The huge global bicycle company Specialized invited 30 members of the media to an exclusive ride-event in San Francisco which included: breakfast, a presentation by the Specialized engineers, a talk by the Specialized founder, a ride through San Francisco on 30 Specialized Turbos, and they capped it off with a nice lunch. Arriving at the meeting place, I noticed that the fleet of Specialized Turbo bikes were lined up on a red carpet in an impressive (and very expensive) formation. At $6000 each that is a lot of cash.

stromer feet2

This press event is way beyond what I have seen or heard of any electric bike company ever doing. Specialized is big bucks, and knows how to throw a good  party.

Let’s move on to this  exciting $6,000 28-MPH bike.

Purpose-Built from the ground up

specialized-turbo

Specialized uses a purpose built frame (read our definition). This entire bike was designed from the ground up with 5 years of development time, using a team of engineers in Switzerland to develop what Specialized views as the worlds best (and fastest) electric bike. Is it really? Is it worth the $6,000? Read on. In any case, many components were custom made for this bike, most notably the battery, the motor, the controller, the dashboard, the rims, the tires, and even the Charger. Specialized pulled out all the stops on this bike.

We will look at all the features to this bike in detail in this review.

The key benefit to this bike is that it can achieve close to 28-MPH, while still weighing-in at a very light 47.5 pounds.  To be called “light weight” is a big achievement for any electric bike with any decent speed or range.

Take a look at the world lightest (17 pound)  electric mountain bike

A new category of bike

The Specialized Turbo is part of a new breed of electric bikes that we have seen lately.

  • Battery built into downtube
  • Pedelec only
  • Rear hub motor
  • expensive

Most E-bike “assemblers” have chosen cheap components for a thrown-together made in China package. The Turbo is quality-engineered and developed to be an electric bike with high-quality parts all the way around. At $6,000 this bike is not cheap, and it has a published top-speed of 28-MPH, breaking the 20-MPH speed limit that most E-bike manufacturers conform to. Making a bike that specialized admits (actually hypes up) that it is illegal (by federal US law) takes balls. Hats off to Specialized for offering a law breaker to the public.

Read our tips on how to ride an illegal fast bike on the street and not get nabbed

Battery pack

specialized-turbo-e-bike-lithium-ion-battery

To make the bike look this stealthy and sleek, Specialized Turbo decided to go with a smaller battery pack, so that the downtube does not look much different from a regular bikes frame. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of watt hours and range. 343 watt-hours is very small for a $6,000 electric bike, and regardless of manufacturer claims, you will not get as far on this pack as you would get on a larger pack on a different bike. (read our story on calculating range)

It is a very nice package that locks into the downtube very elegantly, it is removable, and is made from high quality LiNiMnCoO2 18650 cells, which should provide a long life span. Before buying this bike I would want to know exactly what the warranty on this battery pack is, and what the replacement cost is…key info that Specialized (as of this writing) is being vague about.

No throttle!

The Turbo is pedelec only. It has a digital interface on the handlebars which allows you to select which level of pedal assist you want…turbo, eco, no assist, and regen. Regen can also be activated by applying the rear brake.

There is a growing trend worldwide of using the pedelec configuration for new E-bike models. This is because many countries have conflicting and confusing laws concerning E-bikes. By producing an E-bike that will only provide power when you are pedaling, many legal conflicts will be avoided across a broad range of countries that they hope to sell many E-bikes in.

E-biker who actually prefer a pedelec system over a throttle have said that they like how their hands are focused on holding the handles, shifting the gears, and operating the brakes…a throttle would be a distraction to some riders.

Torque Sensor

The Specialized Turbo utilizes a torque sensor, instead of a throttle. This means the bike applies power depending on how hard you pedal. This is much different (and better) than a cadence sensor which applies power based on simply how fast you are pedaling. (read our compete article on torque sensors). As would be expected on such a quality bike, whatever model of torque sensor it is using, it is a very good one. Power comes on seamlessly and smoothly…as if you are Superman. You can easily forget you are on an electric bike when pedaling this baby, and simply feel like you are an incredible athlete.

Digital Dash

specialized turbo--3

Initially Specialized announced a wireless dash with  a wireless control on the handle bar.  They did away with this plan and now offer a basic wired dash. Here you can select what speed mode you want to operate in, and also see what speed your going and how much battery you have left.  Battery life is displayed through what percentage is left, and when you hit 0 your battery pack dies. This is more sophisticated than any other battery read out  I have seen on any other production electric bike because it is actually measuring how much juice is being used rather than just measuring voltage and estimating battery. I watched this display during the ride and it really seemed to be counting down from 100 based on real usage. This is better than the Stromer and Easy Motion displays for example which just estimate percentage.

