Normally, Pascal churns his way up the hill on his 3-speed Dutch bike. So, if he says, “Yeah man, I’m really flying uphill today!” then something special is afoot: it’s the brand new, lightweight Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 EQ with its SL 1.1 motor providing up to 240 W support. Is this the perfect introduction into the world of ebikes?
Pro skater Marc Johnson once said, “All skateboarding is, is putting ideas into action.” Applied to the bike industry, that could just as well be the motto of the Specialized development team. The brand new Turbo Vado SL 5.0 EQ combines numerous ideas from the company’s most innovative mountain and road bike concepts, moulding them into a completely new package. Our friend Pascal has been an avid skater ever since he can remember. We united our passions for a day, pedalling from skatepark to skatepark, to find out what kind of rider the Vado SL is conceived for. Alongside his predilection for Froot Loops and Nougat Bits, this 24-year-old’s heart has always beat faster for a board with four wheels. If he’s not currently in Barcelona, a city he appreciates both for its skate scene and ready supply of vintage shirts, Pascal is scouting for the best locations in and around Stuttgart aboard his old Hercules steel Dutch bike. More often than not, that becomes a sweat-inducing slog on the chronically overfilled and steep roads of the region’s capital.
Flip it – no pain, no gain
If you’ve spent any time on a skateboard, you’ll understand how much skill and practice is needed to transcend from jerky, uncontrolled movements, to what has to be one of the most stylish urban sports around. Timing, balance and good fitness are indispensable – not necessarily attributes you’d associate with fans of E-urban bikes like the Specialized Turbo Vado SL. The Vado SL platform sees Specialized commit to the journey it started with the Turbo Levo SL and Turbo Creo SL, heralding the introduction of lightweight urban ebikes to its portfolio. First things first: if you’re too lazy to shift gears, not a fan of the idea of riding dynamically or don’t have a basic level of fitness, you won’t be able to use the full potential of this bike in the urban jungle. Balance, timing and a certain level of fitness – just like for skating – wouldn’t hurt here.
The Turbo Vado in detail
Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 EQ
Motor Specialized SL1.1 35 Nm
Battery Specialized SL1 320 Wh
Display Specialized Turbo Connect
Fork Carbon-Gabel with Future Shock 1.5 20 mm
Brakes Tektro HD-R510 160/160 mm
Drivetrain Shimano XT 1x12
Tires Specialized Nimbus II Sport Reflect 700 x 38C
Size S M L XL
Weight 16.42 kg
Perm. total weight 141.42 kg
Max. payload (rider/equipment) 125 kg
Trailer approval no
Kickstand mount yes
20 mm travel Future Shock 1.5 suspension in the steerer
1.95 kg light SL 1.1 motor with magnesium housing
optional Range Extender battery with 160 Wh capacity
E-support can be customised in Mission Control app
Die Geo des Turbo Vado
|Top tube||554 mm||587 mm||610 mm||630 mm|
|Seat tube||415 mm||447 mm||495 mm||535 mm|
|Head tube||185 mm||217 mm||250 mm||285 mm|
|BB Drop||70 mm||70 mm||70 mm||70 mm|
|Reach||378 mm||401 mm||415 mm||424 mm|
|Stack||595 mm||626 mm||660 mm||696 mm|
|Radstand||1,062 mm||1,091 mm||1,110 mm||1,126 mm|
Battery(s) and charging times – high-speed plugs
With their Vado SL platform, Specialized want to solve the challenges of everyday life in a new way. Unlike the previous bulky-looking Vado with its 90 Nm torque motor and 600 Wh battery, the Vado SL puts a much greater focus on weight. That’s a welcome nod to practicality, as more often than not, you don’t want to have to leave your bike in the damp, communal basement or outside the front door. Weighing in at 16.42 kg in size L, you’ll be able to lift the Vado SL 5.0 EQ over stairs, even without an annual membership at your local gym. At the heart of this urban ebike is the SL 1.1 motor, which appeared for the first time in the Specialized Turbo Creo SL E-road bike (read the review at our sister magazine GRAN FONDO). What marked it out? 35 Nm torque, 240 W maximum power and a 320 Wh battery completely integrated into the down tube. For increased range, an optional external battery adds another 160 Wh. The same concept also caused a stir in the eMTB world, where the SL 1.1 motor comes fitted to the Levo SL (read the review in our sister magazine E-MOUNTAINBIKE). Like its counterparts in the mountain and road bike sectors, the Vado SL motor uses a special 48 V charger that charges the internal battery from 3% to 100% in 2 hours 35 minutes. The external battery, aka Range-Extender, can be charged in 3 hours 20 minutes from 3% to 100%, while an optional Y-cable can be used to charge both batteries in tandem. Check the battery level on your smartphone while skating, with your bike charging on the other side of the park? No problem! Normally, while riding with the extra battery fitted, the Range-Extender and internal battery get emptied simultaneously. However, Specialized’s Mission Control app lets you adjust the settings so that the Range-Extender gets used first before switching to the main battery.
