The world of bicycles– especially high-end bicycles– is incredibly specialized. There are no “mountain bikes,” for example. Instead, there are downhills, enduros, trails, and cross-countries. Road and utility bikes are just as varied, and the more focused a bike is on filling its specific niche, the more successful – and pricey! – it becomes. But what if you wanted one bike that could do it all? What would a bike that could do it all even look like?
That’s the question that the Specialized Turbo Vado was born to answer.
Who Gets It?
“The Vado isn’t for only one kind of rider,” explains Mattia Berardi, one of the Specialized product experts I had a chance to connect with about the Vado. “We say it is ‘for all life journeys,’ whether that is riding for health, or for recreation, or transportation.”
Mattia explains that Turbo Vado customer aren’t just jumping on the bike and riding around – they’re riding with a purpose, or with many purposes, and Specialized designed the bike to have it fit into their life and serve those many purposes.
“It is similar to the car industry,” he offers. “The crossover SUV has become the primary segment, globally,” and that segment’s ability to serve many purposes by comfortably transporting people and things, carrying lots of cargo, and safely managing extreme weather and road conditions has helped drive that growth.
That focus on utility is one of the “themes” of the bike, and it’s that same type of balance of capabilities that SUVs offer that inspired a lot of the Specialized Turbo Vado product development. The team looked at the most relevant use cases for everyday riders, and found that many of their target riders had already begun to transition away from road bike-based solutions to bikes that were more MTB-inspired.
That’s partly why this new Vado, which replaces the previous, road-bike based Vado, has a geometry and feel that’s more MTB.
The more upright geometry makes the new Vado a bit more comfortable for everyday riding, while the more “balloon-y” 2.3 Pathfinder tires give the bike a softer ride that’s good on pavement, gravel, and the type of dirt trails you’re likely to encounter during your urban weekend adventures. The motor here, rather than defining the experience of the bike, serves to make whatever you decide to throw at it that little bit easier.
Specialized Tech Smart
Speaking of themes, the second major theme of the Specialized Turbo Vado is one of a “tech smart” user experience – and, while connected features and apps that monitor different aspects of the bike are somewhat commonplace in the e-bike industry these days, they’re more at the heart of what Specialized is about than most e-bike brands.
That’s because Specialized, unlike almost every other e-bike brand out there, develops a lot of its own hardware. And software. Heck, the company even develops its own tires and tubes in a bit to ensure that their different bikes ride and handle precisely the way their product designers – and customers! – expect.
That integration and tech smart feel extends beyond the LCD display and smartphone app and into the more “bike-y” parts of the bike, the enviolo AUTOMATiQ Pro shifting interface internal gear hub (IGH) shifter, for example, feels a bit better on the Specialized than some of the critics in the dedicated bike rags would have you believe. You need to trust it – and, once you do, it works.
“Every day, I ride to work on the same roads,” says Mattia. “With the IGH, I don’t have to worry about what gear I am in. I just focus on the road, the traffic, my coffee – I can focus on the ride, and not on the bike.”
I can get behind that idea – now to see how it works in traffic.
Stuff You Should Know
Specialized sent me a fresh new Turbo Vado 5.0 e-bike to put through its paces (as much as a middle-aged desk pilot can, anyway), and it’s an incredible machine – but before we get to the review proper, you should know something about me: I am a fan.
Real talk, I bought my first Specialized bicycle when I was in my early twenties. Freshly out of the Air Force, freshly divorced, and freshly on the path to better mental health and better physical fitness. It was a time of new and happy beginnings for me – and my bike, a Specialized Roubaix roadie, quickly became my new best friend.
My next big bike purchase a few years later was also a Specialized. This time it was a fixed gear Langster wearing the Union Jack. And, while I never really got up to speed on that bike (new wives and new kids will do that to you), the London-themed Langster was so beautiful that it retrained a place of honor in the garage until I gifted it to my neighbor’s teenager, who seemed to be even more in love with the bike than I was.
I have an emotional connection with the bikes and the brand, in other words. So, while you may be justified in taking the pros I find in the Turbo Vado with a grain of salt, you can take the cons (what few there are) to the bank.
Let’s get started.
Make no mistake: the new Specialized Turbo Vado is a high-end bike, and it definitely looks the part. This is a great-looking machine. I thought the bike, which seemed like it had a weird disconnect between the top tube and seat stays from the studio shots, would be a bit clunky in person. It’s not. The styling works.
In White Mountains ivory, too, the bike is a stunner. I would have ordered it in Red Tint, and I would have been wrong.
