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Specialized Turbo Vado SL review

A super lightweight e-bike with a very smart motor

Specialized Turbo Vado SL
(Image: © Rob Clymo)

Our Verdict

Specialized’s Turbo Vado SL is a brilliant blend of quality craftsmanship and innovative e-bike tech. The outcome is a real rider’s bike, but with the added treat of electric powered-assistance. The app lets you squeeze even more from its stellar power unit while the bike itself is clearly built to last. Great fun and a sound investment.

For

  • Lightweight and efficient
  • Dynamic exhilerating performance
  • Stylish but low-key

Against

  • Costs a lot
  • Eminently stealable
  • Rather unforgiving saddle

Two-minute review

Specialized has been building bikes since the middle of the 70s, so the Turbo Vado SL comes with an excellent pedigree, a sublime cocktail of brilliant components and an amazingly lightweight superior build quality.

Despite its innovative design, this is an electric bike that you can glance at and not really register it’s got a battery, because the power pack is an integral part of the frame. 

While the bike kind of looks like a regular hybrid, once you start picking over its features you’re rewarded with all manner of technical treats. At its core, the Specialized Turbo Vado SL has a smart motor and a 320wh battery combination that promises up to 130km/80 miles using the most frugal assistance setting.

Team the bike up with Specialized’s Mission Control app and you’ll get an even more enjoyable ride, with a real dynamic edge added to proceedings. It’s a perfect marriage of physical activity and technical support.

Ultimately though, the Turbo Vado SL is a just dream to ride. Assisted by the battery and electric motor bundle you’ll soon be eating up the miles. This is a very easy bike to ride, with its smart settings allowing you to get effortless pedal pushing with little in the way of e-bike knowledge required.

Matched perfectly with the excellent 12-speed gears the end result is an e-bike that you want to keep riding, even if the saddle might try and persuade you otherwise.

Specialized Turbo Vado SL

(Image credit: Rob Clymo)

Price and release date

Released in June, the Turbo Vado SL 5.0 has an RRP of $4,500 / £3,299 (about AU$6,500). The lower specification Turbo Vado SL 4.0 is $3,500 / £2,499 (about AU$5,000).

Design

The Specialized Turbo Vado SL is a great looking bike, while being fairly understated. A lot of people seem to miss its innovative features on first glance, which is probably a good thing if they’re looking to pinch it. However, on closer inspection the e-bike packs all sorts of cool, high-quality features that set it on the right path to justifying that high price tag.

Central to that is the frame, made from lightweight E5 aluminium and featuring a battery built in to the forward down tube. The bespoke Specialized SL 1.1 motor is integrally mounted and can be powered up using a button on the top tube. This shows how much battery you’ve got too.

Specialized Turbo Vado SL

(Image credit: Rob Clymo)

The handlebars carry gear selector leavers on the right side and ‘+’/’-‘ buttons on the left side allow you to pick through the drive assist modes. The Tektro brake levers offer superior control of those great front and rear discs, while gear changes using up/down levers are gloriously slick and come with a neat ‘thunk’ as you pick your way up and down the 12 gears. Groupset and crank components come courtesy of Shimano and Praxis respectively, so needless to say it all just works.

Highlights are often unexpected, such as the flat pedals, which look like basic design considerations but they’re really great to rest your feet on.

The lights are built-in and are on as standard, though they can be switched off. Our model featured wrap around mudguards, which did a good job of firing out bits of stone when we headed along a gravel track. We didn’t get to try it in the wet. There’s a small but practical luggage rack behind the saddle too.

Specialized Turbo Vado SL

(Image credit: Rob Clymo)

The overall riding position is upright and comfy, aside from the unforgiving nature of the narrow saddle. Models in sizes S/M/L/XL are available to suit heights between 158cm/5’ 1” and 193cm/6’ 4”. Considering you’re perched on it, rather than hunkered down, the Turbo Vado SL doesn’t let that drag effect make it go any slower.

While the bike is clearly well designed and beautifully engineered, needing a hex/Allen key to adjust any of the settings, such as saddle or handbar heights, might be mildly annoying for anyone who doesn’t have a penchant for keeping bike toolkits in their pocket.

The fold-down stand is definitely handy though. Our bike came in a fairly low-key dark metallic colour, though we’ve seen brighter variations on the theme. Keeping a bike of this value below the radar of thieves is perhaps the sensible approach to take however, so we were fine with the nondescript shade of the test example.

For an e-bike with a price tag in the thousands the handlebar-mounted Turbo Connect Display computer is a little underwhelming, although it does cover everyday metrics from the likes of speed and distance through to cadence and heart rate . The screen is also quite hard to read, so we found that most of the action ended up happening on the app.