Smooth operator – the lightweight Specialized SL 1.1 motor and Mission Control app
Compared to other E-drives, the SL 1.1 motor is lightweight and quiet, doubling your input and offering a natural ride feel without delayed responses or jerky power delivery. You can adjust the level of support provided up to the 25 km/h assistance limit with Specialized’s Mission Control app to suit your preference. The app offers the option to monitor your range, record rides and track your performance. The Smart Control function also lets you specify how far and how long you want to ride – the app will then automatically adjust the motor’s assistance to ensure that the battery lasts all the way to the next skatepark. There are a whole host of clever features that prove to be very useful in practice, to make planning rides simpler, elevating the ebike ride feel to a whole new level and also making a whole lot of sense for Pascal. “I got my first speedometer as a child and when you have something like that, you always want to know exactly how fast you’re going right at that moment. Because I was so focussed on it, I ended up hitting a car. Speedometers aren’t really my thing since then. I’m happy to let the app take control. I just want to ride!” Indeed, if you want, you can also remove the display from the bike’s cockpit as it’s only there to display data. All the functions and features don’t depend on the display but are controlled via the bar-mounted remote and TCU unit in the top tube – and you can use your smartphone to do many things too.
The Vado SL reveals its true potential when you start to ride a bit more sportily. It’s not just the skaters who will run riot! Carving through winding streets is just as much fun as flying full pelt across the flats. The agile and dynamic handling creates a truly engaging ride while the smooth transition at the 25 km/h assistance limit of the motor is barely perceptible. In contrast to more powerful motors, your muscles are already more engaged, meaning you don’t suddenly experience the slump of losing all your propulsion. In the maximum support mode, you don’t feel like you’re being shuttled up steep ramps as you might be used to with the most powerful motors. Logical: if your own output is low, then the motor doubling it on a 15% ramp won’t suddenly make you fly up the hill. Whether you see that as a negative or not, will completely depend on your expectations of the bike. EMTBers may miss being able to rely on the power of the motor to churn its way up steep climbs without having to change gears. For roadies who are much more used to shifting to match their optimal cadence, doubling the power will be perceived as a real benefit. If you’ve never been on an ebike before, then the SL 1.1 motor feels positively luxurious. “Wow, I’m really flying uphill!” Pascal exclaims. As an ebike newbie, he also takes pleasure in using the motor’s support for relaxed cruising on the flats. If you’re coming from a traditional steel city bike, you’re more than likely to find a lot of joy with the Vado SL! For sporty commutes or hour-long cooldown rides, compensating for peak efforts or increasing the distance you can ride, we can wholeheartedly recommend the SL 1.1 motor concept. Arriving sweat-free in the office? Without a base level of fitness, that might not be possible with the Vado SL. Rather, you’re warming yourself up for a day at work!
Pretty chill, how easily you can ride quickly with this bike. On the contrary, the fastest thing on my Hercules bike is the name of the 3-speed gears: Torpedo.
From park to park – Vado SL handling
Just like the motor concept, the comfort of the bike is also oriented toward sportier E-fans. You won’t need a road bike physique to ride the Vado SL comfortably, but nonetheless, you shouldn’t expect a sit up and beg position. If you’ve spent time aboard a fitness bike in the past, you’ll quickly feel at home here. The Future Shock 1.5 system integrated into the steerer tube takes the sting out of kerbs and rough terrain with its 20 mm travel. However, away from perfectly tarmacked roads and when riding aggressively, the lack of damping impacts negatively on how direct the steering and hence handling feels. Unfortunately, you’re not always left with enough feedback to sense whether the low-profile Nimbus II Sport Reflect front tire will maintain its grip for the next steering manoeuvre or not.
Tuning tips: tires with more pronounced tread for better off-road capabilities & or the right riding mood, you need the (go to Spotify here)
If your riding on forest tracks is more relaxed or you spend most of your time on good roads, you’re unlikely to notice though. Compared to the suspended front, the rear end of the aluminium frame is lacking in comfort. While with mudguards fitted, the maximum tire clearance is 700 x 38 C, remove them and you’ll be able to fit 700 x 42 C tires to eke out a little more comfort with their increased volume. Practical features like the powerful Lezyne lights and the Racktime rack with a load limit of 15 kg fit the overall look perfectly and cleverly use the mudguards for additional support and routing the cables respectively. Great!
The Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 EQ is a progressive urban ebike, making for a convincing package thanks to its digital features, high level of integration, low weight and refined looks. If you crave a sporty commuter or want to get around quickly, you’ll find a coherent package that sensibly supports your riding efforts. But if you prefer to be carried up steep inclines and put a lot of emphasis on comfort, then the Specialized Turbo Vado SL isn’t for you. That’s ok too. That said, Pascal is already getting ready for his next visit to the skatepark. Flip it, baby!
- stairwell-friendly weight
- high level of integration
- suitable for sporty everyday use
- undamped Future Shock 1.5 suspension
For more information head to specialized.com
Words & Photos: Benjamin Topf