Review: The Swytch electric bike conversion kit

Posted by on January 24th, 2022 at 12:59 pm

(Photos: Josh Ross/BikePortland)

I’ve tested and ridden a lot of e-bikes. They aren’t my passion, but I love that they are a part of the discussion. Every single person deserves an opportunity to be on a bike and if an e-bike facilitates that, awesome. More people riding is a step towards ending the dependence on cars.

My preference is for the European style of electric bikes. Instead of a Class II bike with a throttle or a Class III that can reach 28 mph, what I enjoy most is a Class I electric bike. They top out at 20 mph making them a little different than a European bike, but the idea is the same: You have to pedal. And when you do, you get some help. It feels like riding a bike downhill with a tailwind.

When you look around for a bike like that, my favorite option is actually a conversion kit paired with a specific bike. I’ve ridden some fantastic high-end e-bikes that have a similar feel (the Lemond bikes for one), but the Swytch electric bike conversion kit paired with a Brilliant bikes Cooper or Carmen model are fantastic at a much lower price.

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What does it offer?

You could use any bike you want with the kit. The reason the Brilliant bikes get my nod is because they are inexpensive, they have gears, and they have a belt drive. The Cooper and the Carmen are the same bike with the only difference being the frame style. The Carmen has a step-through top tube and swept back handlebars while the Cooper is your typical flat bar commuter look. Both frames run $550 and come through a US based company that’s really amazing at support.

They also both use three speed gearing paired with rim brakes and a belt drive. The gearing is nice for adjusting cadence and the belt drive is a great feature. There’s nothing wrong with a chain but when it comes to a commuter bike, belt drive is a joy. They never wear out, they never get rusty, they are much less noisy, and you never have to worry about getting grease on your clothes. I have the Carmen and it’s the classic cruiser ride — except it’s ultra smooth.

The second part is the Swytch electric bike conversion. There are four pieces to the kit: motor, power pack, handlebar bracket, and cadence sensor.

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The motor itself is in the front wheel hub. Each kit is custom built into the wheel when you order it. That means whatever wheel you need, Swytch can handle. Disc brakes, rim brakes, quick release, solid axle, and whatever size you need is all available. There is also the option of upgrading to a matte black finish on the wheel. In my case I used a silver wheel with a solid axle and the replacement from Swytch is an exact match.

Expect a mellow roll on of power and a gentle push behind every pedal turn.

The actual motor weighs 3.3 lbs and is a little bigger than the palm of my hand. It’s a bright shiny center of the wheel and it fills out the space between the spokes. Through the nut that holds the wheel to the fork there is a thick cable with a protective spring wound around it where it bends. The cable coming from the hub motor connects it to the next piece of the kit.

The piece that connects to the motor is the power pack. This piece contains the battery, the controller, the user interface, and in the case of the Pro version there is also a 400 lumen light. The options for the power pack are either a Pro version or an Eco version and the only difference visually is the addition of the light. Internally the batteries carry more energy in the Pro model, adding an additional nine miles over the Eco, but are dimensionally the same.

Anyone not knowing what it is would think the power pack was a small handlebar bag. It’s a black canvas material with the Swytch logo on the front panel and 4 hits of reflective material. The logo on the Pro model lights up but don’t expect it to help you see much. The size of the power pack puts it a little shorter than my phone, about the same width, and about a 1/3 longer. The official dimensions are 20x14x8 cm but understand that it’s small. The rear has a small fabric handle and the interface with the rest of the system. At the top of the pack there are two places to attach straps and the controls for the system.

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The power pack attaches to the quick-connect handlebar bracket which makes it easy to take on and off the bike. Remove it for storage and transport or even if you have to carry the bike up some stairs. The unit attaches to the bike with two mounts that sandwich the stem. Between them is a soft stabilizer that goes under the stem to prevent rotation. It all works very well.

The last piece that makes the kit work is a pedal-assist system (PAS) or cadence sensor. It’s a universal system with a variety of options for mounting. There’s a series of magnets that need to move with the crank arm and a sensor that needs to attach to the frame. The space between these two pieces needs to be minimal. This unit is the least attractive part of the kit but there’s not much you can do about it.

If you have enough space the most elegant option is to have only the ring of magnets connected to the crank at the bottom bracket. If there’s not enough space there then you have to use an articulated arm that attaches to the inside of the crank arm with zip ties.

What does it take to install?

