This review is taking a closer look at the two already classical brands in the world of electric bicycles. Today, we are going to review the best two models of connected city bikes released this very year. The Cowboy 3 and Vanmoof S3 have improved a lot. How do they stand against each other with their new e-bike releases?
Despite being identical in price and very close in some technical characteristics, the Dutch and the Belgian e-bikes are very different from each other, especially when it comes to geometry and their smartphone apps.
In fact, it is clear now that those two e-bikes are based on completely different theories, which are designed for the same purpose. The approach of the e-bikes is radically different but they have won our hearts in style and poise.
E-bike aesthetic choices, what do they mean?
Cowboy 3 and Vanmoof S3 are simply different in style. The aesthetics and geometry of the frame, location of the battery, and sensations of the handlebars, all are different. To start with, both manufacturers have used opposing approaches to create the best-connected bikes for the city.
First of all, it is noticeable in the new models that the design has hardly changed. This is probably due to the fact that it was widely praised in the past by almost all cyclists, who tried to ride them. And, you will have to take a very close look if you want to really distinguish between Cowboy 3 from Vanmoof S3/X3. The design of the two models is very similar and subtle. Of course, you can differentiate between them by the color, if not anything else that is noticeable from first sight.
Frame geometry and seating position
The geometry of both bikes has remained unchanged. Vanmoof has opted for a straighter and a more comfortable seating position along with a wider handlebar that enables the rider to tilt the shoulders and adopt a quasi-contemplative position.
In comparison, the design of Cowboy 3 is a little more sporty, assuming a leaning forward seating position of the rider. The latter gives its own sensations and you feel as if you were attacking the road throughout the journey. Cowboy 3 has shorter handlebars, making it an agile e-bike and therefore, giving more control to the rider.
How was this frame geometry achieved? Well, by cutting down the e-bike’s weight by 2 kgs and working more closely on some of the e-bike frame details.
Motor and battery placement
It was brave for both of the brands to go for different batteries and their locations. Cowboy, like last year, housed a removable battery along the vertical tube. The engine is placed nicely in the hub of the rear wheel, which helps now to lose nearly any energy from the battery.
Ideally, rear-hub motor location is not as good a solution as placing a central motor and a battery with a lower center of gravity but it gives a decent performance and constitutes a suitable choice for what Cowboy is trying to achieve.
In comparison, Vanmoof S3/X3 decided to go for a non-removable battery and the engine at the hub of the front wheel. All these choices by the manufacturers sure have an impact on e-bike riding sensations and we will take a look at those shortly.
Equipment gap is not as much as you think
Vanmoof and Cowboy share quite a few common technical characteristics and features. For example, both e-bikes do not have a gear level and have opted for an automatic transmission.
Automatic transmission and speed controls
However, the approach to making their e-bikes – the best-connected city e-bikes, is not the same. The S3/X3 models oscillate between 4 different e-bike speed options. This setting can also be fine-tuned in the smartphone app settings.
Cowboy has gone one step further by integrating a torque sensor in the e-bike, allowing the e-bike to automatically calculate the speed of the electric bicycle as well as the pedaling intensity. This then allows to measure and provide the necessary level of electric assistance.
At this point, it is possible to say that the dynamics and settings of the Belgian bike are easier to understand and configure. On Vanmoof Electrified S3/X3, the settings are more detailed, making it difficult for the rider first to understand and then to set them up correctly.
Electronics and control display
Both Cowboy 3 and Vanmoof S3/X3 do not have traditional control displays on their handlebars. Instead, they opt for two alternative solutions.
On Vanmoof S3/X3, the control display is integrated on top of the frame in the form of an LED matrix. It gives an overview of the speed, autonomy, and even electric assistance level. All you have to do is look down at the central tube, which is right in front of your eyes when you are on your e-bike.
You won’t find anything like that on Cowboy. On the frame, you can only see the modules with 4 LEDs. And those LEDs only display the level of autonomy. To access other information about your e-bike (speed, travel distance, etc.), you will have to use the smartphone app, which needs to be connected to your e-bike.