Specialized Turbo Vado SL

(Image credit: Rob Clymo)

Specialized has developed its Mission Control software as a means to manage everything related to your bike. It’s divided up into core sections that include Ride, Tune, Diagnose, My Rides and Settings.

Once you’ve downloaded it (for iOS or Android) it can be synced with your bike to assist with your two-wheeled outings and also keep tabs on data. It’ll also let you milk the best performance from the battery and motor combination, with the capacity to fine-tune the levels of assistance you get from any of the three speed modes.

Performance

Setting up our review bike involved nothing more than attaching the pedals and straightenting up the handlebars. It had been ridden before, but the Specialized Turbo Vado SL felt as taught and precise as we’d been expecting as we did a couple of loops around the block to check everything worked as expected.

Getting it out on the open road for the first time, the Specialized Turbo Vado SL proved instantly likeable. Being so light and having a no-fuss flat handlebar setup means you can just get on and go.

Specialized Turbo Vado SL

(Image credit: Rob Clymo)

With the battery button switched on and set to the highest assistance level, followed by applying average pedal power, the Turbo Vado SL feels speedy and very responsive. It actually puts a smile on your face. You can get up to the legal 15 mph UK/20 mph US limiter level using the motor, no problem. There’s also an optional range extender that adds a further 40 miles/65km if you just want to keep on riding, but the standard pckage works well enough as is.

Slowing down and stopping again is handled beautifully by the Tektro disc brakes, which are really effective. Considering how you easily you can be powering down the road the Turbo Vado SL can be pulled up in double-quick time if you need to stop. However, while they can be fierce the disc brakes don’t ever feel like they’d throw you off. It’s all pretty civilised. 

The ride isn’t bad at all and on smooth surfaces the Turba Vado SL really motors. It makes a great whine as you whip down up and down through the gears too, adding to the adrenalin-fuelled experience. Poorly-surfaced roads though highlighted the downside of the thinner wheels and narrow but grippy Pathfinder tires.

Specialized Turbo Vado SL

(Image credit: Rob Clymo)

If you’re used to mountain bikes or even fat bikes you might find the ride a little harsh, but that’s the average cyclist’s lot when it comes to many roads. There’s a little bit of forgiveness dished out by the so-called Future Shock suspension hidden in the headstock of the bike, but the rear end is solid. The saddle that comes fitted to the Turbo Vado SL is quite hard on the posterior too.

Nevertheless, because the bike is such fun to ride and the fact that you can quickly cover sizeable distances, it’s hard to get bothered about any minor downsides. Thanks to the less than 15 kilo weight it’s easy to dodge any big potholes anyway.

Meanwhile, switch off the power if you’re looking to take a break and you instantly notice just how much the battery and motor have been helping you. In fact, going to no power makes the bike suddenly feel heavy.

It’s the clever way the Turbo Vado SL blends the power with your pedalling that seems to be central to this bike’s appeal. Compared to our exeriences on other electric bikes, including premium brands, the Specialized has to be up there with the best of them.

Specialized Turbo Vado SL

(Image credit: Rob Clymo)

Our first trip on the bike was a good nigh on 20-mile evening ride, including a good mix of town streets and country lanes along with plenty of hills. The bike was fully charged when we left and was still over half charged when we got back. That included the front and rear lights being on the whole time.

Specialized’s focus on quality components seems to extend to the battery, as that was fully charged again in the time it took us to have a cup of tea and a shower. Charging takes place via a supplied cable, which plugs into a socket at the base of the frame, so the battery stays on the bike. Specialized’s official figure for a full-charge time is two hours 35 minutes. Very impressive.

Buy it if

You want a lightweight bike for commuting
The Specialized Turbo Vado SL is perfect for this task as it handles like a dream and you can actually lift it up when you need to.

You want to do more cycling for all sorts of reasons
This e-bike loves being ridden and it’s such a great all-rounder that you feel like you can take it pretty much anywhere.

You're after an e-bike with staying power
It’s a big investment but the quality of the bike and its performance characteristics mean you should get great value from it over time.

Don't buy it if

You worry about leaving it alone
Although its got clever styling that might dupe the less savvy, Specialized’s Turbo Vado will prove tempting to bike thieves.

You're not taken by traditional hybrid bikes
While it might boast lots of innovative features, the frame and riding position is pretty conventional, particularly with those flat handlebars.

You have specific cycling requirements
The Turbo Vado SL is a great all-rounder, so those wanting a bike for more specific riding, such as racing or off-roading will need to look elsewhere.