The whole process took me about an hour. If I was to do it again I could probably do it in 30 minutes and possibly even less. The directions of the actual kit are well written and the steps are easy. You spend far more time figuring out the best way to mount components, or route the cables, than you do anything else.

I started with swapping the tire to the new wheel and swapping wheels on the front of the bike. After I had the wheel swapped, I moved on to the other pieces. The handlebar bracket takes less than five minutes to install and the power pack attaches with no tools. The PAS system was a time suck because of trial and error. I had been sure that the spacing between the crank arm and the frame was perfect for mounting without attaching to the crank arm. I was wrong and it takes a while to get everything placed just in the right spot.

Once I got the PAS components all mounted and it was time for cable management. There’s no right or wrong here but I wanted things to be as clean as possible while also not being too tight. It would be great if there was a way to tuck extra wires and extra connectors into the power pack but I did eventually find a solution I was happy with. Exposed wiring looks minimal and is well secured.

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What’s it like to use?

With everything installed it was time to go for a ride. The controls for operating the system are on top of the power pack. They are easy to reach while riding and simple to use. Long press a button to turn things on then use the up and down to adjust the assist level. If you go all the way down it does go to zero.

The whole feeling of the Swytch system complements the Brilliant bike perfectly. There is a somewhat impressive 40Nm on tap but it’s never jerky or aggressive. Expect a mellow roll on of power and a gentle push behind every pedal turn. When the system tops out at 20 mph you won’t really even notice. Claimed range is 50 km (about 30 miles) and I expect the bike is going to be your limit more than the battery. 30 miles is a long way on a cruiser bike.

In terms of power delivery one of the biggest things to wrap your head around is that it’s cadence based. That means the faster you pedal the more support it gives (this is common with a lot of electric motors used by major brands like Bosch and Specialized). My instinct is to match the gear somewhat reasonably to the terrain and let my cadence do what it will. A cadence based e-bike is different because the cadence works similarly to turning up the assist. If you want to keep things easy, put the bike in the easiest gear and turn the pedals faster. With only a three speed bike there are obvious limitations here, especially when climbing a hill. Once you get the hang of it though it’s a pleasant ride.

The whole system only adds about six and a half pounds so this isn’t a heavy bike even in e-bike guise. More importantly though, half that weight easily removes. That makes it much easier to own if you need to lift the bike. It’s also really nice when parking it. You can remove the battery and electronics and if your bike gets stolen while you are in a store it’s less of a sting.

Verdict

The only downside to this conversion is that it will likely cost more than your city bike. The list price, not that you can find it, is $999 for the Universal Eco version and $1,249 for the Pro. Add that to the $550 price of the bike and you’ve reached a list price of $1,799 for a kit you have to put together. Not only that but no bike company wants anything to do with your Swytch system. You’ll have to do any warranty and support directly through Swytch, and they aren’t based in the U.S. (that’s probably not a big deal but I feel it’s important to mention). These details are primarily why I tell people conversion kits don’t make much sense.

For the full price of a Swytch kit and a quality commuter bike, you start to reach the same price as some entry-level e-bikes. There’s a reason I’m sharing this though: the ride quality. I haven’t tested every e-bike that’s in this $1,500 – $2,000 price range, but I’ve tested a few and they don’t feel this good to ride. Also, Swytch frequently offers their kit at a big discount. They order a bunch of kits at once and then offer everyone a deal of 50% off. You’ve got to wait around, three months on average, but it’s a pretty good deal. And of course if you’ve already got a bike to use with the Swytch, the price gets even lower.

Check out SwytchBike.com to learn more.

CORRECTION: This article initially said Class III e-bikes have a throttle. That’s incorrect and the story has been corrected. Sorry for any confusion.

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Todd Boulanger
Guest

Thanks Joss for there review of the pedal assist product.
The front hub sure looks nice…vs. many that are black and the size is truly amazing vs. where the industry was 5 and 10 years ago.

SERider
Guest
SERider

How does the front hub power feel? That’s such a unique place to put it, I’m curious how the ride and handling feels.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

I used to have a front hub powered bike. It had an awkward pull on the arms when turning. Got used to it after a few weeks.

Lowell
Guest
Lowell

Thank you for this excellent review. I’m honestly more enamored with the bike you recommend than the conversion kit. After years of trying and failing to get a chain and rear cassette to survive Portland rain and road grime, the simplicity and durability of a three-speed belt drive sounds sooooo nice.

Hayes Kenny
Guest
Hayes Kenny

Josh, cool to see a new system reviewed. One technicality I’d like to point out though: you write, “Instead of a Class III e-bike with a throttle that can top out at 28 mph, what I most enjoy riding is a Class I electric bike.”

