Ebiketips reviewed the 'base' model of Specialized's Turbo Vado SL range back in 2020 and deemed it an enjoyable bike for an active cyclist. "If you’re after some fun and lighter assistance, it’s one for the shortlist," concluded Dave. Here we try the latest fully equipped version, the Turbo Vado SL 4.0 EQ, with the same Specialized lightweight mid-drive but in its fully-equipped, commuter format, with gearing and braking bought up to date too.
The SL stands for 'super light' in contrast to the heavier Brose-based mid-drives used by non-SL models. So in effect Specialized have two broad ranges of 'Turbo' bikes (i.e. e-bikes) across most genres. These include Vado (commuter/leisure), Creo (road), Levo (e-MTB), Kenovo (downhill e-MTB) and Como (city). Specialized helpfully characterise the assist given by the two mid-drives as '2x you' for the lighter SL models and '4x you' for the heavier but punchier non-SL models. There's also now a trail e-bike, the Tero - though that is only available as a heavier non-SL, full power version.
What's special about the Specialized SL 1.1 mid-drive?
For a start there are very few sub 2kg mid-drives out there so the 1.95kg weight of the Specialized SL 1.1 motor singles it out right from the start. The 180% max assist level and the 35Nm torque rating shouldn't put you off. We found 35Nm working through the gears gives more steep hill climbing ability than that figure might suggest. Specialized like to do things their own way and the enduring success of this motor since its launch in 2019 shows they were right to go down the relatively low power but light weight and smooth, seamless power delivery road in this particular case.
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The motor power on the Vado SL is beautifully smooth and quiet when not under a huge amount of load, though it does become much more audible when working hard up steeper hills. It feels like it rewards human input and the motor power is smooth and proportionate to your pedal effort. If you reach the limit of the motor power on hills or switch the motor off altogether, you still get a nice bike-like ride and don't feel the lack of electric assistance is holding you back too much. In this respect it is quite like the Raleigh Trace we tested recently.
Up our standard extended hill climb timed test, it was a little off the pace of the bigger mid-drives and torquier hub motors, but it felt pretty easy to crest even the steepest bits as long as you kept up a reasonably fast cadence. The 11-speed derailleur gears on this model mean you can drop down to a 42 tooth cog on the cassette for pretty easy climbing up even the steepest of hills. (Up our ultra-steep climb it performed markedly better than the Raleigh Trace). I hauled 18kg of extra load in panniers and a backpack up one of the steepest hills in the area without making any noticeable impression on the battery capacity and was only mildly out of breath at the end of it, proving the combination of low gearing and mid-drive efficiency really works. The impressive 17kg weight helps the bike both make maximum use of the mid-drive power up climbs, as well as meaning its light and easy to lift off the bike - it would be great for apartment dwellers for example, needing to carry the bike up stairs.
Even more impressive was the range - over 30 miles in windy and hilly Pennine conditions from the frame-integrated 320Wh battery (non-removable). There is the option of a 160Wh range extender which simply plugs into the charging socket and gives you the potential for all day riding as long as you aren't a very heavy power user - useful for touring trips.
The test rider had a blast riding the Vado SL. It feels fast and stable and is nice to ride with little or no power and the reward for putting more into the pedals means you feel like you are really riding a bike, as opposed to some of the bigger mid-drives on heavier e-bikes where you always have to let the motor do at least some of the work. The excellent SL motor is there if the going gets too tough, to give nicely graduated power over three power levels, all very easily and quickly controlled from the control buttons by your left thumb.
Fitness, commuting and leisure
The Turbo Vado SL 4.0 EQ is a great fitness, commuting and leisure e-bike. The rear rack is rated at 15kg and we would wager it would take quite a bit more as it feels very sturdy. The full length mudguards are very effective in the wet and the stand is equally sturdy. The medium frame size was a perfect fit for the 5ft 8in test rider and the riding position is sporty yet comfortable.
Gearing and hydraulic disc braking were crisp and effective, as you would expect on a bike at this price from a longstanding, renowned manufacturer. Specialized's own urban slick Nimbus II tyres felt fast yet with enough volume to give a modicum of comfort (for longer rides more padding on the seat is advised though). Front and rear hardwired LED lights are highly effective.
There is no LCD display on the SL models (unlike the 'full power' models which get the MasterMind display you can read about in our review of the the Turbo Como 3.0). As standard, SL models get a top tube display (Turbo Connect unit) which shows ten battery capacity indicators and which of the three power levels you are in. There's also that super-easy-to-use thumb control for quickly changing up and down the levels - something the Raleigh Trace lacked. There appears to be the option however to retrofit a Turbo Connect Display which gives all the usual metrics and should let you take advantage of the bike's wireless connectivity if you wish to display data such as heart rate from a compatible device.
There is an app which the test rider didn't find a great deal of use for but some might want to twiddle with the power delivery parameters, look at a map, or utilise 'Smart Control' mode which automatically adjusts the motor and battery output based on how far or how long you want to ride. One thing you might really value one day though is the battery section in the app's diagnostics utilities - this keeps a real time check on the number of charge cycles the battery has had and so whether your battery has fallen below the level Specialized guarantee it to. This is at least 75% capacity after 300 charge cycles, or alternatively, after two years.
More competition for 2023
Right now the SL motor system stands pretty much on its own between even lighter, less punchy options like the Ebiketion X35 and heavier quality mid-drives from Bosch et al. However, 2023 will see more and more e-bikes with lightweight mid-drives from Fazua and TQ (the Ride 60 and the HPR50 respectively). These have higher torque ratings (as indicated in their names) but most e-bikes to feature them thus far are even pricier than the Vado SL. At the time of writing the bike most likely to give the Vado SL a run for its money is Canyon's Roadlite ON 8 LTD.
The Turbo Vado SL 4.0 EQ is a great combination of lightweight sportiness, a helpful dose of hill climbing ability and loads of practical features, all of which makes it a fun and very useful bike to ride. The price looks a little steep when compared to some more powerful mid-drive models that undercut it considerably. But it's a high quality e-bike from a renowned manufacturer that should give many years of faithful service.