LIKE MANY CYCLISTS who consider themselves purists, I’ve had difficulty wrapping my brain around the increasing popularity of e-bikes: Worldwide sales tallied 36 million units in 2016. German postal workers use e-bikes on their routes, and in the US, major bike manufacturers like Specialized, Cannondale, and Trek have introduced a surprising array of motorized options, from off-road fatties to commuters.
But still, I thought, why complicate the beautiful simplicity of a plain old bike, minimize my calorie-burning potential with a motor, and wait hours for a battery to charge? It all seemed complex and unnecessary. Then I tried Specialized’s new women’s Turbo Vado 6.0 commuter e-bike and discovered that there is room in my life for a new category of cycling joy—especially when the rush of the Turbo kicks in.
Think of the Turbo Vado 6.0 as the love child of a shrunken Vespa and an overweight 1967 Schwinn Typhoon. The waterproof alloy frame has a gently sloping step-through top tube, making it easy to wear a skirt while riding. A removable 604-watt-hour battery pack seamlessly integrates into the down tube, and the belt-driven 350-watt motor sits hidden in the bottom bracket. After a full charge that takes 4 hours and 20 minutes, the bike is ready to roll.
Press the On button and the handlebar-mounted display, about the size of an old-school iPod, flickers to life, along with the 800-lumen headlight. There’s not much to mess up onscreen: It displays miles or kilometers per hour, juice left in the battery, and the motor’s modes. There are three to choose from—Eco, Sport, and Turbo—which can be adjusted by a lever on the right handlebar.
With fenders to ward off splattering mud, a sleek rack over the rear wheel, a hefty kickstand, a big rearview mirror, grippy 2.0-inch tires, and a 55-mm front fork, there are a lot of handy commuting bells and whistles in addition to the power. That also explains why the Turbo Vado 6.0 costs $4,800 and weighs 50 pounds. That’s roughly 30 pounds heavier than my road bike. But it’s a heck of a lot lighter than my old Turbo Saab.
For a month now, every time I’ve been tempted to hop in the Saab to deposit checks at the ATM, drop letters at the post office, buy groceries, or race to the ice cream parlor before it closes, I’ve ridden the Turbo Vado 6.0. What I’ve found is joy—even in rain, wind, and on tough climbs. These elements would have formerly made me drive instead of ride, but on this e-bike you can make the ride as easy or hard as you like. Riding uphill in Eco mode can be a killer quad workout, but flip to Turbo mode and it becomes a Mary Poppins joyride.
Instead of waiting for traffic on congested streets, I rode up riverside paved paths, watching the water rush by as I pedaled. Not only did I get to my destination faster, especially on short errands, I got there a lot happier and without having to search for a parking space. On the most epic of errand days, which required a 20-mile loop with multiple stops and starts, I drained the battery to only 65 percent. And for one full week, my car stayed in the garage. If I lived in a major city with good mass transit options, I could easily see the bike replacing my car.
The particular genius of the Turbo Vado 6.0 is its Eco, Sport, and Turbo modes. Eco is the most energy efficient and feels only slightly more luxurious than riding a nonmotorized bike. Sport gives a little extra boost if you’re in a hurry on flats, and Turbo kicks the bike into high gear, offering a surge of power even up hills. Not only does Turbo bring an adrenaline rush when the motor propels you forward at speeds up to 28 mph (which, incidentally, is not legal in all states), it gives a much-needed boost while riding into a headwind or uphill. One night my boyfriend, who was on his nonmotorized mountain bike, held on as I pedaled us both up a steep, paved climb to dinner. The surreal role reversal in which I am riding a bike faster than him is one of the priceless thrills of an e-bike.
No matter what mode the bike is in, the ride is smooth and feels stable, like riding a lighter, more versatile Vespa. It would be an ideal bike for commutes in the five- to 20-mile range in a city with varying terrain. But because the bike is heavy, it’s almost impossible to pedal up a steep hill without the motor’s help, and transitions from stop to start can be a little clunky, so be sure to downshift before pedaling up a big climb or you may stall halfway to the top.
After a month of forays around my hilly city, the battery never ran out, which is a good thing. The Turbo Vado 6.0 is a total blast, but it would have been a beast to pedal all the way home without an e-assist.[“Source-wired”]