Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 review: lightweight electric dream machine is the perfect post-lockdown commute bike – UK exclusive

Incredibly nimble for an e-bike, the Vado SL is like a normal bike with all that boring effort taken away

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0
(Image credit: Specialized)

The best electric bikes are selling out all over the place, right now and that might even include the Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0, despite its premium price. The heightened demand for ebikes is inevitable, as people realise they will have to go back to work at some point, and that public transport is just not gonna be the fun trip it seemed before lockdown and all the rest of it. 

I recently did a review of the VanMoof S3 e-bike and said it was the best urban commuter bike ride you could wish for. For most people, I still stand by that, but if you have a somewhat larger budget – the VanMoof is under $2000/£2000 while this is over £3,000/$4,000 –  the Turbo Vado SL 5.0 is as much of a game changer in its own way.

Slightly to my amazement, this seems to be a UK exclusive Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 review. That's probably because most bike blogs, despite what they'll tell you, don't think electric bikes are really bikes. They also can't imagine why you'd use one just to get from A to B, rather than to ponce about like some sweating, Lycra'd-up road warrior. Personally, I rather like e-bikes, and this is an impressive one. 

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0: pretty fly for an e-bike guy

(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0: price and release date

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 – will follow 'later', with SL 4.0 at £2699 and 5.0 £3499.

In the USA, the 5.0 is $4,350 (Equipped version $4,500), 4.0 $3,350 ($3,500 Equipped)

• Shop Specialized Turbo Vado SL in the UK now

• Shop Specialized Turbo Vado SL in the USA now

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0: power UP

(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0: Spec and design

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0

The lightweight battery and motor are placed as low as possible, increasing agility (pictured here with look-marring range extender battery)

(Image credit: Specialized)

Where many electric bikes look like normal bikes that have been designed by a small child, the Turbo Vado SL 5.0 is like a normal bike that's been designed by a very gifted child. Squint, and you could almost think it was just a pedal-powered bicycle. The upright riding position, subtly sporty lines and medium-sized tyres put it squarely in the hybrid or 'fitness' bike area.

Where this differs from a lot of the urban-friendly electric bikes I have tried is in two critical areas. Firstly, this bike is light AF – by e-bike standards – at just under 15kg. Helped by clever balancing, that means you can actually pick this one up without giving yourself a punishing upper body workout, carry it across train platform bridges or put it on a wall hook for everyone to admire

The other big change from what I'm used to is the sheer quality of its components – I'm just going to paste the key bits from the press release here:

FRONT BRAKE Tektro HD-R510, hydraulic disc, 160mm

REAR BRAKE Tektro HD-R510, hydraulic disc, 160mm

REAR DERAILLEUR Shimano XT, Shadow Plus, SGS Cage, 12-speed

SHIFT LEVERS Shimano SLX, Rapidfire Plus, 12-speed, w/o OGD

CASSETTE Shimano SLX, Hyperglide+, 12-speed, 10-45t

CHAIN Shimano SLX, 12-speed, w/Quick Link

You can get bogged down in detail around bike specs pretty quick but let's just say that the upshot is a bike that moves like a greased weasel up a trouser leg compared to most other e-bikes.

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0

Slightly unusually, the lights cannot be turned off

(Image credit: Specialized)

It's just as well that the 'bike' part of this electric bike feels so speedy and fresh, because of course the 'electric' part of it is functionally identical to any recent e-bike, many of which will be a lot cheaper than the Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0, and have names that are less awkward to say out loud or type.

The raw stats are that the battery has a 320wh capacity, with 'up to 130km range' (80 miles) with assistance dialled down to minimum. An optional, plug-in range extender adds up to another 65km (40 miles). Specialized say the motor can 'sustain peak wattage indefinitely without damage or overheating.'

However, at the end of the day, the electric motor will push you to about 15mph (20 in the States), exactly the same as every e-bike, ever. It's great that Specialized has minimised drag once you hit that top assisted speed. Older e-bikes, and cheaper recent ones, really felt like they were fighting against you if you wanted to push on past that point with pedal power. However, it is not at all true to say that the Turbo Vado SL is unique in that in 2020.  

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0

Check your stats and fine-tune your acceleration with Mission Control

(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized's Mission Control app lets you vary the level of assistance offered in the three speed modes on offer. I have to say I didn't really bother with this but some inveterate tinkerers may want to get granular with their acceleration. I don't want to labour the point, but we're only talking about getting to 15mph. Surely most people will just set everything as high as possible?

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0: what's it like to ride?

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0

At last, an e-bike you can lift, free of hernia risk

(Image credit: Specialized)

Well, I can quibble about top assisted speeds, but this is about the most fun I've had on a bike in London in a long time. The reason it's so enjoyable is the fact you can power past 15mph, which the bike's motor will push you to in a flash. 

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 heaping helping of real front-line speed. It won't turn you into Geraint Thomas or anything but you feel like you are moving easily fast enough, effortlessly, all the time. 

Admittedly, all e-bikes give this feeling to an extent but Specialized has pulled off something genuinely invigorating here. And while the Turbo Vado SL 5.0 is undoubtedly light by e-bike standards, and feels very agile, by e-bike standards, let's face it 15kg is not that light, so the bike does also feel very stable and grounded. The agility is helped by a low centre of gravity, from placing the motor and battery as low as possible.

Another brilliant touch is Specialized's patented 'Future Shock 1.5'. It's a 'cartridge-based suspension element' that 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 traditional 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. 

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0

(Image credit: Specialized)

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: early verdict

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0: ready for its close-up

(Image credit: Specialized)

Well, if I was going to spend over £3,000/$3,000 on an e-bike to use for a daily city commute, this is what I'd buy for sure. I'm sure it could stand up to roads outside of London – it's not as if the streets here are all exactly super-smooth and lacking in potholes – and the combination of 12 gears and electrical assistance should see you up just about any hill without excessive perspiration. 

How big the market is for an e-bike with quite so many performance bells and whistles is, I have no idea. Okay, I do have an idea: it's not a very big market. However, in terms of quality and enjoyment, this is a great bike. Can you imagine the idea of looking forward to your daily journey to work? The Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 might just make you believe it's possible.