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Cowboy 3 vs. Vanmoof S3 in the test: The duel of the purism pedelecs

Last updated on September 24, 2020

The urban e-bikes from Cowboy and Vanmoof are black, slim and chic. But only one of the pedelecs reads our thoughts.

 September 16, 2020, 12:01 p.m.

Die Pedelecs sehen sich auf den ersten Blick ähnlich, sind aber grundverschieden.
The pedelecs look similar at first glance, but they are fundamentally different.

For several years now, two European brands with a hip image have been mixing up the pedelec market, which is dominated by rather traditional manufacturers: Cowboy from Belgium and Vanmoof from the Netherlands. This year they presented their third models and we cycled a few hundred kilometers with them. To get straight to the point: Neither of the two can make serious mistakes, but the details of the pedelecs, which at first glance appear to be quite similar, differ greatly.

During the weeks with Cowboy and Vanmoof we could clearly determine one thing: The appearance of the wheels makes an impression. Which one varied depending on who we asked, from “tree trunk aesthetics” to “chic at second sight” to “very, very cool” . We were clearly asked more often about the Vanmoof S3 than about the Cowboy 3. With their matt frame, integrated lighting and battery, as well as their minimalist exterior, the pedelecs could also be considered normal bikes.

We tested the following categories:

  • In the first part, we take a look at the equipment, while also looking at the app that is required in each case.
  • The second part deals with the most important topic: the driving experience.
  • In the third part we go into safety aspects, whereby we also consider repairability and maintenance of the wheels.
  • At the end there is availability and a conclusion.

Equipment Vanmoof S3: Small-scale comfort

If you take a closer look at the S3, you will discover some details that are missing on other bikes. First, there are two thumb-operated buttons on the curved handlebar. The right one switches on the boost, the left one triggers the bell. This is to be taken literally, because a loudspeaker is built into the pedelec. It is used to emit one of three ring sounds, but also has other functions – more on this later.

There is a shiny metal button on the rear wheel, above which there are white markings on the frame and the hub. If these are on top of each other, you can secure the bike with a light nudge of the foot on the button. We hardly need to explain how practical this kicklock is – it is the modern counterpart to the old frame lock and reliably prevents driving away. According to the manufacturer, the tires have a slight puncture protection.

Pretty much all cables and lines are routed inside the frame, and the bike looks very tidy. The installed stand is robust. The handlebar can be adjusted in height in three stages, but not in angle. The handles without recesses are a matter of getting used to, our hands tingle after the first hour of driving.

The battery is not removable

With the S3, the motor is located in the front hub, the battery is built into the frame and cannot be removed for charging. This is also our biggest criticism of the otherwise solid equipment of the Pedelec. If you don’t have a cellar with a power connection, you have to lug the 19 kilogram bike into your own four walls. That can be exhausting in cities like Berlin, where many old buildings are rich in floors but poor in elevators.

The chain is protected by a plastic tube, the bike has an automatic Sturmey-Archer gearshift, the switching points of which can be defined in the app, where the four support levels of the motor are set – on the bike itself there is no change of gears or gears while driving the engine power possible. On the top tube, status information and the current speed are displayed on a large LED matrix.

Driver size / max. Weight 170-210 cm / 120 kg
tires Schwalbe Big Ben 50 x 622 (28 ” x 2.0)
Engine power Front motor, 36 V, 250/350 W; Boost 500 W
Battery capacity 508 Wh, not removable
Loading time about 4 hours
Range according to the manufacturer up to 100 km with lowest support
Range measured (normal weather, level route) over 70 km with maximum support
Weight 19 kg
Brakes hydraulic disc brakes
Circuit / chain 4-speed automatic hub, chain
Material frame aluminum
Scope of delivery complies with StVZO Yes
price approx. 2,000 euros
Specifications Vanmoof S3

The bike is unlocked via the app – that works reliably in our test. We only have to restart the bike once by long pressing the right button because the software has apparently hung up. In an emergency, the bike can also be activated by entering a three-digit code, but this is extremely tedious at the push of a button on the handlebar.

