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Cowboy 4 ST review: A smart and stylish electric bike designed around the city commute

With integrated lights, no gears and a near-silent motor, this feels like the whip of the future

Steve Hogarty
Friday 14 January 2022 10:19
<p>It’s available with a crossbar or in a step-through design, in either black, sand or khaki </p>

It’s available with a crossbar or in a step-through design, in either black, sand or khaki

Electric bikes are enjoying their moment in the spotlight. Our recent aversion to public transport coupled with a rise in flexible working arrangements – not to mention the unseasonably mild weather – means more of us than ever are taking to the cycle paths.

Look around and you’ll see that some of the most commonly spotted electric bikes belong to Cowboy. Founded in 2017, the Belgian brand goes tyre-to-tyre with rival Dutch brand VanMoof to produce distinctly futuristic-looking bikes that dispense with traditional designs in favour of more minimalist, utilitarian frames, fully integrated cabling and smart anti-theft technology.

Last year we included the Cowboy 3 in our round-up of the best electric bikes. This year, it’s the latest Cowboy 4 ST taking the top spot. Also available with a standard frame, the step-through bike is a joy to ride, featuring battery life to last a round-trip across the capital, a comfortable upright riding position, and an intelligent electric motor adapted for urban cycling conditions.

How we tested

We replaced our usual bike with the Cowboy 4 ST for three weeks, using it to commute to and from the office twice a week, a round trip of around 15 miles. We also took the Cowboy 4 ST out for pleasure too, heading to a park on the opposite side of town via narrow towpaths and what we’re now certain are some of London’s worst-maintained roads.

For testing, Cowboy provided us with an iPhone pre-loaded with the Cowboy app. This was to ensure we had a device compatible with the specific Quad Lock bike attachment our testing bike arrived with. Quad Lock sells mounts for most popular phones, as well as a universal mount for everything else.

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Cowboy 4 ST

Buy now£2490, Cowboy.com

  • Weight: 19.2kg
  • Style: Step-through frame
  • Range: Up to 70km
  • Motor torque: 45Nm
  • Tyres: 47mm, puncture-resistant Cowboy custom tyres
  • Rating: 10/10

The Cowboy 4 ST is the best electric bike we’ve tested. The latest in the Belgian brand’s range distils the riding experience down to the basics and uses intelligent assistance levels to strip away any unnecessary frills. There are no gears to fuss over, no external cabling to get tangled up in, the integrated lights are powered by the removable battery, the frame strikes a minimalist silhouette, and a clean carbon belt replaces the usual greasy chain.

Design

Like its rival VanMoof, the Cowboy comes from a new generation of electric bikes that dispenses with age-old bicycle design in favour of clean, straight lines and a space-age industrial aesthetic. The Cowboy 4 ST looks like it could have come whizzing out of a time machine, piloted by some Daft Punk-looking guy with an urgent warning from the future. A more obvious writer might even call it the Tesla of electric bikes.

The attention to detail is impressive. The hydraulic brake levers sit in finely machined mounts, the baguette-sized battery slides neatly out of the frame for recharging and security, and clicks back into place with a satisfying snap. Attaching your own phone to the handlebar mount not only gives you a far more useful and upgradeable on-board computer, but maintains the bike’s overall symmetry – if that sort of thing pleases you. That same Quad Lock mount will also charge your phone wirelessly as you ride.

Stripping out manual gear controls should give any urban cyclist pause, but the on-board motor on the Cowboy 4 ST continuously delivers the right amount of power exactly when you need it, boosting you away from a standing start before levelling off gently as you reach the bike’s 15.5mph speed limit. On hills, where you might think the lack of gears would mean a sweaty upward slog, the motor seamlessly feeds more power into the wheels until it feels like the incline simply isn’t there.

