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Innovative e-bike at a bargain price: the Cowboy 3 in test

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This bike is certainly not an oldie — although the current circumstances almost make it seem so: while the Cowboy 3 was introduced in 2020, this spring the successor Cowboy 4 was already presented. While the Cowboy 3 has remained in the program at a reduced price of 1,990 euros, a second — and rather drastic — price reduction has now followed: until December 10, Cowboy 3 will be sold for 1,490 euros. For comparison: the successor model C4 is now a whopping 1,000 euros more expensive at 2,490 euros!

The review of that Cowboy 3 shows the qualities of the electric singlespeed bike, but also compares it with it’ s successor, the C4.

Design

Cowboy’s bike design has been consistent for generations — and so you have to take a closer look at the bikes to recognize the particular model generation. While the first model series were always kept completely in black, the Cowboy 3 is now also offered with a frame in light mineral — or still in matte black, as can be seen here on the review bike.

Regardless of the frame color, all other components are also kept in matte black and Cowboy seems to be very careful to ensure that no foreign logos or labels are visible there either. Only the Cowboy lettering decorates the top tube, otherwise nothing distracts from the shape of the bike.

As is typical for Cowboy, the voluminous seat tube is the most striking element, because this is where the removable battery is hidden. Integrated into it is a rear light, analogous to this is a formally identical front light is integrated into the front of the frame.

The minimalist look is matched by the equally purist drive: the Cowboy bike has no gears, power is transmitted by a compact rear-wheel motor with a modern belt drive instead of a conventional bicycle chain.

Compared to the successor C4, the Cowboy 3 is only available with a diamond frame and a high top tube. The new C4, on the other hand, is additionally available as the C4 ST with a comfortable low step-in frame. Apart from the frame shape, however, the design of the bikes is essentially identical. However, the C4 looks even sleeker thanks to an integrated handlebar-stem unit with internally routed brake lines. However, the fact that this integration also has disadvantages will be discussed below.

Equipment

First, the basics: The Cowboy 3 has a hub motor in the rear wheel, which is supposed to offer a torque of 30 Nm. Compared to the new C4 with a torque of 45 Nm, the motor of the Cowboy 3 is thus significantly weaker. However, it is doubtful whether these technical values will be reflected 1:1 in reality. At the very least, it’s better not to firmly assume that the new model will also feel a full 50% stronger.

The battery offers a capacity of 360 Wh, and a proven Gates model is now used as the belt drive. This is good, because the problems of the no-name belt from the predecessor model are a thing of the past. The motor is controlled via a torque sensor in the bottom bracket, which measures the pedaling force. If you pedal strongly, the motor supports just as powerfully. If, however, you pedal only weakly, the motor support is also lower. The drive system on the Cowboy is operated (almost) entirely via the smartphone, which means that there are no additional controls on the bike.

As already mentioned, the bike has front and rear light — both unfortunately not StVZO-approved. The rear light serves its purpose well and even offers a brake light function. The front light, on the other hand, is at most usable as a position light, which makes it easy to be seen by other road users. As a real headlight, with which you can also see something, it is not suitable.

The tires on the Cowboy 3 are pleasantly wide with 42 mm, which makes it possible to roll well even over worse roads. As brakes are installed hydraulic disc brakes from Tektro, the handlebar is unusually narrow with 540 mm width — this has also become almost a typical feature of Cowboy.

Now as standard on the Cowboy 3 mudguards are installed, which are very sturdy made of aluminum and tailor-made for the bike. This equipment probably also contributes to the fact that the Cowboy 3 with its (weighed) 18.4 kg is certainly not one of the absolute lightweights. At least the components are solid and designed for everyday use.

In these points, the Cowboy 3 is better than the Cowoby 4

Visually striking on the C4 is the new handlebar stem unit, which not only has the brake lines routed inside, but also has an inductive charger including holder for the smartphone integrated. Here, the Cowboy 3 can only offer a regular stem with a classic handlebar mount.

But these standard components give the Cowboy 3 a real advantage that the C4 can’t compete with: Namely, handlebar and stem can be easily exchanged for other parts. Especially in view of the fact that the Cowboy bikes are only available in one frame size, this offers some valuable options. Tall riders can fit a longer stem, while shorter riders can fit a shorter stem. You want more comfort? Then a steeper stem is an option, alternatively you can also install a suspended stem. The same applies to the handlebars: if the regular handlebar is too narrow, simply install a wider model. But even better: you install the Lightskin handlebar with integrated headlight and so have a neatly integrated, StVZO-approved front light on the bike. Options that the successor simply can not offer!

