Schwinn Tailwind review

I bought this bike on closeout for $700. There aren’t a lot of recent reviews online so maybe this will help someone out. I have some ebike experience, having the wonderful Giant Lite electric (the best pedal activation I’ve ever ridden), which is now on its last legs after 7 years, and a Volae recumbent with a front hub 400-watt motor by eZee (see ebikes.ca) — my muscle car (I know, not so powerful by some standards, but I like to pedal and get some exercise). I use a comfort-style bike like the Giant and Schwinn for short trips, hauling a Burley trailer, getting groceries, and occasionally loading up my plein air painting supplies.

My first overall thoughts… are somewhat mixed.  For what it is, it has some definite good points. The Euro approach to accessories is kind of cool, and it is comfortable and workable for town trips under 10 miles or so. On the other hand, the proprietary 24 volt, 4.2 ah battery has quite a short range for a battery these days, and watching battery levels is annoying but necessary. The fast charging time is nice, but only a partial fix for the range problem. The power levels from the small motor are adequate for my town trips, but the pedal activation is badly implemented (more below).  I think it was way too expensive at the original $3200. However, at $700 it’s a different story. My hope is to get use out of it as is for a year or two, and then perhaps replace the controller and battery and motor with a setup from ebikes.ca.

In no particular order:

1. The Basta Defender lock is simple – you insert the key and use a lever on the other side to drop a curved bar through the spokes. For about $50, there is an attachment available to insert a chain into it (search chain or cable on cantitoerroad.com), but you can use your own cable or chain with one end inserted through the curved bar. This makes the setup useful at stores and libraries and longer stops. Without that I would only trust it for a few minutes, maybe running into a convenience store to get a drink. This lock has turned out to be a nice feature.

2. The M dynamo light is a sidewall roller type. It is the 6-volt model, not the 12. These are stocked by http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/dymotec.asp . but upgrading to 12 would be pretty expensive. For an occasional ride home at night it is okay, and includes both front and rear lights. It definitely makes you visible, and you can see potholes to a reasonable degree, but the light is kind of patchy and certainly doesnt’t compare to current bright lights.  It doesn’t have any storage system for power, and I find it a little alarming to lose lights when you stop, since it is important that cars see you then too, so I would mostly carry some other light.  Still, cool to have if you forget.

3. The chainguard is made of 4 pieces. The silvery rear axle cover comes off really easily — too easily, and I suspect it will come off on its own soon. After that is gone, you insert a screwdriver into a slot at the rear and the two black pieces click apart. Then the same on the front slot and the pieces can be removed. The silver center piece simply clicks into the two black pieces as you re-attach. I’ll probably remove the whole thing at some point if it doesn’t remove itself. On the plus side, it is a Euro-style chainguard that fully encloses the chain, so should keep road dust off it quite well.

4. The Shimano hub is wonderful, actually one of the main reasons I bought the bike. I consider internal hubs just about essential on ebikes because if you run out of power, you can downshift at a cold stop if needed, saving your knees on takeoff. I have a bad knee, so this is a concern for me. Compared to the SRAM 5-speed on my Giant, this shifts better while you are pedaling; the SRAM works best if you pause pedaling for a second while you shift. It’s a good thing, because I am pretty active with the gears in order to take off easily and then quickly shift up to match the motor input.

The rear brake is part of the 8-speed Shimano hub. My dealer says Shimano still carries them and it should be good for a long time. A side-pull brake could be substituted if desired.

5. The implementation of pedal activation is cadence sensing — the worst kind in my opinion, with no help on startup, then assist based on three distinct power levels, not on your pedaling torque. You have to turn the pedals 3-4 rotations before it engages at all, which is hard on knees. You will take off very slowly, which is not the best for crossing busy streets. If you are trying to match speed to another rider you will find it hard because the three speeds are fixed levels of power input, usually leaving you behind or pulling you ahead. Your options to finely control your speed are to cycle between power levels, turn the motor on and off, or tap the brakes to slow yourself down periodically.  None of these make for particularly intuitive riding. If range is not a concern, you can stay in a low gear and pedal very slowly and you will still quickly accelerate up to the top speed of the power setting, with it acting like a near-throttle bike with cruise control, but you will run down the battery quickly.

If you are carrying a load and have to start on a steep uphill with no power you may have trouble. The low gears help, but it can still be very hard.  I am spoiled by the Giant Lite, which gives me power the instant I hit the pedal. The Schwinn comes nowhere close, but I’m sure I’ll get more used to it. My big worry is those slow starts and bad knees, which is why I plan to switch the bike to another system eventually.

6. The rack is peculiar and has extra thick bars, so be sure to check if your panniers will work. Two of mine wouldn’t, but I got something to fit finally with a little bit of bungee help.

The Burley trailer hitch, however, fits just fine, and pulling the trailer is easy and comfortable.

7. There is no attachment for a water bottle! What were they thinking? Also, no integrated mirrors but I like the Mirricyle so much that I would probably prefer it anyway.

8. The bike is a bit clunky, but it is a loaded town bike, comfort style. The ride is mostly comfortable, very upright with good adjustment range in the handlebars. The suspension seat post doesn’t seem very good, but the front shocks are okay. For a new bike, it has a few rattles, mainly the fenders I think, but my bike also has noisy pedaling with a small click each revolution. I thought it was the kickstand hitting (which can happen) so I pressed that back to clear it, but I am still getting a slightly annoying amount of noise while cranking. I’ll have to get the shop to look at it.