Security and accessories
Vanmoof S3/X3 comes with the Quad lock solution, which is one of the greatest factors that helps Vanmoof compete with its rivals. Vanmoof also comes with the necessary e-bike accessories such as a kickstand and mudguards.
As for Cowboy, you will have to spend a bit more to buy those accessories yourself, as the e-bike is sold without accessories. However, you can find a kickstand and mudguards easily, just a price below 100 euros.
Brakes and chain
The gap is more significant between the two e-bikes when we discuss the brakes. Vanmoof Electrified S2 opted for mechanical disc brakes last year but now. With the S3/X3 version, the choice is with hydraulic disc brakes, just like Cowboy 3. However, they are still not as effective as Cowboy’s brakes.
The last notable difference is the chain. While Vanmoof S3/X3 still uses a classic chain, Cowboy 3 opted for a belt. A belt has two advantages over a chain. Firstly, your fingers do not get dirty and secondly, you won’t have to worry about maintenance as much.
Overall, Cowboy 3 has made not as much progress in its equipment as the previous version. This has enabled Vanmoof S3/X3 to catch up with its upgraded transmission and now-hydraulic brake system.
On the road: very different riding sensations
This is one of the most interesting points to discuss, especially when talking about Cowboy and Vanmoof. Despite the general proximity of these two e-bike models, they offer very different riding sensations. The riding style with Cowboy and Vanmoof will not be the same.
To start with, the two e-bikes differ in delivering electric assistance to the rider. The assistance is progressive and constant with Cowboy while it is explosive with Vanmoof.
The sensations on the road, are, in fact, very contrasted if we compare Cowboy and Vanmoof e-bikes. Riding a Cowboy 3 e-bike seems more natural as the torque sensor does its job perfectly despite having lower overall torque (30 Nm against 59 Nm for the S3/X3).
In addition to the above, a very precise automatic speed setting of the Belgian e-bike give better acceleration than that on S3 (which it can only compensate by abusing the Boost button).
However, once the first pedal strokes are given to push the motor, Vanmoof S3 starts to take advantage of its advanced torque and leaves Cowboy behind.
For straight lanes or for speedy turns?
This comparison is also reflected in the posture adopted by the rider and how one would ride the two e-bikes. As the S3 model is more comfort-oriented, it gives a smoother ride, although it can reach high speeds if the rider wants it. In fact, the e-bike’s favorite playground is the wide cycle paths or the bus corridors of the main avenues.
As for the Cowboy, the sporting attack position leaves little room for doubt. On Cowboy v3 as well as on the previous model, driving is dynamic and more committed. Due to its small handlebars and the overall reduced size, these are two characteristics, which are perfect for narrower streets or for driving in heavy traffic. In general, what the Cowboy loses in top speed, it compensates with lightning accelerations when those are needed the most.
Legal speed limits for EU and USA
Finally, a major change from last year which is worth mentioning – these two connected city e-bikes previously used the same approach to bypass the legal assistance limit of 25 km/h (which is required in most EU countries). This approach involved changing the geographic area of the e-bike in the application settings and switching to North American legislation which allows electric assistance for up to 30 km/h.
In Cowboy v3, the famous “off-road” mode disappears to stick to the legal framework of EU regulations. Conversely, Vanmoof has kept this option but accompanies it with a notification that alerts the rider of the illegality of the procedure.
Sporty or more relaxed?
In the end, the performance differences between Cowboy 3 and Vanmoof S3/X3 are not that significant. Those differences will mainly show depending on the type of journeys one is making and the style the cyclist prefers to ride the e-bike.
Nevertheless, the question of a sporty and engaging e-bike seating position vs a more comfortable and relaxed one is the question that needs to be asked. The answer could be the major element that decides between these two contenders.
Cowboy plays well with its upgraded smartphone app
This is Cowboy’s biggest development axis this year, but Vanmoof is not keeping still either. Overall, if Vanmoof has tried to correct the technical and equipment aspects of its new bike, Cowboy insisted on the connectivity of its v3.
And what is the result? Well, the following 4 key features differentiate the upgraded Cowboy 3 app: automatic unlocking, real-time theft alert, pollution measurement, and fall detection.
To date, only the first two features have been deployed, the remaining two are to be deployed in the coming weeks.
