We have already looked at Swytch’s 2022 e-bike conversion kit, as fitted to a lightweight Pinnacle and taken that particular bike for a spin on one of the country's finest family rides, the Dove Valley Trail. We also looked at how it fared on a heavier city styled bike along the flat and easy coastline around Blackpool. Here we take a Swytch-converted Brompton - the classic city folder - around the middle of Newcastle and along the Tyne.
It's an ideal bike for using the local cycle lane network to weave between the city's unique landmarks and then head along Hadrian's Way by the Tyne to Segedunum, the Roman fort that stood here at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall.
The Blinking Eye Bridge is a familiar term for the stunning Gateshead Millennium bridge - though to let ships through it actually tilts rather than blinks.
It's a superb start to the route with a wonderful vista of the many iconic bridges across the Tyne downstream. The lights at night make it clear this is a real showpiece for Newcastle and Gateshead.
From the blinking eye, it's a short hop along the northern bank of the river towards the equally iconic Tyne Bridge, heading steeply up Broad Chare and Cowgate to get a look over the Tyne from the bridge itself (following Quay Link N NCN signs). The small Brompton-specific hub motor packs enough punch to climb away from the Tyne as its banks are particularly steep here - and I only need level 2 out of 5 to head all the way onto the magnificent iron behemoth.
Head back down off the bridge to turn and twist under the railway arches where NCN 725 (still Quay Link N) leads via an underpass to Pilgrim Street, right at the heart of historic Grainger Town and its many fine old buildings. The impressive landmark of Grey's Monument is just off to your left and well worth a look.
NCN 725 heads north to the Haymarket area where a wonderful cycle lane bisects a jumble of incredible buildings, including a 19th century church, groundbreaking 1960s Civic Centre and much-lauded war memorial. Although the route heads down the rather nondescript Haymarket Lane, it's worth taking a mini-tour of the university area here with ancient and modern buildings surrounding a fine plaza style area.
The small-wheeled Swytch Brompton is ideal for nimbly weaving in and out of all the interesting nooks and crannies of this fascinating area. Most of the time it's flat terrain here and the motor isn't even needed. It's a nice, easy and relatively light bike to pedal without power, especially on a leisure ride like this where you want to take it easy to soak up your surroundings.
Zig-zag through backstreets to enter Leazes Park with its enticing Tower Cafe (art cafe and pizzeria) with lovely lakeside views by rolling landscaped parkland, all overlooked by St James' Park football ground. More backstreets lead across Town Moor, an impressively vast expanse of common land - at 1,000 acres it's larger than Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath combined.
It's a short hop to Jesmond's own little popular high street - clearly a fashionable and wealthy area where we call in at Pink Lane Bakery for pies before topping up on coffee at a nearby cafe.
Jesmond Dene is a slice of the countryside transplanted into the heart of Newcastle's suburbs. A fine path means you can roll through the heart of this river valley with its own man-made waterfall. Head under the Armstrong Bridge and through Heaton Park to reach another highly picturesque stop-off with plenty of eating and drinking opportunities, the Ouseburn Valley. Picturesque former industrial buildings huddle underneath rail and road bridge arches alongside the old Ship Inn and the startlingly-located Ouseburn Farm (great for younger children).
More back roads lead back to the Tyne to join Hadrian's Way (NCN 72) along the north bank of the Tyne. Our route takes us above attractive St Peter's Marina and on to Segedunum Museum at Wallsend where Hadrian's Wall did indeed end. At this point there looks to be between half to a third of the capacity left on the neat handlebar mounted battery. Even though we've covered little more than 12 miles, that's quite impressive given the small 98Wh capacity. If you need to head back to Newcastle centre, the Swytch Brompton folds easily for the Metro (Newcastle's light rail system with both overground and underground sections).
Signage, navigation tips and rail connections
This is a route to take your time on and does need some careful navigation in places, but some decent quality cycle lanes (and some less decent ones) allow you to safely and easily navigate across a number of major roads and even under an urban motorway.
