The Schwinn Tailwind is one amongst a large number of electric bicycles available today, a segment gaining popularity due to interest in transportation alternatives to the car. But don't expect to sit back and let the Tailwind whisk you along--the electric motor on this bike merely provides assistance; the rider still has to pedal.
We found the Tailwind works largely as advertised, with a nice assist while riding around town and a battery with a high capacity that recharges quickly. On our test bike, the front brakes were too grabby, and we wondered why such an expensive bike wouldn't have disc brakes. And the price of the Tailwind, above $3,000, puts it far beyond the realm of people who may just have a casual interest in an electric bike.
The frame for the Schwinn Tailwind's electric gear is built for urban and suburban riding. The aluminum frame, along with the upward curved handlebars, creates an upright sitting position.
The electric drive system is integrated with the bike through a drive motor in the front wheel hub, a battery that slides into a special luggage rack over the rear wheel, and a control unit tied to the left handlebar. The gear shift for the rear hub is integrated with the right handlebar grip. The control unit is easy to use, with thumb buttons to activate the electrical system and change the amount of assistance from the electric motor. Graphics on the control unit illustrate going up hill, riding on a flat surface, or going downhill. Red LEDs show which mode you have selected and indicate how much charge the battery has left.
The lithium ion battery pack weighs 6 pounds and is about 15 inches long by 6 inches wide. We found some problems with the way it mounts to the bike. First, after sliding it into place on the luggage rack, it is supposed to lock into place by flipping down its red handle. We found that it doesn't lock very securely, and riding over bumpy pavement can cause it to slip so that it loses its electrical connection. This handle also doesn't provide enough room for your fingers when you are carrying the battery pack. Second, putting that weight over the rear wheel makes the Tailwind more likely to flip over when the bike is stopped suddenly. Our test bike's front brakes were particularly grabby, causing an end-over incident during an emergency stop.
Finally, the position of the plug connector for the battery pack means it can only be recharged when taken off the bike. It would be more convenient if it could be left in position on the bike and plugged in.
The Schwinn Tailwind uses a Shimano eight-speed gearset in the rear hub, its limited gear ratio making the bike mostly suitable for flat areas. Cantilever brakes grab the rims for stopping power, although with the price of this bike, we would expect disc brakes. Front and rear lights that run off a traditional tire-contact generator are included. The bike also has a caliper lock for the rear wheel.
The motor kicks in after about five seconds of pedaling, but we would like to have seen an instant power button on the control module. If you stop pedaling, letting the bike coast, the motor will disengage after a few seconds, and you will need to pedal again to engage it. Applying the brakes immediately cuts off the motor assist. The motor itself, mounted in the front hub, has 250 watts of peak power, and gets its electricity from the 24-volt battery pack. The electric system has three modes: hill-climb, flat, and downhill, changing the amount of motor assist with each one.
The battery pack has a charge indicator, useful when the pack is removed from the bike. A lock in the side of the battery pack turns the power on and off. A separate charger is included that can be plugged into any conventional AC wall outlet.
Tailwind is a very apt name for this bike, as the motor gives a palpable assist when it kicks in. Because of the way the motor engages, after about five seconds of pedaling, the electric assist can come on unexpectedly, at least the first few times you ride this bike. After a while you get used to the timing of the assist. But the motor doesn't have nearly enough power to pull the bike along by itself, and you will find you are getting some exercise while riding it.
On flat roads, we found the assist useful, helping the bike along with minimal pedal input required. The gears allow you to put in as much physical exertion as you feel like. From a stop, it's good to have the bike in low gear, otherwise starting out can be difficult, made more so by the fact the motor won't kick in until you've been pedaling.
We tried the Tailwind up a particularly challenging hill, putting it in its lowest gear and putting the electric assist on maximum. Even with the bike assisting as best it could, climbing the hill required a lot of physical exertion, although it would have been harder without the electric motor.
Schwinn advertises the Tailwind as being rechargeable in just half an hour. In our testing we found this to be the case. However, because of the dedicated external charger, you will either need to bring the bike back home or bring the charger with you to top up the battery. The battery capacity is high enough for extended riding. We rode the Tailwind for an hour without discharging the battery completely.