With the rising cost of fuel, the annoying traffic nightmare that is driving a car and commuting in general, cycling is the way forward. E-bikes sit in an interesting place between pushbikes and motorbikes, offering some extra support but without the need for an engine, be it petrol based or electrical. E-bikes are also governed by the same laws as regular pushbikes, though they are limited to 16mph in the UK. This means that unlike a motorbike, you can ride an e-bike wherever you can ride a regular pushbike.
The last few years have shown a huge number of e-bike options pop up, but they tend to cost over a £1000, some of them even going close to the 4000 mark. And what if you already have a good bike that you like, but want that little bit of extra oomph? For all of those people, there is the Swytch bike, the DIY kit to turn your own bike into an electrical one.
What kind of bikes does it work with?
As far as Swytch are concerned, pretty much most bikes will accommodate this kit. In their latest TV advert, they even show a penny farthing, though I don’t really see an option to buy one of those kits. However, they go from 16″ wheels all the way to 29″. Most adult bikes tend to hover around the 28″/700C mark, so it should fit most of them. It goes from mountain bikes to road bikes to BMX ones to hybrids.
Swytch Universal Kit
The kit is essentially divided into two parts:
- A wheel with the 250W motor built in
- A battery pack that also has the associated electronics and wires as part of it
In order to install one of these, you need to take the tyre and tube off your old bike and put it on the new wheel that they’ll send you. The wheel they send you replaces your front wheel.
Then you have to attach the battery pack holder to the handle, along with the electronics, which includes a wire to the front wheel, and an attachment to measure how fast your pedal is moving as the device is built on a ‘pedal assist’ system.
The instructions I was sent were for a review device, and they were more focused on the older Swytch kit rather than the latest one. This meant that not all instructions were clear, and at some points I needed to go and have a think about how to adjust things. Having said that, I was able to figure it all out, and the whole process took me just about an hour.
You start with taking off your front wheel and then the tyre and tube. You then put those on the wheel they sent you, and ensure it is attached properly, including the brakes aspect.
Then you attach the battery pack holder, which fits the battery and has all the wires. This wasn’t as straightforward, as at least on my bike, it physically sits in the same area as where the brake and gear adjustment wires go. I have made some adjustments since then and it works, but really it would be nice if there were other means of attaching it, as it can add extra tension on your wires. Especially adding and removing the battery can be a bit of a chore.
After that, you attach magnetic and Pedal assist sensor around your pedal (I got this wrong but was able to fix it easily), and the LCD display to your handle, connect them all, and you’re good to go.
All the cables are colour coded, so easy to get them all connected. But you are left with some unconnected cables, which makes me a bit uncomfortable as they are not covered in anyway so they could potentially get dirt or water in them.
The whole thing adds about 3kg of weight onto your bike, so fairly good compared to a generic electric bike.
Once installed, you can turn the device on and hold the ‘down’ button on it to run your bike as a test.
I made the classic mistake of installing the wheel in the wrong direction, but luckily that is a very quick fix!
LCD Display and changing settings
So the device I received contained instructions for the older Swytch device, one that didn’t have a display. The one I did have was showing speed and distance in kilometres, and I wanted to change that to miles, so I thought I’d play around with the display I got, but couldn’t.
I send a tweet on Twitter, and it did take them a while, but I finally got a response with links to two different displays:
I had the OLED display, so went and managed to change the units.
Getting the settings right
However, what was more important was to adjust the wheel size. Mine was set to 20″, while the wheel size I have is 28″ or 700CC. This meant that the speed it was measuring was incorrect. Which meant that it thought I was going faster than I was. Now, there is a speed limit for electric bikes in the UK, set to keep it below 15.5mph (roughly 25km per hour), so most electric bikes will cut out at 15mph.
If you set the wheel size wrong, it will think you’re going faster (or slower) than you are. If it thinks you are constantly exceeding this speed, it will keep cutting the power out, which will then hinder your actual electric propulsion experience.
This meant that for the first few weeks of using it, I had bit of a mixed bag experience. It really helped me at hills, where I needed to use the electric motor, but after that it felt like I was putting more or less the same effort in on flats. This was because I was exceeding the incorrect speed limit and it kept cutting out. Once I adjusted this, things got a lot better and I could ride with the motor giving me the right level of oomph.
Just another thing to add – you can adjust the speed limit on your device as well, and this is important as you want to keep this in line with your local government. I have a review model though, so not sure if the release models allow you to make this change as well.
Usage for me as well as range
As I am writing this, I have driven over 200 miles using the Swytch bike.
My typical commute contains journeys that are 8 to 10 miles of range. There are a few hills in the way, so the extra power is really appreciated at those points.
As far as usage goes, there are 5 levels of power. This is important as you have a 90W battery driving a 250W motor. This means that you only have a limited power available. If you were to go full whack, your 90W battery will last you just over 20 minutes. However, you can divide this into 5 levels, and while I am not sure how it is tuned, you can assume that roughly each step offers 20% of power.
When I do steep hills, I need to shift to full power. This is easily controllable by the display/control. Obviously, gloves/fat fingers get in the way, but it is operable while riding. After that, I can shift lower.
For a typical 8-10 mile journey, it takes me 35-45 minutes, and I generally run out in the last half mile, and I typically run at power level 2 for most of the journey. I then have to charge the battery pack at work, and I generally keep it plugged in at all times the bike is not being used.
So based on your distance, how flat it is, how much you weigh, what load you are carrying, your range will vary, but a single charge will probably give you about 8 miles on a variable terrain.
Some discrepancy between battery and display
One of the things I kept noticing was that the battery, which has 5 LEDs to show power, and the display, which also shows battery power, seemed to often be out of sync. I also noticed that if you work the battery hard, you can see the power dropping, but sometimes it can regain itself without you doing anything. I suppose what this means that it needs some further tuning, and is bit of a software thing that can hopefully be sorted.
In the picture above, you can see that the battery pack shows 3 LEDs while the OLED display above shows only one bar inside the battery.
Is it worth it then?
First of all, you can buy a bigger battery pack which doubles your range, though I don’t know the price difference on this.
However, the ‘is it worth it’ question is one I have pondered on. Before I had the settings done properly, I liked the help on hills but was somewhat disappointed by the whole experience. However, since then, it has been amazing. I can get to work, do a whole 8-10 mile journey, and hardly break a sweat. Yes, you have to constantly pedal the whole way, but it is pretty much a casual pedal than an effort one.
This means that this allows me to drop the car, and use this pretty much in most conditions. Seasoned cyclists will know that conditions like rain and wind are your biggest enemies when you cycle. Sure, you’ll still get wet, but you can definitely defeat wind when you’ve got Swytch on your side.
Pricing and options
Because of the waiting lists for this, it is hard to find an actual price on this. I can see it being between £449 and £549, so I have asked for a clarification from the Swytch team itself. However, at either of those prices, the kit is well worth it, especially if you already have a bike that you already like and don’t want to buy yet another bike!
You do have the option of having a double powered battery pack, so you get double the range, but I don’t have a pricing on that.
Swytch came back with the following statement:
For pricing, prices for the kit vary based on the delivery time selected by the customer. If they choose the maximum wait of 3 months, customers can expect a price of as little as under £500.
As for options, we have a universal kit (which fits most regular bikes with 100mm fork width) and a folding bike kit which is compatible with smaller width forks. We then have 2 battery options; the AIR (15km, 700g) and the MAX (30km, 1.1kg).
More information about Swytch bike as a product, as a company, as well as their history, their campaigns, etc, can all be found on their website.