In January 2020 I bought an electric bike, aiming to swap the daily bus commute for something a little more energetic. It was a compromise after an earlier attempt to cycle to work every day resulted in the realisation that a lot of Dublin that seems flat is actually on an incline – enough to make the journey home torturous for an inexperienced cyclist such as myself. For a few weeks it all went well; the bike meant I got a bit of exercise every day, and the electric motor meant I got a bit of help in tackling the hills.
And then Covid-19 happened, and suddenly my daily commute comprised about 20 steps from my bedroom to the home office. The bike was surplus to requirements – for a few months at least.
I had always planned to go back to it, though, and as things have opened up, the bike has been dusted off and brought back into service for any work-related trips around Dublin.
If I’d been a committed cyclist before that, I might have thought twice before investing in an electric bike. If you already own a bike you love, it’s a big ask to spend a significant amount on a second bike with a battery and motor built in for the daily commute.
Not only can they be expensive, the bikes themselves can be heavier than standard ones, meaning if you run out of battery at any point, the commute home may be more difficult than you imagined.
The compromise here is a conversion kit. The Swytch e-bike conversion kit can turn your much-loved mountain, step-through or road bike into a motor-assisted device with a few simple steps. It consists of a wheel with a motor fitted, a pedal sensor that detects your speed of travel and decides what power is delivered from the power pack – which can give you up to 35km with the eco power pack and 50km in range with the pro power pack – to the motor.
The kit is designed to be universal and simple to fit; you don’t need specialised tools or an in-depth technical knowledge of bike maintenance. You simply swap the bike wheel for the Swytch motor wheel, hook up the pedal sensor and attach the power pack to the bracket on the handlebars. It is reasonably easy to do, and doesn’t take all day – we were up and running in comfortably under an hour, thanks to the fairly straightforward instructions.
Each wheel is custom built to fit your bike, with buyers specifying what size wheel is needed after the order is placed.
Once you have everything fitted correctly and the power pack fully charged, you are ready to get going. The Swytch has five different power levels, depending on how much assistance you feel you need. Cranking it up to level five will have the hardest impact on your battery life, but it will also make tackling hills a breeze.
Compared with a standard electric bike, the Swytch does well. It is reasonably smooth, and you don’t feel like the motor is taking over, even on the higher power levels. It deals with everything from the small inclines to the tougher hills (within reason) without complaint.
And the removable powerpack means that the bike doesn’t stand out too much when it is locked up on the street.
At a time when bike thefts are a growing problem – reported thefts jumped in the first seven months of 2020, despite lockdown – that was an important consideration. That removable powerpack means you can also buy a spare for longer journeys and throw it in a backpack.
The fact that you can fit this kit to your existing bike is bound to appeal to some cyclists. It is not as expensive as a good electric bike, either, so it will act as a halfway house between the two. The battery pack is removable, and the weight of the motor doesn't add a lot to the overall weight of the bike, so you can use traditional pedal power if the mood takes you.
The not so good
It takes a bit of time to install the kit, although there are plenty of online videos to help guide the way. It doesn't require any advanced knowledge, and everything you need is in the box. Although it may be a less expensive option than a full-on electric bike, it's not cheap either – unless you pre-order it and are content to wait a few months. If you sign up for the waiting list, you get 50 per cent off the price, bringing it to under €500.
There are two different Swytch kits: the universal one, and the Brompton conversion kit. You can also invest in some extras such as the twist throttle or the thumb version.
The Swytch kit may be the electric compromise bike owners have been looking for.