The “auto-unlock” option allows you to ride your e-bike without your smartphone. It also enables you to launch your e-bike without your smartphone, which was not the case in Cowboy 2019. And this is great progress for Cowboy.
This was one of the main criticisms of the 2019 version when the e-bike was completely dependent on the smartphone application. It was simply impossible to start your Cowboy e-bike without going through your smartphone.
Now, the automatic unlocking option corrects this defect. It is enough to have the application open in the background for the electric bicycle to wake up when being approached by its rider. It is a pity though that the locking mechanism does not work according to the same principle. It is still necessary to actively turn off your e-bike by using a smartphone app.
Real-time theft alert
As for the real-time theft alert, you will have to use the application, no matter what. There is no workaround.
Has Vanmoof done anything with its app?
Although VanMoof has slightly improved its application, allowing you to refine some settings or customize the bell, for example, the features are not as advanced as those of Cowboy 3. All the Belgian manufacturer’s work over the past year has been to make its bike even more connected and to offer new services via the smartphone application.
At Vanmoof S3, which already had automatic unlocking, it was more necessary for the company to upgrade the mechanical part, which left less room for improving the smartphone app.
Speaking of the anti-theft feature, Vanmoof takes a different approach. The physical button on the rear of the bike allows you to lock it by blocking the wheel and activating the alarm. This will alert you by sound whenever an attempt to steal the bike is made.
In the end, it is clear that both Cowboy and Vanmoof are on the verge of mastering the connectivity of their e-bikes. All basic functions (location of the bike, route history, unlocking) are already present in the smartphone apps of both models. At the same time, for the moment, Cowboy seems to be showing a greater ambition for connectivity.
Road autonomy: impossible to decide
This is obviously a major criterion and a question that could be discussed for much longer. At this stage, it is not easy to conclude, which e-bike takes the lead, as range characteristics are quite comparable and depend on how e-bikes are used in real life.
Indeed, the number of possible miles/kilometers covered with full battery charge in Vanmoof S3 will very much depend on the frequency at which the cyclist will use the Boost button. If the Boost mode is used mainly to start and when crossing small hills, then its autonomy is very close to what Cowboy 3 offers (65 km on average). On the other hand, with intensive use of the Boost mode, the effective range of Vanmoof S3/X3 would drop to around 50 km.
Ultimately, the two e-bikes offer fairly equal performance in terms of autonomy, but it may make sense to expect a bit less range from Vanmoof for the reason we have discussed above.
On the other hand, the choices of battery integration are pretty clear. The Cowboy’s removable battery is one of its main assets in this game. The choice of a non-removable battery for the S3 proves to be the main drawback of this model of the e-bike. And can be a decisive argument for some potential buyers.
Does Cowboy win over Vanmoof this year?
Cowboy won this duel quite convincingly last year, but in 2020 it is more difficult to decide between these two great connected electric city bikes.
Even though both e-bikes are offered at the same price, these two bikes can only rely on their performance and their equipment for someone to make the final decision.
In this game, Vanmoof S3/X3 seems to have taken a step ahead with a more complete proposal, especially in terms of equipment (it is not necessary to have your smartphone on the handlebar of your e-bike to know its speed or the level of electric assistance). This option is not available in Cowboy and you have to use the smartphone app to control the e-bike.
Read also: Selection of our favorite e-bike accessories to help you find the right gear for your needs.
But is there a detail, in which Cowboy 3 still takes the lead and Vanmoof S3 is not able to compete? Well, it is its choice of a non-removable battery that will purely and simply divert some potential buyers from purchasing S3/X3.
On overall performance and road feel, the match is much more balanced and will mainly depend on individual preferences. Comfort and speed define Vanmoof S3 while acceleration and agility perfectly define Cowboy 3.
Others joining the game?
The duel could eventually become a match for three or even more over the summer. Angell, the French connected e-bike, is entering the competition and requires proper review and comparison, given its high price and great features.
When compared to Cowboy and Vanmoof, Angell connected city e-bike is priced at 2690 euros and is somewhat lighter 12.9 kg.
Read also: Check out reviews of popular models of electric bikes in this overview article.