Road Bike Conversion | Mountain Bike Conversion
Our Swytch journey continues….
We recently purchased a couple of Mountain Bikes, to replace our old ‘camping bikes’. The old bikes were 26″ ‘roughies’. Our new bikes are a Giant Talon 29″ (1 x 10 gears) and a Liv Tempt 29″ (1 x 10 gears).
These bikes are very much entry level bikes in the big MTB scheme of things, but ideal for our purpose – which isn’t single track downhill MTB racing, but rather more relaxed rail trail riding on gravel tracks, fire trails, etc. The only non-base options we included in the purchase was the 1×10 gears.
When a couple of unused Swytch kit bargains came up, we couldn’t help ourselves…
See also: Kiama Bicycle Users Group >>>
After a year of riding our road bikes fitted with Swytch e-conversion kits, we were fortunate to come across a couple of Gen 3 MAX Swytch kits that were being sold by people who had purchased them, but then had a change of heart about their projects – one on eBay, the other on Marketplace.
We purchased our original Swytch kits for our road bikes for $1500 AUD each. We purchased the latest kits for our off-road bikes for $900 and $480. Both kits were complete, with MAX batteries. The $900 kit included an OLED display and thumb throttle. The cheaper kit included only a basic display, so we purchased an OLED display and thumb throttle for $170, bringing the total kit cost to $650. Both kits included matte black wheels and were unused.
So the two Swytch kits for our off-road bikes set us back about the cost of one new kit for our road bikes.
Taking the e-Plunge
You can read all the details of our various considerations and some alternative e-Bike options on our Swytch conversion intro page. The information below relates to our more recent Swytch installations on our mountain bikes, and discusses and compares these recent installations with our previous Swytch conversion experiences – mostly good!
Ordering and delivery
As mentioned above, we purchased the Swytch kits for our mountain bikes through eBay and Marketplace. However, at the same time a friend (inspired by our enthusiasm!) purchased a new kit from Swytch, and the ordering timeline was a vast improvement on our experience a year earlier….
- 21st January – Registered her interest on the Swytch waitlist.
- 22nd January – Ordered her kit and made a deposit payment on the basic kit.
- 24th January – Confirmed her order, finalised her customisations (OLED control display, matte black wheel, an additional battery) and made the balance payment.
- 31st January – Kit was dispatched from a warehouse in Sydney
- 5th February – Kit arrived at her front door.
That’s two weeks from the initial order to delivery. Well done Swytch!
There are five parts to our Swytch kits:
- Front wheel with hub motor (250W, 40Nm);
- Battery & handlebar mount (MAX battery: 180Wh, 5Ah);
- Control display module (OLED);
- Magnetic crank disc and pedal sensor;
- Handlebar thumb throttle (optional).
Following our our previous experience with our road bikes, we had no expectations that the installation procedure would be the simple “1 – 2 – 3” jaunt as suggested in the Swytch promotional video. And we were correct, even though these bikes had tubular alloy frames!
Front wheel & hub motor installation
The Swytch hub motor is supplied pre-installed on a wheel to suit your bike. When ordering your Swytch kit you specify the size of the wheel, and the colour – silver or matte black (extra cost for the black finish).
Our bikes were originally fitted with quick-release spindle axles. The Swytch wheels with the motor fitted have a solid axle shaft, held to the forks with hexagonal nuts (17mm spanner required). The Swytch wheels are fitted with 12G spokes, whereas our original wheels were fitted with lighter 14G spokes. (If you are considering fitting a Swytch motor to your own wheel, your wheel will require 36 spoke holes.)
Important note: The Swytch motor wheel requires 100mm space between forks, and is not compatible with thru axles – more info >>>
The Swytch motor axle is 10mm across the flats, designed to fit into 10mm drop slots in the forks. On both our mountain bikes the axle flats required filing to fit into the drop slots.
The axle has to be a precise fit in the drop slots, but still able to be easily removed when on the road, in case of a flat tyre. After filing, we spray-painted the filed flats with a good quality protective primer paint, to discourage premature corrosion.
