You’re looking at the world’s sexiest electric bike, the Specialized Turbo. True, most e-bikes so far have had all the sex appeal of Soviet-era architecture. But still, oolala. Specialized devoted three years to development of the Turbo, which they are claiming is the world’s fastest electric bike — so fast, in fact, that the top speed of 28 miles per hour violates U.S. laws governing electric bikes.
We don’t claim to be experts on such matters, but e-bike geeks say the 250-watt motor on the Turbo can’t possibly achieve so much assist that the average rider will get near that speed and that the claim is just a marketing ploy.
And, let’s face it, the $7,300 Turbo looks badass. That’s a concept anathema to the bulk of way-too-earnest e-bike makers who have been composing the equivalent of elevator music while Specialized was in the garage working on Black Sabbath riffs.
The biggest departure the Turbo makes from convention is that the lithium-ion battery nests in the down tube and is removable. The location is a big deal, because to this point, e-bike batteries have necessitated a rear rack. That not only makes the bike look like a rugged cargo bike at best, or a gawky tourer, but it puts way too much weight high on the bike, making it feel tippy and top heavy. Moving the mass low and to the center of the frame should make it feel more bikelike, despite the 35-plus-pound weight. Another point: The battery, Specialized claims, is rechargeable in two hours, so the fact that it’s swappable for another unit may be moot — save that if you lock this sucker outside, you can gain partial security by taking the battery with you (it also can lock to the frame).
Other tricks and points:
This isn’t the first bike with battery regeneration through the rear hub motor, but it’s still nifty: Hit a long downhill and the motor creates a variable amount of drag to send juice back to the battery.
This is an e-assist bike. You pedal and can then choose the level of assist you want. That’s very much like what several other brands already do, including Trek, and it may in fact be one way to skirt assist speed restrictions, since unlike a moped, you have to pedal at all times.
Controls are wireless. That’s a smart departure from other e-bikes on the market, which are often cluttered with a tangle of spaghetti-like wires.
The 1×10 gearing is interesting. As is the fact that Specialized chose to make this system chain-driven, rather than use a belt drive or internal hub. It may well be that the added complexity and weight of an internal hub would’ve held up the project.
Rear hub-driven motors aren’t new to e-bikes, but Specialized’s use of a through-axle rear with a quick release is slick. Too often the rear wheel is bolted on, so in case of a flat you’d need a wrench.
Specialized says they’ll sell 50 bikes this year, but it sounds like only in some European markets. If they do sell them here you may need an operator’s license, a la a moped, unless it turns out that that boast about 28 mph is just that. And anyway, even if the 30-mile battery range is enough to get lots of people to quit driving and start biking to work, $7,300 is more than lots of folks’ annual car payments — if not equal to a car payment, gas, and insurance over five years or so.