VanMoof adds manual shifting to S3 and X3 e-bikes

VanMoof has released a firmware update for its S3 and X3 e-bikes that allow manual shifting. If you think that sounds like a pretty simple function for a bike, you’re right. But Vanmoof’s latest bikes have fully automatic four-speed shifters, and until now there was no way to shift gears on your own.

The automatic shifter is handy and generally works well, but as with automatic gearboxes in cars, you may find yourself in a sub-optimal gear every now and then. While this can normally be resolved by releasing the pedals or using the turbo boost button, this is not always practical given factors such as terrain. VanMoof offers settings for hilly and flat land, as well as the ability to customize what speeds the gears shift up and down, but you’ll inevitably find yourself wanting a manual shifter every now and then.

That’s what came with the new firmware, and I’ve been using it on my personal X3 for a few days now. All things considered, it works better than I expected, especially since the bikes have such a spartan control setup. You need to activate manual shifting in the mobile app first, then you can upshift by double tapping the turbo boost button near the right grip and downshift by performing the same action while holding down the call button on the left grip.

The bike plays a sound from its speaker when you change gears, which isn’t exactly the kind of feedback you’d get from a regular bike, but it does the job. Not once did I see the bike fail to shift when I tried, nor did I accidentally make a bell sound. I got used to everything pretty quickly.

The problem though – and I accept that this is 100 percent the result of having ridden an automatic shifting bike for over a year now almost daily for over a year now, and it will sound ridiculous to any regular cyclist – is that I don’t do it’ I always want to have to switch gears myself. I like the automatic shifter, and it’s really just an occasional annoyance that it would be nice to be able to lift a few times a week. The way the manual shifting works here is that it’s always on or off, so it won’t help you in a pinch – it’s just another way to cycle.

However, that can still be useful for many people. If you live in a hilly city or have a tricky commute where the automatic shifter disengages, it may be worth switching to this setting at certain times. Personally, I don’t really see myself using it unless it’s ever possible to manually shift into an automatic mode. And for people who like to shift manually most of the time, they’re probably better served by bikes with more conventional controls.

The turbo boost button on the VanMoof S3.
Photo by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

What I will be using, however, is another new feature that comes with this firmware that allows you to change motor assist modes while on the move. Previously this could only be done from the app or by holding the boost button while the bike was stationary; now the latter method works as long as you don’t kick.

I switch motor-assist mode quite often depending on the setting and situation – I turn it down when I’m cycling with my wife and her non-e-bike, for example, or when I want to save battery power. But most of the time I realize I want to change when I’m actually on the bike, so this comes in handy. It’s definitely a feature that requires caution as you have to look at the screen on the frame to confirm which mode you’ve switched to (there are four degrees of power), so I wouldn’t recommend using it on busy streets or at high speed.

Overall, this is a solid feature drop for the VanMoof S3 and X3 that can make a big difference to the way people ride their bikes. The manual shifting may not be of much use to me, but I’m glad to know it’s there, and it might solve what might otherwise have been a deal breaker for some people.