The idea behind the Swytch Universal eBike kit is easy to understand. By swapping your normal front wheel with one powered by an electric motor, any compatible bike becomes electric. What’s more, you don’t need to spend thousands of pounds, with the basic kit costing from £500. We explain all about the ordering process in a separate article, How much is the Swytch bike kit?
Swytch eBike kit review: what you need to know
Swytch works, and it works well, but it’s fiddly.
By “works”, I mean that it will shorten your journey times and make rides easier. What’s more, it turns impossible inclines into ones you can get up with comparative ease. Based on my journeys so far, I would say it turns a 60-minute ride into a 50-minute one, and you aren’t so sweaty at the end.
By “fiddly”, I mean that if you’re barely able to put up a shelf then you might struggle to fit everything together. And it could take you a while; I hit several hurdles and ended up wrestling with the process over the course of several days. However, I must emphasise that much of this was down to my procrastination; I’m sure your experience will be better!
If you do hit problems, Swytch provides a one-to-one video call for everyone who buys a kit. They were lovely on the call, but didn’t spot what turned out to be my most frustrating mistake: I’d put the pedal accessory on backwards. I suspect they missed this due to the low definition of video connections.
Swytch sells two versions of the kit: ECO with a 180Wh battery, and PRO with a 250Wh unit. Think around 20 miles of assisted riding for the smaller offering, 30 miles for the bigger one. “Proper” electric bikes tend to come with bigger batteries, around 400Wh, with the promise of 60 miles.
Whichever unit you choose, you’ll lose almost the whole of your handlebar, because that’s where the battery pack sits. The larger kit includes a 200 lumens light, but it’s no match for the dedicated units that frequent night-time cyclists enjoy. There are loops to hold third-party lights, but I’m not a fan.
Swytch operates a very odd pre-order system. Basically, if you’re interested then you sign up via its website. You’re promised “50% off”, but it doesn’t actually tell you the price. Allow me to reveal all below:
|Model||Universal ECO||Universal PRO|
|UK price (with 50% off)||£499.50||£624.50|
|Range||Up to 35km (22 miles)||Up to 50km (31 miles)|
Swytch will notify you when the next batch of kits become available.
Swytch: how it works and what you get
There are four key elements to the Swytch eBike kit. The first is a magnetic ring that you fix near to the pedals to detect each revolution; all the magnet does is send a message to the motor that it’s free to do its thing.
So, to the motor. This is built into the front wheel that Swytch sends you, once it has determined what make of bike you have and your braking system (it works with rim brakes, disc brakes and drum brakes).
The final two links in the chain are the battery pack and the handlebar mount that it clips to. You can then clip or unclip the battery from your handlebar with ease. That’s useful both for charging and when you’re out in town; it’s a chunky 1.5kg but squeezable into a decent-sized rucksack.
The pack offers five power assistance settings, all controlled via a touch-sensitive button, plus (on the bigger unit) a 200 lumens light.
All this comes supplied in a series of boxes, along with a handy first steps manual, lots of cable ties to fix the various parts to your bike and things that may or not be useful – such as spacers.
Oh, a quick word on the manual: you really should read this carefully, and watch the supplied videos, before you do anything vaguely physical. This was the mistake I made.
Swytch eBike kit: the installation process
I thought that it would be easy to add the Swytch kit to my bike. It’s a boring hybrid bike with no fancy extras to complicate the installation process. I had to jettison my front lights and my lovely clip-on carry case, but I hoped to find a new home for them elsewhere.
However, the unusual shape of the main body proved to be a problem, as did not following the instructions quite closely enough. As a special treat, I will be sharing a “how not to install a Swytch eBike kit” as soon as we’ve got the video edited. Hopefully you won’t make the mistakes that I made as a result!
If you’re good at handyman/woman things then it will probably take you an hour or two to sort out. Now that I’ve done one, I reckon I could repeat the process in around 30 minutes. But I hit so many hurdles, mostly of my own making, that I actually spread the pain over two days with a gap of three weeks in between.
Don’t forget that you have the option of a free video call with Swytch’s technical team if you hit problems.
The riding experience
Once everything is attached as it should be, what’s it like to ride? Your first adjustment is to the front-heavy wheel, which doesn’t take too long to get used to – if you’ve ridden with heavy panniers then you know how quickly you adjust to a change in balance of weight.
The second thing to become used to is the mini-surge of power that appears when you start pedalling. It’s like you’re being magically pushed along by bike fairies, especially at first. The faster you go the less noticeable this effect becomes.
Don’t be concerned that this acceleration will push you into traffic. The motor is only activated when you pedal, and who pedals when they’re trying to slow down? Stopping is just as natural as before. What’s more, you get that little extra boost of acceleration from a standing start, which makes it easier to get up to speed on a busy road.
Criticisms? It could be easier to adjust the power. There’s a touch-sensitive up/down arrow on the top of the power pack, with a green LED to show how much assistance you’re currently getting: the maximum is five bars, minimum one.
The battery level indicator sits to the right, again going from one bar to five bars. On longer trips, I found myself keeping a wary eye on this and choosing to switch to a lower power setting to eke it out further.
On the flat, you really don’t need much assistance as you aren’t tackling gravity. It’s when you’re heading up a hill that the motor really comes into effect: there’s a killer hill that I don’t have a gnat’s chance of getting up normally, but with the assistance at maximum I scooted up it relatively easily.
In fact, I’d be warier of going down steep hills rather than up them. When I was steaming down that same hill on my return journey, the weight of the front wheel (1.5kg) proved too much for my repaired inner tube and it completely blew on me.
Swytch eBike kit review: final verdict
The Swytch system is clever and effective. I also like that if you just want to go for a normal ride on your bike then it’s a simple matter of removing the Swytch wheel and putting your old one back on again. Aside from some straggling wires, it’s no different from before.
But please note all the caveats included in this review. The fiddly install process, the loss of handlebar space, the limited range compared to true electric bikes. It isn’t a must-buy but is well worth investigating if you have an old bike that you want to electrify.
Swytch Universal eBike
Ease of assembly
Follow the instructions carefully and this will indeed turn any bike into an electric bike – and one that can carry you up hills like never before.
- It works!
- Great acceleration up hills
- Breathes new life into an old bike
- Fiddly to set up
- Limited range compared to “proper” electric bikes
- Takes over your handlebar