(Pocket-lint) - The Cowboy 3 is the latest version of the striking-looking electric bike from the Belgian startup – we liked the previous version and it's sat for a while in our guide to the best electric bikes. It isn't yet available in the US, but it is available in the UK and Europe.
It's an incredible bike, but it also isn't cheap. However, given the price of some electric bikes from well-known names on the market – like Specialized or even the Brompton Electric – the Cowboy 3 could be seen as positively mid-range. If you're in the UK, you can also finance the bike through the Cycle to Work scheme.
The evolution of the Cowboy e-bike sees the third-gen version focus on safety and smart features - and there's some impressive tech on show. Indeed, this might well be the best electric bike you could buy.
- Size: M-L frame only (for riders 170-195cm / 5ft6in-6ft4in tall)
- Finishes: Absolute Black, Anthracite Grey, Mineral Grey
- Aluminium frame design with integrated lights
- Mudguards sold separately
- Weight: 17kg
Cowboy 3 is very similar in look to the company's earlier bikes, with a nice chunky frame that turns heads because it looks so smart. It now comes in three colours… if you can say 'colours', since there's now black and two shades of grey.
The bike we were sent had mudguards – essential in our opinion – but these are a new build-to-order option rather than something you can add on subsequently (though you could always add third-party ones of course). You also get a bell in the box!
In terms of weight, the Cowboy 3 clocks in around 17kg thanks to the aluminium frame and other lightweight materials which means it can easily be manoeuvred about when you're out of the saddle. For context, a Santander Cycle in London weighs around 24kgs.
Certainly, the Cowboy weighs a lot less than it looks like it should. Sure, a carbon road bike would be far, far less - but there's no battery or electric assistance there, which is where much of the weight comes from.
Front and rear lights are integrated and a nice touch is that the brake lights get brighter when you are braking.
The 360Wh hour 36V battery is attached to the upright and is detachable. It comes off easily and is secured with a physical key (there are two included in the box). Of course, this means you can take it off for security or – should you wish – keep a second battery.
Though, as you'll hear, it's unlikely you'll need to given the range on offer here – at 70km (43m) maximum. Coincidentally, recharge time is cited around 3.5 hours, but we found it took closer to four.
You won't find yourself unaware of how much charge you have left; as well as showing you how much charge you have in the app, there's a row of simple LED lights on top of the frame (these light up when you unlock the bike too).
You need to do a bit of standard prep after the box first arrives, like re-orientating the handlebars, adjusting the seat and screwing on the pedals, but the tools needed to do this are all in the box. This would be the case with any bike purchased for delivery anyway, so it's just a normal part of procedure.
Ride and range
- 40 miles / 70km range
- 15.5mph / 25kmph max
- Pedal assist, no throttle
- Carbon belt, disc braking
- Custom Cowboy 42mm tyres
This is squarely a bike for the streets – it's not an off-roader. We took it on plenty of rides and the 250W motor only really struggled to provide enough boost with one very steep hill, but generally going up reasonably sized hills is fine and power is delivered well.
Small inclines disappear and long straights whizz by as the pedal assist adapts to give you the power you need (no, there's no throttle). There's also no mucky chain – the bike uses a Gates CDX Carbon Belt instead.
Braking is precise and effective thanks to a Tektro disc braking system, too – you quickly gain the confidence you need to stop the bike from higher speeds.
The transmission has been upgraded with this version of the Cowboy and initial acceleration is particularly speedy. It's a thrill to take off from a standing start - others that tried our Cowboy while we had it were quite stunned by how rapid the initial phase of acceleration was.
However, this bike is missing something from the earlier versions – a faster off-road mode. There's a speed cap of 25kmph (that's 15.5mph). We want to say it's a little disappointing – but it's just standard regulation for a roadworthy e-bike in the UK. Different regulations in different countries may see this top speed differ accordingly.
Without suspension, the ride can be harsh if you're on a road surface that's less than pristine and this can shake up your hands a bit on a country lane. The custom 42mm tyres have been upgraded from earlier versions and you may find you need to let off a little bit of pressure riding in those conditions.
One of the things that's most impressive about the Cowboy 3 is its range – at over 70km (43 miles). It was actually a challenge to empty the battery during our review time. We think for most commuters using it twice a day it'll probably be a case of charging it each weekend rather than daily, depending on just how far you're intending to ride. The power brick for the charger is large so it's not something you'll want to be carrying about in case of a mishap.
