So far, the two e-bikes I’ve looked at on Ars have been targeting the high end: expensive components and a carefully thought-through riding experience. I looked at them because I thought their creators were trying to do interesting things with the e-bike format, especially compared to the commoditized bikes being offered on the low end.
But I realized that this was only giving me a partial perspective on the e-bike landscape; all I could really compare them with was high-end traditional bikes. So, I was intrigued when a company called SWFT got in touch about two models it was introducing, both at extremely competitive prices. I chose one in a hybrid format that should make it a great gravel bike, since there are a growing number of long-distance trails that require time on gravel.
The gravel bike thing didn’t work out, but I did get a very different e-bike experience, which means it at least ticks the “interesting” box.
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SWFT will sell you its bikes directly, but it has also partnered with Best Buy, which is offering it at a significant discount: $750 when we last checked prices. A handful of bikes sell for cheaper than that, but only a handful. To offer something at that sort of price, manufacturers have to leave no corner uncut. And that approach shows in nearly every aspect of the VOLT.
Many e-bike makers offer easy-to-remove batteries to simplify charging—you can just pop them out of the bike and carry them to wherever you keep the charger. Not an option for the VOLT, which has to be stored near an outlet to charge via a cable that connects directly to a socket on the frame. When not charging, that socket is covered by a rubber flap that, on my bike, tended to pop open while riding—it’s not clear if that would pose a problem in the rain.
Component makers (the companies that build the brakes and gears) tend to have groups of matched components of varying quality. (To give an example, Shimano offers Claris, Sora, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra, and Dura Ace in ascending order of quality and price.) Typically, you can just look at the label on the components of a bike and figure out roughly where you are in the hierarchy. The SWFT components have no label at all. I couldn’t even figure out who manufactured them.
The no-name hardware wasn’t always a problem. The brakes were easy to set up and worked flawlessly during all the rides I took, despite the bike’s rather impressive weight. By contrast, the assembly holding the seat to the post was something I hadn’t seen on a bike since I was in high school. It was difficult to adjust and challenging to tighten down securely enough that it didn’t shift when going over rough pavement.
The VOLT has a fairly typical hybrid layout. The steel frame is more robust than a typical road bike, but without the all-terrain niceties of a mountain bike. (It’s also one-size-fits-all—or, in the case of someone over six feet tall, doesn’t quite fit all.) The wheels and tires were partway in between these two extremes as well, and the handlebars are straight, with grips and brakes at the end. The ride was about what you’d expect: deep ruts in the pavement could still give you a jolt, but the VOLT soaked up most rough roads without jarring its rider.
But of course, the main point of the VOLT is the “e” side of the e-bike equation.