Cycling Life: eBikes
Cycling Life: eBikes
So, eBikes? No way Jose or do they have a place?
eBikes are becoming a proper thing now. Back in the day they tended to be clunky one-off affairs that you never saw out on the road. Nowadays they’re a lot more common. Commuters are commuting on them, off-roaders are off-roading them and even roadies are riding them! Is this the end of the self-propelled bike? Will I be left struggling in the slipstream of electrically enhanced riders whenever I go out? Who knows, certainly not me, but here’s a couple of eBikes that have taken different approaches.
First up is the Swytch eBike Conversion Kit. Swytch aims to make riding an eBike as simple as changing a wheel on your current bike. Rather than buying a specific eBike, Swytch allows you to electrify your current bike. By having the motor in the wheel’s hub and the battery in a clip on bar-bag, you can swap between powered and non-powered riding in a few minutes.
The Swytch’s motor comes in two versions, a 250 watt one for your front wheel, or a 350/500 watt for your front or rear wheel. As the motor is hub based, you can build it into any wheel you want. So that electric Moulton you always wanted? Well now you can. Or how about the ePenny Farthing? That’s not even a joke, you can buy one from Swytch!
Once you’ve fitted your wheel, you attach brake and pedal sensors and a bracket for the battery. The sensors detect when you’re braking and pedalling and adjust the power accordingly; you don’t want the motor running while braking! These fittings look very simple on the Swytch video, you could probably remove them if you really wanted when riding un-assisted.
All the cables meet at the handlebar bracket, where colour coded connections make plugging in fool-proof. The power pack comes in a 25 or 50 mile version, has a 500 Lumens front light and is waterproof. With a handy carry strap, once the power pack is removed it is very discreet and portable. Charge times are five hours and you can select five levels of power assist.
Swytch claim their motor is 20% lighter than other hub motors and 50% lighter than mid-drive motors. The motor puts out 30Nm of torque and the speed is limited to 15mph in the EU; you can get an extra 5mph in the US. All this will get you up a 20% hill without pedalling, or 30% if you pedal.
Oliver Montague, the Swytch’s designer, had wanted to create a simple and inexpensive eBike and the Swytch seems to have achieved that aim. By using your current bike you keep the cost down and the components only weigh 3.9 Kg. With the cheapest set-up costing £225, the Swytch is one of the least expensive eBike options. You can get a bike already set up and ready to go from them and the options are varied. Swytch have carbon, aluminium or bamboo road bikes, kickbikes, cruisers and even penny-farthings!
At the other end of the scale is the Bultaco Albero. This is a completely different beast, Bultaco call it a Moto-Bike. They define this as a “cross between a motorcycle and a bicycle”. It uses a “hybrid combination of electric propulsion activated by a grip throttle, and independent pedalling, allowing the rider to adjust, at will, the level of effort he wishes to make.” An electric moped if you will, but one that has come from Bultaco’s range of off-road capable Moto-Bikes, the Brinco.
Check out the promo video to see how the Brinco handles off-road and you’ll see it’s certainly got the power. The Bultaco Albero, although it shares the same technology, is aimed at a different end-user. Less thrashing the trails and more weaving through traffic. With the Albero you can beat the traffic jams and avoid the bus queues, as you would on a bike, but without the sweat!
The Albero comes in two versions, the full-fat 4.5, with 2kW of power at hand, which will get you up to 45Kph. The 4.5 will require a license, registration and insurance. The 2.5 model develops 250W of power, which will take you up to 25Kph, but you won’t need all the paperwork.
Other than the power output both models share the same key features. These include an aluminium frame and swing-arm, adjustable upside-down forks with 130mm of travel. A mono-shock absorber on the rear gives 150mm of suspension and is fully adjustable. The 24 inch wheels are shod with 2.35 inch tyres. There’s front and rear discs; the front is a four piston caliper with a 203mm disc, so plenty of power there.
The power source is an 8kg battery of 126 Lithium-ion cells. Full recharge takes three hours and the battery can be removed in just fifteen seconds. The charger weighs 1.6kg, which means you can carry it with you. While the battery sits under the down-tube, the motor is located in the rear hub. It can produce 2kW of power and 60Nm of torque.
A built-in battery management system monitors the battery to ensure optimum performance, during use and when charging. Three ride modes are available; Sport, Tour or Eco. The Eco claims to be able to squeeze 100km out of the battery, while Sport will only take you 50km, but a lot faster!
As you can see the Swytch and Bultaco Albero tackle the eBike in totally different ways. While the Swytch allows you to quickly and cheaply adapt your current bike, the Albero is a fully featured Moto-Bike. With prices ranging from €3,300 to €4,700, the Albero is a serious outlay of money. If you’re a regular commuter looking to break free from your reliance on the car, or unreliable public transport, then both offer a way out.
While regular cyclists will question the need for an eBike, those with health/fitness problems might see these as a way forward. They can get away from using the car and the little pedalling they do will possibly help with their condition. And if your workplace doesn’t have a shower then perhaps turning up sweating like a mad thing is a bit of a minus point.
And let’s not forget eBikes aren’t just for commuters, they can also get you out and about on the weekend. I’ve seen spouses able to keep up with their fitter other half thanks to an eBike. And if you’re finding old age is slowing you down and stopping you from riding with the Sunday club run, I doubt anyone would begrudge you indulging in some electrical doping. You might even find they’re sitting on your wheel when the wind is in the wrong direction!
I hope to be able to compare the two systems soon and will let you know what I think. Initially I had thought that there was no way I would want an eBike, but I must admit the Swytch unit is appealing for one particular type of riding I do. The ride that I always wished I had a motor for is when dragging the trailer around. Whether it’s a couple of kids or bags of shopping, the 12% climb up to my house is a killer. Perhaps a little electric dopage is just what I need?