When retrofitting such parts you should always be careful not to destroy the minimalist appearance of the cowboy bike. If you pay attention opting for matte black parts with as few and discreet logos as possible, the result should be quite pleasing. One choice of recommendable parts would be the aforementioned Lightskin handlebar, which was recently tested here. In combination with it, Cannondale’s C3 Intellimount stem is a good choice: it offers a mount from SP Connect in the middle (tested here), which allows the smartphone to be attached in a similarly elegant way as on the C4 – only without the charging function. Who likes it more comfortable, should look at the parts of RedShift: this matte black stem is suspended, as well as a matching suspended seatpost.

Operation

No other manufacturer relies more consistently on the use of smartphones than Cowboy: if you want to use the electric drive, you have to activate it via smartphone — which has caused many users with an empty smartphone to despair. Thanks to an update, it is now possible to activate the bike by removing and inserting the battery for a moment.

However, once you get used to the consistent smartphone integration, you quickly learn to appreciate it: Thanks to the built-in GPS transmitter, you can always locate the bike. In addition, the navigation is easy to use and can even select routes with the best possible air quality.

The Auto-Lock/Unlock function is also practical: if you come close to the Cowboy, the bike recognizes you wirelessly via Bluetooth and activates the drive system. If you step away from the bike, it is locked via software. You should still secure the Cowboy bike with a bike lock, as it offers no mechanical protection against theft. A thief could simply ride off without the electric drive — but then a message is sent to the smartphone that the bike has been stolen.

And while we’re on the subject of messages: an accident detection system is also integrated into the Cowboy! If you crash, the bike recognizes this event as an accident and can then alert predefined contact persons via the smartphone. The exact location of the alleged accident is also provided.

All in all, there are quite a few extraordinary features that are easy to use in Cowboy’s app. And of course, regular information like speed, remaining battery capacity or range are standard anyway and hardly need to be mentioned here. Compared to the new C4, the software is supposed to be compatible for both models — so Cowboy 3 users should have the same software features as the C4.

Even if there are no controls for the electric drive on the bike itself, there is at least a small display on the top tube that provides information about the battery status: LEDs here indicate how full the battery still is. To charge the battery, it has to be removed from the bike at all times, but its position makes this quite easy.

Apart from the electronic features, there is not much to say about the operation of such a singlespeed bike. Two pedals, two brakes, nothing else — there you go!

Riding impression

A quiet motor, robust Gates belt drive and almost perfect power control: there is nothing to complain about in the Cowboy 3’s drivetrain, which is really astonishing considering the price. The support of the motor is extremely natural thanks to the torque sensor and comes very close to the feeling of riding a conventional bike — except that it’ much more effortless and faster on an e-bike. The motor is barely noticeable, which matches the silent belt drive perfectly.

And yet you need to clarify for yourself whether you are the type for such a singlespeed bike: although the motor makes it easy to drive off, at higher speeds you pedal all the faster. The Cowboy 3’s gear ratio of 2.8:1 is well chosen, but the cadence above 30 km/h is quite high. Slight climbs can be mastered quite easily on the Cowboy, but the steeper it gets, the more often you have to get out of the saddle. However, anyone who is mainly on the flat and mostly at speeds up to 30 km / should get along well with the singlespeed concept.

Since the city is the Cowboy’s preferred terrain, the narrow handlebars also do quite well here: after a short period of getting used to them, you learn to appreciate the quick and agile handling, and in narrow passages you hardly have to worry about getting stuck anywhere.

Overall, the seating position is rather to be described as sporty, although this depends a lot on the size of the rider. Cowboy itself calls the frame size as optimized for riders from 170 to 195 cm; with my 185 cm I found the bike to fit, although I am also almost in the middle of the size range.

Conclusion

The Cowboy 3 impresses with its very natural drive thanks to torque control, and it also has a removable battery — neither of which are commonplace features in the minimalist singlespeed e-bike segment. It’s GPS, the app connection and extensive software functions are usually not found in the competition, which makes the Cowboy 3 a very innovative bike. The price of currently only 1,499 euros (until December 10, 2021) is all the more astonishing — because that makes the Cowboy 3 a real bargain!

However, there are also points to criticize: although the components are fine for everyday use, the susceptible paint job on the frame, for example, shows that Cowboy has to cut corners on certain points. And then there’s the one-size-fits-all frame: if you’re at the beginning or end of the size scale mentioned by Cowboy, you’d better take the bike for a test ride in advance to check your own seating position.

But at least the Cowboy 3 still has a few options for individual customization on the handlebar — for example, you can not only improve your seating position, but also retrofit additional features such as a suspended stem or a headlight integrated into the handlebar quite easily. Options that the new Cowboy C4 will not offer. So in conclusion it remains to be said: the Cowboy 3 is currently more interesting than ever!

Update: After the Cowboy 3 was temporarily marked as sold out, it is currently available again. However, the price is now significantly higher – the bike now costs 2,090 euros! Thus, the Cowboy 3 is still a good offer, especially since the above-mentioned qualities remain unchanged. Such drastic price jumps are nevertheless also likely to cause displeasure and uncertainty among customers and those who are interested …

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