The first thing to say about Cowboy 4 ST is that yes, it is a little similar to the VanMoof S3. They're both slick, chunky-framed bikes with an emphasis on smart features and urban styling. The Cowboy 4 ST that I rode has a step through frame – hence the 'ST' – whereas the VanMoof has a crossbar but the looks and overall sensibility are undeniably similar. And there's a non-step-through version of the Cowboy 4 that's even more so.
However, the C4 ST – the first step-through bike from Belgian brand Cowboy and fourth overall – is so blissfully simple to ride, it makes VanMoof's bike – which is itself by no means complicated – seem like a space craft by comparison. It's almost a bit of a bore, as a writer, because what is there to say but, 'You mount the Cowboy 4 ST – very easily as it is is a step through – turn the pedals, and it does the rest.' There's no gears, no power settings, no nothin'.
In fact, if we're talking pure simplicity, this is probably the best electric bike you can. buy. For some riders – me, for instance – simple can also mean boring, so maybe it wouldn't be my first choice, personally. Even so, there's no doubt that I loved riding the Cowboy 4 ST. It's my new favourite thing from Belgium.
The C4 ST and its crossbarred sibling are on sale now, although they’ve been so successful that shipping is currently held up until January. So you still have plenty of time to read what I have to say about this very simple and slick electric bicycle.
- Take a look at the Cowboy 4 ST and pre-order for £100
- VanMoof S3 review – the Cowboy's Dutch rival
- Pure Electric Pure Flux One review
The C4 ST has a Red Dot design award, as does the standard C4. And it deserves it, because the design is both eye-catching, intelligent and largely seamless. I started out by firing up the bike with Cowboy's app, via a phone mounted to the handlebars with a Quad Lock, which is excellent. Normally you'd be expected to use your own phone, of course, but this was a pre-production model so I guess Cowboy wanted to include a phone they knew would work.
The app lets you lock and unlock the wheels, turn the lights on and off and navigate via GPS. It also gives you weather reports and warnings about whether you should consider putting your thermals on, or taking a hat.
Probably the best option with the lights is to turn them on and leave them on. About the only annoyance I had with this bike is that the Bluetooth connection between the phone and the bike didn't quite seem to work perfectly, so I in fact couldn't always rely on being able to turn off the lights at all. Although I eventually worked out that using the 'lock bike' button shut the lights off as well, and didn't seem to suffer the same unreliable connection. I assume this will be fixed by the time the first bikes are delivered to customers anyway.
As I mentioned in the intro, the riding experience of the C4 ST is almost ludicrously simple. Normally, electric bikes have different assistance levels and a few gears for old-time's sake. Cowboy, however, has decided that none of that is necessary – and it may well have a point.
With the C4 ST, you pedal, and sensors on the bike translate that into electrical assistance. The more effort you put in, the more power it applies, but it is very subtle and never requires all that much effort on your part. Primarily, it gives you more juice when you first start moving – ie: when pulling away from traffic lights – and when you hit a hill.
For someone like me who actively likes to muck around with gears, and likes to go as fast as possible, this was a slightly odd experience. Just as with all other ebikes in the UK, the C4 ST is capped at 15.5mph (25kph). This is a lot faster than walking, but not as fast as you can go on a more lightweight bike that doesn't have a battery and motor.
Initially this was rather frustrating, as the Cowboy 4 ST would take me very smoothly to 15.5mph, and then it was almost impossible to go much faster, other than downhill. After a while, however, I decided to stop worrying about that, and reached a rather zen-like calm. When almost no effort is required to get your bike up to speed and keep it there, you can concentrate on the road and the world around you much more easily.
I was reasonably sure that hills would prove to be the C4 ST's nemesis. This, I thought, was where the lack of gears, and the absence of any feeling of raw power from the motor would ruin my day. There were a number of complaints along these lines about the old Cowboy model 3, as well.
