikes because it has a dedicated factory and relatively tight control over a supply chain for custom VanMoof parts. That means you don’t have to compete for Shimano shifters or Bosch motors, for example, which left many bike manufacturers without parts for months after the recent surge in demand for e-bikes. It’s also good. Early shipments of the S3 and X3 models were plagued with emission rates of up to 10 percent, the company’s co-founders told me last year.
VanMoof says it also improved the internal cabling of its bikes for better weather resistance, added new pedals for better grip, and new fenders to reduce excess splashing on wet roads. It also made shipping boxes more environmentally friendly, which is important considering that VanMoof ships around 12,000 of those giant boxes a month, as of September 2020.
All of this is to say that the 2021 S3 and X3 models, the ones with the “Locate with Apple Find My” label printed under the top tube, are the best VanMoof e-bikes yet, 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