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 ease range anxiety by extending VanMoof e-bike commutes by a claimed 45 to 100 km (28 to 62 miles), it also addresses VanMoof’s biggest limitation: non-removable batteries that enable a sleek look, but could necessitate hauling the 19-kg (42-pound) bikes indoors to be charged.
I’ve had a new VanMoof S3, improved for 2021 (more on that later), with the PowerBank since Friday. After 3 hours in the saddle on two 90-minute rides, I can attest to the extended range and more convenient charging. It’s not cheap and it’s not perfect and I didn’t go quite as far as VanMoof claims, but the PowerBank makes a compelling case for purchase.
The 378Wh capacity PowerBank attaches in seconds (about 20 of them). It has an on / off button so you can choose when it charges the larger 504Wh battery found inside both the full-sized S3 and smaller X3 e-bikes. It charges from a standstill or while riding, and adds an extra 2.8 kg (6.2 pounds) to the total weight of the bike. That’s a reasonable (and unnoticeable) tradeoff if it means never having to carry the bike up the stairs to your apartment again. It also adds $348 / €348 / £315 to the cost of a bike that already starts at $1,998 / €1,998 / £1,798.
The PowerBank sits in a permanent mount you must first attach to the S3 or X3 e-bikes. The PowerBank battery then wedges into the frame and locks in place with a supplied key, and is further secured with two velcro straps. A third velcro strap is used to keep the charging cable from flopping around as it snakes up to the underside of the top tube and into the bike’s charging port. I rode on some rather bumpy brick roads and didn’t hear a single rattle from the assembly.
The thick velcro straps, while being inelegant, blend nicely into the dark black S3 model. But the straps and bulky battery are visually jarring on the smaller, light blue X3 e-bike.
While a first for VanMoof, range extenders are not uncommon amongst e-bike makers, especially for electric mountain bikes. Last month Specialized announced the Como SL commuter e-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 fitted to a brand 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 beyond the 60 km stated range of a VanMoof ridden at max power, and far beyond the 47 km I managed during my S3 range test in April of 2020. VanMoof claims that a fully charged S3 battery coupled to a PowerBank has a range of between 105-250 km (65-155 miles), depending upon the level of powered assist you’re using. I wasn’t anywhere close to that.
I rode at full power (level 4) on exceedingly flat Dutch terrain making liberal use of the Turbo Boost button. A bit more than half of my testing was directly into a fairly strong 14-knot headwind, the rest benefited from a 6-knot tailwind. In total, I’d estimate that I could have ridden about 80 km (50 miles) before both the S3 and PowerBank batteries were empty. In other words, the VanMoof PowerBank coupled to the new S3 extended my range by about 70 percent compared to 47 km (29.2 miles) I managed last year.
In my testing, I noticed that the S3 battery emptied faster than the PowerBank could recharge it while riding at max power with lots of Turbo Boost button presses. (VanMoof confirmed this behavior after my testing was complete.) So rather than risk having to stop and recharge on the way home (or ride in a less fun economy mode), I took advantage of a 20-minute ferry wait to top off the S3 battery when it was showing just 15 percent remaining. I likely would have made it the final 7.9 km home even without the top-up, but the whole point of having a PowerBank is to avoid range anxiety and I was in a hurry to get back.
As to my buttocks, well, I should give the VanMoof’s custom saddle honorable mention. It’s surprisingly comfortable, and the first time I’ve ridden it — my S3 review bike was fitted with a different saddle last year. While I did notice a bit of discomfort down there when climbing onto the bike for my return journey, it was far less than expected.
Despite my test coming in below the lowest range estimate for the PowerBank, VanMoof still stands by its numbers. “It should give most riders an additional 45-100km range depending on conditions and an individual’s use-level,” said the company in an email response to my findings. Apparently, my aggressive riding style, weight (190 pounds / 86 kg), height (6 feet / 183 cm), and ambient conditions at testing make me an outlier.
Some other observations…
VanMoof e-bikes don’t provide a USB charging port for phones mounted on the handlebar and the arrival of the PowerBank doesn’t change that. That’s an oversight in my opinion. A range extender enables riders to travel longer distances, which often requires GPS navigation on a phone operating at peak brightness and paired with Bluetooth headphones for turn-by-turn directions and maybe some music playing over your 4G / 5G connection. My three-year old iPhone wasn’t up to the task, which meant tethering it to yet another battery I had to carry in my jacket. I forgot about the cable when I stopped off at a ferry crossing, nearly causing me to topple over.
VanMoof says a USB port was considered but was ultimately left off 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 tracking network. While that was the headline item, VanMoof’s X3 and S3 e-bikes were also upgraded with improved on-bike displays that are more visible in direct sunlight, and electronic shifters that are more accurate. I complained about the display readability in my review last year and it is slightly improved. More importantly, the e-shifter seems much improved over the S3 variation that I reviewed at launch in April of 2020. At the time I said it glitched on 2 out of 100 shifts, but the automatic four-speed on my new S3 glitched about 1 out of 100+ shifts over my three hours of riding. I characterize a glitch as an unexpected mechanical “clink” sound, a surprise free-wheel of the pedals when you expect to feel resistance, or an obvious feeling of being in the wrong gear.
VanMoof, unlike many e-bike makers, is able to constantly improve the hardware and software of its e-bikes because it has a dedicated factory and relatively tight control over a supply chain of custom VanMoof parts. That means it doesn’t have to compete for Shimano shifters or Bosch motors, for example, which left many bike manufactures without parts for months after the recent surge in e-bike demand. Good thing, too. The first shipments of S3 and X3 models were plagued by issue rates as high as 10 percent, the company co-founders told me last year.
VanMoof says it also improved the internal wiring of its bikes for better resistance to weather, added new pedals for better grip, and new fender flaps to reduce excess splash on wet roads. It also made the shipping boxes more environmentally friendly — important when you consider that VanMoof ships around 12,000 of those giant boxes a month, as of September 2020.
All 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 is saying something. The new PowerBank option is just icing on the cake.
All photos by Thomas Ricker / The Verge unless otherwise stated