Less is truly more with the new Specialized Turbo Vado SL
Incredibly refined motor and power delivery
Agile handling gives superb control when weaving around the streets and urban obstacles
Future Shock 1.5 may be superfluous for some riders
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Urban mobility has become a hot topic as people are becoming increasingly interested in alternatives to busy public transport and the environmental and financial nightmare of cars. Coinciding is the rise of the ebike, as many people who wouldn't classify themselves as cyclists turn to bikes as the fastest and easiest way to navigate the city streets.
Specialized's existing Turbo Vado is specced with a big battery and big power, but that extra grunt comes at a weight penalty that will affect the bike's ride characteristics. Specialized knows that many people are looking for a commuting bike with the assistance of an ebike, but are also wanting it to be lightweight to give an agile ride and to make carrying it up stairs to flats or offices easier. To meet this demand, Specialized has created the Turbo Vado SL – a lightweight urban hybrid.
Specialized has two models in the Turbo Vado SL range, and both the 4.0 and the 5.0 come in an 'unequipped' version and an 'equipped' version, which comes with mud guards and a rack. We have been whizzing around on the Turbo Vado SL 5.0 unequipped model, with Future Shock, TCD computer and upgraded componentry.
Components and build
The first thing you'll notice about the Turbo Levo is its weight, or lack of it. The claimed weight of 14.9kg is lighter than many electric road bikes on the market. It certainly makes a huge difference for those who need an ebike but will be frequently faced with blocks of stairs.
The weight-saving can mostly be attributed to the motor and battery. Specialized's SL 1.1 motor, which delivers 240 watts of power, is powered by a 320Wh battery. Specialized claim that this will give 130km of range if used in eco mode with the lights on. Specialized offers an additional range-extending battery that mounts in a bottle cage to add a claimed additional 64km of assisted pedalling. On a bike this efficient, you would need to be tackling some serious hills or be particularly lackadaisical with your charging routine to need more capacity.
The motor is turned on using a neat top-tube mounted control that displays battery charge and power mode. A compact controller is mounted on the left to give easy on-the-fly mode adjustment, as well as a walk mode and straight-to-boost mode button. The 5.0 version we have been riding also gets a heads-up Turbo Connect Display (TCD) computer, which shows all your riding metrics, from motor stats to cadence and rider power figures. ANT+/Bluetooth means that you can connect other devices and export ride data to sites like Strava if you want.
The Lezyne lights are a nice touch: these only have a constant-beam option but will make a big difference for visibility when on the road, day or night. These are powered by the bike's battery, so as long as you remember to charge it you will always have lights when you need them.
Future Shock was first introduced on Specialized's Roubaix road bikes and has since diversified to gravel and urban riding. The Turbo Vado SL 5.0 uses the 1.5 version, which offers 20mm of travel to isolate the handlebars from vibrations.
The 1x Shimano XT 12-speed drivetrain uses a 10-45t cassette for plenty of gear range, whether spinning up climbs our cruising along the flat. The bike's Tektro brakes are basic but powerful stoppers, and should provide reliable stopping for many miles. The wheels are 'boost'-spaced – 110mm hub width at the front and 148mm at the back, for stiffer, stronger wheels – and use good-quality DT Swiss rims, finished with Specialized Pathfinder tyres. The tyres have a wide, 38mm width, with a smooth central band and an increased side-tread for more cornering grip.
The urban and commuting market is difficult to comprehend. Consumers' priorities are very different, with less regard for components or technology compared with other categories of cycling. To many customers, a bike is simply a tool for urban transport.
The merit of an ebike is heavily entwined with the quality of the motor, but the many brands get lost in power and wattage-per-hour figures, and forget that the motor and battery shouldn't be the defining part of the bike. While the kick of an assist motor always gives an element of pleasure, it is only assistance, and therefore only part of the bike-riding experience – not the defining factor of a bike. The sad truth is that, as an entry point for many people getting into cycling, it's not often that an urban bike will do much to put a smile on your face.