Rolling speaker

The kilometers driven can also be displayed on the smartphone and the sounds made by the S3 can be set. We find the buzzing start tone annoying and deactivate it. The built-in alarm system, on the other hand, can continue to hiss as soon as the bike is moved when it is locked. Not that this tone and the skull flashing on the display in the traffic noise of Berlin really put off thieves – but it still seems to us to be a very sensible use of the built-in loudspeaker.

  • Das Vanmoof S3 (Bild: Martin Wolf / Golem.de)

The Vanmoof S3

What you can also do in the app: make yourself liable to prosecution. The speed limit can be switched to US conditions of 30 km / h with one click. We would advise against it. Not because we assume that the German police would track velocipedists with laser measurements, but for insurance reasons.

If the S3 is too sparsely equipped for you, you can order luggage racks and other suitable accessories in the manufacturer’s online shop . On the other hand, we are looking in vain for at least one accessory on the Cowboy.

The Cowboy 3 is even more straightforward than the already minimalist Vanmoof S3. There are no buttons or switches, only a few LEDs light up in the top tube to indicate the battery level.

The Pedelec has no gear shift, and the assistance cannot be set in stages. That sounds daunting at first, but it’s one of the big pluses when it comes to driving experience. Otherwise, the bike comes with a package of accessories that we would rate as a concession to the StVZO: bell, a few reflectors and USB-chargeable lights for the front and back – we find that very practical.

The motor is located in the rear hub of the Cowboy and the battery can be removed for charging – a plus point for the Belgians. At just under 17 kilograms, the bike weighs a little more than its predecessor, but is still extremely light for a pedelec. The manufacturer explained the additional 900 grams to us, among other things, with the new puncture-proof tires.

The phone stays in the pocket

Our test sample has pre-installed mudguards, which otherwise have to be ordered for 90 euros. What we sorely miss is a boner. Accessories such as luggage racks are available from third-party manufacturers in the Cowboy online shop . There is also a mail order company that offers custom made products.

The Cowboy has a low-maintenance belt drive from Gates, which is rather unusual in this price range.

Driver size / max. Weight 170-195 cm / 110 kg
tires 42 x 584 (27.5“)
Engine power Rear engine, 36 V, 250 W.
Battery capacity 360 Wh, removable
Loading time approx. 3.5 hours
Range according to the manufacturer up to 70 km
Range measured (normal weather, level route) over 70 km
Weight 16.9 kg
Brakes Tektro hydraulic disc brakes
Circuit / chain none / Gates carbon straps
Material frame aluminum
Scope of delivery complies with StVZO Yes
price approx. 2,300 euros
Specifications Cowboy 3

As with the Vanmoof, the in-house app is necessary to activate the bike and otherwise reflects the purism of the bike: lights on or off, support active or not. Yes, the kilometers driven and the battery level are also displayed and yes, the theft warning can be switched on, but that’s about it.

How consistently Cowboy wants to eliminate everything that distracts from actual cycling is shown here: Actually, you don’t even have to take the phone out of your pocket to drive off. Thanks to the auto-unlock function, the bike switches on automatically as soon as you sit on it.

  • Das Cowboy lehnt lässig am Baumstamm - mangels Ständer. (Bild: Martin Wolf/Golem.de)

The cowboy leans casually on the tree trunk – for lack of a stand. (Image: Martin Wolf / Golem.de)

It is such little things that make the cowboy what it is: a pedelec that is so withdrawn that the focus is on pure driving.

But first the intermediate result: Even if we find the purism of the Cowboy 3 very charming, the point clearly goes to Vanmoof – and not only because of the stand, but also because of the kicklock, app functions and frame display.

Next we get on the saddle.

From the very first ride with the cowboy it becomes clear that we are dealing with a sporty bike. The sitting posture is slightly bent over, the non-slip handles require gloves.

