The original Vado, which launched in 2017, uses a full-size (but still custom) motor with all the power you’d need for high-speed commutes. But, like all full power e-bikes, they’re heavy, and they provide a lot of assist right out of the gate.

The Specialized Vado SL takes a different approach. It uses a lower power motor, and its power comes on more slowly. This lets them use a smaller battery and motor combo, which is lighter. This gives the bike two advantages…sort of, for the right type of rider.

Which is…who, exactly? And how does it compare to the standard Vado? Let’s find out…

Vado SL tech details

specialized turbo vado sl review and frame details

The Turbo Vado SL is built around Specialized’s SL 1.1 motor, which is the lightweight version used in the Levo SL mountain bike, one of (if not) the lightest full-suspension eMTBs on the market. This is how they get away with a lithe frame that looks very much like a regular city bike, nearly as sleek as their Sirrus city bikes.

specialized turbo vado sl review and frame details

It’s a small motor, with a comparatively small battery tucked into the downtube. And there’s less “packaging” around the motor. This keeps it all quite small, but it means there’s far less sound insulation, too.

We noted the additional motor noise when we test rode the Levo SL, and that same noise is present here. Watch the video in my Levo SL review if you want to hear it. If not, suffice to say the noise is present, but soft enough to kinda be tuned out after a minute.

Also like the Levo SL (and Creo SL e-road bike), the Vado SL commuter e-bike can add 50% more range by plugging in the water bottle-shaped external battery.

specialized turbo vado sl review and frame details

The bike has three levels of assist, controlled with a thumb pad that uses a +/- pair to go up or down, plus the immediate “Turbo” button denoted with their trademark “S” logo. There’s another button on the back that I’ll get to in a sec.

Their smartphone app lets you customize the level of assist that Eco, Sport and Turbo provide, along with the percentage of effort that you’re required to do along the way. There’s also a smart mode that lets you set the distance and let the bike manage battery use and assist levels to get you there.

specialized turbo vado sl review and frame details

The on/off button is flush with the top of the top tube and also has a mode button, though it’s easier to use the handlebar-mounted remote. The top tube unit has an LED display that shows remaining battery power, with blue and green combinations to illustrate how much is left in the internal and external batteries, if you have one plugged in. It turns red when it’s almost dead.

specialized turbo vado sl review and frame details

I tested the Vado SL 4.0 Equipped. All models get front and rear taillights that automatically turn on (solid only, no blinking mode) when the bike turns on. “Equipped” models add full coverage front and rear aluminum fenders and the rear rack for only $150 more…very much worth it.

The only other option is a 5.0 model that adds their FutureShock 2.0 suspension steerer tube to take the edge off bumps, plus upgraded shifters, rear derailleur, wheels and tires. Those should save a little bit of weight, but honestly, the 4.0’s Tektro hydraulic brakes and Deore kit on this bike were perfectly fine…and this build is $1,000 less than the 5.0.

specialized turbo vado sl review and frame details

Flat mount brakes maintain the sleek look, along with integrated fender, rack and kickstand mounts. The hidden fender mounts on the bottom of the carbon fork are particularly sleek.

Main specs are:

  • 240w/35Nm peak output
  • 320Wh battery
  • 180% max assistance
  • 120 mile max range (with external battery pack)
  • 28mph top speed (assisted…you can pedal it as fast as you want)
  • MSRP from $3,600 to $4,750

Specialized Turbo Vado vs Vado SL

specialized turbo vado versus vado sl commuter e-bike comparison

The original Turbo Vado on left, the slimmer Vado SL on the right.

How does the Vado compare to the Vado SL? Which one’s the best commuter e-bike for you? Here’s the short of it:

If you want more power and easier speed, get the regular Vado.

If you have to carry your bike up stairs, or want more of a workout, get the Vado SL.

Both have similarly equipped trim levels at the same prices. The Vado just has a lot more power, a suspension fork, fatter tires, and it feels like it goes a lot faster even though they’re both Class III models with a 28mph top assisted speed. (Side note: Trust me, if you call yourself a “cyclist”, don’t waste time with any 20mph Class I e-bikes for a commuter or road model, you’ll only be disappointed.)

The Vado has 90Nm of power, delivering almost 3x the torque, so it’ll get you up to the max much more quickly despite being ~16lbs heavier (49lb claimed weight versus 33lb for Vado SL). It also comes in a step-thru model, the Vado SL does not.

Both versions will take you up to 80 miles per charge, but the Vado SL can use the external battery pack to increase that to 120 miles…the Vado can not.

Vado SL ride review

specialized vado sl commuter e-bike ride review and riding action

The Vado SL is a handsome bike. The Vado is a sporty bike. If this sounds like I’m kinda reviewing both of them, I am. We have a Vado 3.0 in our personal fleet and have been riding it for years, and it’s awesome.

The Vado SL was awesome, too, and I enjoyed the lighter weight while doing things like this:

walking the specialized turbo vado sl up a staircase

“But, Tyler,” you say, “there’s a groove right there on the right, just wheel the bike up!”