We also filed the ends of the small protrusions on the torque washers so they fitted neatly in the 9mm drop slots.
Note 1: The Swytch manual specifically states to not file the axle to get it to fit in the drop slots, but to contact Swytch support if faced with this issue. From our previous experience with our road bike installations, we bypassed the support call and filed the axles as per the video below…
Note 2: We haven’t fitted torque arms to our forks – steel supports designed to resist the torque from the motor damaging the drop slots. We are still assessing the need for this, though with the relatively low-power Swytch motor (250W / 40Nm) and our use of only the low levels of e-Boost we don’t feel it is an urgent need.
The fitting of the battery mount on our flat handlebars was straightforward. The mount sits far enough off the handlebar that it is clear of the brake handles, hydraulic brake lines, and gear cables. The bike can still be upended and rested on the handlebar if required.
The battery mount also contains the electronics that control and regulate the power going to the motor from the battery and boost control settings, along with monitoring activation signals from the pedal assist mechanism.
The mount does consume a little handlebar real estate in the centre of the bar, but we can still comfortably accommodate lights, bell, Garmin computer, thumb throttle and the Swytch OLED display.
While some of the Swytch kit components appear to be re-branded products similar to e-Bike conversion components available from other suppliers, the slimline battery and battery mount appear to be unique to Swytch.
The handlebar-mounted battery was one of the Swytch attractions for us – preferable to a larger frame-mounted ‘bottle-battery’. An alternative seat post mount is also available.
Swytch claim a range of 15 kms for the smaller and lighter Air battery, and 30 kms for the larger MAX battery, though I have not been able to find any measurement criteria for how Swytch calculate this range, other than that they use the ‘default’ settings – whatever they are.
As we have discovered through our test rides, the range of the MAX battery is much greater than 30 kms if the battery is used as we plan to use it – as a temporary ‘boost’ rather than for permanent power. (See test ride info below.)
I expect that if you were riding with constant assistance on, say, Level 2, your range might be around 25 – 30 km.
Because we now have extra batteries (shared with our road bikes) we can carry ‘spare’ range-extender batteries in our gear bags on the MTB luggage racks.
Control Display Module
We installed Swytch OLED control display units (highly recommended) – these are a vast improvement over the basic unit. The Swytch OLED control display module appears to be a rebranded Bafang SW-102 display.
The OLED display has a high contrast 33mm screen (diagonal) that is clearly visible in all conditions. It has a tempered glass screen and is fully waterproof with an IP65 rating.
The unit includes a speed display, with up/down touch buttons for five levels of assist, (plus a zero-assist level), as well as a trip odometer, trip time, average speed, and maximum speed (via the Menu button). The display can be reset for each new trip, but also maintains a cumulative tally of total distance travelled.
Various basic calibration settings can be changed here too, including wheel size and maximum boost speed. Definitely worth the extra $99 (USD).
See also: Standard LED display vs optional OLED display (Video)
Not something we had ever planned on installing, but the kit we purchased through eBay included a throttle, so we installed it to test it out.
Turns out that the throttle is pretty good – not for cruising without pedaling, but to get a start on an incline. Very handy to get going, especially on soft, wet or muddy ground. So handy that we bought another one for the second MTB!
The Swytch throttle doesn’t utilise an opening clamp mechanism, but rather must be slid onto the handlebar, requiring the removal of a handlebar grip, brake and gear levers. It does require space on the handlebar, to be able to co-exist with the gear/brake levers – OK on our MTBs with longer bars, but wouldn’t be able to be easily fitted to the smaller bars on our road bikes.
The injection of silicone spray under the rubber grips (aided with skinny screwdrivers to prise open some gaps to inject the silicone spray) will assist in easing tight-fitting friction grips off the handlebar tube.
We also removed the brake and gear levers to fit the throttle on the inside of these levers on the handlebar.
