I’ve had the Specialized Vado ebike for about three weeks now and I love the thing. By the time I get around to finishing this article and posting it I’ll have around 300 miles on it. But I suppose before I get started I should define the term ebike because it’s gotten a bit confusing since there are actually two types of bikes that now fall under the term. One is an actual ebike and the other, if one wishes to be pedantic about it, isn’t.
The first type has a motor and battery but it is still an actual, real bicycle that you have to pedal to make it move. It will not move on its own. This type of ebike uses the motor system to to provide assistance to the rider. It does some of the work for you. How much work the motor does is generally adjustable. I can switch mine from giving no support at all, all the way up to nearly 100% where the motor does almost all the work while I pedal along.
The second type isn’t really what I would call a bicycle. It looks like a bicycle, probably has usable pedals, but it is really more of an electric moped or small motorcycle. With these bikes the motor can be used to do all of the work. You don’t have to pedal at all. There is a throttle on the handlebars to allow you to control the speed. All you have to do is just ride.
There are some issues with this second type. There are potential legal issues for one thing. In a lot of jurisdictions these types of bikes aren’t technically bicycles, they probably should be classified as mopeds or even small motorcycles, and if one were to be strict about it, in those jurisdictions they should be registered and licensed as such and the riders required to have at least a driver’s license and perhaps even a motorcycle license, and they should be insured as such. But fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) no one seems to be paying much attention to that.
They also, legally speaking, should be required to meet the same equipment and safety requirements as mopeds or small motorcycles. They should have turn signals, proper brakes, headlight, tail light, brake light, properly rated tires and wheels, etc. And because a lot of these are basically just bicycles that someone strapped a motor and battery to, a lot of them have none of those things.
(Sidenote: A word about speed. Most people toodle along at about 5 – 10 mph on a bicycle. Someone who is in relatively good physical shape can cruise along considerably faster than that. With my 24 speed (no motor) a comfortable speed for me on level ground on a nice paved road is about 10 according to my gps thingie, and if I work really, really hard I can hit 19 mph on a level road for short periods of time. I used to work for a bicycle race and those guys cruise along at 24 to 30 mph all day long, and they can max out at about 45 mph. I usually average about 8-10 mph on the bike though because I’m in no real hurry to get anywhere. I’m just out there to enjoy being outside. With the ebike I find myself now cruising easily at about 13 – 15 mph, even going up hills. If I kick up the boost I can run at 20 mph all day long and I max out at around 28 mph.)
Prices on ebikes of both types are all over the place. They range from a low of about $700 up to, well, up to whatever your bank account can withstand. There is a Porsche branded ebike out that that supposedly sells for $10,000.
Sidenote: Yes, Porsche, the maker of supercars and sports cars with eye watering prices, is in the ebike business. They’ve been selling a Porsche branded ebike for a few years now, and have been investing in ebike companies for some time. They’re staring up two new companies specifically to develop, build and sell their own in-house created ebikes. Why would a company known for it’s overpriced, gas sucking, tire squealing sports cars that no one except influencers and trust fund kiddies can afford be getting into the ebike business? Money, of course. Ebikes make a lot of sense in Europe. The population density is high, towns are generally very close together, commutes to work or to do shopping are generally much shorter than they are in the US, traffic in cities is generally horrific with the average speeds for motor vehicles down to just a few miles per hour because of congestion. In most European cities you can get around a hell of a lot faster on a bike than you can in a car. So for a lot of people in the EU ebikes make a lot of sense. Porsche figures it can take a $4,000 ebike, slap some Porsche stickers on it and sell it for $10,000 to the same status hungry influencers and pretend millionaires it sells its cars to.
Now if you go online and start looking around at ebikes you’ll notice a couple of things. First, if you’re at all familiar with the bicycle market you’ll know that if you want to buy a good non-electric bicycle it’ll cost you around $600 and for anything really good the prices go up fast. So how can these companies be selling ebikes for the same price? It makes one wonder about the quality of those inexpensive models.
The second thing you’ll notice is that when it comes to a lot of those cheap ebikes, no matter what the brand name may be, they all look suspiciously alike. That’s because they are. Very few of the companies selling ebikes at the low end of the market actually manufacture them themselves. They all buy the bikes from the same factories and the only differences between them are a few plastic stick on bits and the company logos.
