The Specialized Turbo is the most affordable model in the Specialized electric bicycle lineup (as of 2015 when this review was published) which also includes the Turbo X and Turbo S. With the standard Turbo you get a beautiful purpose built frame in one of four sizes, a powerful but silent gearless rear hub motor with power regeneration, quality safety features including oversized reflectors, a bar-end mirror and integrated LED lights as well as an excellent two year electronics warranty and lifetime frame warranty. Specialized is a leading American bicycle brand launched in 1974 out of Northern California. Their slogan; “to give everyone the best ride of their life” definitely applies here because the ride is great and the price point is more in reach of “everyone” when compared with the Turbo S which is $6,000 vs. $3,800 here… For city riding and mid-range commuting the Turbo, along with the other two models, are some of the most fluid ebikes I’ve tested and the attention to detail is inspiring. It’s not a bike that was pieced together with generic off the shelf parts and it doesn’t feel like they cut any corners. My major complaints feel more like opinions here (the fast charger is heavy and large, the LCD display is built into the brake lever and doesn’t swivel, the lights stay on while charging). In short, I really like the bike but would prefer the Turbo X myself given the inclusion of a locking suspension fork for $200 more. Considering the higher speeds and longer distances that ebikes tend to endure, the suspension is just worth the extra money for me (especially since these two bikes weigh the same).
Driving the bike is a 200 watt nominal, 750 watt peak gearless direct drive motor called the “Go SwissDrive” from Ortlinghaus-Gruppe. It’s heavier and wider than most hub motors I see but the black finish blends well with accents on the frame and it doesn’t seem out of place next to the 10 speed cassette and 180 mm disc brake rotor on either side. What it delivers is smooth, powerful and near silent acceleration that reaches ~26 mph and then gracefully eases off. One of the big differences between the Turbo X and standard Turbo here vs. the more expensive Turbo S is a slightly lower top speed (the S can reach ~28 mph). In my experience, both of these slower ebikes still offer a very satisfying ride and one side benefit of the speed limit is increased range. While servicing the rear wheel, you’ll benefit from a quick disconnect point at the left side of the motor and the sturdy thru-axle which is easier to align and tighten down than a skewer. You don’t get quick release here (just on the front wheel) but the custom Electrak tires feature “Armadillo” flat protection which should help to reduce punctures. The wheelset is 700c which is a larger, more efficient size used by most road and city style bikes. The tires are 700x45c sized and that’s much wider than a road bike which are often 700x23c so you get a nice cushion that compliments the suspension and ergonomic grips at higher speeds. The tires are really unique… almost like race car slicks, they don’t feature any tread.
Powering the motor and both lights, is a super high quality 36 volt 13 amp hour battery pack. This thing is one of the major highlights on the bike because it integrates so perfectly into the downtube, creating a seamless look. The battery contains Samsung cells which are packed by Simplo (this company does Apple stuff and are recognized as a quality leader in the space). You get fifty individual 18650 cells containing a Lithium-ion chemistry that’s warrantied for two years… or 300 full cycles. I was initially put off by the seemingly low number of cycles in the guarantee but those are “full cycles” and a year contains 365 days, so if you were riding the bike from full to empty every single day 25+ miles (based on my range tests) that would be more than 9,000 miles which seems pretty solid. In short, the battery looks great, is well made, uses excellent cells and comes with solid support. If you do need a replacement or decide to get a second battery pack it will cost $800 so do take care of it! You can do this by storing it in a cool dry place and keeping it above half full when not in use over long periods (check it every few months and top it off). Now here’s a bit of an issue I noticed, the battery charger that comes with the bike is huge and weighs ~4.5 pounds. It’s not exactly backpack friendly and while you could get the optional city kit with fenders and rear rack (or add your own stuff) it would take up a lot of room and I just wasn’t stoked on the whole thing. The upside to the stock charger is that it delivers 4 Amps of energy which will charge the 468 watt hour battery in ~3.5 hours. For an additional $120 you can grab a travel charger which is slower (1.6 Amps) but much slimmer and lighter at ~1.3 pounds. I think I’d buy the travel charger for use at home (charging overnight) and then leave the larger quick charger at work for top-offs during my daily commute. Of course, the battery can be charged on or off the frame but I noticed that the lights come on whenever it is being charged on the frame (they do shut off when it’s full). This is one of my gripes about the Turbo, the lights are always on! When you charge and when you ride… They are really nice looking, especially the metal Supernova in the front, and I guess it keeps you safer and reduces complexity in the LCD menu system but it does get annoying. The original Turbo that I reviewed in 2013 seemed to let you turn the lights off by pressing in on the joystick but the new models do not. I found myself tossing a couple of shirts over the bike while charging because my room is small and the LED’s were distracting me.
