Cowboy’s ‘Adaptive Power’ update breathes new life into its flagship bike | Participate

When Cowboy, a premium European electric bike company, invited the media to an event in Paris, France, it was faced with some unexpected challenges. Alongside the torrential rains, there were also strikes and protests against changes to the country’s pension system. And then the big reveal was… No a new bike. Instead, the announcement was three spring color options for the Cowboy 4’s ST model plus Adaptive Power, a software update coming to Cowboy 4 bikes this month. So, when I met the executives of the company, I already had my question: where is the new model?

But before I sat down to talk to them, I got to try out Adaptive Power, driving a few blocks and immersing myself in Parisian parking lots. Would this smarter electric bike (with the same motor) translate into tangible improvements? Fortunately, yes. Adaptive power works by taking advantage of the e-bike’s accelerometer and other sensors, based on rider weight, momentum, and other factors, including wind. The new feature adjusts motor power without the need for gears or touching a boost button. The sensors also apparently detect inclines as soon as the front wheel hits them, increasing motor assist. The upgrade leverages the same sensors and technology already used for fault detection.

Mat Smith / Engadget

According to Cowboy, the e-bike should offer equivalent battery life between the two iterations, as the motors are likely to run harder than the latest version when the bike needs more power, but will also run less when it doesn’t. If you’re driving an updated Cowboy 4, you won’t be able to go back to the old system, but using the app you can choose between adaptive and eco modes, with the latter offering reduced assistance.

I was able to compare the C4, with and without the feature, and the biggest improvement to Adaptive Power was how it kicked in at the perfect time while accelerating from a hover. That’s not to say the Cowboy 4, prior to Adaptive Power, was sluggish, but it did feel smoother and more responsive‚ÄĒimpressive for a single-speed bike. Previously, the bicycle’s motor responded to impulses from the pedals. This time more information is needed to decide whether to push.

While that was the most convenient buff, there’s also a tangible improvement when tackling hills and inclines. With Adaptive Power, the steep hills required some pedaling but were manageable. Switching to a bike without Adaptive Power, but with the same motor with 45Nm of torque, is a ride on the fight bus. This was a common complaint from Cowboy 4 drivers, with several saying that the mountainous environments were difficult to tackle, even with electric assistance. This new feature seems to address that, judging from my brief ride on the updated Cowboy 4. (If Cowboy is looking for something to upgrade when he finally gets to his fifth-gen bike, this urban rider would appreciate a more comfortable saddle.)

This update also plays with the design of the Cowboy 4. Unlike many e-bikes, there are no controls to directly access the electric motor. It’s meant to look (and ride) like a regular push bike and that’s just what it does. The Cowboy 4 is also still a few pounds lighter than the latest e-bike from VanMoof, its most comparable rival. Both are premium e-bike options with similar price points and features, but if you’re lifting your bike up stairs or inside buildings, they’re worth considering.

While Adaptive Power has been in beta testing with users before, the official launch coincides with three new color options for both the Cowboy 4 and 4ST. While it’s an awesome way to upgrade existing riders’ e-bikes, and do it without taking them to a service center, these are the same bikes that were first released in 2021.

So far, Cowboy has iterated fast, with new models arriving at a similar cadence to flagship smartphones. We reviewed the first bike of his in 2019, which wasn’t that long ago. But there are a few reasons for the company to stick with the Cowboy 4.

Much of e-bike technology won’t change enormously in the next few years. Barring incremental efficiency upgrades, the motor inside most electric bikes will likely not see generational upgrades. I also wonder how current Cowboy e-bike owners view the company’s updated models, having spent thousands of dollars on an e-bike 18 months earlier, only to see it replaced so soon. So why not cowboy 5? For Cowboy, CEO and co-founder Adrien Roose told me the focus is on improving quality, efficiency, and everything related to scaling up to sell more bikes. The C4 and C4 ST are still priced around $3,000, depending on region, and the challenge is getting e-bike prices low enough for wider adoption.

Cowboy 4 Adaptive Power Test Ride
Cowboy has a commercial space on the first floor of a prestigious Parisian department store.

Mat Smith / Engadget

The company has opened flagship stores in Germany, Belgium and France, the countries Cowboy focuses on intensely and where it sells most of its bikes. So far more than 50,000 bikes have been sold worldwide. But while the C4 is available in the US (and it’s a company called Cowboy), seriously targeting the US market remains a future challenge. Roose told me that they are in “learning mode” regarding the United States. The plan seems to focus on keeping the company healthy and profitable. Roose added that he believes Cowboy should get to that point next year. Maybe they celebrate with a new bike?

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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