Magnetic Disc and Pedal Sensor
Even with our previous experience installing the sensor snd disk on our road bikes, this was still the most time-consuming part of the installation. The mountain bikes have alloy tube frames, which means that all the frame walls are parallel – a little easier to work with than the moulded carbon frames on our road bikes, but still fiddly to get just right…
There are three parts to this puzzle….
- Fitting the rotating magnetic ring on the crank;
- Fitting the fixed pedal sensor on the frame;
- Getting the above two components perfectly aligned!
The Universal Magnetic Disc
The circular magnetic disc contains 12 magnets and fits onto, and rotates with, the crank. There are multiple options for fitting the disc to the crank – all depend on the circular disc being concentric with the crankshaft.
The only way we could get this disc to fit and rotate concentrically with the crankshaft on our bikes was to use the optional brush inserts. There was a small step in the crankshaft moulding that provided an opportunity to fit the rotating disc at an appropriate distance from the frame – but this required a modification of the brush inserts to fit the diameter of that step. (More info below.)
After fitting the disc, we rotated the crank slowly by hand, checking the alignment of the disc by eye to ensure ‘parallel’ and vertically-aligned rotation – and then siliconed and cable-tied the disc and arm to the crank to hold it permanently in place.
Note: The Swytch manual suggests EITHER fitting the disc brush insert, OR strapping the disc arm to the crank. We found it necessary to use both the brush inserts AND the disc arm strapped to the crank to reliably maintain concentric rotation of the disc in the vertical plane.
The Pedal Sensor
The pedal sensor fits on the frame adjacent to the crank, detecting pedal rotation as the magnets on the disc pass by the sensor.
After our previous experience fitting Swytch kits to moulded carbon-framed bikes, I was expecting a smoother experience on these alloy tubular-framed bikes – partly true, but still plenty of fiddling!
There wasn’t enough space to fit the sensor between the frame and the disc for a simple out-of-the-box installation – both bikes are Giant brand with tubular alloy frames.
We ended up removing the sensor’s pivoting mounting mechanism and the associated ‘ears’ that hold the mounting plate, and fitted the sensor unit directly to the frame (with silicone and cable-ties) to attain the correct position in relation to the rotating disc, as shown in the pics below….
Aligning the Sensor and Magnetic Disc
This is where you will need to put your engineer’s hat on – every bike is a little different, and will require some thinking as to how best to fit the sensor and the magnetic disc.
Both our bikes have a small step in the crank, where it fits on the crankshaft. We made use of this step – it was an ideal mounting point for the magnetic disc. However, to make it a snug fit, we used the supplied (optional) brushes, but with those brushes cut and filed to fit neatly on the step in the crank moulding.
With the modified brushes fitted, the magnetic disc was a snug fit on the crank arm, secured with silcone where it directly fitted on the step in the crank, as well as more silicone and cable ties to secure the flexible disc arm to the crank arm. (Use a plastic builder’s wedge to hold the disc in place until the silicone sets.)
Note: Be sure to fit the magnetic disc as explained in the manual – with the face labeled ‘working surface’ facing towards the frame.
Fitting the sensor is another fiddly operation. As supplied, it was too big to fit in the gap between the frame and the rotating disc. As suggested in the Swytch manual, we removed the sensor’s pivot, and trimmed the ears that hold that mechanism.
(Viewed from below the frame)
We fitted the modified sensor to the frame with silicone and cable ties – a fiddly operation, as the sensor will slide around on the tubular frame until the silicone sets. This takes some juggling of the position of the cable ties to hold the sensor in the correct location, with the sensor aligned parallel with (and 3mm away from) the rotating disc. (Keep a clean cloth handy to continually clean your hands or you will quickly end up with silicone on everything you touch!)
In a nutshell, there really is no easy or generic one-size-fits-all guide to the sensor mounting and alignment process – I expect the specific mounting details will be a little different for every bike.
The bottom line is to ensure the magnetic disc is rotating smoothly and concentrically, without any non-parallel ‘wobble’, and to mount the pedal sensor so that the red LED on the sensor illuminates as each magnet on the disc passes by. (This may take some tweaking, depending on the geometry of your frame.)