Of course, there are no gears – the bike has both speed and torque sensors that measure your cadence and asks the motor to deliver the right amount of power.
Tech and features
- Auto-unlock now supported via Bluetooth
- Theft and location detection via GPS, SIM and accelerometer
- Easy Rider for Theft Detection
- Crash detection
The iOS and Android app for the Cowboy 3 bike is truly excellent and it's a shining example of how a smart device's app should work. However, it naturally raises questions over how the features of an expensive everyday piece of equipment like a bike is reliant on the ecosystem of other vendors. Cowboy isn't alone here, of course, but without the app the bike does lose a little bit of its appeal.
One of the clever new features is that bike now unlocks via Bluetooth when you move close to it – your phone could be in a pocket or bag. We love this – entering our garage where the bike was stored automatically turned it on and it was ready to go. The lights also switch on and automatically turn off when the bike locks, too.
However, having your phone as a 'key' can also be a disadvantage. During our test, riding off without our device meant the Cowboy basically shut down. You can still ride it, but you don't get any electrical assistance, which is not ideal with only a single gear. So don't lend it to your Dad to pick up the kid from school, not unless you're lending your phone too!
That's a deterrent to thieves, of course, which is great, but when we had the bike we felt there needed to be an override for owners who have an empty phone battery. A simple power button wouldn't have really worked because a thief could simply switch it on. However, Cowboy has now been in touch to say it is introducing a manual override as a firmware update. Essentially you have to remove the battery with the key and plug it back in within 20 seconds. As this was introduced after our review period, we can't pass judgement on it.
Safety is at the heart of this bike's smart features. There's now integrated crash detection (also available on Cowboy 2 via a software update) which uses the aforementioned sensors as well as an accelerometer. While we weren't able to crash the bike to test this(!), Cowboy told us how to invoke the feature to see how it worked.
It gives you 60 seconds to tell the app you're OK, otherwise it will send a text (via the bike's own SIM card in case your phone gets broken) to your key contact with your current location including a map (yes, the bike has GPS). It's similar to what Garmin offers on its cycling computers, but all integrated here.
Cowboy says that the bike can tell the difference between crashing and other things that might cause the feature to send the text – like dropping the bike. However, your emergency contact will need to know the deal with the feature because it could be very concerning to receive that text.
In terms of theft detection, the app will alert you if the bike is being moved without being unlocked and it can begin tracking the location of the bike down to an address location. It's pretty clever and you can see where your bike is continually, whether it's around the corner or 100 miles away.
This starts protecting the bike after you've left it alone for two minutes to prevent false positives (the bike can be set to auto-lock). If the bike is moved by an unwanted person – or, as in our case, a tradesman working in our garage - then the lights will flash but there's no sound. It could do with the bike emitting some kind of noise as well – or perhaps you could receive an automated phone call? If you see the alert it's great, if you don't then your bike might already be long gone.
However, ongoing protection for this will cost you €96 per year as part of the Easy Rider (nice name) insurance plan offered by Cowboy. The free version enables you to 'find your bike' but doesn't send you a notification if the bike moves and doesn't include theft insurance. An alternative €120 per year version adds damage insurance, too. There's a two-year insurance package as standard and if you're in a major city you can get at-home service.
The Cowboy 3 is a stunning electric bike that's thrilling when you're accelerating and inspires confidence when you're braking. On good roads and cycle paths the ride is beautiful and smooth and things only get rough on very bumpy surfaces. The range is phenomenal, too.
The app is also brilliant and you'll marvel at how well it all works. The key rival is VanMoof – we've recently looked at the excellent S3 – but the big advantage with the Cowboy is the removable battery and extra new app features. However, the Cowboy 3 is also more expensive. Cheaper (but less smart) alternatives come in the form of Volt's huge range as well as GTech's eBike City and Sport.
When we're reviewing products people usually ask us whether they're any good. This time, the question was slightly different – would we buy one? Well, as soon as we lifted the Cowboy 3 into the collection truck we came back inside and hovered over the order page on the Cowboy website. So that answers that one. It's probably the best e-bike money can buy right now.
Less expensive than the Cowboy 3, the VanMoof has plenty to like - although there are fewer smart features and no rechargeable battery. We said it had a "delightfully smooth riding experience" though, while it certainly looks the part, too.