9. Schwinn told my dealer they will honor the warranty… if they have the parts. That means the battery, controller and charger may or may not be available when they give out. I would simply not have bought the bike unless I was sure I could move it on to another setup once these give out. It also means if anything is malfunctioning I will jump on trying to get them to replace it.

10. Ride reports
a) I rode a park bike path with known mileage, kept it at medium power and mostly rode in 6th gear with pretty moderate pedaling (no heavy sweating) and a stop or slow-down about every mile. Very flat, little wind, no load. The medium boost is noticeable but not overwhelming. I made it 12.5 miles before the battery died died. I am in decent physical shape and weigh about 135 pounds, so there’s a reference for you. It is pretty warm here right now, so the range may be less in cold weather.

The battery gauge is not linear. Whatever it is measuring (voltage drop?) goes up and down a bit, so you waver between levels sometime. Sometimes you can get the battery meter to go up by pedaling harder or switching to lower power or going downhill, which can tell you a bit about whether you are on the top or bottom of a level. When it went to level 1, it died almost immediately, so 1 is not a full quarter of the power; it means you are just about done! When it stops, there is no tricking it into starting again by turning it off and on, etc.

The battery recharged in about 1/2 hour, which is pretty awesome, but in the real world I’d rather have a battery with longer range than fast charging. Schwinn cheerfully suggests taking the charger with you for longer rides, which strikes me as questionable advice. If you drop that charger, you will have no more power at all. Still, if your pattern is multiple short trips in a day, the short charging time is very impressive.

b) This time using mainly high power, which has a nice boost level (though nothing like a 400 watt motor and throttle). I find it more comfortable to start with a lower level, switch gears up from the low gears I took off in, then go up to full power. Once you top out (at about 15 mph), medium and high speed feel about the same to me. They differ much more noticeably in the amount of boost you get on takeoff. I got almost exactly the same mileage on high power — 12 to 12.5, more than I expected. Maybe the battery charged a little better the second time, or there is little difference between the power levels if you are mainly riding at 15 mph without many stops. This time I switched to low speed as soon as I saw the battery level go to 1, hoping to get a little further. Low speed is really wimpy other than a little boost on takeoff, and I still only made it a few blocks before the battery died.  I think my battery strategy will be to keep it on medium most of the time.

c) About 10 miles. One way was slightly downhill with the wind behind. I only used the battery on takeoff and then turned it off. It is quite easy to ride without power in that situation! The return trip I hit pretty heavy wind. I used medium power the whole way home and arrived with power wavering between 2 and 3 — not too bad.

d) (These are for my records to see how the battery holds up), about 9.5 miles using only low power, with adverse conditions for half the ride – heavy side or front winds and uphill. (The trip was to the river, to Dodge then Swan, then home.) I turned the motor off quite a bit on the easy stretches. I went pretty slow with the motor on low, 4th-5th gear mostly. You feel like there is no assist, but if you turn it off, there is a noticeable drop, so you’re getting something. I arrived home with 3 bars on the battery, so used maybe 1/2 the charge.

e) About 13 miles, maintaining whatever level kept me comfortably in 6th gear, which for the city seems about right. This meant about 2/3 in level 1 and the rest in level 2. At the end, still in 3 bars, with level 2 wavering into 2 bars, so I’d say 1/3 charge left. This puts a maximum range without deep conserving at maybe 18 miles in favorable conditions.

11. I am seeing two different descriptions of the motor specs online — either 250 watt, 450 max power; or 180 watt, 250 max power. My motor is stamped 24v700c220w24km, so the 220w would indicate the former. Maybe they made some later models with a more powerful motor.
My evaluation of this bike all comes down to range and takeoff. It’s comfortable, has a respectable power boost for easy city riding, has some nice accessories, but you have to worry all the time about whether your battery is giving out and whether your knees are good for takeoff. I seem to be okay with the range for what I do with it, but the takeoff may be what pushes me into another setup.

I have a range idea after looking at the battery setup. I think I could make a simple wood piece with two metal discs that would contact the positive and negative posts that the battery normally contacts. I could solder wire to the back of these, and Anderson connectors to the ends of the wire. I already have two 24V, 8Ah Nicad battery packs that I use for my Volae. Their Anderson connectors would simply plug into this gizmo and deliver power, and I would quickly quadruple my range with $10 worth of parts. The controller should work fine with the same voltage. This whole thing could be clipped on and removed easily to switch to the proprietary battery. That would mean I could use the motor and SCIB battery as long as they last, without being crippled on range… Allen suggests a test with heavy alligator clips to see if it works. I’ll update.

So is it working out for me? Well, it would probably cost me $700 just to get a decent non-electric town bike with the 8-speed Shimano (which I love). As for the other townie gadgets, I figure I can pick and chose what I want and strip off the rest, but so far I’m liking them pretty well. If you have no interest in switching eventually to some other motor, only buy it if you are willing to work with an end-of-life technology, because Schwinn is not planning on supporting this for long.  If your rides average under 10 miles (or you are willing to try to extend the range like I am), it might work for you.