Class III bikes are pedals assist only with a maximum assist speed of 28mph, with no throttle.

Class II bikes are throttle equipped but limited to 20mph.

There are some throttle-actuated bikes out there with speeds greater than 20mph (or 28mph for that matter), but all the bikes sold at bike shops as Class I or Class III bikes are pedals assist with no throttle.

Throttle Twister
Guest
Throttle Twister

For the money, what are some of the best ebikes currently available that will handle rough terrain like a mountain bike would?

SERider
Guest
SERider

They make E-mountain bikes (most brands now have one). But to get a decent one, they’re pretty expensive, otherwise they’re going to be insanely heavy or just poor quality.

Nick W.
Guest

Disclaimer – I work for a Portland-based ebike brand that sells these sort of “all-terrain” capable bikes.

Josh’s point is excellent- “rough terrain” can mean lots of things to different folks.

If you want a true e-MTB for riding trail systems like Sandy Ridge, Cold Creek etc then you’ll want to drop at least $4k for a hardtail with quality suspension, brakes, wheels alongside a torquey motor and sizable battery pack.

If you’re looking to do gravel roads and the occasional bit of smooth trail (think Powell Butte or Leif Erikson) then you can get away with any ebike with 1.9″ or larger tires. Decent options there can be had for $1300+, depending on your specific use case.

Brett Barrett
Guest
Brett Barrett

I installed a Swytch kit on my wife’s Fuji Crosstown. The kit and bike together cost about $1200, but compared to a lot of electric bikes in that range it weighs quite a bit less (almost half as much in some cases) and is much more pleasant to ride. I’d recommend the kit for anyone considering the versatility of it. Plus, if she wants to get a new bike we can just swap the kit over. Nothing new to buy.

Lowell
Guest
Lowell

One concern just from looking at the photo above is the exposed connectors when you don’t have the battery attached. Seems like parking your bike out in the rain and taking your battery with you could be a bad idea.

Neal
Guest
Neal

When I bought mine, it came with a little “shower cap” for the connector to put on when you don’t have the pack on it. Does the job. Not sure if they still include that.

Lee
Guest
Lee

I just got my Switch Kit mailed to me and installed on my 20 year old Diamondback hybrid. It rides like a dream. They still include the shower cap and give you a spare in the kit. Great ride for less than $600 including tax.

Karstan
Subscriber
Karstan

I’ve had mine for 3 years and haven’t had any issues, fwiw. It doesn’t get left in the rain a lot but it does happen occasionally.

Craig Jackson
Guest
Craig Jackson

I’m confused about the front wheel. Can you use the front wheel of your existing bike? If so, who installs the motor on it? If not, do you need to buy a new front wheel, and again, who installs the motor? thanks.

Neal
Guest
Neal

The wheel is part of the kit and the motor is installed in it already. So it’s just a simple take one rim off and put another on.

Trike Guy
Guest
Trike Guy

Thanks for the review – as I approach the double nickel (years that is) I start to think about whether I can do some of my heavy commute miles (with hills) at 60+. When I finally need some help I don’t want an electric moped with pedals, I want the smallest, lightest assist that makes me feel 50 again. 🙂

Alan Love
Guest
Alan Love

Although I’m not a big fan of Specialized, their line of e-bikes includes a great lightweight system that adds less than 10lbs to their similar non-e-bike. It’s only meant to add a bit of oomph up hills/starts, so smaller motor and battery.

Dr. Kate
Guest
Dr. Kate

Mine was a present to myself for “double nickel” and while I didn’t put it on my commuter (fairly flat river run and I don’t want to give up my generator hub) I did take my old road bike up a notch with it. It really takes the load off of my knees on tough hills – I just dial up the power, gear down, and spin my way up with a grin! And you can set the power to zero on flats – the motor will not drag if you do, and it saves the battery. I don’t just go further and faster, I’m riding for more time with it because it doesn’t hurt. My son pointed out that my bike is now all wheel drive. Its an awesome way to beat back the clock.

Tyler S
Guest
Tyler S

Yikes! I think my blood pressure actually increased just reading the headline.

Disclaimer, I work for a bike company that produces different kinds of bikes, including e-bikes, and I share the reviewer’s enthusiasm for expanding access to cycling via electric assistance. More riders on bikes is a good thing!

You say that “no bike company wants anything to do with” a third-party e-bike conversion kit. You are right.

