The Gadget: Schwinn Tailwind Bicycle has all the features of a well equipped commuter bike, but comes with an integrated electric motor that makes this two-wheeler a motor-assisted bicycle.
The Price: $US3,200, Yes you read that right, $US3,200 bucks.
The Verdict: Let me first explain that this bike is not a motor driven bicycle, it is merely electric motor-assisted. That means there's still pedaling involved, but the electric motor will actually help you, so the pedaling is actually easier in most riding situations.
The electronics behind the Tailwinds power is an electric motor located in the front hub and a removable Toshiba SCiB 5Ah 24V battery that mounts inside the rear rack. The whole electric system is actually pretty cool and well thought out. The battery pack just slides in and out of the rear rack which makes removing it for charging very simple, and the battery only takes about 30 minutes to complete a full charge. You get somewhere in the range of 40 to 50km per charge, but that all depends on the type of riding and the terrain.
The bike can be ridden in either that motor-assisted mode I explained earlier or in conventional bike mode—toggled between by using the PowerDial on the left handlebar. That PowerDial can also switch between power modes: downhill, flat or uphill, each changing the way the motor assists.
Aside from the electronics, the Tailwind is a full featured commuter bike. It's got bells and whistles like an 8 speed Shimano rear hub, Nexus twist shifter, fenders, lights, integrated rear wheel lock, an actual bell bell, brakes, rear rack and of course a kickstand (but no whistle). With all the added crap like fenders and lights combined with the electric motor and battery the bike ends up weighing more than 20kg, which compared to a road bike can feel like a ton.
When it comes to actually riding this thing, I have to say it's somewhat interesting. When starting out on the bike and the motor-assist is enabled the bike initially feels like a normal bicycle. Then all of a sudden as your pedaling cadence starts the electric motor kicks on, you can feel it pushing the bike forward making it easier to pedal. As soon as the bike reaches the current gear's top speed or your pedaling ceases, the electric motor stops assisting and saves battery life. For the most part riding around town up and down easy hills is great. As soon as you begin pedaling harder on a hill the electric motor will pitch in and the hill becomes much easier to climb. It's not doing all the work for you but I would imagine the motor-assist would at the very least save you from breaking a sweat.
Don't expect to be climbing huge hills with this bike that you couldn't already do on a normal bike. I attempted to hit a decent-sized SF hill thinking the electric motor would at least help out with my pedaling; I was dead wrong. As soon as I left the saddle and began putting my weight into pedaling the electric motor just shut off, the battery drained instantly and I was left lugging a 50 pound bicycle up a hill. Not fun.
With a $US3,200 price tag it's hard to justify buying this bike. Yeah, it's got a pretty sophisticated electric motor system which does indeed help when commuting around town for work or school. But for $US3,200 it seems more logical to buy a cheap Vespa or motor-scooter that actually features a full time motor with no pedaling needed.