If I have to complain about something, I don’t feel like the small headlight is integrated as well into the overall design as I’ve seen on other bikes, but that’s really looking for something to complain about. The bike looks great, and you’ll get nothing but compliments on it.
On The Road
The Turbo Vado 5.0 is a lot of bike. My first impression on a lonely, early AM ride is that it’s just too fast, it has too much assistance, and it’s just too much for my little Chicago neighborhood with its frequent stop and 25 mph speed limits … but that’s using it wrong.
Remember: this is a bike built for riders with a purpose, and – fun as it might be! – hopping on an expensive e-bike to “give it a whirl” doesn’t qualify as purpose-y enough.
So, fair. I attached the “Klickfix” adjustable, 17L Specialized Tailwind pannier to the Vado, stuffed it full of laptops and headsets, and rode out to the Buzz Cafe to get some tippy-typing done. And there, in rush-hour traffic, the bike did everything it was supposed to.
Stop sign? The IGH puts it in the right gear. Some road debris? The bike is nimble and balanced, so a little weave is all it takes. Road opens up ahead? Climb out of the saddle and put the power down. The Turbo Full Power 2.2 motor is torquey, smooth, and silent — and the pedal load builds progressively the harder you pedal. Despite the fact that there’s no throttle (the bike is pedelec, only, giving it more of a “pure” cycling feel), the electronically-limited 28 mph top speed comes on quickly, and seems like it’s accessible in each of the bike’s 3 assist modes.
The Specialized is (forgive me) absolutely specialized for navigating urban traffic, and is just as forgiving on a set of forty-something lungs as an ICE moped. Again, if I’m looking for criticism, I’d say that, on heavily crowned roads, the Vado can get a bit wobbly above 25 MPH, but it’s nothing you wouldn’t experience on a Tomos or Puch at full, 2-stroke boogey.
On uneven and pitted surface roads, too, the Specialized is very forgiving. The RockShox front suspension absorbs bumps and seams in the road with aplomb, and I found the spring-suspension seat post (with 40 mm, or about ¾” of travel) more than up for the task of getting me comfortably from point a to point b, too.
RockShox Front Suspension
And, when point B is a little further away than your usual, the bike can start to come into its own. Remember when I said the Turbo Vado 5.0 was too much for my neighborhood and its 25 mph speed limits? Head east into Chicago proper, on multilane roads with 35 and 40 mph limits and you might remember that “too much” is hardly a universal criticism, and the Specialized really begins to shine.
For me, that was the key to getting the most fun out of the Turbo Vado. I had to ride the Hell out of it, bombing down Chicago or Ashland or Western with my lungs on fire, heart pounding, and feeling richly rewarded. The only e-bike I’ve ridden that I’d rather try the same trick on is a Creo … and that, too, is a Specialized.
So, who should buy this Specialized bike? The one that’s, arguably, the least “specialized” bike to ever wear the iconic “S”?
You might think that, because there’s almost limitless competition in the “active” e-bike category for riders that want to use one bike to commute, get around on the weekends, and live a healthier (indeed, more active) lifestyle, that it would be a tough question to answer, but it’s really not. This bike is for someone, anyone, who is ready to make their go-to transportation option an e-bike.
Riding to work? Slip on your ultra-fashionable Specialized Mode helmet and hop on your Turbo Vado. Heading out to the farmer’s market? Swap out the Tailwind for a pair of Coolcave pannier baskets and load ‘em up. Meeting a date at a bar? The Kettlestrings Grove crowd will gawk at the Vado. Picking up some take out on the way home after a long day at work? Head to Betty’s, tie a pie down to Specialized’s world famous pizza rack, turn up the assist level, and ride back, stress-free.
Heck, the Turbo Vado’s IGH will even handle the shifting for you.
So, the new Specialized Turbo Vado is a slick, high-quality, and stupid fast (28 mph) e-bike that, if you learn how to trust the IGH, might just give you the ride you’re looking for without punishing you every other day of the week. And, in this world full of hyper-focused bicycles with wafer-thin differentiating features, a solid, well-finished bike that can very nearly be all things to all people might do very, very well.
And if the idea of one bike to do it all appeals to you, I can’t imagine anything better. Get yours in White Mountain/Black Reflective paint (like a grown-up) or Red Tint/Silver (like the Ferrari-obsessive man-child I am), trust the enviolo AUTOMATiQ Pro shifting interface to keep you in the right gear, and pedal your little heart out.
This article is supported by Specialized.
If you absolutely, positively, and stubbornly refuse to learn how to trust the IGH with the same confidence that you trust the automated transmission that I know is in your car, you can always pick up a Specialized Turbo Vado with a SRAM 11-speed.
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