E-bikes are currently booming. From The Netherlands, the slick city cruiser from VanMoof is selling hot like hotcakes. Coming out of Belgium, the more sporty Cowboy Bike offers an electric mobility solution for those in more of a hurry. I’ve been riding the third generation of Cowboy Bike on the streets of Berlin to see what it’s all about. Here’s my full review.
- Sleek, stylish design
- Excellent, quiet motor
- Superb carbon belt transmission
- Upgraded tires are great
- Removable battery
- No wheel locking
- Requires smartphone app
- Some features still coming
- Subscription service a kick in the teeth
Cowboy Bike 3 release date and price
The Cowboy Bike 3 is available now at a price of €2,290 in Europe. If you want the additional mudguards, as pictured on our review model, you will have to pay an extra €89, bringing the total purchase price to €2,379. In the United Kindom, those numbers are £1,990 without the mudguards and £2,069 with.
Two new colors are also available this year: Anthracite Grey and Mineral Grey. The classic Cowboy Absolute Black carries over from previous versions. Only one "M-L" frame size is available, which has been optimized for riders between 170-195 cm tall. Whilst that catches a large part of the population, it would be nice to have more options for those who are particularly short or tall.
So the Cowboy Bike 3 is certainly not cheap. It comes in at €300 more than the latest VanMoof S3. You do get a two-year warranty on a new e-bike from Belgium though, but the costs don't stop when you cycle away from the store. More on that later.
What I like about the Cowboy Bike 3...
When we first tested the e-bike from Cowboy back in May 2019, we were blown away by how smooth yet powerful the motor was in this city racer. The minimalist look from 18 months ago is largely unchanged, but the Belgian manufacturer has worked on both the hardware and software, improving the overall package. But how big of an upgrade is it?
The hardware upgrades
One of the main things we loved about the old Cowboy Bike was its carbon belt drive. Unlike a dirty old chain, the belt does not require oil. This means less maintenance. It’s also a large part of why the transmission of power from the motor to the wheels feels so smooth. This Gates Carbon Drive Belt has a transmission ratio of 63/22 (2.86) with a lower gear ratio, providing a faster start and an easier ride on slopes.
Pulling away from a standing start is incredibly fluid. Unlike with some e-bikes where you feel a judder as the motor kicks in, the Cowboy Bike 3 glides as it gets up to speed, whilst maintaining a reassuring feel in the pedals throughout acceleration. A top speed of 25 km/h can be achieved effortlessly, and the motor remains whisper-quiet throughout. There are no gears on the Cowboy Bike 3, but you really don't need them, even when tackling hills. The hydraulic disc brakes do a sterling job as well. The integrated front and rear lights are easily bright enough to ride at night.
The handling and ride quality is a big win for Cowboy in my opinion, and it’s the single biggest advantage this e-bike has over some of its competitors. Cowboy says the carbon belt drive will last for up to 30,000 kilometers before you need to do any kind of maintenance.
There are also new, custom-made, mudguards available for the Cowboy Bike 3 this year. They have been adapted to the wheel and are sold separately for €89. Puncture-proof tires are back, which have a special puncture protection coating, and the tire surface has been widened to provide a more comfortable ride. Experienced cyclists may see this as a small sacrifice on speed, but I am all for it. The hard saddle and low, straight handlebars, plus the lack of any suspension whatsoever do give the Cowboy Bike 3 more of a ‘racing bike’ feel, and I’m happy to take a comfort upgrade, even one with as minimal an impact as the new tires offer.
In terms of the battery, nothing has changed from the Cowboy 2. The removable 360Wh (1Ah) battery weighs 2.4kg and gives you a range of up to 70km. The whole bike weighs 16.9kg, including the battery. This is 900g more than the 2-series, but this is mainly due to the new, improved tires. The frame itself is actually lighter than on the Cowboy 2. The motor (30 Nm/250 W), which is made in house, is integrated into the rear wheel.
Having a removable battery on a bike as sleek and good-looking as this is one of the biggest strengths of the Cowboy Bike 3. E-bikes in general tend to fall into two categories. There are designs that look much like regular bikes but a bit bulkier, often with a visible, removable battery slapped somewhere onto the frame. Then there are the all-in-one designs that look much more attractive, but without a removable battery charging can be a pain if you live in a high-rise apartment or similar. The Cowboy Bike 3 is a perfect compromise between the two approaches. Yes, the battery is removable but it does not hamper the design. Attached the back of the seat tube, the battery merges nicely with the overall sporty and sleek design of the Cowboy Bike 3. The battery can be recharged to 100% in 3.5 hours. It can also only be removed with a physical key, which should prevent it from getting stolen.
The new software features
There are several new Cowboy software features for 2020. All software updates announced by Cowboy in June are not only available on the Cowboy 3, but also on previous models. Just like you get upgrades to your smartphone, the same thing is happening in the e-bike space, and that’s cool.
At present, the new Auto-Unlock, theft detection, and accident detection are available. An air quality feature is set to follow in Q4 of this year. Automatic unlocking (or Auto-Unlock, as Cowboy calls it) works nicely. Up until now, Cowboy bike owners had to take their phones out of their pocket to unlock and start the motor. Those days are gone, thanks to Auto-Unlock. The bike now automatically detects when you are nearby. If the wheel is then moved, it unlocks and the ride can begin. Your phone can stay in your pocket. You have to activate the function in the app first, and the app must be open in the background, but this is a huge advantage over pulling out your phone and doing it manually, particularly if you are out and about in winter or in the rain.