But I wanted to talk about the Vado and let myself get distracted, so let’s get on with this sort of review. I want to talk about ebikes and transportation but I’ll do that in a separate article.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first before I move on to the goodies.
First, it’s heavy and it’s big. It won’t fit into the back of my Buick even with the rear seats folded down. I had to use MrsGF’s Rav4 which has a larger cargo area to pick it up. And it is definitely no light weight. It scales in at around 60 lbs. It definitely is not some kind of sleek road racer. But it has to be big and heavy because it’s designed to not just carry a person around, but also a big battery, a motor, all the electronics, me, and supposedly 50 pounds of cargo as well. And unless you have the motor turned off and you’re using it as a regular pedal bike you won’t even notice the weight.
Second, it’s not exactly cheap. When all was said and done, with taxes and other stuff tacked on, that Vado up there in that photo set me back close to $4,000. That is a hell of a lot of money for a bike, even an ebike. In my opinion the Vado was well worth the money, but that’s me. I put a lot of miles on a bike.
Third, the seat it came with was horrible. It was one of the most uncomfortable saddles I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit on. First thing I did when I got it home was replace the seat with the one from my old 24 speed bike.
Fourth, it comes with pretty much nothing but the bike itself. While the bike is reasonably well equipped and includes a luggage rack on the back, it comes with nothing else. The bag, water bottle bracket and rear view mirror were add ons I put on myself. You’d think they could at least include a water bottle holder on a four grand bike, but that’s the way it goes I guess.
Let’s get on with the good stuff.
The brakes are frankly amazing. No caliper brakes that squeeze on the rim of your wheels. This thing has actual hydraulic disc brakes like you get in a car. Yes, hydraulic, not cable actuated. I’ve never had a bike that stopped this well before. Braking is smooth, predictable, with no unexpected grabbing or fading after repeated stops.
The Vado comes with a 10 speed derailleur gear changer. Anyone who has had a bike with a derailleur system will be familiar with this. It’s the one part of the bike that I think could be a weak point. When I first got the bike it would miss shifts and under hard pedalling it would jump a cog on the gears once in a while. I figured I was going to have to take it back to the dealer and have them take a look at it, but after I’d ridden it for about fifty miles or so the gear changes became smoother and it stopped jumping cogs on the gears. So perhaps it just needed a break in period to work smoothly? I still think this could be a weak point, however. It’s a 10 speed and I think that’s too many gears for a derailleur to handle without some issues. But it’s working fine now so we’ll see.
It comes standard with a very bright LED headlight and a tail light that wraps around the cargo carrier on the back. The tail light isn’t super bright but it will hopefully help make me more visible to car and truck drivers when I’m on the road.
Also note the fenders. I like fenders on a bike. I often ride on gravel trails, run through mud patches, ride right after rains when the roads are wet, etc. Not having fenders on my old bike meant I’d come home with a streak of mud up my back and splatters all over my legs. These fenders work quite well. They are very thin and very flexible but stiff enough to work well.
Front suspension is fantastic. The front forks seems to absorb bumps, railroad tracks and potholes very well. Some people don’t like front suspensions like this for various reasons. I think those people are, frankly, stupid. With the multiple railroad track crossings, gravel trails, potholes, washboard roads, etc. around here, some kind of decent suspension is a requirement around here.
The battery is removable and completely tucked away inside the frame of the bike. It’s relatively easy to get out. Removing it requires using a key in a lock located alongside of the charging socket. Just for the heck of it I looked up what a new battery would cost, thinking that it might not be a bad idea to have a spare. So go ahead, guess what that battery costs. Just take a wild guess.
Try $1,200. Seriously. Twelve hundred bucks for a replacement battery. I find it a bit difficult to believe that the battery alone costs more than a quarter of the value of the bike, but, well, that’s the way it goes I guess.
That’s the charging port in the photo up there, and it is one of the most unnecessarily frustrating things I’ve ever had to fiddle with. It has a kind of magnetic holding system which is neat, but trying to get the blasted plug actually inserted into that socket is infuriating sometimes. It won’t just slide into place and latch on. I’ve spent minutes fiddling with the damned plug, turning it, twisting it, trying to get it to lock in place. And from what I’ve read online I’m not the only one who has problems with the damned thing. There’s no excuse for this on a bike this expensive. Yo, Specialized! Fix the damned plug!