Check the Swytch instructions and video and take it from there, modifying the procedure to suit your bike. Just don’t expect this to be a 5 minute job though!
Once it is all aligned and tested, everything is held in place by silicone and cable ties, to ensure no further movement. (I expect it would only take a small mis-alignment of this sensor mechanism for the whole show to stop working.)
Making the Right Connections
All the electrical components – motor, pedal sensor, throttle and control display module – are connected to the battery mount bracket with cables that are terminated with neat colour-coded plugs. The plugs are a quality fit, and I expect they will be dust and water-proof.
Make sure you line up the arrows on each part of the plug, and that they are pushed together tightly – so you can’t see any of the inner coloured plastic.
Secure all the cables to the frame (or to other cables) with cable ties.
Given that we will be using these bikes for extended trail rides, rather than more typical mountain-biking, we have added a couple of extras…..
Handlebar grips and hand rests – We have handlebar extension angle grips on our road bikes, and they are excellent for longer rides – being able to change grip position is a great option to have available to reduce wrist and palm fatigue. With this experience, we have also fitted similar grips to our mountain bikes.
There are a number of different brands and options available. We have fitted Ergon 3 grips on one bike, and Giant Ergo grips on the other. Both have adjustable bar-end angle rests.
Multi-terrain tyres – The original tyres fitted to our bikes were Kenda Booster MTB tyres, with a fairly generic knobbly tread design for off-road and rough track riding.
Given that the surfaces we are most likely to be riding on will be a mix of semi-paved, paved and compact / loose gravel surfaces, we have swapped the original Kenda Booster tyres for Schwalbe Hurricane multi-terrain tyres. I expect the Hurricane tyres will provide better contact on wet and slippery paved surfaces, while still being suitable for off-road gravel use. (Initial impressions are that the Hurricanes roll noticeably better than the Boosters too.)
Valve hole adaptors – The Swytch rims have a hole drilled to accommodate a tube with a Schrader valve. We use tubes fitted with a Presta valve, which has a smaller diameter than the hole in the Swytch rim.
We fitted these valve hole adapters (pictured on the right) to create a neat fit for the Presto valves in the Swytch rims.
There is enough space in the MTX trunk bag for all our gear – repair kit, tools, jacket, and a spare battery!
Check topeak.com, or your local bike shop or e-bay, etc.
There are a number of heavy-duty carrier options available, but these look like a good thing…
On the trail
With the installation saga behind us, and our butts in the saddle, the Swytch on-trail experience is excellent.
We have five levels of boost, but we generally set the boost to Level 0, riding the bike as a regular bike as much as possible. Compared to our road bikes (which also have Swytch kits fitted) we probably use Level 1 and Level 2 a little more often – the mountain bikes are heavier and we have encountered more sharp pinches and more rolling resistance on trails than we might see on our road journeys.
As we approach a hill we can click up to Level 1 to start the motor – it only takes a turn or two of the crank for the motor to kick in – and it only engages while we are pedaling. Because it takes a turn or two of the crank for the motor to kick in, this system probably wouldn’t be great on a more technical mountain track.
We have fitted a thumb-operated throttle to the mountain bikes, but at this stage we only use this for some assistance if starting on an incline, or if we need an instant boost on wet/muddy grass. (The throttle boost kicks in instantly, and doesn’t require the pedals to turn.)
The Swytch kit has added around 3 kg to the weight of each bike (wheel, motor, battery). The Swytch wheel hub doesn’t spin quite as freely as our original front wheels, but the rolling impact is minimal – not noticeable when riding. For all intents and purposes, with the Swytch display turned on and set to Level 0 the bikes ride just as they did pre-Swytch. If there was an electrical failure, flat battery, etc, we could continue to ride the bikes as regular, non-powered mountain bikes.
While the battery-powered boost can obviously be of great assistance on a hill, we still prefer to put some effort into our propulsion, rarely clicking the boost above Level 1 or (occasionally) Level 2. That provides more than enough assistance for most of our rides.
