If you live in a city, your life has been impacted by the slow rise of the e-bike. Perhaps you’ve never seen one, or you’ve never even heard the term “e-bike” before, but chances are you’ve wondered how some bike messengers glide so effortlessly up hills without pedaling, or maybe you’ve almost been run down by one while jaywalking across a bike lane (shame on you!). At the very least, you’ve certainly received takeout speedily thanks to an e-bike.
E-bikes are battery-powered motorized bicycles. They’re not just for messengers and delivery guys either; e-bikes come in as many types and builds as normal bicycles, some built for urban streets, some for trail riding, some are throttle controlled, others are pedal-assist. The span of the seemingly niche category alone signals a growing trend, and it’s only getting bigger.
Speed: 28 mph
Motor: 250 watts
Battery: 604 watt-hours
Charging Time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Specialized, along with other big cycling brands like Trek and Giant, is embracing the trend (its first e-bike, the Turbo S, launched in 2012). Now, the California-based company has launched the Turbo Vado, a line of pedal-assist e-bikes geared for everyday use, whether that means commuting, running errands, touring, or just going out for a quick spin around town. And thanks to a fully integrated mechanical system with internally routed cables and a concealed motor, the bike is sleek and uncluttered, and it doesn’t necessarily look like an e-bike — at least not to the untrained eye.
That’s thanks to Specialized’s “bike-first” approach to design. The 40-cell battery and belt-driven motor, which together power the Turbo Vado to speeds up to 28mph, is fully incorporated into the downtube of the E5 aluminum frame. An 11-speed Shimano cassette, front and rear Tektro Zurich custom hydraulic disc brakes, and new Electrak and Trigger tires further define the bike-iness of the Turbo Vado.
Of course, there’s also an abundance of built-in extras made possible by the electronic system. Perhaps the most obvious of the bunch is the handlebar-mounted removable display, which tracks your speed and will eventually connect to the yet-to-be-released Turbo Vado Mission Control app. On the subtler end, there’s the brake-responsive tail light integrated into the rear rack. And while all these components and features push the bike’s total weight past 50 pounds (54.01 pounds for the fully equipped Turbo Vado 6.0, to be exact), the Turbo Vado still feels just like a normal bike.
Even when starting in Turbo mode (Sport and Eco are the lower boost levels) from a standstill, there’s no jolt to cue you into the motor working between your feet. You simply gain more speed, faster, as your legs crank the pedals. There’s not even that quiet, high-pitched whine you might associate with other e-machines and sneaky hybrid cars. Your ride can be easy or strenuous depending on what combination of gear and motor assist you choose. And if speed is your game, achieving and maintaining top clip is effortless, much to the chagrin of the cyclists you pass, even when climbing a 15 percent grade.
The Turbo Vado still feels just like a normal bike.
Like any new technology, e-bikes don’t come without criticism, both philosophical and logistical. While local and state governments grapple with the complicated mess of drawing up legislation to regulate these new machines (some states regulate them as bicycles, some as mopeds; Specialized is actively working to help figure things out), cyclists’ opinions on motorized bikes are polarized. Some are into it, others are critical of a product that supposedly induces entitlement to motion and laziness. To these folks, an e-bike is not a real bike.
Put aside all the tech and stigmas and you realize that the Vado and, perhaps, all e-bikes are really just about having fun on a bicycle. Zipping around town and up hills with ease is fun in the same way that cruising around on a moped is fun. Commuting to work on a bike without fear of pit stains is pretty cool, too. Will e-bikes change how we travel through and enjoy our roadways? Absolutely. E-bikes are to urban transportation what vegetable-based mock-meats are to food. Will they redefine cycling as sport? No, probably not. But they will get more people out riding bikes, and as far as cycling is concerned, the more people out riding, the better.