VanMoof S4 e-bike review: the one to buy
Well, this is a surprise. Despite saying they’d be skipping straight from the 3-series to the 5-series of electric bikes, VanMoof just announced two new e-bikes — the full-size S4 and smaller X4 — days after its $4,000 S5 and A5 e-bikes started shipping. At $2,498 / £2,198 / €2,198 the S4 and X4 models are not only priced to compete, they should also require fewer support calls since there’s a lot less that can go wrong.
The S5 and A5’s fancy Halo Ring displays are gone, as are the integrated Apple Find My tracking, complicated three-speed automatic e-shifter, and superfluous multifunction buttons that most regular commuters don’t need.
VanMoof’s e-bikes have been notorious for initial quality issues and you can readily find complaints about long wait times for support on Reddit, the Vanmoof-ing Facebook fanpage, and comment threads here on The Verge.
According to VanMoof’s co-founders (and brothers) Taco and Ties Carlier, the S4 and X4 are meant to address concerns that VanMoof’s e-bikes have become too complicated for their own good.
More simple, more accessible, and more reliable
“We spend a lot of time listening to our prospective rider. And what we heard clearly,” says Ties Carlier, “was the desire for our key features and iconic VanMoof design — in an e-bike that was even more simple, more accessible, and more reliable. We designed the S4 & X4 with iconic VanMoof tech and design but a massively simplified user experience specifically to meet their needs.”
We’ll see about the reliability claim. But what I can say already after riding an “evergreen” colored S4 for the last five days is this: If you’re in the market for a VanMoof, then the S4 and X4 are the e-bikes most people should buy — not the more expensive S5 or A5.
The S4 and X4 are essentially the same bike with different frame types and wheel sizes. Referred to collectively as SX4, they’re assembled from a mix of tech inherited from VanMoof’s older e-bikes and new flagship SA5 models. Notably, the SX4 have the better kick lock from the SA5 and use an improved two-speed internal gear hub like you’d find on the company’s e-bikes from before 2020’s SX3 series. The S4 is based on the taller S3 frame so choose the X4 model if you’re not at least 170cm (5 feet 7 inches).
Here’s a full breakdown that compares the SX4 with the discontinued SX3 and new SA5 models:
There’s no display of any kind on the SX4 models which is fine by me. But the SX4 ship with an SP Connect phone mount (you provide the case) that lets you fire up the very good VanMoof app to use as a dashboard if you want. Unfortunately, the SX4 models lack the SA5’s USB-C charging port, but you do get hydraulic disc brakes which is the norm for VanMoof.
Riding the S4 is a treat. I’m six feet tall (183cm) and prefer the S4 which stands a few inches taller than the S5. And since I live in a city that doesn’t require a car, I appreciate the new 27.5-inch wheels with wide 2.25-inch puncture resistant tires as someone who, for twenty years, has bicycled daily in all kinds of weather. I need a strong base to carry the kids to school, commute to an office, and then return home with groceries, small appliances, or the occasional Christmas tree. The wider tire width does, however, present a challenge in some bicycle racks designed for standard tires.
And despite lacking a torque sensor found in the SA5, the S4’s 250W front-hub motor tied to the automatic (mechanical) two-speed shifter and RPM sensor still offered a rather intuitive pedal-assisted ride, especially when supplementing things with the occasional press of the boost button. The ride could be improved, however.
The pedals can be slippery when it’s wet outside, and sometimes the S4’s pedal-assisted power can be supplied for a split second too long after pedaling stops. And often after coasting at medium-to-high speeds, stepping on the pedals will cause them to spin freely for up to a full revolution before reengaging with the chain drive. You’ll know the feeling if you ever rode a VanMoof S2 or X2.
Still, I’ll echo what I said in the VanMoof S5 review, I wish VanMoof offered a single-speed belt-drive option paired with that boost button. That would be magical and further reduce the chances of things going wrong.
I don’t have enough data for a range test, yet — I’ll update this review with real-world numbers as soon as I have them. VanMoof says that the SX4 should get the same 60km (37 miles) range as the SX3 and SA5 in max power mode and my testing on both of those e-bikes was between 47km / 29.2 miles (S3) and 48.6km / 30.2 miles (S5). I’d expect the same from the S4 and its 478WH battery, maybe more since it’s not affected by the idle battery drain issue I discovered on the S5. Notably, the SX4’s batteries charge from 0 to 100 percent in 4 hours and 30 minutes with the included charger — two hours faster than the flagship SA5 series.
The SX4 models — like all VanMoofs — don’t have user removable batteries which is a problem for anyone faced with hoisting the 21.6kg (47.6 pounds) e-bike up stairs. VanMoof does offer a $348 / €348 378Wh PowerBank range extender option for the S4 that can be charged inside.
The S4 is defined by what it is not. At $2,498 it’s not expensive for a premium e-bike in 2023, a price that undercuts the Cowboy 4 series by $1,000. The S4 also isn’t overloaded with features most daily commuters don’t need and that could create service headaches down the road.
One thing the SX4 models do add is color. You can choose a deep green like my review bike, a purple pastel, yellow, and a don’t call it white “foam green.” Colors that should help brighten up the most dour city streets.
The S4 I’ve been testing is an excellent e-bike — one of the best, and superior to the VanMoof S5 in terms of value for money. Whether the S4 and X4 continue to be great e-bikes after months of wear and tear is anyone’s guess.
I asked VanMoof to respond to owner concerns about reliability and support. Here’s the statement I received from CEO and co-founder Taco Carlier:
Improving service is our priority. Higher reliability sits at the core of the S4 and X4 design and development process with tackling the top 6 challenges of the S3 and X3 and incorporating learnings from the SA5. Our Service network strategy has expanded towards more focus on bike servicing to get closer to our riders, offer more options and more capacity. More news here will follow in the next few weeks.
Yes, I’m also curious to hear what’s coming.
VanMoof currently offers one of the most extensive networks of service hubs available in cities around Europe, Japan, and the US. That’s important because most VanMoof e-bike parts are custom made and only available from VanMoof — so make sure you have a service center nearby if you’re interested in buying. You’re also covered by a two-year warranty in Europe, one in the US, and free 14-day returns.
Sales begin now on a staggered basis before they’re scheduled to ship in August. You can preorder the S4 and X4 in the same “evergreen” color I reviewed starting today, purple in late May, yellow in late June, and “foam green” in late July.
I’d suggesting waiting a tick if you’re tempted to buy. Let the early adopters test VanMoof’s claims of improved reliability and service — you’ve got better things to do with your time.
All photography by Thomas Ricker / The Verge