Specialized Turbo Vado-S

May 25, 2017

Normally, I wouldn’t care much about a turn-key ebike that uses only 350W, but…the Specialized Turbo Vado-S shows that the E-division of one of the biggest players in the bicycle market is evolving. And…it doesn’t hurt that they are moving towards a direction that we have been talking about for a long time.


The Vado-S, and its Major Features

If you Google the “Specialized Turbo” you will still find a rear hub-motored ebike. Although the Specialized Turbo is about as good as a low-powered hub-motored ebike can be (it is VERY sophisticated)…it is still struggling to make progress in North America. One reason is the high price tag, and the other reason is the low power.

There are plenty of retailers who are trying to sell turn-key factory ebikes (instead of a kit that is added to an existing bicycle frame), and…why not sell something that is already in production? So…there are two huge markets for existing ebikes. The first is China, and…the second is the European Union (EU). The Chinese public seems to care only for adequate performance and lowest price (I’m not judging them, but..those ebikes are ugly by US standards), and the EU market seems to care about…high quality and style…along with buying ebikes that “look like” a regular pedal bicycle, and only provide “mild assistance” when pedaling…meaning no hand-throttle).

That means that…passionate ebikers in North America have two choices. One is to buy an EU-spec factory ebike that is very high quality and low-performance, or…buy a cheap and high-performance kit and install it on an existing bicycle. In the interests of “full disclosure”, I have several ebikes, and they all of them have kits that are cheap and high-performance. I live in Kansas (central USA), and when I pedal past the police, my most-often-used  ebike has more than twice the legal power limit of 750W for the USA (it’s 1500W, for the “math impaired”).

I ride the streets, and I have “almost” been killed by cars several times. I cannot imagine having any less power than what I have now, as a matter of survival. That being said…there are several things I like about the Specialized Turbo Vado-S.

The Specialized company is huge, and it is a global bicycle powerhouse (both for street and off-road). I was happy to see that they were finally making an ebike model, years ago. It is true it was a rear hubmotor, but..those can be “adequate” for terrain that was fairly flat (with a few mild hills), which is what most major cities are around the world. I can’t blame them, but…

Here, we are un-embarrassed fans of “hot rodding” and…in the tradition of historical European car races…”racing improves the breed”. If you trust us? Our experience tells us that…the more power you have, the fewer gears you need. So…Specialized has made progress by introducing the MID-DRIVE Vado (which at least, has “some” gears), but…it is still an “efficient low-powered” EU-spec ebike that they are trying to market where-ever they can.

Don’t take this as a harsh criticism. Specialized is a very successful company that is marketing exactly what EU customers want, in an era where gasoline costs $8/gallon in Europe. However…the law in Canada allows a 500W power limit, as does the “hilly” nations of Switzerland and Austria (have you heard of the Alps?).

Why won’t they build a street-LEGAL 750W ebike for the US, and then just restrict the amps to make it a 500W legal ebike for Canada, Switzerland, and Austria? These global ebike engineering divisions of bicycle manufacturers are pandering to their biggest customer base, therefore…I can’t really blame them, so…for the next few years, North American ebike enthusiasts will have to make do with adding a kit that they like, and adding that kit to a frame that they like.

So, let’s get back to the Vado-S, and why it is a milestone. By producing the Vado-S…Specialized is admitting that street ebikes that only have a hubmotor (and are limited to 20-MPH, 16 km/h) are no longer viable for most of the buying public (DUH?). Would YOU pay $5,000 for a 20-MPH ebike, that struggles on hills? In fact, a huge portion of the new ebike buyer base is an older bicyclist who just need a little help on the hills.

The big change for Specialized in producing the “mid drive” Vado is that they realize some customers who ride on the streets? They want an ebike that can shift gears to climb hills better. The “S” designation is also especially important. In the EU, it means that the model in question is a “Speed” pedelec…meaning that, when you pedal along?…the power system will add electric motor power up to 28-MPH (45 km/h). I personally find that this particular speed is actually reasonable for legal ebikes on the streets (with no required registration or licensing). You can pedal up to a much higher speed on a downhill, but…you won’t get any extra electric  power over the 28-MPH limit…



This is a cool “exploded” graphic of the hardtail Specialized Vado.


The Vado comes in four versions, meaning…two top-speed limits (20-MPH, and 28-MPH), and two 36V battery sizes, providing up to 90Nm of torque (Newton meters) at the pedal-axle. The motor itself is the same as what’s in the standard off-road Specialized Levo, but the software is re-tuned for street riding. The 250-watt Turbo 1.2 Motor goes in bikes that top-out at 20-MPH (32 km/h), and the 350 watt Turbo 1.2 “S” will provide a 28-MPH top speed (45 km/h).



The Brose high-efficiency mid drive motor and controller unit, courtesy of the UK website, ebiketips


From the pic above (courtesy of ebiketips, in the UK), we can see that this particular Brose unit uses an aluminum “bathtub” lower case-housing, which the motors “in-runner” stator is heat-sinked to, in order to provide air-cooling across the shell, while keeping the motor itself sealed away from mud and water. Plus, the primary gear-reduction uses helical gears to reduce high-RPM noise, and…the secondary reduction uses a belt instead of a chain to make the drive as quiet as is possible. The last engineering note of interest is the use of the ISIS splined crank interface, instead of the common square-tapered spindle (which is definitely an upgrade).



In researching links to find out info for this article, I stumbled across the youtube linked above, and in it, I also saw some info I had not seen before. In spite of the fact the Brose drive-unit used only 250W / 350W of input power…the axle-spindle was an unusually high-quality of design and strength, along with the freewheel.