Speaking of the display… it’s one of the smallest and stealthiest I’ve seen but it does have a few issues. Once the pack is charged and mounted to the frame, you press the metallic circular button at the top of the battery for a second and four LEDs flash on in sequence. If you see one of them flash multiple times it means that something is wrong in the system and each dot relates to a different component such as the motor, battery, display and lights. At this point, the sleek LCD unit near the right grip lights up and shows your speed, assist setting and one of three other readouts (odometer, trip odometer and battery charge percentage). The trip odometer resets when you plug the bike in or if you hold the little rubber joystick to the right for three seconds while in trip odometer mode (make sure you just switched into trip mode or holding to the right won’t work). The menu is really easy to navigate with the joystick thing and fairly simple to understand as long as you don’t need to do advanced stuff like disable the backlight or change from miles to kilometers… it’s all in the attached manual and involves clicking down or holding it in one direction or another. Basically you’ve got four drive modes to choose from including Turbo (which is the highest and offers full power and the 26 mph top speed), Eco mode (which is programmable between 10% and 70% output), No Assist and Regen (which turns the motor into a generator to fill the battery slowly). I really enjoyed the Eco mode and experimented with 40% and 50% output to create a slightly lighter, faster feeling “bicycle”. The Turbo is more bike-like than any other electric bike I’ve tried to date and the torque sensing motor is consistent, smooth and rarely surprising. I found myself holding the brakes while pushing down on the pedals at a stop light and unlike some other electric bikes, it didn’t try to go (even though it does not have motor inhibitors in the brake levers). I think the bike has to get going just a bit before the motor will kick in but it’s not 2 mph or anything, it’s just a little bit and it feels natural. There is a basic throttle mode built into the menus as well and you can access this by going up into Turbo mode, holding the joystick up for a few seconds until the icon flashes and then pressing and holding it up to accelerate. Note that the bike does have to be moving slightly for the throttle to kick in. Note also that I haven’t used the joystick for more than a week with a brand new demo bike and cannot comment on how well it will hold up over time. It looks well protected against water but may be delicate compared to more basic buttons used on other ebikes. One final grip about the display is that it’s not removable and cannot be swiveled to reduce glare because it’s built into the right brake lever. It’s not a huge deal because the display is small but it’s just not as convenient as some other bikes.
At the end of the day the Specialized Turbo is a $3,800 electric bike that’s priced on par with other premium offerings with the Bosch or Impulse mid-drive system but it goes faster, operates much quieter and looks more normal and “stealth”. During my ride tests it attracted more positive interest and excitement from bystanders than other ebikes I’ve tested and I think that’s because it truly blends in and is made by a company they recognize and trust. I took it to a picnic with family members in their 50’s and many of them wanted to test it out and were very impressed after a short ride. That hasn’t been the case with other electric bikes I’ve brought home. With four frame sizes to choose from (even though they are all high-step) and the vast network of Specialized dealers across the US it feels like an excellent choice, a true car replacer. In the video review you can see me racing cars from light to light and the extra speed seems to generate respect on the road which is great. While I did not install the mirror it did look nice and the locking grips and body geometry saddle worked flawlessly. This isn’t a “do everything” electric bike (I’d recommend it primarily for smooth paved riding) but it is an exciting electric bike. The weight of the motor and battery are perfectly balanced across the frame (I weighted it using a luggage scale connected near the middle of the top tube) and the pedals, cranks and 10 speed cassette perform well at low and high speed. with the bike in Eco 30% it almost feels like an ultra light road bike, until you put your foot down and remember that there are 50 pounds there instead of 20. If you want to go further, climb easier, avoid sweating or just have some fun keeping up with your friends then this could be a great choice.
- Mounting points for a bottle cage, lock or other accessory built directly into the top of the in-frame battery pack
- Excellent weight distribution! While the bike is somewhat heavy given the large battery and motor, the mass is kept low to the ground and balanced front to rear
- Sturdy, beautifully integrated LED lights by Supernova, the battery is designed to maintain enough capacity to run them at all times and even if it empties completely, the motor generates enough power through cogging to keep them going
- Well positioned mounting points for adding fenders at the front and rear as well as a four-point carry rack, great for commuting (optional commuter package from Specialized to match perfectly)
- Ergonomic grips and active saddle by Body Geometry from Specialized help to reduce hand and butt fatigue over long distances and higher speeds
- All-black frame, components and accessories make this a beautiful ride and it truly blends in… less pronounced as an “electric” bike than many others
- Includes a side mirror for safer street and city riding, this is a requirement for speed pedelecs in Europe (along with the rubber brake nubs and lights)
- Quick disconnect motor cable and thru-axle makes service easier, the quick release front wheel makes transporting more convenient
- Optional quick charger is slim, light weight at ~1.3 lbs and costs $120, it could be useful for commuters
- The little rubber joystick used to navigate the display may be more delicate than clicky buttons used on more traditional displays I’ve tested
- LCD display panel is built into the right brake lever and cannot be swiveled front to back for improved view or reduced glare
- Center mounted kickstand makes changing the front tire easy and keeps the bike straight but feels tippy side to side, overall less stable than some other stands
- The included battery charger is very fast but also large and heavy which makes it much more difficult to take along in your pack to charge at work etc. however, there is a small light weight travel charger available for ~$120
- When charging the battery pack on the bike the headlight and taillight come on and seem to stay lit which can be annoying if you don’t want the extra light
- No way to turn off the headlight and tail light while the bike is turned on (I think the Turbo S let’s you toggle them by pressing the joystick in), sometimes it’s nice to cruise without blinding friends or try to blend in more in my opinion so this would be a nice feature
- It would be nice if in addition to the regen mode (which requires you to click down two or three times using the joystick) the Turbo X and standard Turbo offered regenerative braking so you could capture electricity and save the brake pads more seamlessly by pulling the brake levers
- It seems like anyone could press the power button on the battery pack and tamper with the display, you don’t need the key or any kind of special fob or password to activate the bike… still, the motor won’t start without the bike rolling a little bit so if it’s chained up maybe that’s not a huge deal (aside from lights being on)