The second big new feature is accident detection. We’ve seen this built into smartphones and, in particular, apps like Android Auto, but this is relatively new to the e-bike industry. The Cowboy uses sensors integrated into the bicycle itself and a specially designed algorithm to detect a fall. Once a fall has been identified, the rider has 60 seconds to indicate via the app if everything is okay or not. If there is no reaction, the app automatically sends the last location and a warning message to a selected emergency contact.
Naturally, Cowboy doesn’t want reviewers taking its €2,290 e-bike and purposely crashing it. To make sure people like me don’t put ourselves in unnecessary danger when testing this new feature, the Cowboy team created a short video showing us how you simulate an accident safely. It basically involves dropping the bike onto a soft surface, like a sofa or cushion, to simulate a fall. It worked well during my test, but this is not really a scientific recreation of an actual fall or dangerous crash.
The bike uses a unique detection system to identify the many types of accidents you might have when you are out and about. It can also recognize situations that may look like an accident but in reality do not represent one, such as the bike tipping over when parking, or riding on cobblestones. In order to distinguish between the different accident situations, Cowboy says it uses "sensor fusion" to exclude both false-positive and false-negative results. For this purpose, Cowboy uses the following components: a speed sensor in the wheel, the torque sensor to check whether force is being applied to the pedals, and an accelerometer.
Thanks to these sensors, Cowboy says it is able to reduce the number of false-positive results to near zero. Cowboy's system is also able to detect whether the wheel is moving "normally" again after a fall, thus assuming the rider is OK. The Cowboy bike is also equipped with a SIM card and GPS. So even if the smartphone connected to the bike fails, accident detection still works. Cowboy can notify the emergency contact without having to rely on the user's phone for data.
I did ride over cobblestones and some fairly large bumps in an attempt to trigger a fall warning, and Cowboy’s system held up well. I’m happy to take the manufacturer’s word for it on this one. Let’s hope this is a feature one not too many owners will need to make use of. Stay safe on the roads out there.
Theft detection has always been a feature of the connected Cowboy bikes. The bike should only move when the rider (or rider’s smartphone) is present, and a notification is automatically sent when the bike is on the move if someone is trying to steal it. This is kind of a key feature, as the bike isn’t actually immobilized when locked. There's no physical wheel lock, it's just the motor that is disabled.
Two minutes after the Cowboy is locked, the anti-theft protection kicks in. This, I assume, is to prevent the alarm from going off when you readjust the parking position after you’ve locked it, as I do when hanging it on the hooks in my building’s bicycle storage room. If someone else moves the bike for several seconds, the owner is automatically notified via the app and can check the bike’s GPS position. By clicking on the notification, you can locate the bike at any time - it’s accurate to within a meter if you are close enough to be connected via Bluetooth.
Perhaps the most interesting new feature, however, is that related to air quality. The app informs Cowboy owners what the air quality in a given area is like, so you can choose a route through the city that is the least polluted. This feature is still in development, and thus I was unable to test it during this review process. Cowboy says it will be fully launched in Q4 2020.
App features such as Find My Bike via GPS positioning, navigation, a live dashboard, and Siri voice control, have carried over from the old models onto the new Cowboy Bike 3.
What I don't like about the Cowboy Bike 3...
Subscriptions for an already expensive bike
A premium Easy Rider service is available for a small subscription fee. For €8 per month, you get theft detection notifications, theft insurance, and a special Fast Lane for customer service. If you stump up €10 a month for Easy Rider Plus, you can add damage insurance to that package. Damage insurance covers vandalism, but also damage caused by natural elements, such as rain or snow.
It's kind of a shame that this is not included for free, to be honest. When you are dropping two grand on a new e-bike, it's got to sting to have to pay another tenner every month to get quality customer service and insurance. At the risk of harping on about the competition, if your VanMoof S3 gets knicked, the company's bike hunters will track it down for you free of charge.
Repairs under the two-year warranty are completely free of charge at Cowboy, though. Currently, the program is active in 32 European cities - 14 of which are in Germany - and is continuously being expanded to other cities. It was inspired by the test drive program - a network of Cowboy experts who meet with potential customers in 67 cities and offer test drives.
The built-in navigation
Whilst I do like the built-in navigation with routes optimized for cyclists, one thing that left me disappointed during my test of the Cowboy Bike 3 was the limited data that is held after is each ride. It's nice to have stats for a particular week, month, or year, and the totals shown here will surely provide some motivation for people to get out cycling more. The trip details section, however, is fairly light on information.
You get a pin for your final destination but nothing in terms of details about the route taken. Given that this has already been worked out by the software, and you are being tracked via GPS at all times, it would not have been much of a stretch for the manufacturer to have added this information. It's nice to look back on a route when you have been out 'getting lost' on a ride, I find.
You still can’t use it without a phone
The biggest downside of the Cowboy Bike 3, however, is one that has carried over from the previous versions. You still cannot use the motor without having a paired phone on you to activate it. You can, of course, still cycle with your own muscle, but that's not really the point of an e-bike. I like some other manufacturers' solutions to this problem, such as using a button to allow riders to punch in a PIN code to unlock and activate the e-bike. With the Cowboy, a smartphone is essential if you want to put the 'e' in 'e-bike'.
The Cowboy Bike 3 has got a lot going for it. The sleek design turns heads on the street, and it's an absolute joy to ride. The fact that this has got a removable battery and still looks this good is essentially its unique selling point. I have a few friends in Berlin who have bought a Cowboy Bike 3 based on this factor alone.
It's a shame that you still can’t use the motor if your phone runs out of battery, and the ride history in the app could be a little more in-depth, but overall I'd be happy to use this e-bike as my daily transport. As you flatten hills and glide effortlessly through the city, it's hard not to want one. The price remains the main barrier to entry for a lot of cyclists looking to go electric, but in terms of hardware and software, Cowboy is definitely moving in the right direction.
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