Handling

The Cowboy 4 ST is supremely comfortable and a delightfully straightforward bike to ride. You pedal, and it just goes. That shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone who knows what a bike is, but by stripping away the barest inconvenience of having to shift gears and set assistance levels, riding becomes deliriously easy, like driving an automatic car for the first time. We’ve ridden plenty of electric bikes with motors that “kick” when you move off, as though you’ve somehow surprised the bike by pedalling it. We’ve also tested bikes that cut the power the moment you hit the speed limit, which can feel like you’ve just hit a patch of treacle. The power delivery of the Cowboy 4 ST is smooth, invisible, very quiet and always providing the right level of push.

Read more: 9 best bike locks to help keep your wheels secure

Our London commute is hardly a gruelling ascent into the Austrian Alps, but it does follow CS6 as it peels away from the river towards Tower Hill. A relatively long and shallow incline that tests the calves of fixie riders and reduces Santander bikes to a crawl, the curving hill is flattened by the Cowboy 4 ST’s electric motor, allowing us the guilty satisfaction of gliding past our red-faced fellow commuters without breaking a sweat. Leaving our office, the duo of steep car park ramps leading from the bike rack back to street level no longer leaves us gasping for air before we’ve even made it out of the building.

Electric bike motors can only assist up to 15.5mph, after which human effort has to take over to go any faster. Here, the lack of a high gear on the Cowboy 4 ST presents a limitation for anyone who likes to pick up the pace during longer stretches of road, or keep up with traffic when sharing lanes, but if your sole reason for choosing an electric bike is arriving at your destination not looking like you’ve just spent the night in a wheelie bin, coasting along at 15.5mph shouldn’t be a problem. It’s hardly a leisurely pace either – the only riders who overtake us tend to be clipped into their pedals.

On rougher roads, the lack of suspension is noticeable. The comfy Selle Royal saddle does its very best to cushion your vitals, but you’ll receive infrequent, jolting reminders that this bike is most at home on the buttery smoother cycleways of northern Europe.

Features

The Cowboy app, which takes pride of place on the handlebars as you pootle around, is as well-designed as the bike it connects to. It can find you the fastest and quietest cycle routes to reach your destination, give you a live ETA as you ride, and estimate your remaining battery life at the end of the journey so you can properly plan your recharging schedule.

Opt for the £10 per month insurance plan and you unlock a few additional, tech-driven anti-theft measures. A GPS tracker securely embedded in the frame can send you live location updates if your bike is being moved when you’re not around, and a 24/7 assistance crew can come to your aid to help you get home if your bike is nicked or vandalised.

Read more: 12 best reflective cycling jackets for winter commuting

We can’t make any claims as to how well these anti-theft features pan out in practice, as we didn’t have our Cowboy 4 ST stolen by crooks, but £10 anti-theft insurance is plainly a good deal for a bike of this price. For another £20 per month you can subscribe to a specialist on-demand mechanic, who’ll come to you to fix your bike as often as you need it.

Other app features are less vital. You get friendly weather warnings before you set off, but by the time you’re in the saddle you’re (hopefully) already dressed and ready to go. There’s a GPS-powered Find My Bike feature too, but unless it’s been swiped, when have you ever not known where your bike is? It’s hardly fallen down the back of the sofa.

The verdict: Cowboy 4 ST electric bike

These fun digital extras don’t get in the way of what is ultimately the best urban electric bike we’ve tested at IndyBest. It’s quick and comfortable to dismount, and has a more relaxed upright riding style and a higher vantage point that’s ideal for navigating busy streets. The 50-70km range coupled with a battery that’s easy to remove and carry to your desk means you’ve always got enough juice for regular, lengthy commutes. And the motor is tuned to help riders deal with regular stopping and starting, putting you ahead of traffic and ensuring you’re highly visible on the road.

The Cowboy 4 ST is designed with the city firmly in mind. Smart, stylish and a pleasure to ride, it’s the electric bike of choice for anyone looking for an alternative to their usual cramped commute in 2022.

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For more cycling favourites read our best cycling gloves for staying toasty on every ride

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