News Treehugger Voices It's an Easy Swytch to Turn Your Bike Into an E-Bike This conversion kit installs easily and rides beautifully. By Lloyd Alter Lloyd Alter Facebook Twitter Design Editor University of Toronto Lloyd Alter is Design Editor for Treehugger and teaches Sustainable Design at Ryerson University in Toronto. Learn about our editorial process Published October 13, 2021 02:00PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Electra and Swytch. Lloyd Alter Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive In earlier coverage of the Swytch e-bike conversion kit, I found lots to love, concluding: "Not everyone can afford a fancy new e-bike; not everyone wants to part with the bike they already have. Swytch has built what looks like a really affordable and easy-to-use kit that works on almost any bike, a real step forward in the e-bike revolution." My daughter Emma is in that second category: She adores her Electra sort-of-Dutch-style bike with its very comfortable upright riding position. But it is a heavy old thing, and she has a 6-mile ride to work with a long slightly uphill slog back after standing on her feet all day. She often uses my Gazelle e-bike but really doesn't like it very much, finding the Electra much more pleasant to ride. So when I was offered a Swytch kit to test drive, we decided to put it on the trusty and slightly rusty Electra. It has a strong steel frame and front fork, so I was comfortable that it could take the extra stress. Swytch The Swytch kit comes with four main components: the front wheel with a hub motor, the pedal sensor, the removable power pack, and its handlebar bracket. Lloyd Alter Swytch makes the front wheel with its 250-watt hub motor in the United Kingdom to order, and I was impressed that they even asked me for a photo of the tire so that they could ensure that they got it right. Installation certainly looks easy in the video, but I decided to have my friends at Dismount Bike Shop do it for me. They have worked on a lot of e-bikes and I wanted an expert opinion about it, and an expert installation—this is my daughter riding. They expressed some reservations about the Electra. They were worried that it has a coaster brake and a front caliper brake, and might not have enough stopping power. Emma said she doesn't ride very fast and would watch her speed; they still beefed up the front brake with the biggest pads they could get. Swytch also offers an optional brake sensor that immediately cuts the motor when you brake; I am going to order this. Pedal Sensor. Lloyd Alter The installation turned out to be painless and Louis Routier of Dismount was impressed. You simply change the wheel, install the bracket for the power pack, and fit the pedal sensor, a "12-magnet cadence system making it smooth and steady. Overall the system is pedal-assist, meaning you just pedal like normal and it powers as you ride." Front wheel with Motor. Lloyd Alter The 250-watt motor is rated at 40Nm and adds 3.3 pounds to the weight of the front wheel, but it doesn't seem to affect the feel of the bike or the steering. Lloyd Alter But the real wonder of this setup is the grab-and-go power pack; just press the big button and it pops right off. The Pro model has 250 watt-hours in its dainty little 3.3-pound package and can push the bike over thirty miles. The controls show the battery reserve, the level of assistance, with an on-off switch and a light indicator. Grab and go power pack. Lloyd Alter The removable battery is one of the most interesting features for an urban rider: When you take the battery off the ratty old Electra it doesn't look like a bike worth stealing. Every time I leave my Gazelle outside I worry about it, even with three locks. With the Swytch on a cheap or old bike, you don't have as much at stake, and even if they get the bike, you still have the battery and they have an old bike and a useless motor. And then there is the ride. Being used to the smooth pickup of the Bosch on my Gazelle with its three sensors, I did not expect much from the Swytch. I have been on expensive hub-motor bikes where there was a noticeable lag before the power kicked in. But I was surprised to find that this was smooth with not much lag at all. The power doesn't kick in as I have felt on other hub drives but builds up over a few seconds, which feels much more natural. The pedaling motion is not as accurately reflected in the speed as it is on a mid-drive e-bike with more sensors, but this does a far better job of picking up my cadence than I expected. It is apparently all in the algorithms: "Our system uses sophisticated, bespoke software to decide how much power to deliver while you cycle. The controller in the Power Pack measures your cadence, the motor speed, temperature, acceleration, battery voltage, throttle sensor, and brake sensor to generate a sine-wave signal for a smooth, quiet ride. The current-based control algorithm ensures that the acceleration is smooth and responsive to changes in riding conditions." It is also fun and was as fast as I wanted it to be on only the second power level. Emma had more to say: "In general, I love it. It makes my ride easier without feeling like I’m riding a giant bulky e-bike. It’s got a phenomenal amount of power for such a little machine and seems like it has a good battery life too. My first issue is the fact that I wish it had a “on but not giving you power” level so that when I want to just ride my bike unassisted on a flat, I don’t have to hold down the button for a bit." To turn off the power you press the middle button. Lloyd Alter This is an interesting point. On the heavy Gazelle, I almost never turn off the power. But Emma found she often wanted to ride with no assist at all, and you can't just turn down the power to zero, you have to turn it off which is a separate process. Emma continues: "My other issue is with the placement [of the battery] on the bike - I MISS MY BASKET. The battery pack is mounted facing forward on my bars, but if it were facing towards me (which it totally has space for) I could still have a basket on the front of my bike. This seems like a little thing but as a woman who wants to travel by bike but still look put-together, needing to use my panniers every time is not ideal - with a very tiny tweak of how it is attached, I could have the e-bike and not feel like I’m sacrificing style." The pro power pack has a not-very-effective headlight built-in, but this might be something to consider, or perhaps an optional basket designed to fit around the power pack, which might even have its own plug-in headlight. Emma concludes: "On the whole, though, it’s a great addition to the bike I love, and much preferred over the Gazelle - I love my bike and I’m thrilled to be able to use it more." Lloyd Alter I have often said that three things are needed for the e-bike revolution: Affordable e-bikes, safe places to ride, and secure places to park. The Swytch, often discounted to $500, is a lot cheaper than most e-bikes and addresses the first. Our cities are responsible for the second, and the question of secure parking is less of an issue; an old Electra with half of the e-bike hardware is probably not an attractive target. The real e-bike revolution is about transportation, not recreation. The Swytch is fun and perfect for the latter, but here it is doing the former, getting Emma through a 12 mile round trip in her normal work clothes without being exhausted or soaked at the end of it, on a bike that she loves. This is the e-bike revolution, this is how they will eat cars. I never believed that a little conversion kit could do this so well, but the Swytch pulls it off with aplomb. We are truly impressed. Available from Swytch in the United Kingdom.