Good company: Specialized’s e-bikes are aimed at urban commuters

Thirteen years ago, before most people had ever heard of an “e-bike,” a few designers in the Swiss offices of massive bicycle company Specialized convinced their bosses to let them embark on an experiment. . The Turbo S wasn’t the first pedal-assist bike on the market, but it was a bold entry from a company that was very successful in selling a range of road and mountain bikes from entry level to the race.

The Turbo S had a powerful rear hub motor that was capable enough to keep early adopters away from cars as a primary means of getting to and from work. And that was only the beginning.

At the time, company founder and CEO Mike Sinyard was skeptical of e-bikes. Although passionate about all things cycling, it didn’t seem right at first, he told his team. But the designers convinced him to let them tinker on a mountain bike platform that could be built in-house, with batteries and integrated motors developed by Specialized, so the experience could be tailored specifically to his frames. and components.

“There are big companies like Bosch and Shimano that develop plug-and-play motors and batteries that any bike manufacturer can take, design everything else on the bike, and then just plug in the battery and motor,” explains Mattia Berardi, the Swiss-based product manager for Specialized Turbo Active. “It’s great because it increases adoption, but it also means that as a bike brand that knows your own ride, you can’t personalize the experience.”

In 2015 came the Levo, a nimble rig that appealed to newcomers looking for a little extra power on steep singletrack climbs to the burgeoning sport of mountain biking. Then the team took the platform they had developed and applied it to the road bike, viewing passenger cars as competitors.

“The hunch was that if we could make an e-bike, its most common use would be commuting and it could replace cars,” Berardi says. Electric bikes have been around in one form or another since the 1990s. But for a big company like Specialized to develop its own platform, and its own line, “it was a total gamble”.

Turbo Levo’s specialty mountain bikes are now in their third generation, but its latest line of e-road bikes took a big leap forward last fall. Some e-bikes deliver a powerful kick the moment the rider’s foot hits the pedal. Specialized’s motors are designed to be smoother, “to help you, to make you feel stronger,” says Berardi. “The engine has to provide the right amount of assist at the right times.”

Today, Specialized customers are as likely to buy a pedal-assist bike as a fully human-powered bike. Sales of e-bikes have doubled in recent years, year over year. And the company makes some of the most advanced e-bikes on the market, both for mountain biking and commuting. The more engaging the experience, Berardi says, the more people can be convinced that cycling is a better way to get to work than driving. “We are already working on the next generation,” he says.

The Turbo Vado 5.0 IGH retails for US$5,500.



The Specialized Turbo Vado 5.0 IGH is now delivered to those who ordered them after a fall 2021 release. It features a fully powered motor with high torque to amplify rider effort fourfold, and a 710 watt-hour battery with a range of up to 90 miles that’s removable but locked with a key, so owners can charge the battery without having to move the bike.

The IGH stands for Internal Gear Hub, as the bike features stepless shifting technology that automatically shifts gears based on the rider’s pedaling pace. There’s also a “cadence coach” that lets runners know when they’re at an optimal cadence. The screen shows useful information such as speed and battery level and it can be customized to show other important data points.


The Turbo Vado 5.0 IGH retails for US$5,500.


Most e-bike owners also have cars, but the more bikes people buy and the easier they handle, the more likely they are to choose a bike for a quick trip to the grocery store or commuting to work. E-bikes are less popular in very dense markets that have good public transport and walkable neighborhoods, more so in cities and towns that are a little larger, requiring more travel to get from place to place .

The global transportation sector produces more than 7.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, with passenger cars accounting for 41%. So every choice that means leaving the guzzlers in the aisle adds up, in favor of a greener planet.

“E-bikes mean you can climb hills, get to destinations faster, and do it without breaking a sweat, which is important for people who commute to work,” says Berardi. “If you don’t need to carry so many things – a computer, a lunch box – you can carry them.”

Sustainability is also woven into the fabric of the company. Specialized partners with several organizations to support these efforts, including People4Bikes, an organization that advocates for better programs and policies to expand bike access and safety, and Call2Recycle, a pioneer in safe and responsible bicycle collection and recycling. batteries.



The company’s goal going forward is to continually examine what’s stopping people from riding, Berardi says. Beyond disabling the bike through an app, Specialized is researching other methods to make e-bikes useless to anyone but the owner.

Reducing maintenance is another goal. Specialized’s latest line of bikes retains an internally geared hub at the rear and uses a belt instead of a chain, which holds the components inside the frame and protects them from the elements.

And future iterations of the company’s bikes will be faster, so they can more seamlessly navigate environments where it’s useful to move as quickly as cars.

Wiley C. Thompson