Swagtron EB12 electric bike review: The bare necessities
“Swagtron's EB12 pushes affordable ebikes to a new frontier.”
- Attractive, classic style
- 7-speed drivetrain
- Easy to maneuver
- Lacks disc brakes
- Low price means budget build quality
- Skinny tires
Here’s the Swagtron EB12’s elevator pitch. It’s $1,000, and you can buy it now from select Best Buy stores.
That’s a good pitch. A grand isn’t much for an electric bike. You can find less expensive options online, but they’re not available in stores. Swagtron’s partnership with Best Buy offers the chance to see the bike before you buy it. You can also buy the bike online at Swagtron’s website.
That may or may not work in Swagtron’s favor. The EB12’s design received mixed reviews in the Digital Trends office. Several staffers (myself included) liked its classic profile and blackout paintjob. Others thought it looked too generic and wore its price on its sleeve.
The signs of cost-cutting are obvious on close inspection. All cables are routed externally. The thin wheels and tires lack any brand identifier. The cast metal pedals wouldn’t look out of place on a bike three decades old.
My biggest gripe is the metal box that sits below the bottom bracket and contains some electronics. It’s a vulnerable place to store sensitive hardware, and while bike is rated IPX4 water resistant, or “splashproof,” I’m skeptical it would hold up in wet weather. It’d also take a beating if you mistakenly rode over a steep curb.
Despite these nitpicks, the Swagtron EB12 gave us no trouble in our tests. It worked exactly as it should. That might seem faint praise, but hey. It’s $1,000. Swagtron makes sacrifices to hit that price, but those sacrifices didn’t create problems on the road.
Just enough power
A 250-watt rear hub motor connected to a 7-speed drivetrain propels the Swagtron to its top speed of 16 miles per hour, obtainable with pedal assist or throttle alone. That’s not a lot of power. You won’t have trouble in the flats, but modest hills can slow your swagger.
You won’t have trouble in the flats, but modest hills can slow your swagger.
The meager motor is no doubt responsible for the Swagtron EB12’s low top speed. The Pedego City Commuter Lite can hit 20 miles per hour, while the Propella 3.0 maxes out at 18 miles per hour. Clearly, the EB12 won’t win a race.
That’s perhaps for the best, because the Swagtron EB12 comes with rim brakes instead of discs, a telltale sign of the cost-cutting necessary to sell an electric bike for $1,000. Most electric bikes, and most conventional bikes sold for $1,000 or more, have discs. The rim brakes grab fine but lack the secure feel of disc brakes, and will be less effective when wet.
Swagtron promises the EB12 can cruise for 28 miles, and that figure proved accurate. Range is always subject to conditions like temperature and elevation, but most of our rides were short commutes under five miles each way. The bike could handle several days before needing a charge. The EB12’s range is on the low end for an electric bike, but not unusual for the price point. Propella’s 3.0 lists similar range.
There’s a silver lining to the range: a small battery. Small batteries weigh less than big ones, which keeps the bike’s total weight just under 40 pounds. Propella’s bike is lighter, but most alternatives are heavier, often significantly so. Ecotric’s cut-rate fat tire bike is 58 pounds, Pedego’s City Commuter Lite is 55 pounds, and Schwinn’s Monroe 250 is 42 pounds. You’ll love its lack of heft if you ever need to haul the EB12 up a flight of stairs.
Swagtron advertises the EB12 as a city bike. Most people will just call it a bike. Its flat handlebars, semi-upright position, and thin 25c tires won’t turn heads. In truth, bikes commonly sold at bike shops today don’t look like this. The Swagtron’s style is, if anything, a bit retro.
That makes the Swagtron EB12 an easy bike to ride. Its controls are simple, and it encourages a mostly upright position that keeps your head up and focused on traffic. The frame felt solid, offering good control over bumps with minimal chatter and dampened vibration.
The EB12’s thin tires are the biggest obstacle to total comfort. Bikes have veered towards fatter tires in recent years. Riders prefer their comfort and confidence over bumpy surfaces. Most electric bikes offer thicker tires than the Swagtron. The Propella 3.0 has 32c tires, as does Schwinn’s Monroe line.
It’s not fast, but it is agile, and that fits the city bike theme.
Still, the ride is pleasant enough even on broken pavement, and the bike tracks well. It’s not fast, but it is agile, and that fits the city bike theme. This is a bike you can confidently weave between pedestrians or thread through a narrow side-street.
The Swagtron EB12 isn’t a great electric bike, but it does the job for significantly less than you’d normally expect to pay. If you need an ebike for a daily commute, you should fork out the extra $500 to $1,000 to buy a model with better equipment. However, the EB12 is a solid pick if you only take a few short trips each week.
Are there better alternatives?
Propella’s 3.0 is an excellent option. Our own Kraig Becker loved the Propella 2.2, and the newer 3.0 model is the same electric bike with a few tweaks. The Propella 3.0 is lighter, more attractive, and has disc brakes. The catch? The $1,000 model is single-speed. The 7-speed model is a $300 upgrade.
You can find more affordable bikes on Amazon from brands like Ecotric and Ancheer. The prices go as low as $600 for a full-size bike. Those bikes tend to be heavy, however, and often have flaws you might not notice until you own them. The $625 Ancheer quotes a range of only 25 to 50 kilometers. That works out to between 15 and 31 miles.
Our guide to the best electric bikes offers more recommendations.
How long will it last?
The Swagtron EB12 is a simple ebike that should be easy to maintain. It could last 10 years or more if treated well. I do worry about the electronics box under the bottom bracket. Jumping the wrong curb could damage it, and I doubt repairs would be easy.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Swagtron EB12 pushes the frontiers of ebike affordability, offering a full-featured electric bike that’s easy to ride for just $1,000.
- Vanmoof S3 review: Affordable electric style
- Canyon Grail:ON review: Rule roads and turn heads
- The best exercise bikes of August 2020
- 2020 Volkswagen ID.3 first drive: The iCar Apple Didn’t Build
- The best bike racks for your car