Why I won’t buy a Cowboy bike (but maybe you should)

A few weeks ago I had a chance to try out a Cowboy bike. That’s one of those cool-looking electric bicycles doing the rounds on all the gadget sites. And here’s why I won’t be buying one, but you should perhaps consider doing so.

Cowboy e-bike, screenshot from manufacturer's website
Cowboy e-bike, screenshot from manufacturer’s website

I’ve been thinking about getting a new bike for some time, and an e-bike would certainly be an option. But I’ve been put off most models because either they look terrible or the battery is firmly built into the frame. Those were basically the two options. There’s no way I’m going to spend two or more grand on an ugly bike. And because I can’t haul my e-bike up to the apartment every time it needs to be charged, it needs to have a removable battery. The Cowboy bike seemed like the answer.

Fortunately, the good folks at Cowboy (a Belgian start-up that somehow managed to secure the Cowboy.com domain) let you book test rides in many European cities. So one day a chap called Marco who’s studying blockchain technology turned up at the appointed hour with a bike for me to try out.

Let’s start with the looks: the Cowboy is sleek, stylish and simple. So simple, in fact, that it requires some add-ons to be legal on German roads and a few more (not yet available directly from Cowboy) to stop you getting splattered with dirt when it rains. No mudguard, no rack. As much as I love the look of this bike, it’s not commuter-ready on delivery (which apparently takes 7-10 days).

After a little walk-through from Marco he gave me his phone (yup!) and sent me on my way. Because you need a phone not just to turn on the motor but also to switch on the light and generally do anything to the bike, which immediately had me worried about battery life. Marco reassured me that you can ride the bike without the motor, though it’s a single speed and that might be a bit tough on the ascent.

Off I went, up the road, and immediately found another, much bigger flaw: the bike has no suspension, front or back, and the handlebars are very narrow. This makes riding on cobbled streets a pain. Unfortunately, cobbled streets aren’t uncommon in Berlin. By the time I got back, 25 minutes later, I could feel the jarring in my hands. Marco said Cowboy is planning to offer a ‘comfort’ model next year that will feature suspension.

The motor, meanwhile, is fantastic. The bike really seemed to know just how much extra push to give me when I set off at the lights. It takes a little getting used to when normally you’re the kind that pedals hard at the get go: the Cowboy’s belt drive squeaked a bit to start with so at the next lights I just gave it a gentle peddle and the electric motor did the rest. I was soon speeding uphill at 25 kph, with almost no effort whatsoever.

And that’s where the next problem starts: as soon as you go beyond 25 kph, the motor seems to switch off. You’re back on your own again. Which is fine, except you don’t have gears either. So what started out being easy suddenly switched to quite a slog. The solution, I guess, is to just max out at 25 kph. That’s fine for some, but I do find there are times when I’d like to go a little faster. It is possible to tell the motor to take you to 30 kph, but strictly speaking this ‘off-road’ mode is illegal on public streets in the EU. Oh well…

A 25-minute ride isn’t enough time to discover all the ins and outs of a bike, but one more thing I noticed is that my riding position on the Cowboy was a lot more hunched up than I’d like it to be. Maybe this is because the bike wasn’t adjusted to my height, though Marco was about as tall as I am. Certainly I’d want to make sure that any €2,000 bike I buy is comfortable, in addition to being beautiful.

If you live in a place without cobbled streets, if you’re prepared to change your riding style to fit that of an e-bike, if you’re happy to tether your bike to a phone, then I’d say the Cowboy could be for you. This really is a bike that ticks a lot of boxes for me. Unfortunately there are just too many downsides at this point for me to hit ‘buy.’

But I’m looking forward to test riding the ‘comfort’ edition next year, should that materialize.