New pedal-assisted ebike from Specialized lets you work up a sweat or ease your commute

If you’ve yet to experience one, the concept of an electric bike probably seems unnecessary. After all, many people bike for cardio exercise, and anything that aids the physical act of pedaling is unwanted. So when Specialized — a behemoth in the biking space — releases a brand-new version of its Turbo-outfitted, pedal-assisted e-bike called the Vado, cyclists may treat it like a random advertisement — that is, ignore it altogether.

Recently, the brand invited Digital Trends to Palo Alto, California, to give the Vado a proper test drive. Truthfully, prior to hopping on, we were just as skeptical as the average cyclist. We ride to get our blood pumping, not to let a bike do the work, even while commuting.

After spending two days with one, we can say with confidence that the Vado is hardly a gimmick — it’s a product that warrants your attention.

More than a commuter

To its credit, Specialized designed the Vado with both commuting and play in mind. It’s not something meant strictly for breaking a sweat, though it allows riders to do so if they please. To show off this flexibility, the brand invited a group of journalists to see firsthand exactly how the Vado might impact their daily life. Be it the daily commuter who already rides a bike to work or the weekend cyclist, Specialized wanted to make clear that its pedal-assisted ebike works for any kind of personal preference — save mountain bike trails, though Specialized does have a Turbo model for that, of course.

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Nick Kova

For our visit, Specialized outfitted us with the Turbo Vado 5.0, a bike boasting a 350-watt motor, 604-watt-hour lithium-ion battery, and the capability to go up to 80 miles on a single charge. Unlike similar models that scream “ebike,” the Vado’s aesthetic is unassuming, featuring just a beefed-up lower bar where the battery sits — something easily overlooked on a quick glance. Specialized did reserve a fresh batch of neon yellow Vados for the tour, so even though it didn’t look like a traditional, bulky ebike, we still stood out bright as day.

A smooth, pedal-assisted ride

Due in part to the fact that the Vado’s biggest draw is for the city commuter, Specialized guided the group on a 20-mile jaunt through residential Palo Alto. After a brief rundown of how to operate the bike — there’s slightly more to it than simply pedaling — we were off. With the highest pedal-assist mode (dubbed, unsurprisingly, Turbo), a pump or two was all that was needed before the bike’s motor kicked in, sending us blazing at around 12 miles per hour down the road.

At first, this jolt of movement is incredibly noticeable — think of an airplane that just started barreling down a runway, but not quite as extreme. Our head whipped back and the parked cars zoomed by a touch quicker than they would have if we were pedaling an ordinary bicycle.

As we cruised through Palo Alto, the pedal-assistance became less noticeable, its jolt less striking, its faster speeds less obvious.

To allow riders a constant reference to their current speed, Specialized outfits each bike with a built-in LED screen on the handlebars that takes nothing more than a quick glance to read. Although we weren’t breaking any speed laws, the display did come in handy on the second ride (more on that below) where we rode much faster — which is significant because the pedal-assisted motor shuts off once the bike reaches anything higher than 28 miles per hour.

As we cruised to various predetermined stops — a local bike shop, candy store, and around the beautiful campus of Stanford University — the pedal-assistance of the Vado became less noticeable, its jolt less striking, its faster speeds less obvious. For what it’s worth, all members of the 25-or-so-person group were all on Vados, so it wasn’t until we passed a normal cyclist that our higher speed was evident.

Over the course of the 20-mile ride, the only time we ever truly broke a sweat was when we biked in direct sunlight — it was a sunny, 85-degree spring day in Palo Alto. Otherwise, much of the ride was a peaceful cruise around Silicon Valley where we never went slower than about 12 (easy) miles per hour. In other words, it wasn’t hard to see the value of using the Vado as a daily commuter.

Excellent as a road cruiser

With a casual ride around town under our belts, Specialized upped the ante the following day with a more advanced trek through the hills of Palo Alto. Clad in athletic apparel befitting a more hardcore ride, the group set out along a couple busy streets before ascending onto a quieter back road where we could really push the Vado to its limits. Locked into the bike’s Turbo mode yet again, we traversed from cement road to dirt trail with ease, keeping a steady pace of about 18 to 20 miles per hour in the process.

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Nick Kova

Then we arrived at one of the city’s steeper hills, a street avid cyclers view as one of the toughest climbs to conquer in the city. Unsurprisingly, the Vado handled it with utter ease as we were able to keep the bike moving along at around 20 to 22 miles per hour for nearly the entire climb. Granted, we also pushed ourselves to the limit, cruising through the ride at a low enough gear to keep the bike moving and breaking a solid sweat in the process. After climbing for roughly two miles, the group slowed down to catch their breath and marvel at the Vado’s ability.

Worth the price?

At $4,600, the Turbo Vado 5.0 certainly isn’t cheap but compared to one of Specialized’s top-of-the-line mountain bikes — for instance, its Enduro Elite — the price isn’t entirely unheard of. It does require upkeep to maintain its tip-top shape but again, serious cyclers should expect to do the same with any other type of bike — road, mountain, or otherwise.

Unsurprisingly, the Turbo Vado handled steep climbs with utter ease.

To answer the question bluntly, yes, Specialized’s Turbo Vado 5.0 is worth the price. Of course, buying a pedal-assisted electric bike comes with a few caveats, mainly surrounding its intended use and terrain. As a commuter bike that also doubles as a fun road cruiser, the Vado excels. It’s not hard to see this supplanting someone’s daily bicycle while also taking the place of their weekend ride. It provides just enough of a boost to allow people to get to work without sweating through their work clothes, yet offers the resistance necessary to let them achieve a serious workout on longer outings.

Though we went into the ride a bit doubtful of an electric bike’s potential to serve as an everyday ride, we left firm believers in its capability. With the option to use as much (or as little) of the Turbo function as a rider pleases, it’s not all go all the time — a welcome feature that allows for exercise or leisure. It’s this versatility that lets the Vado particularly stand out and earns it a proper spot in anyone’s quiver of bikes.