The idea seems plausible enough: why instead of buying an electronic bike, just not take your regular bike and add the bits needed to make it electric? You get the benefits of an e-bike, your regular bike will get a new life, and you’ll probably save a few coins. But does this theory exist in the real world? How many trade-offs should you make when choosing an additional component instead of a special pedal? We put on a kit to convert ebike to Swytch and went outside to find out.
I turned into electronic bikes. They are a fantastic travel option that can make you work without being too sweaty and give you a workout on the way home, they make cycling accessible to more people, they level the hills, increase the power reserve, do not allow cars to ride on road and they are just good fun.
However, I’m a little wary of conversion kits. The idea certainly benefits, but if you build something instead of building from scratch, there will usually be trade-offs along the way. And while design can be flexible up to a point, there’s also the “one size fits all” element … and in most things one size doesn’t fit everyone.
So this brings us to Swytch. This versatile eBike conversion kit was crowdfunding through Indiegogo back in 2017 and the London-based company says it has shipped about 40,000 units since then. The kit consists of a front wheel with a 250-watt, 40-Nm (29.5-pound-foot) hub motor, the size of which matches the motorcycle you are converting, a rechargeable battery that sits on the handlebars like an old-school carrying basket , steering bracket and pedal sensor.
The hub motor weighs about 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds) and the battery – about the same, so if you do not chase the polka dot by L’Alp d’Huez, excess weight is not a big problem – especially that you can just unscrew the battery if you don’t need an electric tear. There is also a an easier option on the road, but it sacrifices most of the 35-kilometer range (22 miles) that the standard “Eco” model we tested offers. This model has a top speed of 25 km / h (15 mph), while the more expensive Pro model has a range of 50 km (32 mph) and a top speed of 32 km / h (20 mph).
The first step to electrifying a bike is to properly measure the size of the wheel. The online ordering process of Swytch gives recommendations to make sure you understand it correctly, then it’s just a matter of choosing the finish of your engine and spokes (satin black or polished silver) and waiting for the package to arrive.
Replace the old wheel simply. In our case, we’re dealing with a 27-inch mountain bike, but the type of bike doesn’t matter – if you can fix a deflated front tire, you can do it pretty quickly. Setting up the pedal sensor can be a little trickier. The sensor consists of two parts: a magnetic disk that attaches to the connecting rod, and a sensor unit that attaches to the frame. There are four different configurations for the drive, so it will fit most bikes, but according to Murphy’s Law, it didn’t fit ours.
Eventually I just made some extra modifications by trimming the teeth to help keep the magnetic drive in place. This allowed the disc to sit flush with the connecting rod, leaving the correct clearance between the disc and the sensor. The job is done. The fact that we could make this mod is still the key to a design that makes everything simple and uses a respectable zipper to hold the components in place. With the help of zippers you can do anything.
From there you just clamp the steering bracket in place, connect the cable to the sensor and another to the engine and charge the battery, which takes about 2.5 hours. The written instructions were refreshingly easy to follow, and the only problem was that clicking the main switch on the battery, which is inside a very tight-fitting cover, seemed harder than it needed to be. (You don’t need to do this with regular use, you just press a button on the top of the device.) The end result is a bit messy that you usually get with external DIY cables, but you certainly could do it neater than we, with a few more secure fasteners.
How does it work?
I used to ride a decent mid-wheel drive motorcycle, and it should be said that my expectations here were not inflated, but using Swytch was definitely a pleasant surprise. The engine has enough grunting to smooth out most of the hills, but not enough to ruin the transmission in a hurry. Five power levels provide level or steeper slopes and help save battery life. The estimation of the 35 km range with moderate pedal effort came true in our tests – we actually went a few kilometers further, but it is always difficult to determine the ebike range figures based on the number of variables.
There is some lag before starting the drive, about half the pedal stroke, but this is perfectly normal as turning on the power too early can be a problem. When you stop pedaling, it stops supplying power fast enough – it doesn’t respond as well as the built-in sensor on my regular motorcycle, but it doesn’t cause a problem if you get used to it. An optional sensor is also available, which ensures that the engine shuts off immediately when you apply the brakes. This is not what I was really looking for, but the bike we tested with only has calipers, and riding with sharper disc brakes can change that.
In general, the combination of light weight and smooth power supply makes it easy to forget that you are riding a motorcycle until you remember that you are not in that shape. A chunky little battery on your steering wheel is another gift, and here come to the rescue one or two little things. The power level buttons are at the top of the battery. They are simple and fairly easy to get to, although you need to take your hand off the steering wheel to get to them. The indicator light on the up and down arrows or the raised “+” and “-” signs that you can feel without looking down will save you a split second when you look down when changing settings on the go.
There’s no walking mode, which can be a handy feature if you’re not getting off your bike, but there’s an extra throttle that will do the same job (if it’s legal where you live). Given that the device is lightweight and retention at the bottom of a steep ravine won’t be on the agenda for most Swytch users, this isn’t a big deal.
The battery mount and quick release mechanism have a sturdy construction. The device is compact enough to put in a bag when you park your bike (and new version approaching pocket). It trembles when you hit rough terrain, and the magnetic drive is a little out of shape for us, although it still worked fine, and anyway, Swytch isn’t a serious off-road ride. And while the Pro model has a light on the front of the battery, the standard model could probably do without some backlighting … but it’s insignificant, the overall package is definitely suitable for its purpose.
Should I start converting?
Deciding to go down the path of conversion will come down to what you want from the e-bike and what ordinary bike you have sitting in the barn. In our case, we resurrected a perfectly decent bike that didn’t get much use. It is now more practical in the hilly areas where we live, and will most likely travel on trips that previously involved a car. That’s good.
According to Swytch, the production of a conventional electronic bicycle produces eight times more CO2 emissions than its optional kit, and no matter how accurate this figure is, there are clear benefits to the sustainability of the conversion. This is especially true if you are looking for an electronic bike and you already have a perfectly good non-motorcycle. Sure, electronic bikes are getting cheaper, but cheap usually means poor build quality, and you may be better off converting your existing bike … though once you start using higher performance motorcycles with designs and components designed specifically for electrification, this is another story.
First of all, at least in the case of Swytch, it works. It costs $ 999 for the Eco model and $ 1,249 for the Pro, and while there are some amazing trade-offs along the way, it’s a great way to improve your cycling experience.
Product page: Switch
Are ebike conversion kits worth it?
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