This is an ebike so you need some kind of display and control system. The dashboard, if you want to call it that, defaults to the view you see in the picture above. There are controls on the handlebars that let you flip through various screens that display various bits of information that I suspect I’ll never need to know and will never actually care about, but it’s there if you need it. The left handgrip has a push button control that lets you cycle through various information screens, and a + and – button that cycles through four different levels of ‘boost’, Eco, Sport, Turbo and Off, the latter turns the motor off completely.
There is an app (because of course there is because everything has to have an app on your phone these days whether you want one or not) that does many things, none of which I care about except for the ability to tailor the amount of boost you get from the motor. Eco setting has the motor take up about 30% of the work, Sport is 50% and Turbo is 100%. Basically in Turbo all you’re doing is moving your legs up and down, the motor does almost all of the work. And, of course, Off, which switches the motor off entirely and the only thing powering the bike is your legs. I’m told that I can change the level of boost the motor gives to almost anything I want but the defaults work good for me and probably will for most people.
Yes, you can use this as a normal human powered bike, and it works rather well that way. Despite the bike’s weight it works quite nicely as a normal bicycle.
You’ll have noticed that Garmin thingie on the handlebars up there next to the bike’s control buttons. That’s why I don’t care about the app the bike comes with. That’s a Garmin GPS/fitness tracker/mapping system and displays text messages, emails and other goodies. And, in a feature I hope I never need, will supposedly send an email to my wife if I crash that says something like “Hey, your idiot husband wiped out and he’s laying in a ditch somewhere at these coordinates so you better go sweep him up before you get fined for littering.”
But back to the Vado. I’ve put 300 miles on it now in the three or four weeks I’ve had it and so far I love the thing. It rides well, stops well, handles well. The motor works seamlessly with the bike. The electronics make its presence entirely unobtrusive. The only way i can tell it’s even working is because I can feel that I’m using less effort pedaling up hills or when starting out from a dead stop, which is exactly how it’s supposed to work. It’s very well made. The frame is extremely robust, the welds are just about perfect.
Normally I drive in Eco mode which is the least amount of boost, which is more than enough for me to deal with things like long uphill climbs. If I’m out on a long ride in hot weather and I’m getting tired out I might kick the boost level up to Sport. I’ve tried it in Turbo mode several times. I still have to pedal, but in that mode I’m not doing any work at all, just moving my legs up and down.
Range is always something one needs to be concerned with when it comes to electric vehicles. The manual says I can expect about 40 miles range under normal usage, but I suspect in real life it would be much, much more than that. I went out for a 20 mile ride one day, running mostly in Eco mode, and when I got back home I still had 70% battery life left according to the monitor.
I really, really like the Vado so far. It meets or exceeds all of my expectations. If I didn’t live in a rural area where it’s at least 15 miles to get anywhere I need to go I could easily see using it as my primary means of transportation when the weather was reasonably nice.
The only thing I hate about it is that damned charging port. It’s keyed, so it will only fit into the socket when you have the plug oriented at exactly the right angle. But the port is recessed into the frame, and down near the bottom of the frame, so you can’t actually see how you’re supposed to orient the plug unless you literally get down on your hands and knees. I thought maybe it was just me. I’m not exactly the most graceful person in the world, after all. But it isn’t just me. I’ve read other reviews of the Vado that expressed similar frustrations with the charging plug, so this is a common problem. And there is absolutely no excuse for this. Not on a bike that costs this much money.
To wrap this up, overall I really, really like the Vado. As I said earlier I have over 300 miles on it now and it has worked pretty much flawlessly. It’s great fun to ride, the motor and electronics work beautifully. It’s robustly made and has handled all of the railroad tracks, potholes, expansion joints and other garbage we have to contend with on the roads around here. Brakes are simply excellent. It’s expensive, yes, but I think it’s worth the money if you put as many miles on a bike as I do.
I want to talk about biking, ebikes and transportation in general but I’m not going to do that here. This is already getting on the long side so I’m going to end this right now. 🙂