In January I made the decision to move from London to Edinburgh. About a month later, coronavirus lockdown restrictions kicked in. That meant I was tied to my house, isolated in an unfamiliar city. Having an e-bike was the lifeline I needed to help me see more of my new home and help maintain my exercise over the past few months. I could be writing this about any e-bike of course, I just happened to be testing the Cowboy, from the Belgian electric bike startup of the same name.
Of course I couldn’t have predicted how bad the coronavirus situation would get and had no idea when I moved that all my plans of exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful city, meeting new friends and making new memories would all quickly fall apart. But fall apart they did and with my exercise limited by government rules to a half hour a day, I needed to make the most of it.
I’ve always enjoyed cycling, but I’m not exactly what you’d call a ‘cyclist’. Casual trails and anything downhill is fine, but I don’t have the fitness to handle anything more extreme just yet. That’s why an e-bike was the perfect thing to help me out during lockdown.
My first few journeys I stuck to the roads near my house. The city traffic was minimal as nobody was allowed to go anywhere, but I eventually found a network of amazing car-free cycle paths that snake their way around the city, including up to the coast — a mere ten minutes on the bike from my house. Suddenly, I went from feeling totally locked in in an unfamiliar city to feeling like I was getting to know my new home, getting to know some of the sights and feeling connected to the area, while still abiding by lockdown rules and staying safe. It was the ideal compromise.
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- The best e-bikes to ride in 2020
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- How to keep your e-bike battery in top shape
It is a great balance between e-bike and regular road bike. The Cowboy’s stealthy black frame looks awesome, there’s a removable battery in the seat column and a 250-watt motor in the rear wheel that gives just enough assistance to take the edge off the more strenuous moments. It’s not the sort of bike that gives endless power, nor is there a throttle you can ride so it doesn’t offer the same totally effortless cruising I had with, say, the Uni Moke Classic.
Instead, the assistance is there to help give you a boost when you set off at traffic lights, it gives an extra helping hand going up hills and helps you maintain a good cruising speed. But you’re still doing a lot — if not most — of the work, meaning my half hour morning cycles were still a great form of exercise for someone like me who’s just getting started again with cycling.
City commuters will appreciate the off-the-lights help, while those wanting to actually ‘feel the burn’ on their rides will still be able to get their heart rate going if they push themselves. It connects to an app on your phone which lets you turn the bike on and off, operate the lights, as well as track it if it went missing. I didn’t need to lock it up anywhere on my half-hour rides, nor did I get close to the 70km (43-mile) estimated range, but they’re good features that would otherwise have been helpful. It’s single speed, too, with a fibreglass belt drive instead of an oily chain, which meant maintenance wasn’t a problem — good news for someone like me who has no idea how to maintain a bike.
The only downside I found was in the lack of suspension. On tarmac city streets it’d be bliss to ride, but Edinburgh is a city full of old, cobbled roads and many pot holes — surfaces that the Cowboy does not deal with well.
For the most part it was a joy to ride and it was superb at easing me back into cycling, providing me with the daily exercise I needed over the last few months. But it was the access to the city and its surroundings that have been the most important thing for me. Being able to get up early and explore the quiet cycle paths up to the wide, coastal road has made all the difference during lockdown and I have no doubt has played a big role in maintaining my mental health.
I’ve really enjoyed using the Cowboy bike and if you’re after a great-looking bike for urban rides then the company has just launched its third generation which offers improved battery capacity and other smart upgrades and is available now for £1,990 in the UK. It’s not yet available outside of Europe, but for reference that price converts to $2,490. Make sure to check out our roundup of the best e-bikes you can get in the US in 2020.