this thing's incredible

I’ve Been Zipping All Around Ithaca on This (Relatively) Cheap Folding E-bike

Photo: Swagtron

Earlier this year, I woke up one morning with a vision of myself wearing a flimsy summer dress and zipping around town on a Vespa. But Vespas, it turns out, are expensive, and my visions, I’ve learned, tend to be short-lived. So I did a bit of research and settled on a new one: zipping around town on a folding electric bike instead.

I texted a dear friend who is an avid biker and asked for her opinion. She told me a good starter folding e-bike should be somewhere in the $1,000–$1,500 range. “Makes sense,” I texted her back. “Absolutely not,” I said to myself. I did a little bit more research, read some reviews, and clicked on a model from a brand called Swagtron. The sheer absurdity of the name lured me in, but the price — well under $1,000 — convinced me to order it.

The bike arrived folded, as one would expect. It was about the size of a piece of luggage you might try to carry onto an airplane but will almost certainly have to check. It also required a charge, which was as simple as charging a laptop — I literally plugged the bike into a wall and set my alarm because the instructions warn never to charge it for more than five hours. Exactly five hours later, I unplugged it and off I went, wobbling a little at first. But it didn’t take long before it felt just like riding a bike. The electric part is simple: Using a switch on the frame, you can power it on and twist the handle or simply pedal to accelerate; powered off, it functions like a basic, gearless bicycle. When it’s charged, I can go up and down hills and not arrive at my destination looking as though I’ve gone through a car wash. On flat ground, with a full battery, I zoomed past a speed radar and clocked 18 miles per hour.

The author on her foldable Swagtron e-bike. Photo: Courtesy of Diksha Basu

As I (kind of) envisioned, the bike is proving perfect for zipping around town. I’m currently living in Ithaca, New York, and it has been more than capable for pleasure rides, commuting to coffee dates, biking down to the public library to do some work out of the house, and, of course, riding to the gorges and to go swimming. I even went to the farmers’ market and rode back with some beautiful purple lilacs in it, like some kind of romantic movie character who wears quirky pajamas and knits at night while watching television. It’s not exactly a sexy ride — the bike’s small wheels make me feel as though I ought to buy a pair of oversize red clown shoes to go with it. But it’s great fun. I’ve been using it every day and I haven’t had to charge it more than once a week.

The New York Times claims e-bikes count as fitness. I’m skeptical, but I suppose I’m using some basic core muscles to maintain my balance. The real exercise, in my experience, comes not from riding but huffing and puffing as I fold the nearly 70-pound bike down and load it in and out of the trunk of my Jeep. Recently, the charge ran out at the base of a steep hill. I contemplated calling my husband to come and collect me and the bike, but instead I bravely pedaled it all the way back, avoiding eye contact with sympathetic passersby in air-conditioned vehicles. It was an excruciating workout, but I slept well that night.

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I’ve Been Zipping Around Ithaca on This Cheap Folding E-bike