Electric bikes have never been the sexiest form of transport. Heavy and clunky, they haven’t so far attracted flocks of buyers. I’ve taken an interest in the subject since 2008, when I became involved with importing Lambretta-style electric scooters from China. Ours sold well until the RMB doubled in value and we gave up. But bike shops, which with the pandemic have been classed as an essential service, are doing booming business. And for those wanting to get back into cycling but needing a bit more oomph under the bonnet, the ebike is a strong option.
Just before the lockdown, I trialled the Cowboy, from a three-year-old Brussels startup, whose founder says the name is a Belgian joke to show they don’t take things too seriously there.
The Cowboy is a smart bike with AI features and is wholly connected via your phone. This acts as control panel, navigation and dashboard. Built in Poland to a scintillating standard, the Cowboy’s giddy-up comes from a 250-watt motor in the rear hub and a big, removable battery, which gives 70km.
The gearless Cowboy is a joy because it doesn’t just buzz along like a moped. After a little motor kick when you set off, along with a barely perceptible purr, you have to pedal. The motor intervenes minimally on the flat and kicks in properly, using the AI, when it senses a gradient. On a ride around Richmond Park, where I usually huff and puff on my pretty but heavy Abici Camporella, I felt like Superman, with stretches of the route suddenly seeming half the length. Yet I still got up a good 140 heart rate after several miles and a few stiff hills.
The Cowboy is designed as a lightweight roadster, so isn’t for country trails. Its connectedness, meanwhile, makes it hard to steal in the urban jungle. Firstly, with the battery removed, it’s not much use. Secondly, if it’s not paired to your phone, you can’t fire up the motor, but it is still trackable. One was stolen in Brussels last October. The owner spotted it on his app in Albania. He posted about this on Reddit; the deputy Albanian interior minister was shown the post and got the police to repossess the bike and send it home to Belgium.