The fork of a standard (non e-)bike is designed to meet specific requirements for strength and fatigue; they are certainly not designed and tested with a view towards adding an electric motor!

While that quick-release steel fork *may* be quite sturdy, and the motor relatively light and lower-powered, *may* be fine is an alarmingly low confidence level, especially so since the front wheel of a bicycle is the rider’s only point of control that connects with the ground.

The highest risk for serious injury and death on a bicycle relates to anything which suddenly and unexpectedly stops the front wheel from moving where the rider expects it;

These kits have been around in various forms over the years, and while they were never a great idea, they’re even less so in this day and age with many e-bikes available in a much wider range of price points.

Perhaps many riders will have a perfectly fine experience with such a kit; I have not seen this one directly, I have seen riders very seriously injured by bikes with electric motors added later.

I hope no one reading this becomes the next one.

EEE
Guest
EEE

A torque arm is an “optional accessory” according to the manual. Yikes is right!

Dr. Kate
Guest
Dr. Kate

The problem with most ebikes is that they are huge and heavy and over powered. I am short and the sizing in the industry is totally out of line for smaller riders. To be blunt, the industry shuts a lot of people out, mostly female people. Most lighter e bikes only come in frame sizes over 52cm and that doesn’t work for anyone under 5’6″ due to the reach and standover. And no, just because you can reach the pedals on a 70lb rig does not mean the bike fits or can be safely ridden! This is why I put a swytch kit on my 12 year old 47cm aluminum frame road bike and I got a bike that fits me and doesn’t have too much assist and weighs under 30 lbs. I got a torque arm for the fork, but it’s only a 250 watt motor anyway. The battery on the handlebars is genius and leaves space for my stem bag and bottles. I’m having an absolute blast and can get 40+ miles from a charge because I mostly use it to relieve my cranky old knees on hills and fight gumption sapping headwinds. The ride is smooth and wonderful and biking is fun again. My heart rate logs tell me that I’m getting a great workout. Much cheaper than a five thousand dollar road ebike and more convenient since I can remove the battery. So sneer and fret all you want. Until your industry starts building lighter machines that don’t exclude a substantial percentage of riders, these conversion kits will be a desirable option … Or the only option.

Karstan
Subscriber
Karstan

I backed the original Swytch campaign when it was on indiegogo, so my configuration is a bit different and considerably heavier than the one you reviewed. That said I agree with just about this entire review. I think it’s a pretty good deal for someone who wants an entry level, and inexpensive e-bike (when they have their bulk discounts). Mine has been going strong for years now with relatively minimal issues. It is very important though to be aware that you are adding considerable stress to a bike that might not be engineered for it. I beefed up my fork, brakes, etc. when I added the kit (but again, my kit is considerably bigger and heavier than their current standard).

EndUser
Guest
EndUser

My ebike commuter was great I dropped the coin on a Haibike trekking 9s … Made my 50 mile commute round trip predicable and on nicer weather days very pleasant.. was not in the best shape when I started but got stronger from the year I did have it … And then dreaded it was stolen and was totally crushed and beyond pissed about it (pretty much root for the worst to befall the theif Everytime something reminds me of it) .. luckily I had it insured but I still ate a 1200 loss … Still I opted to go back to a traditional gravel bike and MTB which the funds I got from the lose did almost cover so that is something … Still, as much as cities want people to convert to bikes here in the US they need to get a handle in the rampant bike theft as seriously no one sticks their neck out when they see something sketchy anymore and are more likely just to stick out their phone and record it all and blurb to their Instagram … Point is penalties for bike theft need to be a lot harsher and the venues theifs use to offload their stolen property need to be regulated to make those platforms do a better job to police their platforms

Craig no-CRC Harlow
Guest
Craig no-CRC Harlow

Swytch is telling me up to twelve weeks from order to delivery, but they’ll shorten it to six weeks for an added fee. Has anyone discovered how much that fee is? They’re not answering that particular question for me.

Craig no-CRC Harlow
Guest
Craig no-CRC Harlow

Does anyone have real-world experience with the Switch product on a heavy cargo bike? Of course Swytch has been ra-ra positive about it when I ask, restating their “any bike!” promise. My Yuba Mundo V1 (24″ conversion) weighs about 80, I weigh 200, and cargo or passenger can add another 200 or more. I realize there are more powerful options, but I’m curious about Swytch specifically.

Nando
Guest
Nando

I have a custom stretch beach cruiser with wheels that have 144 spokes each. Can a hub be made to fit this style?