When Specialized got in touch with me it couldn’t have been at a better time. I was just days away from visiting the Peak District and was planning on hiring a bike to cycle the Monsal Trail, so I jumped at the chance to try out the new Turbo Vado SL 5.0 EQ bike.
What is it?
Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 EQ £3,600
Overall Rating (4.5 / 5)
- Integrated Turbo Connect Display to view key ride data quickly and safely.
- Fully integrated and secure Specialized 320Wh downtube battery w/optional Range Extender compatibility for up to 120 miles of range.
- Specialized SL 1.1 custom lightweight motor, peak 240W / 35Nm, 2x you rider amplification (180% assistance), assist up to 15mph.
- Turbo SL mounted rear rack, Racktime-compatible for your favorite bags and panniers, and DRYTECH fenders to keep the spray away.
- 12-speed Shimano SLX shifter and XT derailleur for lightweight, precise performance for the long haul.
- DT Swiss R500 disc wheels paired with fast-rolling, high-grip, Nimbus II Sport Reflect 700 tires with BlackBelt flat protection and reflective accents to increase visibility.
- Lightweight and high-strength premium carbon fork with Boost 12x110mm thru-axle.
- Future Shock 1.5 reduces impacts from rough roads and terrain, potholes be gone!
- Premium hydraulic disc brakes for maximum stopping power.
- Extra-bright front and rear lighting to see and be seen.
- Lifetime frame warranty.
What we thought
Throughout the first lockdown earlier this year I could be found pootling around my village on an old, borrowed Decathlon mountain bike and whilst I enjoy cycling, due to lack of storage at home, I no longer own a bike.
I’m not into serious mileage, mainly as I am fearful of cycling on roads, so most of my rides to date have been short and leisurely, and whilst I’d heard of Specialized (thanks to more serious mountain biker friends), I’d never ridden a bike with a price tag of more than a few hundred pounds before, let alone an e-bike worth a few grand.
Busting e-bike myths
I find the marketing of this bike interesting, it seems like the fact it has a motor is really downplayed and the styling of the bike means at a glance you wouldn’t immediately know it was an e-bike.
Now, if like me, you have no real idea what an e-bike is, let me explain and dispel a few myths in the process.
Using an e-bike isn’t like using say a scooter. It’s not a case of turning it on and the bike does everything except steer for you, far from it. You still have to put the effort in and pedal, but the small electric motor boosts the power of your manual peddling, helping you pedal longer and faster.
This makes e-bikes much more accessible than a standard bike that demand a modicum of fitness, so for those who perhaps aren’t hugely confident, knowing that they can let their bike take some of the strain could encourage them to take to the saddle, which can only be a good thing.
Adjusting the bike
I went for the medium frame and used an allen key to drop the saddle. I was keen to ensure my seated position was as perfect as possible, so watched some YouTube videos and made sure the seat was the ideal height for me.
As well as adjusting the seat I also had to attach the pedals (a first for me!), which after a small amount of faff I managed to do.
Charging the bike & range
Upon arrival, the bike was already about 70% charged and it was intuitive to plug in and turn on. There’s a clear battery display which shows you how much charge is in the bike and when it’s running low, it’s just a case of plugging it in for a few hours.
My first tentative ride was a short local ride just to get used to the bike and get a feel for it having never ridden anything like it, and certainly having never had the opportunity to ride anything costing more than a few hundred quid before!
Comfort & ride
I really dislike uncomfortable saddles and whilst serious cyclists will say that a larger saddle adds unnecessary bulk, I personally prefer comfort. When first sitting on the very narrow, hard seat I was convinced it was, in fact, a torture device not a saddle.
After my first short ride out, and with the addition of my trusty gel seat pad, it really wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, after a 27km ride however my posterior felt bruised and sore, so a downside for me would definitely be the unforgiving saddle.