From the moment you start pedaling, the bike provides you with the same amount of support as you pedal. We noticed this driving behavior the entire time: It was as if the bike was reading our thoughts. We have never sat on a pedelec that made us forget so much that we only contribute part of the driving force.

In no second do we feel any transitions in the support, there are no dropouts that indicate that the engine control software is unsure of how it should behave. The transition from cycling to spurting is so soft that we sometimes only perceive a slight vibration in the soles.

The town sneak

In addition, the cowboy is absolutely – and we mean absolutely – dead silent. Not only do we not hear a motor, the belt drive also works silently and the rolling noise of the tires is barely audible. It is a real experience.

The missing circuit also contributes to this impression. We can enjoy the ride without intervention. The gear ratio has been chosen so well that we can make good progress without an engine. Of course, this is more true in the lowlands than in mountainous regions. We don’t want to climb steep climbs with the cowboy, with or without support. But if you also want to bring your own muscle strength, this is the right place. The bike invites you to continue pedaling beyond the supported 25 km / h.

After every ride, we feel a bit like we really rode a bike. However, the lack of suspension also contributes to this. The tires can be inflated to 5 bar if you want very direct contact with the ground. We don’t do that.

  • Das Rad wird per Riemen angetrieben. (Bild: Martin Wolf/Golem.de)

The wheel is driven by a belt. (Image: Martin Wolf / Golem.de)

Vanmoof S3: solid road holding

The S3 feels more like what we would expect from a pedelec – the support is even and unobtrusive. We think it’s positive that the front engine doesn’t seem to pull us. Vanmoof has also tuned the engine’s power levels very well. We can never let the front wheel spin and we don’t have the impression that the engine is at the front.

The highlight here is of course the boost button on the right side of the handlebar. One push is enough and the motor gives full thrust – until the battery is empty when you put it on. But you don’t have to, we have a lot more fun simply accelerating to 25 km / h in three seconds at every traffic light with the push of a button. If an ascent seems a bit difficult to us, we smile away at the potential effort with a thumb press.

The fully automatic gear hub, on the other hand, takes a lot of getting used to. Since we can set the shift point for each gear individually in the app, but don’t get any feedback about the shift itself, there are always moments of shock at the beginning of the transition from second to third gear when the pedals can be cranked freely for a moment the gearbox has agreed on a gear. Over time, we “experience” our personal switching points – but that takes a good 50 kilometers.

We ban fourth gear to beyond the 25 km / h limit. It seems superfluous to us at slower speeds. The Vanmoof also doesn’t really invite you to trample on under your own steam if the engine cuts out. As a bicycle we would use it much less than the cowboy. But even as a pedelec, the Vanmoof is not flawless.

  • Wenn diese Markierungen übereinander liegen, kann das Rad per Kicklock gesichert werden. (Bild: Martin Wolf/Golem.de)

When these markings are on top of each other, the bike can be secured with a kicklock. (Image: Martin Wolf / Golem.de)

We find it annoying that we have to take the phone out to change the support level. Alternatively, you can stop and hold down the right handlebar button longer to switch through – the respective level is indicated by an LED.

The bike is very well made, nothing clicks – of course it is not nearly as quiet as the cowboy. The motor hums quietly, the chain comes into contact with its plastic casing and you can also hear the thicker tires, which are shock-absorbing thanks to less air pressure. The display in the top tube is easy to read, and even if the speedometer display is not decisive for our driving experience, we find it a nice detail.

Our intermediate result in this category can only be a draw. The driving philosophies of both pedelecs are too contradictory. It is all the more important that both Cowboy and Vanmoof offer test drives. The manufacturers are also very keen to provide service, as we can see in the following section.

The Vanmoof S3 comes with the already mentioned kicklock and reflectors to make it roadworthy according to German law. However, we have one point of criticism: When the battery is empty, the bike can only be ridden in first gear, neither the light nor the bell can be activated. We think it would be better if there was a reserve of five percent of the battery capacity, which provides these basic functions a few kilometers further.

