E-bike Conversion Kits: An Economical Way to Own an E-bike or a Poor Substitute?
We installed a Swytch kit on a standard hybrid bike. Here’s what happened.
I have always been intrigued by e-bike conversion kits, which promise easy and more affordable access to biking power. After researching a few kits online, I decided to order a Swytch kit to convert my standard hybrid bike to an e-bike.
Because Swytch kits are in great demand, I needed to preorder one and get on a waiting list to receive it. I preordered my Swytch kit at the end of March 2023. I received it in late July.
I have been riding my converted e-bike for about three months. Do I like it? Was it worth it? Read on for an honest assessment.
The Good: E-bike Conversion Kit
- 1. It’s a nice-looking, simple kit that can be installed using basic tools. The Swytch kit’s main components consist of a battery you mount on your handlebars and a small base display that shows your battery level, speed, and how much assistance you’re giving yourself on your ride, which you can adjust using buttons. The Swytch also comes with a throttle button, a front wheel with a motor inside, and a magnetic sensor and magnet that are mounted on the pedal arm and frame. The mounted battery looks clean and sleek. It’s easy to remove and stow in a bag or coat pocket.
2. The ride is smooth, quick, and powerful (at first—more on this later). The Swytch kit delivers a smooth, fast ride. It was easy to get my bike up to 15 mph without much effort. The throttle is a nice addition and much appreciated on those Custis Trail hills that used to slow me down on my morning commute.
3. It’s affordable. I spent a little over $600 on the Swytch Air kit. I could have gotten it for about $500 but decided to splurge on the OLED display, which increased the price by $100. The throttle button added another $34. Considering you won’t get a decent-quality e-bike for less than $2,000, the Swytch kit is a good deal.
The Not-So-Good: E-bike Conversion Kit
1. It wasn’t as easy to install as I’d hoped. I was fortunate to have my colleague, Raymond, who is a former bike mechanic, offer to help me with the installation. The plan was that I would install everything myself and he would watch and advise me as needed. The instructions are clearly presented in a manual that comes with the kit. You can also watch a video online if that’s your preference. I was able to handle some parts of the installation, but others were more complicated and required more skill than I had. We also ran into some problems. For instance, when we tried to mount the magnet to the frame, which is what the Swytch kit uses to deliver power to the motor, we realized that there was not enough space to do that on my small bike without moving the front derailleur. This was not something I knew how to do myself, so if I hadn’t had a mechanic helping me, I’d have needed to pause the project right there. Also, while it would have been possible to do this without a bike work stand (which can cost anywhere from $200-$1000), it would have been harder to do. Unless you regularly work on your bike, it may be easier for most people to have this done at a shop. Of course, this also adds cost.
2. The battery is supposed to have a range of 15 km (a little over nine miles). That hasn’t been my experience. When I first started riding with the battery, I embraced it, pumping up my power to Level 5 on hills and using my throttle with giddy abandon. This was all fine on the commute to work, but it proved not-so-fine on the equally hilly commute home. Halfway through my trip home on my first day riding to work, my throttle no longer worked. It felt like I barely had power. Suddenly, my battery indicator was low—but I still had a couple of miles to go. Several months later, I’ve adjusted my behavior to stretch the life of my battery. I take the charger to work with me and charge it all day, so it’ll be full for the ride home. If I forget the charger, which sometimes happens, I simply turn off the assistance or keep it on a low setting for easier parts of my ride and only go to Level 5 if I really need it. I rarely use the throttle since that really drains the battery.
When I realized the limits of my battery, I was a little disappointed, but I still like having an e-bike. I’ve considered buying a second battery I can easily swap in, but that’d cost more. Also, at the moment there’s a waiting list for Swytch kits, which also includes the batteries, so I couldn’t even get one now if I tried. I’d have to get on the waiting list!
My Overall Verdict?
This e-bike conversion kit isn’t perfect, but it still provides me with a generous boost of power that has made it easier for me to ride more (and take fewer car trips!). It is fun to ride a converted bike. Also, I do have an exceptionally hilly commute. On other, flatter rides, the battery has lasted longer. I like the Swytch kit and enjoy having an e-bike for a fraction of the cost of a full-fledged e-bike. If I had to do it over again, I’d still convert my bike and I’m glad that I did.