Yep, there is, and the Vado SL has a handy Walk Assist feature for just that reason:

using the walk assist feature on the specialized turbo vado to get it up a bike ramp

Just push that little button on the backside of the remote and it’ll start rolling the rear wheel forward with enough force to drive it up a ramp. As more and more cities put bike (or luggage) ramps on staircases to make our cities more bike- and pedestrian-friendly, you may find this feature quite useful.

And if your city’s behind the times, the bike is light enough to just pick up and carry.

Overall, the Specialized Vado bikes are a rock-solid choice for commuters. Whether you choose the regular or SL version depends on your needs. Personally, I’d go with the standard one because it’s just more fun and I’m parking it in my garage.

The SL requires more effort to get up to top speed, which is a great workout with the ability to still scoot up the climbs. Kinda depends on how much work you want to put into your commute. Or whether you have to heft it up stairs when you get home…I would not want to carry the regular one up a flight.

That you can get into a fully equipped, 28mph-assist e-bike with a completely integrated battery and drive system for well under $4K, from a brand with retail support to keep you rolling with updates and maintenance, is impressive. Add in great looks, and years of trouble-free use, and it’s easy to recommend Specialized Vado in either variety.

specialized.com

14 comments

  1. JeffCG on

    Looking at the weight of the 2 bikes brings up a question about ebikes in general. Why most weigh so much. Where does the 16 pound difference between the bikes come from? The motor and battery differences are probably less than half that. Bracing for the additional torque would only be required in the rear triangle and wouldn’t add more than a pound or 2. Both bikes go just as fast and have the same weight capacities. I suspect that Specialized, Trek and Cannondale all over engineer their ebikes and need to put them all on a weight loss diet.

    Reply
    • Rider 51 on

      The Vado SL is about 11 pounds heavier than the Sirrus-X, which it is similar to. It also has a bigger frame to house the motor and battery. The forks are slightly bigger as well. The Vado (not SL) has an even bigger battery and motor, and a bigger frame, plus front shock forks, and bigger tires still. That’s the weight there.

      Reply
  2. Dirt McGirt on

    I work on mid drive ebikes all day. Got to take a spin on this the other day. Definitely not a motor for a hilly area. I’d put it right next to the Fazua system as far as how little power it puts to the ground and how thin the market for that type of system is. The person who brought the Vado SL in went out on a test ride on my least powerful Bosch bike from the floor and was bummed out that he spent money with the big red S before he came and saw us.

    Reply
    • Paul Howard on

      I bought a new Vado for my birthday ( $3500) before tax, I liked the looks of the bike, very much like a road bike. Anyway I went for a ride around my neighborhood on pavement and hills the bike was okay. The next weekend I went for a ten mile ride with a three couples who had Rad single speed e-bikes. The road was not paved in a few places ( muddy and rough areas) the Vado is a ridged ride, the other couples on the rad bikes had throttle and wider tires as well as 5 power assist ( I did not) as the day went everyone was doing great and well ahead of me . The Vado is a great road bike on pavement and hard packed dirt, not for rough roads and mud. I’m looking to sell the bike. Thanks

      Reply
    • Gernot on

      That is definitely a motor for a hilly area – you should test ride it yes. And yes, every bosch bike feels more powerful, but the SL feels like riding the bike instead of beeing just a passenger on the bike.

      Reply
      • Rider 51 on

        I too work in a bike shop, and live in a hilly area. Key questions people need to ask themselves are: “How much assist do i truly want or need?” And, “How natural of pedaling do I want? Specialized bikes are better than every single other brand at the latter. They are the closest to naturally pedaling of any e-bike, period. But if you’re looking for a lot of power just to get over hills, the Vado SL, despite feeling very natural to pedal, isn’t as powerful as the Vado (non SL). And there are bikes with more power than it. If you don’t care about pedaling naturally, and just want power, or top speed, then buy one of the Class 2 bikes with a throttle. Basically a battery powered 750 watt scooter that you can pedal.

        Reply
  3. VazzedUp on

    Well you have a bicycle and your friends have electric motorbikes (throttle), so would be expected. Horses for courses, sounds like your intent with friends is not to get a workout and push the pedals, so make sure you get a throttle bike.

    Reply
    • Stulys on

      I’m fat , out of shape and live in a hilly area. I tuned the eco setting to 50% on support and power and it goes just fine to be honest. I tried the turbo for the exact same ride and the average speed was 2km/u faster. (25 vs 23) I can do 60km on my custom setting and 40km on turbo. I often ride to the store with no support at all. Is it the best ebike? No not really but it is a very good bike WITH support. I love it.

      Reply
    • Huffagnolo SuperMagna on

      Yes, you can! Also handy to remove for travel and if you are on a plane you can just bring the smaller bottle battery which is flight legal!

      Reply
  4. toast on

    I have the “original” Specialized Turbo, with the removable battery and hub motor. It’s heavy and gets really hard to pedal over about 24mph. I like the idea of a mid-mounted motor and having the bike be alot lighter of course has many benefits. I’d like to upgrade to the Vado SL, but I’m worried I’ll lose some power. My existing bike (the original Turbo) feels more powerful than the Vado SL on test rides. I assume my bike has better acceleration, but I’m hoping the Vado SL is better at speeds above 24mph. Anyone have any experience with both bikes?

    Reply

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