One important tip for new e-Bike riders: Use your gears – the battery and motor are not gear substitutes. If you are riding up a hill with battery boost it is easy to forget that you would have normally clicked down a gear or three for that climb.
Remember, gears make it easier to ride up hills, even with the motor providing an added boost to the regular level of pedaling effort. We try to ride in the gear that we would normally use for an incline (maybe a gear or two higher) – any battery boost on top of that is a bonus.
Better for the bike, better for you, and probably better for battery life.
Still early days for our MTB Swytch conversions, but we have had zero issues with the reliability of the Swytch kits on our road bikes.
It has always been a concern that the pedal assist sensor (PAS) is very alignment-sensitive, so when installing the kits on both our road bikes and mountain bikes we ensured that the PAS installation was as robust as we could make it – plenty of silicone and cable-ties to hold everything in place.
So far, so good! I was heartened to see a photo posted by a fellow Swytch user on a Facebook group, indicating that everything kept operating even when covered in mud (photo credit Rennie Dickins)….
Swytch claim the MAX battery has a 30km range, when using the ‘default’ settings – whatever those default settings might be!
It is clear from our experience so far that if using the battery the way we are planning on using it we will get a much better range than that – maybe 50 – 60kms (or more) if not going too crazy with the battery. Obviously, if you leave the boost at Level 2 or 3 for the whole journey the range won’t be as great – maybe 20 to 30 kms under permanently-on conditions.
Here is a quick summary of our first few MTB rides (coming soon – March 2024)….
Test Ride 1 (Rail Trail) – Shelley to Tallangatta (46 km)
Test Ride 2 (Rail Trail) – Ebden to Albury Wetlands (65 km ret)
Test Ride 3 (Rail Trail) – Lake Hume Dam to Tallangatta (62 km ret)
Test Ride 4 (Sand track) – Gerroa to Shoalhaven Heads (30 km ret)
Test Ride 5 (Fire access trail) – Gerringong Falls
More local rides: Kiama Bicycle Users Group >>>
We are very happy with the riding experience provided by our Swytch conversion kits.
We now have e-Boost assistance when we need it – on long climbs and when pedaling into a constant headwind. (Or even just at the end of the day when we are tired.) But most importantly, we are still using our own pedaling energy most of the time.
The Swytch conversion provides battery assistance with only a minimal weight penalty. The original front wheels on our mountain bikes (with tyre and tube fitted) weighed 2.7 kg. The Swytch wheels (including motor, with tyre and tube fitted) weigh 4.4 kg, an increase of 1.7 kg. The MAX battery weighs 1.2kg, plus we now also carry a small shifting spanner in our tool kit to remove the nuts securing the front wheel axle to the forks. So an overall increase in weight of around 3 kg. (This is slightly less than the increase in the weight of our road bikes, due to the original wheels being heavier on our MTBs.)
Our bikes now each weigh in at 19.5 kg, fully fitted out with luggage racks, etc. However, this is still considerably lighter than a dedicated 24 kg e-MTB (plus racks, and other accessories). When loading the bikes on our car rack we remove the batteries, which is very simple to do (one click) and that saves us another 2.4kg on the rack load. And we can still lift the bikes up onto the rack, which is at head level on our van. (Though we are now pushing the weight limit of our door mounted rack, with the heavier MTB alloy frames.)
Range anxiety is always an issue with anything that is battery powered – so far it hasn’t been an issue for us. Our experience over the past 6 months on our road bikes suggests we will have a range in excess of 50 kms from the MAX battery, given the rides we generally do, and our use of the battery only when required. (Memo to self – don’t be lazy!)
With our road bikes now sitting idle in the garage at home when we are out on the MTBs, we now have ‘spare’ range-extender batteries to take with us when out on mountain bike expeditions. (The test rides above will be updated after our Easter expeditions.)
From a final-use, on-the-trail perspective – definitely recommended ….. if you have the time, the know-how and the interest to go down the DIY path, and are prepared to deal with installation issues that may be unique to your particular bike.