Turbo_SpeedController

The Turbo also has a little thumb button on the handlebars where you can select which level of assist you want.  The four levels of assist are turbo, eco, no assist, and regen.

Tires and wheels

specialized turbo armadillo

Specialized has chosen to go with their Armadillo 700C road bike tire, which is completely smooth like a slick. It is a rugged and puncture-resistant tire designed for on road use only, and its design has maximum efficiency and low rolling resistance in mind when riding on pavement. This tire is a rough ride compared to most ebike tires I have ridden on, and does not have good traction for anything but ideal road conditions.

It’s interesting that Specialized developed a rim just for the Turbo. They wanted a 700C road bike rim…but strong enough for a 27-MPH electric bike, so they developed a rim which is a cross between the strength of downhill rim and the size of 700C tire. This also gives the Turbo a slightly higher gearing since a 700C is equivalent to a 27″ tire, a bit larger than the standard 26″ used on most electric bikes.

Another Specialized innovation is they decided to custom-develop a 20mm thru-axle as standard for both the front and rear (like the axles on a fancy front suspension fork). The purpose of this is to make the axle stronger and lighter and supposedly make the bike corner better. This also means that if you ever want to replace the rear motor, you have to stay with the Specialized hub motor, because it is the only hub motor in the industry that will mount to this type of axle.

 

Hub Motor

specialized turbo hub motor

The Specialized Turbo uses a proprietary gearless hub motor, which is smaller and lighter than most comparable gearless  hub motors that I have seen (such as the Bionx or the Stromer). The gearless hub should be fairly reliable, and allows regenerative braking (where a geared motor wouldn’t). Although the motor is publicly rated at 250 watts, I feel this is just to get past European regulations (250 watts is the maximum output allowed in Europe) but really, this motor is putting out more than 500 watts continuous, and even more than that at peak watts.

I would also comment that this is the nicest looking hub motor I have ever seen. It’s obvious that this one was not designed by Chinese engineers.

Regenerative Braking and Hydraulic Brakes

specialized tubo disc brake

The Specialized Turbo has a rare feature, regenerative brakes, and they kick on when you depress the rear brake handle. The regenerative braking adds a subtle stopping power to slow you down gradually. If you need a faster stop, you depress harder on the brake handle and the hydraulic disc-brakes kick in. If used wisely, regenerative braking will increase your range on average about 10% and will drastically reduce the wear on your hydraulic brake pads. (read our article on regenerative brakes.)

The Specialized Turbo uses Magura MT Carbon hydraulic brakes, very similar to the Stromer brakes (minus the carbon). I noticed on the test bikes that the brakes were a little squeaky. I have heard that this is because of the cheap brake pads that come with these high end brakes. If you buy this bike, and the squeak bothers you, I would recommend upgrading to better brake pads.

Shifting components

For the pedal gears, the Specialized uses a SRAM 10 speed with rear derailleur only, and a double tap shifter system. These components performed flawlessly on my test ride and provided a seamless shifting experience.

Nice charging system

specialized turbo charging

The Turbo comes with a completely silent charger with a magnetic hook up much like an Apple Laptop…It takes 2 hours to charge the bike to full (much of this is because of the tiny 350 watt hour battery pack). The same charger will charge the battery through a charge port in the bike, or with the battery removed from the bike.

How fast is it really?

Specialized, with its marketing machine, hyped this bike as being “the worlds fastest electric bike”, a claim I think is a marketing blunder. The Specialized is a long way from the fastest electric bike (read our story on 10 fastest electric bikes)

And it’s not even fast by production bike standards (read out list of 10 fastest production bikes.)

Also see our list of  illegal fast ebikes available in USA for 2013

For my test ride (at 190 pounds) pedaling hard, the maximum speed I could achieve was 25-MPH.  I am guessing without pedaling (if I could go throttle only) this bike would not break 20-MPH.  So not only is this bike not the fastest ebike currently available, it might not be as fast as the average $2000 ebike which is a disappointing reality. USA customers appreciate fast bikes, and will be let down if they spend $6000 to buy the “fastest ebike on the planet” only to have their downtube blown off  by a $1000 home built bike.  Check out an example of a 45mph  home built bike based on a Specialized mountain bike frame.

Ride impressions

specialized turbo--2

 

The Specialized Turbo has a lot of roadbike DNA in it. Aggressive riding geometry, uncomfortable (but light) road bike seat, and the steering is quick, so…you have to stay on the ball at high speed. It is a bit too aggressive for daily commuting, and riding 25-MPH on this bike feels a little fast and squirreley. Bigger and fatter tires might make a big difference on the jarring feel this bike has.

