Tom Morgan

An intelligent, app-controlled e-bike: the Cowboy 3 reviewed

An intelligent, app-controlled e-bike: the Cowboy 3 reviewed
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First things first, I should issue a disclaimer: I’m not a fan of bikes that have apps. It’s always struck me as odd that a lot of electric bike manufacturers make a big deal about making bikes more friendly for riders – and yet so many insist on adding additional tech that your average cyclist neither wants nor needs. But perhaps the Cowboy 3 can convince me that an app can be more than just an add-on.

The Cowboy 3 is unquestionably the best looking electric bike on the market right now in its price class (£1,990). It’s the third generation of e-bike from the Belgian startup – and is a definite sign of the business reaching its maturity; prioritising safety above all else (although clearly still maintaining an incredibly strong design ethic).

If you like a fairly Volvo-meets-Shoreditch design, you’re going to love how this bike looks. And it’s not just the frame; it delivers on the equipment too. The latest trend in eBikes is belt drive, replacing the traditional link-chain with a completely silent and maintenance-free carbon belt. Coupled with a completely silent 250W rear motor, fully integrated lights, spongy stock saddle, and wide puncture-resistant tires, the bike is not only great to look at, but supremely comfortable to ride.

The ride itself is very interesting. I warn you now, if you seek a bike that gives you a surge of electric boost from first pedal to its speed limit, this isn’t for you. The Cowboy 3 opts for a different form of assistance; one that feels infinitely more natural to a traditional bike rider. Put simply – the more you put in, the more you get out. This took some getting used having ridden so many e-bikes that work in precisely the opposite way.

This tech creates a very smooth and completely silent, but not entirely effortless ride. I felt myself pushing the bike harder than it perhaps wanted to go – but this is partly because e-bikes in the UK are limited in max speed. With most e-bikes you feel this ‘kick’ when you reach the peak legal assisted speed. Because the Cowboy 3 is subtle in its handling of assistance, you find yourself reaching the limit without realising it – and putting in extra effort to gain the extra few km/h. The tech allows the ride to eek out an impressible 43 miles on a single charge.

The removal battery

Cowboy make a big deal of the safety features – the most impressive of which is automatic crash detection. Crash detection works by analysing data collected from a series of inbuilt sensors on the bike, and passing it in real-time back to your phone. Allegedly the bike can differentiate between a genuine collision and, say, a particularly rough commute on London’s potholed roads. The bike has an integrated SIM-card to inform an emergency contact that a collision has ‘potentially happened’. It’s a novel idea, but arguably not entirely necessary in a crowded market.

Thankfully, the Cowboy 3 still ships with a removable battery, sleekly integrated into the frame in a way that other e-bikes just never manage to do with quite such panache. No-one wants to bring their bike indoors to charge it on a USB charger – this is the right way to do it. A satisfying key-lock system is welcome relief in a bike that is otherwise entirely mechanism-free: in fact, the only other visible feature on the whole bike is the battery indicator.

Everything else is controlled by the app. An app which I must admit is market-leading in overall usability and design – it’s lightyears ahead of other apps. But, it has two quite fundamental flaws; firstly you can’t take the bike for a casual ride without loitering next to the bike for a few minutes to unlock your phone and turn it on. There are non-app alternatives, but they are cumbersome.

You can, of course, configure the app to ‘auto unlock’ your bike based on proximity. This is neat and works very well – but prepare for intolerable battery drain on your phone. In the 24 hours I had the bike, the Cowboy app decided to run consistently in the background for 16. It’s presumably a bug that Cowboy will fix – but it came as a surprise that a business with such a slick digital footprint was lamentable in this area.

So there you have it – silent, smart, good-looking; and if you’re into app-controlled bikes, probably one of the best apps available in design. On those long trips though, just be prepared to pack an additional battery – not just for your bike, but for your phone too.

The Cowboy 3 is priced at £1,990

Written byTom Morgan

Tom Morgan is Director of Digital at The Spectator

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