Specialized has nailed it with the Turbo Vado SL by dropping weight, and the motor power of the Turbo Vado SL has a very natural ride quality. Power delivery is extremely smooth and very quiet, quickly engaging when needed and tailing off when you reach the assist limit.
Many ebikes give an unsettling surge of power at the beginning and a serious reality check when the motor cuts out, but the SL 1.1 custom lightweight motor feels beautifully refined in comparison.
Despite its smaller power output, there is no loss in acceleration; pulling away from lights is a spritely affair, and the Turbo Vado SL will accelerate as well as any other ebike.
Once up to speed, the most pleasing aspect was how often I found myself riding without the assist. The Turbo Vado SL's natural pedal-assist graciously gives way and leaves you to power on under your own steam without any leftover motor drag.
I didn't put Specialized's 130km range to the test, but, in the real world, but I would see myself far exceeding that stated distance thanks to how easy this bike is to ride unassisted. Climbing is spectacular and, with a little extra input, the bike will happily sit on its max output for the duration of a long climb. It's only when gradients start hitting around 15% that full power needs to be engaged, so unless you live in San Francisco, you will rarely need to use it.
Handling is remarkably sharp, and the agility of the bike caught me a little by surprise. Some new riders may find its eagerness to change direction a little unnerving, but will quickly get used to its zippy characteristics and soon enjoy the benefits of its manoeuvrability.
There are a couple of criticisms, and the biggest is the price. While I have no gripes in regards to value for money, I would question the practicality of a bike that costs this much for city riding. The reality of urban travel is that bikes must be locked outside, and I would be starkly aware of the value of this bike when going to work or the shops.
I was also not hugely impressed by the Future Shock. It certainly provides a much better solution to the usually woeful suspension forks that are found on urban bikes, but I'm still to be convinced that there's enough performance to justify the extra cost, weight and complexity over a standard rigid fork.
There is certainly a damping effect over cobbles and rough surfaces that stops you getting rattled about, and you never feel it's there when you don't want to feel it. However, when faced with larger impacts, it does feel overwhelmed, which is noticeable when everything else about this bike is so confident and self-assured,
Specialized's two 4.0 versions have standard forks, and these also gain front rack mounts if you want to use front panniers to haul more stuff around.
While I have only had a limited amount of time on the Specialized Turbo Levo SL 5.0, it has really impressed me. Not because of its sophisticated lightweight motor, superb non-assisted ride quality or overall design, but because it has brought all these elements together without compromise.
Specialized has created a commuter bike that, rather than being built-by-power-numbers, is founded on sound bicycle design. The Specialized Turbo Levo SL 5.0 has challenged the status quo and shown that less is indeed more.
Turbo Vado SL 5.0 EQ: £3,499 / $4,500 / €4,199
Turbo Vado SL 5.0: £3,299 / $4,350 / €3,999
Turbo Vado SL 4.0 EQ: £2,699 / $3,500 / €3,199
Turbo Vado SL 4.0: £2,499 / $3,350 / €2,999
Specifications: Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0
- Price: £3,299 / $4,350 / €3,999
- Frame: E5 Aluminum
- Size: Large
- Weight: 14.9kg (claimed)
- Motor: Specialized SL 1.1, custom lightweight motor
- Battery: Specialized SL1-320, fully integrated, 320Wh
- UI/Remote: Specialized TCU, 10-LED State of charge, 3-LED Ride Mode display, ANT+/Bluetooth®, incl. TCD Computer
- Groupset: Shimano XT and SLX, 12 speed
- Crankset: Praxis M30 cranks (172.5mm)
- Wheels: DT Swiss R500 disc on Specialized boost hubs
- Tyres: Specialized Pathfinder Sport, 700x38c
- Brakes: Tektro HD-R510 hydraulic disks, 160mm rotors
- Bar: Specialized Stout Mini Rise
- Stem: Specialized Stealth Stem, integrated TCD-W mount
- Seatpost: Specialized
- Saddle: Specialized Bridge Sport
- Accessories: Lezyne Ebike Power STVZO E115 310Lumens front light and integrated rear light
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