Installing a battery on his ordinary bicycle was more affordable than buying a new electric bike for Sam Roberts. But as he discovered, different types of conversion kit can lead to very different experiences.
I bought my conventional 2017 Diamondback DB Peak bicycle for a bargain price on eBay and used it extensively around the Downs and surrounding areas, opening my eyes to the joys of off-road riding. I’d also started cycling to work, managing to do the 16.7 mile journey almost entirely off-road. The problem was by the time I arrived, I didn’t really feel like working. Not to mention it added four hours of tough Downland riding to my day.
The Swytch kit
This led me to investigate e-bikes. However, the cost of something that could handle my commute was quite prohibitive for me. I then heard about a DIY e-bike conversion kit. Called Swytch, this was basically a motorised back wheel with a handlebar mounted battery, and simple pedal sensor. The installation was pretty easy, and I’m not particularly mechanically skilled. The initial ride on the road was great, smooth and worked well. I then gave it a go on the Downs, and zoomed up Kingston Ridge – again great.
The issues arrived when doing longer rides over rougher terrain. The rear wheel was extremely heavy, and often felt like it was going to skid out (and frequently did on looser steep sections), and alongside this the bar-mounted battery was almost as heavy, with a wholly inadequate mounting point which began shearing, causing it to bounce about and throw my weight off even more. I immediately decided to return the kit for a refund, and began looking for other solutions.
The Bafang kit
Driving past Mr Cycles in Seaford I noticed a poster advertising conversions for £800, so I parked up and got talking to the staff. I explained the type of riding I’d be doing, and they seemed confident in the kit’s abilities. This was a Bafang BBS01 250W mid-drive. I took a demo bike for a quick ride up on some Downland and although the torque wasn’t as powerful as the Swytch kit, it certainly made steep riding easier. More importantly the kit was mounted on the bottom bracket, with the more conventional downtube battery mounting, so it felt solid and stable.
I got the kit on the Cycle to Work scheme and had it installed, albeit with a couple of minor issues that Mr Cycles sorted out. Commute-wise, it wasn’t as fast as the Swytch kit, but it still shaved a good 30-45 mins off the journey each way. The bike felt fully balanced, and still nimble enough to play about on the descents.
The range of around 25 miles of intense Downs climbing in its higher setting meant I had to charge at work for the return trip – otherwise it came up a little short (which I found out riding back up to Ditchling Beacon from Pyecombe). The 3-level power probably works more for urban settings and you do have to ride mostly in level 3 to notice much assist on hills. I feel this could be solved slightly with more gear range or by buying an aftermarket smaller front chain-ring for the motor – a few are readily available and designed for the Bafang so should just be a straight swap.
So apart from commuting, what’s been my overall experience of having an electric bike? During winter months it’s been great for covering a good amount of ground in a smaller amount of time, making the most of dwindling light levels. I’ve also found myself exploring more, without the fear of making a mistake which may take me to a horrendous hill, or having to turn back up one.
I should also point out that between the Swytch and Bafang kits I managed to rupture my knee, and couldn’t put much power through my leg for a time. The Bafang kit was basically my sanity saver, allowing me to still keep up with my friends. In total, I’ve ridden over 600 miles through horrendous weather, mud, dust, chalk and sand and the bike hasn’t missed a beat.
To summarise, I’d strongly advise looking at bike conversion as an option. You may be getting a better spec’d base bike for less cost. It’s also fully reversible, or can be transferred to another bike. Just be aware that the torque may not be as good, it won’t look so integrated (although it’s not much different to the cheaper options), and you can probably only get the motor serviced by those with knowledge of the Bafang kits rather than the more widely available Bosch or Shimano.
1. SWYTCH 350W rear wheel conversion with handlebar battery bag:
- Good solution for urban cycling
- Easy home installation with minimal knowledge needed
- Powerful torque and 10 level assist settings
- Cheap cost online
- Uses original gearing ratios
- Unbalanced feel
- Heavy rear end
- Heavy front end
- Use on smoother surfaces only
- Not great customer service/long delivery times
2. Bafang BBS01 250W mid drive motor kit
- Local installation and good customer service (Mr Cycles, Seaford)
- Mid drive unit – feels balanced
- Solid construction and installation for off-road use
- 25-mile range
- Not overly powerful
- Low range of assist levels (level 1 redundant from start)
- Cable installation a bit messy
- Gearing may need updating