In the pic below, the freewheel shown is a type known as a “sprag” clutch. It is commonly used in industry, and is known to handle very high power per a given size, but…it is also more expensive than the more common types of freewheeling clutches. I have read that the Brose unit was designed by an engineering group that included automotive engineers, and I can’t help but to notice that helical  planetary gears and sprag-clutches are common in automotive automatic transmissions…



The tubular Brose ISIS splined axle-spindle, shown with a high-number contact-points sprag-clutch, and a multi-point magnetic motion-indicator. I can’t tell the exact number, but it looks like it has approximately 36 tiny magnets, so the distance between them is very small. This means the pedal-sensor has a more precise and rapid picture of whats going on in the system. Many other brands use only 12 magnets.


There are three common types of freewheel-clutch (a shaft will spin freely in one direction, but locks-up in the other direction).



The three common types of freewheel clutch. A sprag on the left, a ramped roller is in the center, and the common bicycle pawls are on the right.


It is very unusual for an ebike to use a sprag-clutch as a freewheel. It is even more unusual for a low-powered ebike to use that. The sprag-style is known to be smooth and quiet in its operation, but…it is also known to be capable of very high power transmission in a compact package. The only downside is that it is more expensive than the other types, even in its simplest form. Its strength and its expense is a result of its high-number of contact points.


Other Specialized Vado features

In the pic below, you can see the “Dry-Tech” fenders, which dramatically reduce the water that is splashed-up onto the motor and rider when riding in an unexpected and sudden rain. The main fender design change is that the front fender has a rubber-flap extension on the trailing edge (shown by a red arrow), and it may seem at first to be only a minor and simple improvement, but…it does significantly reduce the amount of water that is splashed-up onto the rider and ebike.



The Specialized Vado-S, notice the kick-stand moved back to near the rear axle so it doesn’t clash with the pedals when rolling backwards, and the cables are routed through the frame, inserted at the head-tube.


I also like the custom-designed cargo rack. it’s unusual shape allows a Thudbuster or a Suntour NCX suspension seat-post to be added without the cycling stroke of their mechanisms to be limited (I highly recommend either of them). A proper suspension seatpost is the single most appreciated upgrade to a hardtail frame, especially for the “S” model, which can be powered up to 28-MPH (45 km/h).



The Specialized Vado rear disc brake


The Vados’ rear disc brake caliper is located inside the frame (instead of the more common location above the seat stay). That is a minor change, but…I like it, and I think many potential buyers will like it too. I recently saw an article on the increased use of disc brakes on bicycles of all types, and…for bikes at speeds above 20-MPH (35 km/h)…I definitely approve.



Here is the 10-speed cassette sprocket-cluster on the rear wheel, that I feel is very appropriate for a 350W ebike mid-drive. Since the Vado-S only has one chainring, the entire gear-range can be very cheaply adjusted up or down with a simple and affordable chainring swap.



The Specialized Turbo Vado. It is made to be a stealthy and almost-silent ebike, for streets and mild trails. the model shown here only has the solid fork.


The Specialized company is based in Switzerland, and many components are made in Germany.




There is nothing wrong with a male enthusiast buying and using a Specialized Vado or Vado-S, but…their advertising program and color selections seem to indicate that the Vado is being marketed to women. This is not a bad thing, but…the max-power 350W Vado-S indicates that Specialized thinks that ALL women only want “mild assist”.



The EU-spec ebike pedelecs are very sophisticated ebikes that take an efficient and  small-watt power input and convert it into a lot of wheel-torque, but…will it sell in North America?


The past year has seen a LOT of bicycle media ending up softening a little bit on their previous hate of ebikes. The Specialized Turbo Vado-S is typical of the ebike versions that attempt to seduce bicyclists to “come over to the dark side”. From a distance, they actually look just like a “pedal-only” bicycle. That being said, the extra power of a battery and electric motor allow the rider to climb up steep hills with no sweat. Of course, the lower power range of the 350W EU-spec system means you will have to downshift into a much slower gear to do that. the upside to that is…the small and light battery will last a long time (but…get the larger battery, you won’t regret it).

Brose and Specialized need to come up with a US-legal 750W version that can easily have its amps limited to make it a 500W version for the Canada/Switzerland/Austria customer-base. These modern sophisticated versions we see are very impressive with how much wheel-torque they can produce from a measly input watt amount of 350W, but…I’d like to see what they could do with 750W 0f input (don’t you?). And for those who fear the customers with a mind-boggling power level of 750W at their fingertips?…each rider can use the dashboard to quickly and easily limit their watts to less, if they want more of a leg-workout on their ride (I use 1,500W on a mid-drive often, and its still not enough for me).

(*sigh) Here’s a quote from “Bike Radar” that shows that the current US bicycle media is growing to accept that…maybe ebikes are actually here to stay? The Vado-S is mild instead of spicy (by our opinion), but…it is progress.

“…The Turbo Vado has opened my eyes to the true potential of e-bikes, call it an e-piphany. Here we have a vehicle that could genuinely get people out of cars for a commute that’s as much of a workout as they want it to be, and can even deliver fun in the process…” – Bike Radar


Written by Ron/spinningmagnets, May 2017

Grew up in Los Angeles California, US Navy submarine mechanic from 1977-81/SanDiego. Hydraulic mechanic in the 1980's/Los Angeles. Heavy equipment operator in the 1990's/traveled to various locations. Dump truck driver in the 2000's/SW Utah. Currently a water plant operator since 2010/NW Kansas


Leave a Reply