There's a lot to be said for simplicity, but the world of electric bikes is probably not the place to find it. We’ve taken a fairly straightforward machine that wouldn’t have been out of place in The Flintstones, and added gears, derailleurs, disc brakes, electric motors, Bluetooth and LCD screens. There's loads to go wrong, and you have to spend an hour setting up before you ride it.
So to find a bike that’s actually quite simple is refreshing. There's no screen on the Swifty AT656, just a box that changes the level of electrical assist. Assuming the tyres are pumped up and it’s charged, you can just hop on and ride off. This does mean, however, that you’re never quite sure how fast you’re going, or how much mileage you’ve got left in the battery - things we did perfectly well without during the pre-ebike dark ages.
The AT656 is an e-mountainbike, but unlike others in the sector doesn’t have fashionably wide handlebars. It doesn’t have panniers, mudguards, or anything fancy like that. What it does have are classic mountain bike looks, a stand, a shaped top tube that looks like it might have special aerodynamic properties (it doesn’t) and a thick battery-containing down tube that provides plenty of space for a logo. It’s stripped back, efficient, cheap.
Yes, cheap. You’re looking at less than £800 for this e-MTB, which isn’t a bad deal at all. It’s an aluminium frame with a seven-speed Shimano cassette, a twist-grip gear shift and the motor in the rear hub, so we’re not looking at particularly refined engineering or expensive parts here - though the bike is notable for its 120kg max load, allowing those from the less willowy sections of society to ride without worrying they’re going to snap something.
And you know what? It works. You really can hop on and ride off and enjoy all the benefits of an e-bike without paying the price of a small car. For 30 miles at least. The distance the Swifty can cover between charges isn’t the greatest, but at least the battery is removable for charging, so you can swap in a spare if you get too far from home... or at least you could if they were available. Swifty doesn’t seem to have much of a presence in the UK, so acquiring spare parts or replacement batteries might be a problem.
The saddle is a bit firm, but not excessively so, and the presence of a quick release makes it easy to adjust. It’s a comfortable ride, the front suspension evening out the roads and the disc brakes making sure you come to a halt safely. The tyres supplied on our review model are bobbly, but perhaps better suited to solid surfaces than anything loose. That’s something that’s relatively straightforward to replace, however, and the example set by the tyres is indicative of the bike as a whole - more of an all-terrain hybrid than a serious mountain bike.
As we took the bike around the roads and byways, there was a moment of revelation. At first, the lack of a speedo and range counter was keenly felt - over the years since giving up acoustic bikes we’ve become accustomed to the LCD. Being without one gives a feeling of loss akin to realising you’ve left your phone at home when it doesn’t really matter - the realisation that you can’t check the cricket score or doomscroll through social media until the nihilism makes you cry, rather than the dread of not being able to call loved ones in an emergency. It soon passes, however, to be replaced with a feeling that perhaps knowing exactly how much longer you can keep going is holding you back. You’ll find out when you hit 15.5mph as the motor cuts out, and it’s an easy bike to ride with the motor turned off, so you can always save the power for the difficult bits - or the slog back home - if you want to.
The Swifty AT656 would make a good first e-bike; the sort of thing you’d buy to dip a toe into the wonderful world of whirring electric motors - but beware. The warranty is supplied by Amazon, which seems to be the only place you can buy the bike. If you need spare parts, there's little customer service available - something attested to by reviews on the well-known shopping site itself.
If you’re capable of fixing a busted spoke or replacing parts yourself, or you can take it to a shop that can, then as with most bikes, that’s part of ownership. But electronics failures or dud batteries within the warranty period - which do happen - are going to be a different matter. Buying an e-bike, or any expensive purchase, shouldn’t be a lottery, and this after-sales service is something you should bear in mind when buying what is, otherwise, a solid budget bike.
Swifty on amazon.co.uk