Cowboy Bike review: the e-bike that swaps its chain for an app
E-bikes are coming out thick and fast, but the cowboy bike is different. The bike looks minimalistic, but is technically quite clever. In our review, the e-bike shows that this is often, but not always, a good idea to rely on new technology.
Cowboy comes from Belgium and the bike has been available there for over a year, but now it has landed in Germany, France and the Netherlands too. The e-bike is a single-speed bike, so it has no gears. The self-developed motor has an output of 250 watts and sits in the rear wheel. The battery finds its place behind the seat post and is removable. The lights are integrated into the frame as is the battery that powers them. The special thing about the minimalist, matt black ride is its companion app, which was developed together with the bike itself. A belt drive is used instead of a chain.
How does the Cowboy Bike feel to ride?
The Cowboy Bike is pretty fast and clearly designed for the city. The gear ratio of 3.1:1 is sporty, without an engine hill starts are a bit tough though. But on the flat and on clear roads you are really fast on this e-bike, especially when you are in a hurry. Google Maps often calculated journeys at 45 minutes for a route across Berlin, only for me to complete the ride in closer to 30 minutes, and that's despite observing the traffic lights and traffic rules. The seating position is quite sporty, the handlebars are 54 centimeters wide and well-dimensioned. The frame and fork are made of 6061 aluminum and weigh 16.1 kilograms, making the bike hardly heavier than most normal bicycles without a motor.
The Cowboy Bike is fast, but you have to make cuts elsewhere. The e-bike has no suspension, neither at the fork nor at the rear wheel or in the seat post. Mudguards, luggage carriers and similar luxuries have been skipped by the manufacturer. The branded components and the clean workmanship ensure high-quality and a stable driving experience - nothing crunches or crackles.
How's does the Cowboy app work?
To unlock the Cowboy Bike and activate the engine, you need the appropriate app, which is available for Android and iOS. Once connected, the app connects to the e-bike via Bluetooth. It always shows exactly how much the engine is supporting your pedaling while driving. The light can only be switched on and off via the app. Once the bike is turned on, your smartphone can fail, but you can still continue driving with motor support. The start screen of the app always shows you the location of the bike, and if it is moved in its locked state, you will receive a notification. Cowboy does not offer its own smartphone mount for the bike, but the manufacturer recommends Quadlock.
But the app does more than just unlock and lock the wheels and turn on the lights. You can also navigate via the app and to reach your destination safely. In addition, wheel parameters can be set, such as the off-road mode, which is, of course, illegal on public roads and with which the motor can help out at speeds of up to 30 km/h instead of 25 km/h.
The bike's speed can also be adjusted to suit the driver's needs. The app also gives you a direct line to Cowboy's support - and that goes both ways. If Cowboy discovers that the battery has a defect while installing an update for the motor control via the app, the manufacturer contacts the owner of the bike directly and sends a replacement. You can see why Cowboy developed the app directly parallel with the bike, and took a lot of care in doing so. The functions will be expanded in the future, too.
By the way, you can also pair the Cowboy Bike with more than one smartphone to share the bike with your partner or roommate. But you all have to use the same Cowboy account.
What I like about the Cowboy Bike
The functionality of the Cowboy app is indeed outstanding and a unique selling point in the confusing jungle of the e-bike market today. The bike and app combo feels very well thought-out and practical.
Although the built-in SIM card does not really provide better protection against theft, and a proper lock and the right choice of parking space are still crucial. The built-in GPS tracking increases the chance of getting the bike back, at least, if it was stolen. The app notification system for when the wheels has been moved gives you an important time advantage, because the faster you notice the theft and react to it, the higher the chance of getting your bike back.
The motor pushes the bike along extremely gently but it's still really powerful. The fact that the Cowboy Bike is a fast bike in itself means that you can reach the engine's maximum speed of 25 km/h very quickly and easily reach up to 35 km/h with reasonable muscle power. So the motor does most of the work, then your legs do the rest. On the one hand, this protects the battery, as the motor no longer supports you at higher speeds, and allows for a bit more exercise to be had.
The range of the battery with 10 Ah/360 Wh is generous. In general, I drive rather fast and am comparatively heavy, but with one battery charge I managed at least the promised 70 kilometers, usually even further. With many other e-bikes, the range is clearly less. The charger brings the battery back to 100 percent in less than four hours.
As far as the pure bicycle components are concerned, Tektro's hydraulic disc brakes are particularly appealing. They grip tightly but are easy to control at all times. Also the standard tires - 42 mm wide Gravelking Panaracer - are good and so wide that the danger of slipping into a tram track is comparatively low.
The belt drive of the Cowboy Bike is maintenance-free, it does not have to be lubricated like a chain. Although replacement is somewhat more complex, as the frame lock has to be opened for this. The gears in the drive train wear much more slowly. The power transmission is very direct.
What I don't like about the Cowboy Bike
As good as the app is, an alternative to unlocking and starting the e-bike would be desirable. If your smartphone or app doesn't work, you can't unlock the wheels. The bike can be ridden perfectly well without the motor if the terrain is not too hilly, but that's not the way it's meant to be. Cowboy could have solved this with the key on the battery, for example, but decided not to.
Speaking of the battery, it must always be removed in order to charge it, as the charger connector is on the inside. Especially for those who park their bike in a garage, this is unnecessarily cumbersome. The fact that the rear light is in the battery is visually pleasing, but makes replacement difficult if the LED should give up on you.
As naked as the Cowboy Bike is sold, it is not really suitable for everyday use despite the integrated lighting. The manufacturer does not offer any accessories, so no reflectors, luggage carriers or similar. There are the usual mounts on the frame and fork for standard accessories, but with a bike designed with so much effort, it would be nice to have optically suitable accessories. The space between the front tire and the fork is also very tight, many universal mudguards will not fit there.
The total weight specified for the e-bike is 110 kilograms. That sounds sufficient, but the weight of the bike is included. That leaves 94 kilograms for driver and luggage. So I'm already too heavy for the cowboy bike, at least on paper. The margins are very tight, especially for commuters who have a bag or a backpack with them.
Cowboy offers the e-bike only in a frame size that should fit people between 170cm and 195cm tall. The saddle height is adjustable, but the handlebar is not. I am 187 centimeters tall, and the seat position is quite sporty due to the low handlebars. Cowboy should offer at least one, better two more frame sizes in the future.
The bottom line
Riding a cowboy bike is a lot of fun, the motor is extremely comfortable and yet powerful, the bike is smooth and the brakes bite hard. I also like the minimalist look, and the app is also well thought out. However, the weaknesses are also there, and I am bothered by the low maximum load and the lack of alternative frame sizes, as well as the fact that the e-bike cannot be used without a smartphone. This last gripe could have been solved quite simply. The e-bike is also designed primarily for use in the city, extended tours with luggage are hardly possible.
The Cowboy Bike costs 1,990 euros in Europe. This seems reasonable in view of the performance and equipment. If you are not sure whether the e-bike from Belgium is really something for you, simply book a free test ride on the Cowboy website. The manufacturer will bring the bike to you and you can try it if you live in one of the available cities.
Would you like to see this e-bike come to your region? Let us know in the comments section below.