NCN 72 (Hadrian's Way) is generally well-signed alongside the river itself on the last leg of your journey. Away from the river you use a mix of NCN 725 which leads to the centre, and local cycle routes - sometimes signed, sometimes not - so close attention to the GPX file is needed.
Surprisingly, there is little in the way of access controls, just 'speed chicane' type controls along Hadrians Way with few access barriers for much of the town centre route. There are a couple of gates in the Leazes Park / Town Moor area but little to trouble a bike plus trailer setup.
The Metro urban train network allows folders on - and Bromptons are allowed on when folded pretty much without restriction. Detailed rules are here.
Route fact file
Category: City route ideal for small wheeled folders
Length: 12.7 miles one way with possible Metro (light urban transport) return from Wallsend. I managed easily with one Swytch Air battery, using the power sporadically for any inclines or headwinds on a windy winter day.
On/off road split: 32% on road (4 miles), 68% traffic-free (8.7 miles). On road sections generally use quiet back streets.
Surface conditions: All good, hard, sealed surfaces - usually asphalt or concrete.
Access / barriers: A few chicane speed controls on Hadrian's Way that are easily negotiated with a small trailer - otherwise none to speak of.
Brompton Swytch 2023 kit – how did it perform?
The Swytch kit was fitted to a Brompton C Line, a six gear option (three gears or even one gear would be fine for this route) with practical features such as mudguards and a front mounting block for a bag.
Check the bag you use will not foul on the battery - there are various different shapes and sizes and it's likely only smaller ones will fit. My old bag was too big to fit and so I needed a seat post fitting, as seen in the photos. A Brompton fitted with a rear rack would have been more practical.
One option to allow a larger front bag would be to fit the battery on the 'inside' of the the handlebars, facing the rider and using a standard length handlebar catch (the Swytch kit requires a longer handlebar catch when the battery is mounted on the outside of the bars so that the catch itself still works).
The Brompton is the quintessential city bike and the Swytch conversion kit adds the benefit of electric assist when you need it. The advantages of the Brompton remain - easy, compact parking for those all-important cafe stops and foldability to hop about on various forms of urban transport. The Swytch kit adds only around 2.6kg to the weight of the Brompton meaning it's not too much extra weight to ride around with unpowered or to carry when folded.
Perhaps most importantly when carrying a small 98Wh battery is that the motor freewheel is very easy to pedal without power. This means you can make the most of the limited battery capacity. I managed the 12.7 miles of route on a cold winter's day using two thirds of the battery, making it a remarkably efficient setup.
Another big plus is that even the lowest assist levels provide support up to 15mph. (On some budget systems the lower power settings only provide assistance at lower speeds.) The Swytch system means you can use the power economically and so always have just enough.
Having said that, I felt even less power in level 1 would have been fine on slight gradients and the like, allowing you to save even more capacity. Using higher power levels certainly starts to eat up battery noticeably quickly.
Brompton Swytch kit constituents
250W front Brompton-specific front hub motor, ready spoked into a Brompton size rim (16" ETRTO 349mm)
Choice of Air (98Wh) or Max (180Wh) battery options – both lighter and smaller than previous kit versions (25mm x 100mm x 212mm (Air) and 35.5mm x 100mm x 228mm (Max))
Handlebar battery mount weighing 602g with 31.8mm bar fitting and spacer shims of 22.2mm, 25.4mm & 26.0mm for all other common handlebar sizes
(Optional) OLED display that lets you select one of five power levels
Pedal crank motion sensor with universal fitting arm and frame fitting sensor
Total added weight of the kit with 98Wh Air battery was 2.6kg.
Bike fitted to: Brompton C-Line, six-speed
Swytch price: From £574 for the Brompton kit (estimated six-month lead time) plus extras. Full RRP is £1,399.