Even if the bike has a rudimentary alarm system and cannot be unlocked without access to the Vanmoof account, there is of course a risk of theft. On the other hand, the bike can be insured with the manufacturer for just under 300 euros for three years. If you also want a maintenance and repair guarantee , you can book it – but currently only in some German metropolitan areas. Vanmoof plans to invest several million euros in expanding its own service network in the coming years. So-called bike hunters are already in action looking for stolen pedelecs. Thanks to the built-in GPS sensor and SIM card, the bike can transmit its location if a theft has been reported.

In principle, repairs can also be carried out by normal bicycle workshops or by yourself. Many components of the bike are modular, Vanmoof offers video instructions for simple maintenance work. This should be done at regular intervals. If you live in one of the areas covered by the repair warranty, a technician will come over and do it.

The cowboy is calling home

Cowboy also offers such a service, with the app reminding you to check the brakes after 1,000 kilometers, for example. In the event of problems, customer service can access the data on the bike and carry out remote diagnosis.

Simple repairs can also be carried out by yourself. A flat tire can be replaced by a standard model. Cowboy also sends suitable spare parts by post and also offers video instructions. On-site repairs are possible in 25 urban regions, and soon there should be 75. If desired, the app also shows nearby workshops.

Theft insurance is also available – if you wish, you can also have one against accidents . A special feature of the cowboy is the crash detection. If it is activated, previously selected contacts will receive a notification. You can also have such a notification sent to you – if the bike has been moved without any action on your part. To do this, however, you have to book the insurance package. If the bike has been stolen, it can be located without the latter.

With the Cowboy 3, the light also goes out when the battery runs out. However, this is less dramatic than with the Vanmoof because the supplied lights will still work. Cycling with the engine switched off is much more pleasant here, and of course the analog bell still works. We find this solution more practical.

Last but not least, a word on data protection: Both manufacturers require an app to operate the pedelecs. They are equipped with a GPS receiver and a SIM card for localization. With the Vanmoof S3, at least the Track My Ride tachograph can be deactivated. The Cowboy 3 sends information about the condition of the bike to the manufacturer if necessary. So if you want to live absolutely data-sparingly, you should look for other bikes.

A final intermediate result shows: In terms of safety, the cowboy has slight advantages for us. Because additional lighting can of course also be retrofitted to the Vanmoof. Both manufacturers offer good service with their insurance packages – but you should live in a metropolitan area or trust yourself to do simple maintenance work.

Availability

The Vanmoof S3 is currently available in two colors for just under 2,000 euros and can be bought online. With the X3 there is also a variant with a smaller frame.

The Cowboy 3 can be ordered in two shades of gray and in black, for a current price of just under 2,300 euros.

Conclusion

In the end there is a tie – there is definitely room for both purism pedelecs in the city. We find the Vanmoof more suitable for everyday use on our 30-kilometer commute, we don’t always need the sporting challenge that we do with a cowboy. We sit comfortably upright and thanks to the softer tires we have no problems with cobblestones. The range of manufacturer accessories is astonishingly wide.

The app has many useful functions and you can configure the bike to suit your own riding style. The wealth of ideas of the Vanmoof engineers definitely makes the S3 a special pedelec. The boost button for a cavalier start or effortless mountain stages is our favorite. Alarm system and kicklock are also very practical.

The Cowboy is rather restrained when it comes to features and functions, which is worthy of criticism in the case of the missing stand. In our opinion, the driving experience is unmatched. In this case, less is more, we don’t miss either a gearshift or the usual support levels. However, if you live in the mountains, you should be prepared for more personal effort when cycling.

We think the sporty aspect of the pedelec is positive. Nevertheless, we don’t want to ride in a slightly bent position for more than two hours every day. Cowboy himself says the bike was designed with the average urban commute of five to ten kilometers in mind – and it’s pretty perfect for that purpose.

In the end, as always, a test ride should be the deciding factor for the purchase decision – we are sure that you will get off both pedelecs with a smile on your face.

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