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Specialized Turbo S: The Human-Electric Hybrid Bike

08/06/2014 03:37 pm ET | Updated Oct 05, 2014
  • Max Gladwell The Nexus of Entrepreneurship and Adventure Sports

Specialized turns transportation into recreation with this electric-assisted commuting masterpiece.

New life experiences become less and less frequent as we get older. We may try new things, but completely new experiences are tough to come by. These could include sky diving or completing a marathon or having your first child. I'm here to tell you that pedaling an electric-hybrid bicycle is one of those experiences, and I've validated this by introducing countless friends and colleagues to the Specialized Turbo S.

The universal response to pedaling the Turbo for the first time is, "Whoa!" This is because its 250-watt electric motor kicks in automatically, surging the bike forward with almost no effort. If your butt cheeks had hands, they'd be gripping the saddle to hold on. And yet the power it produces feels quite natural -- as natural as it might feel for Superman. Which is to say that you immediately adapt to this newfound power. There is no learning curve. It's the type of assistance you've always wanted from a bike, and it's nothing short of transformative. At the risk of complete hyperbole, the world would be an immeasurably better place if everyone had a human-electric hybrid bicycle because everyone would choose to ride instead of drive whenever given the choice. It's that fun and that practical.

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Within this burgeoning new bicycle category, the Specialized Turbo S ($5,900 MSRP) is in a class of its own. It's the Tesla of two-wheeled transportation, combining industry-leading performance, design, grace, and technology into the ultimate package. Indeed, it's the type of bike that would show up in an episode of Silicon Valley. It's over the top in terms of how geeky and fun it is to ride.

For the better part of a couple months, I've been riding the Turbo back and forth to work, about eight miles each way from the Pacific Palisades to Santa Monica on the beach path. The sense of superiority you feel on the bike path borders on a God complex, while it gives you much more confidence in handling traffic due to having power on demand. It truly turns transportation into recreation, as your commute becomes infused with adrenaline. You pass other cyclists as if they were standing still, and there is a constant temptation to keep pace with cars... going uphill. One of the benefits of commuting with electric power is that you can do so without sweating. The minimal effort you invest in pedaling is counter-balanced by the amount of wind produced, thus keeping you cool and dry. Unless, of course, you give into the temptation to race cars uphill.

The Turbo's battery is seamlessly integrated to the downtube of the frame. You barely notice it's a battery, and this is where you plug in the charger. Pedaling triggers the electric motor, which provides assisted power up to 28 mph. In other words, casual pedaling easily gets you to 20 mph regardless of whether you're going uphill, downhill, or into a 15-knot headwind. The motor doesn't care. It continues to add power in maintaining a consistent pace and only cuts off when you get to 28 mph, which is more than sufficient for urban environments.

There are three power modes to choose from: Turbo, Eco, and Regenerative. Turbo is full power. Eco cuts it down by 30 percent, which means you have to pedal harder (and get more exercise) to maintain the same speed. And Regenerative mode actually recharges the battery. This can be set if you want to manually charge the battery with your own output (trading calories for watts), and it is automatically triggered by applying the rear brake. So the rear brake is a cutoff switch for the motor as well as a way to seamlessly switch to Regenerative mode. I found that you can go approximately 25 miles in Turbo mode on a full charge.

The bike weighs a relatively hefty 50 pounds. This makes it tough to load onto a bike rack or carry up stairs. But it's perfect if you have a garage.

Like any experience, though, it's impossible to describe in any meaningful way what it's like to ride a human-electric hybrid. At the very least, I recommend finding a local Specialized dealer, such as Cynergy Cycles in Santa Monica, to take one for a test drive. I guarantee it will be a whoa-inducing life experience.