Motorcycles: Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 review: one of the best electric bikes for zero-effort commuting

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The Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 review at turbo speed: one of the best electric bikes you can buy, and a joy to ride.

a bicycle leaning against a wall: Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 review © Provided by T3 Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 review

It's an understatement to say that demand for ebikes has shot up over the last few years. A gradual swell in interest over the previous decade turned into an all-out sales frenzy as lockdowns pushed commuters off public transport.

T3 has a handy guide to answer the question, 'should you buy an ebike?' but in my opinion, the answer is a qualified yes. I am not a big fan of electric bikes that lumber along at a solid 15mph – the legal limit for motor-assisted bicycles in the UK and most of the western world. However the Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 is right up my street, because it's just about light enough and well-specced enough to be furiously pedalled to fast speeds. Maybe it will be right up your street, too.

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The best electric bikes are selling out all over the place, right now, but the more premium Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 is widely available. That's two great reasons to get one, straight off the bat. In this Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 review, I will no doubt be offering you some further reasons.

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0: price and availability

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 costs £3299 and is available to pre-order now. The lower-spec Vado SL 4.0 costs £2499. 'Equipped' models – ie: with mudguards etc – are £3499. and £2649 respectively.

In the USA, the 5.0 is $4,350 (Equipped version $4,500), 4.0 $3,350 ($3,500 Equipped). Specialized does not appear to sell in Australia.

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0: Design and build

At a glance, the Turbo Vado SL 5.0 looks pretty much like a non-electric bike, and that is a Very Good Thing. The fat down tube does give it away, to the practiced eye, but on the whole it looks – and rides – like a 'proper' biycle.

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The upright riding position, subtly sporty lines and medium-sized tyres put it squarely in the hybrid or 'fitness' bike area. It's not really a MAMIL's bike, nor is it for pedalling up gravel paths. This is a city slicker of an e-bike.

At just under 15kg, this is at the lighter end of the e-bike market. A lot of brands are still congratulating themselves for getting under 20 kilos, but this is genuinely verging on being a lightweight ride. That, allied to clever balancing, means you can actually pick the Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 up without giving yourself a punishing upper body workout. I managed to carry it across a train platform bridge without giving myself a hernia.

Componentry is generally very solid, with Tektro hydraulic disk brakes, 12-speed Shimano SLX gearing and XT rear derailleur and impressively bright integrated lights that are kept on at all times.

Although the top electric speed of the Turbo Vado SL 5.0 is identical to any other e-bike, including much cheaper ones, it feels a great deal nippier to ride. It runs on a 320wh capacity battery with a range of up to 80 miles – keep it on the top power setting, which I really think everyone does, to be honest, and you are looking at more like 30 miles.

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An optional, plug-in range extender adds up to another 40 miles (about 15 at top whack). Specialized doesn't use the Braun motors that a lot of people like, but their system is well regarded for reliability and longevity.

As I said, top assisted speed is still just 15.5mph in the UK, Europe and Australia (20mph in the States), but Specialized's design minimises drag once you hit that top assisted speed. Older e-bikes, and cheaper recent ones, can really feel like they are fighting against you at that point. This champ is part of a new – and generally pricier – breed where that is no longer the case.

Specialized's Mission Control app lets you vary the level of assistance offered in the three speed modes on offer. Inveterate tinkerers will love that, but I am pretty sure most people will ignore it. However, Mission Control also gives you useful data on miles covered, battery life left and so on, and it is generally user friendly.

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0: performance

Well, I can quibble about top assisted speeds, but this bike is a lot of fun to ride, which is not something I can say about a lot of electric bikes. That's because you can power past that 15mph limit, if you're prepared to put in the effort.

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Urban riding, with all its stops and starts, relies as much – if not more – on acceleration as it does on top speed. What Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 serves up is effortless acceleration topped up with a genuine feeling of pedal-assisted speed. It won't turn you into Geraint Thomas, but it will power you past most of those other riders and even those pesky electric scooters, clogging up your cycle lane.

That's partly because the Turbo Vado SL 5.0 is pretty light and agile by e-bike standards, helped by a low centre of gravity and – again still quite unusual on electric bikes – a proper range of gears. 12 to be precise. You can quite easily ride the Turbo Vado without electrical assistance as a result. That could come in handy in emergencies when you have not been diligent about recharging, but also when you fancy giving yourself more of a cardio workout.

Another neat touch is Specialized's Future Shock 1.5. This cartridge-based suspension system lives in the headtube and absorbs shocks. This takes some of the beast out of the road, without the fun-sapping, syrupy feel you get from using MTB-type suspension on a city ride.

I did still find the saddle a bit unforgiving, but I've definitely felt worse. The shifter is very good, as you'd expect. There's not much else to describe, as the setup if very simple.

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The assistance level is managed with a simple +/- control on the left handlebar, alongside a Specialized logo button that turns assistance to max. Do people really switch between assistance levels unless they're running out of battery? I don't, ever, I must admit. But if you do, the three levels – fine-tuned in Mission Control if you wish – are easily controlled.

The gear shifter is on the right. The brakes are where you'd expect them to be and have a good level of bite.

Two things that surprised me slightly were that the little display for your speed, assistance level etc is not all that easy to see. This is by no means a rarity on eb-bikes but for over 3 grand I'd have thought it could have been better. The other oddity is that the lights have one setting: on. You can turn them off by using the non-assisted setting but curiously, the flipside of that is that you cannot turn the lights on when using pedal power only.

However, the lights are really excellent, and since range is calculated based on them always being on, and the range is clearly adequate for most commutes, I don't really have a problem here.

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0: verdict

The Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 is the second best electric bike I've taken on to London's mean streets. It goes like lightening, it feels agile but dependable. It even attracts a few admiring glances, which is rare indeed on an electric.

If you are a regular cyclist looking to transition to e-bikes, or a newcomer who doesn't want the bike's motor to always be doing the hard graft, this premium 2-wheeler should be right near the top of your shopping list of potential purchases.

Also consider

As I said in my VanMoof S3 review, that is probably the best e-bike for urban commuting. It isn't as joyous to ride as the Specialized, but is also about half the price, and absolutely packed with security features that are, sadly, rather necessary in urban environments. It's great in its own way – a very different ride to the Turbo Vado.

A more obvious rival is the Canyon Roadlite: On. Priced broadly in line with Specialized's urban e-bike, looks rather like it and is aimed at the same market. However, it is even more enjoyable to ride and so, in my opinion, therefore narrowly a better option.

Those on a smaller budget should look no further than Ribble's Hybrid AL e. It makes a few component sacrifices in order to hit a lower price but it's great value, from £2,199.

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