Real world range

The path these 30 bikes took on a test-ride was 10 miles. It was a blazing fast ride with a former Tour De France rider setting the pace, and a lot of bicycle industry people keeping up. All bikes were in the highest setting “turbo” throughout the ride. The path we took was moderately hilly.

On this ride my bike used 51% of its battery on the 10 mile circuit. Out of the 30 riders, three ran out of juice before reaching the end, and had to pedal the rest of the way. This is real world ebike range. You will be lucky to get 20 miles out of a small battery pack like this, if you want to run in the “turbo” mode.

If you really milk it, you could maybe get a 30-mile range using a very moderate electric assist and pedaling a lot.

Always remember when it comes to electric bikes and company claimed ranges, you can just turn the motor off and get a “200 mile range”. Range numbers are often exaggerated, because so much depends on rider input and riding conditions when it comes to ebikes.

Fit and finish

Glossy red with really nice-looking CNC elements. It is a very beautiful and fancy-looking bike whose fit and finish is second to no electric bike I can think of.  Barely any visible wires, with any needed wires running through the frame.

Worth $6,000?

Of course, every high-end electric bike is nice but it all comes down to…is it worth the asking price?  $6000 is the biggest negative this bike has, and unfortunately it will be insurmountable for most buyers.

Many people will be willing to spend this kind of money because of the quality of this bike and that it has the Specialized name behind it.  Many Specialized bikes already cost $6000 and are pedal power only and plenty of people buy them. There is no bigger, better established name than Specialized offering an electric bike in the USA. The idea that you can potentially go to any Specialized dealer and have your bike warranty supported will be a relief to many potential customers.

To me, a lot will depend on what warranty is offered with this bike, what a replacement (or extra) battery pack will cost, and where will you be able to get this bike repaired?

As an electric bike geek, in my opinion this bike is not worth the $6000 asking price. It simply does not have any features that blow me away, and it is not powerful enough (250 watt motor) or have far enough of a range (350 watt hour battery)  for me to fathom buying  this bike at even half the asking price.

But I am an electric bike guy, and know what the options are:

Competition Comparison

stromer st1-2931 specialized_turbo_hk52g

Is the Specialized Turbo a big upgrade to the Stromer St1 Platinum or the Neo Jumper full suspension both of which retail for $4,000, a full $2,000 cheaper than the Turbo? I do not believe it is…since both those bikes offer sizable advantages over the Specialized Turbo. The Stromer Platinum comes with a battery pack that is 522 watt hours compared to the Turbo’s  342 (40% more range). And, the Neo Jumper offers a quality full-suspension frame.

The Turbo does have its advantages. It is a high quality bike with a solid company behind it, and it does have a lot of little features such as ultra high-end components, integrated lights, which the Neo-Jumper and Stromer do not have. For bicycle weight weenie types its hard to beat the Specialized Turbos 47 pound weight, a full 15 pounds lighter than the Stromer ST1.

The morning of the test ride I took  a Stromer  ST1 I have been testing  to the San Francisco meeting place.  Ironically, I ended up taking the same route along the Embarcadero as we would on our Specialized Turbo  group test ride, and I took the same ride home on the Stromer. My opinion is there is little difference between the way these two bikes perform and handle. In fact the ST1 is a little faster (so much for Specialized being the worlds fastest ebike) and has significantly more range with its battery pack that is 40% larger. The Stromer comes with a 3 year warranty.

The ST1 beats the Turbo in both top speed and range, which are the key attributes of an electric bike to USA buyers. Both are high quality bikes. The big plus the Turbo has is…it is somehow a full 15 pounds lighter than the Stromer.

Specialized spent 5 years developing this bike and it has been available in Europe for about a year, and it  would have been better if they would have beat the Stromer St1 to  the USA market but they did not. Between these 2 bikes I feel the Stromer will be an easy pick for most buyers.

Also, for a fraction of what the Specialized Turbo costs you could build a helluva home build bike if you have those kind of skills. Heck for this price you could pay an expert builder to build the bike for you. (see our  Super Commuter story)

 

Pros and Cons of the Specialized Turbo

Pros

  • Super elegant bike with nice fit and finish
  • Good company name behind it
  • top notch components all the way around
  • excellent battery indicator
  • Decent speed with hard pedaling

Cons

  • $6000 price point is very high
  • 350 watt hour battery pack is small and offers limited range
  • Not good for any off road riding
  • slick tires can be slippery
  • Bike has agressive road bike feel that can be uncomfortable

 

Conclusion

A great electric bike, but I feel not worth the money…especially considering recent competition in the Stromer St1 and the Neo Jumper. I hope Specialized either lowers their prices or upgrades the ebike to make it a better USA competitor (bigger battery pack and more powerful geared hub motor). I really believe that Specialized should step back, take another look, and come to market with what they initially intended….the worlds fastest production electric bike.