As noted above, we would also recommend adding an OLED display to your order, and possibly an extra battery if you might use your bike for extended touring. We have also found the thumb throttle too be very useful on the MTBs when starting on an incline, or in heavy/wet/muddy conditions.
For our planned MTB use, the Swytch e-Bike conversion kit has ticked all our boxes. It can be used as a temporary ‘boost’ when required, has a good battery range for our needs, and adds only 3 kg to the weight of our bikes. But keep in mind, we only use the motor when we need it. If you are likely to be using the battery all the time, then maybe consider alternatives with a larger (and heavier) battery.
On the various discussion forums Swytch cop a bit of a blast regarding their poor turnaround time for responding to support calls.
This has obviously changed, even since our last experience with them in late 2022. From our most recent experience (2024)….
- Communication, pre-delivery: 10/10
- Shipping and delivery: 10/10
- Communication & support, post-delivery: n/a (yet)
- Installation: 7/10
- Performance of Swytch kit on bike: 9/10
If you would rather skip the DIY route and purchase a good quality, ready-made e-MTB there are plenty of options from the usual manufacturers – Giant, Merida, Focus, Specialized, etc.
Good quality, brand-name e-MTBs kick off from around $3500.
So, is it worth going down the DIY path?
Maybe – if you want a good quality e-bike at an affordable price. Our bikes are new Giant bikes with quality brakes and gears. We purchased ‘last year’s model’ bikes at warehouse clearance prices ($800 and $1000). We then spent $900 and $650 respectively adding the Swytch kits (purchased through Marketplace and eBay). So around $1700 each for new, good quality MTBs with e-Assist. Had we paid retail prices for the bikes ($1300 each) and the Swytch kits ($1500 each), we would be up around $2800, which is still below the retail price of a new e-MTB – but only just!
If you are looking for a budget ready-made e-bike, Leitner offer a range of budget e-Bikes, with a variety of frame configurations, including an off-road ‘fat bike”. The TDR MTB might be a budget option if you are looking for an ‘off-road’ alternative with a more powerful motor. Plenty of options available here for around $1500, ready to go.
Keep in mind that a cheap bike, with cheap cycling components will always be a cheap bike, regardless of how carried away you get with the e-specs. I expect that there is a huge difference in cycling component quality between a $4000 Giant Talon E bike and a $1000 TDR MTB. Buying a bike from a dedicated cycling retailer also provides a level of service and support that may not be available from a chain store or online retailer.
If you are looking for a bike for touring or regular commuting then a bike with good quality components will be a far better long-term option.
Hence the idea of adding an e-option to your current bike, if you have a good quality bike. But if you are after a knock-about e-bike for camping holidays or quick trips to the shops, then the $1000 TDR MTB or the $1500 Leitner e-bikes are both worth a look, considering that an e-conversion kit would probably cost more than the fully-fitted Leitner bike! (Read the full specs and reviews for a clearer picture though – you get what you pay for.)
Horses for courses.
Other DIY Options
If you are investigating other DIY options to upgrade your current bike….
The Dillenger 250W kit is based on a similar front hub setup to the Swytch kit, but with a larger, frame-mounted battery. This battery setup was a negative for us, but might be a plus if you are after a longer battery range. Dillenger also have 500W, 750W and even 1500W off-road kits, with up to a 60 kmh top speed!
The Boost DIY kit might also be worth some investigation if you prefer a rear wheel hub. It doesn’t have a fiddly-to-fit pedal sensor, and has a frame-mounted bottle-style battery, with the the on/off controls on the battery and boost levels controlled through a phone app rather than a dedicated handlebar display.
The SmartBikeWheel is an interesting concept, incorporating the battery, motor and all the associated electronics into the front wheel hub. No wires on your frame – just take your old wheel off, and fit your new motorised wheel in its place. The motor is controlled by an app on your phone. A regular front hub option, similar to the Swytch kit, is also available with a handlebar display, bottle battery, etc