Initially, the bike did take a bit of getting used to. The sound of the motor (although very quiet) and the feel of the pedal-assist made me think of the bike as “Robo Bike” and to begin with, it felt a bit weird, but as I pedaled I realised I was cycling much faster than I usually would, mainly because going at speed was largely effortless.
I loved how easy it was to switch pedal assist on and that I could choose from 3 different levels. On my longer ride down the Monsal Trail, I generally kept it at around 1 to 2, but occasionally boosted it up to 3 and frequently turned it off altogether to get a better feel for the level of effort I had to put in when manually cycling.
Cycling the Monsal Trail was a wet and muddy experience and whilst pretty much as flat as a cycle trail can get, it still felt like it was a good test for the bike, giving me the chance to get in a few good uninterrupted miles and I’ve got to say, despite finishing the ride soaked through and covered in mud, I loved every second of it!
The manual gear shifter was so much smoother than anything I’ve used before, pedal-assist made every mile a joy rather than a chore, but by the time I’d finished, I still felt like I’d been out for a good ride. I think the main difference is that I finished the trail much faster than if I’d been on a manual bike or had I kept pedal-assist turned off.
I have an inflammatory joint condition, so handlebars that offer good comfort and grip are always very much appreciated, and I really liked the comfort and grip offered by the handlebars on the bike. I left my gel cycle gloves at home but didn’t feel like I actually needed them, certainly not for a flat ride anyway.
I found the steering of the bike to be light and responsive and the bike felt incredibly quick, certainly compared to anything else I’ve ridden before. I absolutely loved zipping down roads and trails at speed and that’s probably the best way to describe the Turbo Vado SL 5.0 in one word, zippy.
- It’s not massively obvious that this is an e-bike, the motor is both small and lightweight.
- I was impressed by the brightness of the built-in lights.
- Very smooth gear changes.
- Decent shock absorption on uneven and bumpy ground.
- I appreciated the built-in mud-guards when cycling in wet autumn conditions!
- Brilliant for commuting on as you’re less likely to arrive a sweaty, panting mess at the office.
- Takes out a lot of pedaling effort, but I still felt like I was working when riding and certainly not like I was completely ‘cheating’.
- It’s really responsive and highly maneuverable.
- When the motor kicks in, it’s a smooth transition and after a while, you stop noticing it altogether and barely notice on the lowest level of pedal assist.
- Narrow, hard and uncomfortable saddle.
- Even for an e-bike, this is pricey so you’ll need to be serious about using it for your daily commute or getting out and about on it in order to justify this investment.
I had no idea what to expect from an e-bike having never ridden one before, and whilst this is undoubtedly a superb bike, what I like most about the Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 EQ e-bike is that it makes cycling more accessible, even to those whose fitness levels might have held them back from cycling in the past.
It still feels like you’re riding a bike and working, but the pedal assist just makes life that bit easier…and faster!
It still feels like you’re riding a bike and working, but when you turn it on, the pedal-assist just makes life that bit easier…and faster! It’s far more agile than I expected it to be and in my hometown, I felt like I was zipping around much faster than I usually do on a bike.
When the motor kicks in, it’s a really smooth transition, not at all clunky and whilst after riding it I still felt like I’d had a cardio workout, I felt like I’d not had to work quite as hard as usual and certainly for inclines, I absolutely loved the difference that it makes.
Although I didn’t get close to testing the 120-mile range of the battery, I think for most, even those commuting by bike, this range would allow for several days of use before needing to recharge the battery. During my time with the bike, I went on 3 short local rides as well as a 27km ride down the full length of the Monsal Trail in the Peak District.
It’s pricey yes, but it’s so good that I have genuinely considered an e-Bike as an alternative to my car commute. If my 13-mile route to work was safer and not a combination of narrow winding country roads and a vast dual carriageway, ditching my gym membership and commuting by e-bike would become a viable option.
The Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 EQ eBike is quite simply a stunning bike and an absolute joy to ride and something I was very reluctant to return after our loan period!
DISCLOSURE | Thank you to Specialized who loaned us the bike for review purposes. We were not paid to write this review.
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