Specialized should take a look at the Audi electric bike for inspiration. You simply don’t get very fast using a 250-watt hub motor and a puny 350 watt hour battery, and the marketing hype with a slick-looking bike do not make up for it.  A $2,000 run of the mill 48V Pedego or Currie bike would smoke this thing in both top-speed and range, and that’s pretty pathetic. Specialized could have done way better and released a real game-changer. As is, I bet this bike makes barely a ripple in the USA ebike market.

There are four  major attributes most people want in an electric bike (in order of importance): they want it fast, they want it to have long range, they want it to be lightweight, and  they also want it to be affordable. You can sometimes have 3 of these things in a store-bought bike, but its impossible (as of this writing) to get all 4. The $6,000 Specialized somehow misses the mark on 3 0f the 4. It is lightweight…and it is super pretty to look at if you want to add that to the list.

Also because this ebike is expensive, and also expensive looking, do not expect to lock it outside and go into a building for an hour with a free heart…not in the USA at least. This bike will be a bike thief’s jackpot…a big downside for a bike being labeled as a commuting “game changer”.

Specialized Turbo Specifications

  • Frame: Turbo alloy, integrated down tube battery, internal cable routing, tapered head tube, X12 through-axle rear dropouts, full mudguard/rack mounts
  • Fork: Turbo custom alloy fork, tapered steerer, Q15 dropouts, mudguard eyelets and lowrider mounts
  • Headset: 1-1/8 inch Campagnolo-style upper cartridge bearing, 1-1/2 inch lower integrated
  • Stem: CrankBrothers Cobalt, alloy, custom polished anodised black
  • Handlebar: Flat top riser bar, alloy, 680mm wide, 31.8mm, polished black finish
  • Grips: Specialized BG XCT lock-on, integrated right-hand side remote
  • Front brake: Magura MT Carbon hydraulic disc, one-piece forged caliper, 180mm Storm rotor
  • Rear brake: Magura MT Carbon hydraulic disc, one-piece forged caliper, 180mm Storm rotor, integrated switch to activate regenerative braking
  • Brake levers: Magura MT Carbon
  • Rear derailleur: SRAM X0, 10-speed, long cage
  • Shift lever: SRAM DoubleTap flat bar trigger, 10-speed (right side only)
  • Cassette: SRAM PG 1030, 10-speed, 11-36t, black finish
  • Chain: KMC X10 NP, black
  • Crankset: FSA Gossamer Turbo BB30, alloy, 1×10, 4mm carbon guard
  • Chainring: FSA 48t alloy, 110mm BCD, five-arm
  • Bottom bracket: FSA 386 Mega Evo outer-style, includes BB tool
  • Pedals: SBC-10 platform
  • Rims: Custom Specialized 700c extra strong
  • Front hub: Formula SP9177, alloy bolt-on disc, 15mm through-axle, 36-hole
  • Spokes: DT Champion stainless steel, 2mm (front); DT Alpine, stainless steel, 2.34/2mm (rear)
  • Front tyre: Specialized Electrak, 700x45c, wire bead, Armadillo protection, 60tpi
  • Front tyre: Specialized Electrak, 700x45c, wire bead, Armadillo protection, 60tpi
  • Inner tubes: Kenda PV 32, presta valves
  • Saddle: Specialized Body Geometry Targa Pro, 155mm, carbon rails
  • Seatpost: Specialized Turbo, carbon, 30,9mm, 400mm
  • Seat clamp: JD, anodised black
  • Motor: Specialized Turbo Direct Drive rear hub motor, 250 watt, waterproof connector
  • User Interface: Illuminated display, wireless remote thumb control, integrated grip mount
  • Battery: Turbo Integrated down tube battery, self-locking key release, on-board or outside bike charge capable, LED power indicators, start-up diagnostic feature, magnetic connectors, 342Wh capacity
  • Charger: SBC Turbo quick-charge, magnetic connectors, top-view LED indicator, custom fanless design for total silence, two hours for full charge

owners manual: http://turbo.specialized.com/media/assets/locale/en_us/en-turbo-manual.pdf

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Written by Eric, April 2013