This did not prove to be the case however. Okay, central London is not exactly the Pyrenees, but the C4 ST turned whatever 'mountains' I came to into molehills. As with most ebikes, it was also great over milder but long inclines, such as when cycling north through Hyde Park. What is a bit of a tedious slog on a normal bike becomes an effortless, sweat-free glide on the Cowboy.
The ride is comfortable in every way. From the ease of mounting up – no need to get. your leg over, so to speak to the intelligently applied motor power, to the relaxed upright riding position. Even the saddle, from Selle Royal, is unusually comfy. I also didn't get any discomfort from the grips, which can be an issue with more upright rides.
The adequate pedals turn a carbon belt instead of a chain, which makes the whole experience quieter and less potentially mucky. Cabling is seamlessly integrated into the handlebars and stem. 'Every detail has been perfected for Cowboy’s quintessential minimalistic look,' as the brand puts it. But there are mudguards thrown in, thankfully. The disk brakes have plenty of grip, not that you need an awful lot of stopping power at 15.5mph max.
Cowboy, again like VanMoof, is offering a whole package with its bikes. The app gives you access to navigation and 'curated rides' – I did not try these but it's an interesting idea. Perhaps more usefully, Cowboy offers comprehensive, no-excess theft and total loss insurance for £120 per year. This also grants you access to mobile alerts should anyone start messing with your C4 while you're apart.
Cowboy also has an 'on-demand free repair network' in the UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, France, Austria and Luxembourg. Finally, there's a dedicated customer support team available '6 days a week'. They have a customer satisfaction rate of 94.4%, don'cha know?
Finally, Cowboy has just introduced Cowboy Care in 22 cities in Europe and the US. With this upgrade, which cost. £20 per month, a 'Cowboy trained and certified' techy will come to the address of your choice, as many times as you want to replace, clean or repair anything you like. Well… we will see how that pans out.
Overall, I had a great time on the Cowboy 4 ST. Ultimately I prefer a little more complexity and grit but for anyone seeking serene simplicity – in as much as that is feasible in urban areas – this ebike could be the ultimate choice.
Cowboy 4 ST: price and availability
The C4 and C4 ST are available to pre-order now in three colours – Black, Khaki, and Sand. A £100/€100 deposit is required and the final price is £2,290/€2,490. Free shipping will take place in January. Custom-designed accessories including a rear rack and kickstand are available for an additional fee.
The new Cowboy bikes are also available in the USA, priced $2,490 – 100 bucks seals the deal while you await shipping. There's no availability in Australia as yet.
Cowboy now offers Cowboy Care, 'an on demand, all-inclusive and unlimited maintenance service; covering any intervention ranging from cleaning parts to parts replacement, all the way to flat tire repair.' It costs €20 / £20 / $25 a month.
- Pre-order Cowboy 4 ST for £100 now
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Cowboy 4 and 4 ST: key spec
Weight C4: 18.9 kg total weight, including battery
Weight C4 ST: 19.2 kg total weight, including battery
Frame material: Aluminium 6061
Rider height C4: Optimized for riders between 170–195 cm tall
Rider height C4 ST: Optimized for riders between 160–190 cm tall
Tires: Cowboy custom puncture-resistant tires with a flexible grip and a puncture protection layer at a width of 47 mm
Brakes: Front and Rear Hydraulic Disc.
Front lights: Integrated LED front light can be turned on/off via the app
Rear lights: Integrated LED rear light intensifies when decelerating and/or braking
Warranty: 2 years
Range: up to 70 km autonomy
Battery: 2.4 kg removable battery. 360 Wh and 10.0 Ah
Mobile app: iOS and Android.
Colours: Black, Khaki, Sand
Belt C4: Gates carbon belt, gear ratio 60/21 (2.85)
Belt C4 ST: Gates carbon belt, gear ratio 57/21 (2.71).
Charger: 100 W charger with a charging time of 3.5 hours
Motor: Custom-designed 45 Nm / 250 W motor, integrated into the rear wheel
Maximum assisted speed: 25 km/h (15 mph)