Review: the new lightweight Commuter-Bike Specialized Vado SL 4.0 EQ

With the new e-bike series “Vado SL”, Specialized certainly presented one of the most exciting urban bike releases this year. The main reason for this is a completely redesigned mid-motor drive system. This offers less power than comparable mid-motor bikes, but is extremely light — which is reflected in the low overall weight of the bike and should also provide a very natural riding experience. This test will show whether the concept also proves itself in practice.

Design

At first glance, you have to look twice to see if it is also an e-bike: Compared to the well-known bikes of the regular Vado series with their powerful and voluminous Brose drive, the new Vado SL appears almost graceful. The frame is based on the current Specialized design, as we already know it from the Sirrus Urban Bikes. In direct comparison, the slightly thicker down tube with the battery and the mid-motor are striking. Its size is well concealed by the chainring. On the opposite side you can see its true size and there the charging socket is also attached quite conspicuously — this could have been solved more elegantly. Otherwise the electric drive is hardly visible: on the top tube there is only a black control element and on the handlebars a small button. All in all a rather inconspicuous integration, which makes the Vado SL look more like a classic bike than an e-bike.

The model 4.0 tested here carries the EQ in its name. This stands for Equipped and describes the commuter equipment consisting of mudguards, rack and lights. The classically shaped rack is certainly practical, but side bag holders would have been more inconspicuous, as you can see on many other current bikes. The same applies to the mudguards: top in function because they are extended far down. Not quite as nice, however, that their flexible ends have a larger distance to the tire. Finally, a characteristic of the headset should also be mentioned here: its rather voluminous lower part rotates with the steering angle, which is technically intended and correct — but visually rather astonishing.

The paint in a very light dove gray, on the other hand, caused a lot of excitement; small details are contrasted by a bright neon orange. A cool color combination, which is completed by the matt black components with equally black but reflective elements. All in all, the Vado SL harmonizes practical function and sporty design.

Features

The central part here is the new motor called SL 1.1, which was developed in cooperation with the automotive supplier Mahle. It celebrated its premiere in the high-end road bike Creo SL, then appeared in the similarly positioned mountain bike Levo SL and now it is used in the new Vado SL series. The data is identical in each case: the motor has a maximum output of 240 watts and 35 Nm torque. Both numbers are — compared to other drives — around the lower range, but should provide sufficient support. But more about this in the driving impression below. The battery is also rather small with a capacity of 320 Wh, but according to Specialized it should have a remarkable range of up to 130 km. The battery is permanently installed in the wheel and cannot be removed for charging. An interesting option is the range extender, available as an option: an additional battery in the size of a water bottle, which offers an additional 160 Wh capacity and should increase the range to 190 km.

The 10 speed derailleur gear system is from the solid Deore series by Shimano, the hydraulic disc brakes are from Tektro (model HD-R290). The mudguards and the rack have already been mentioned in the design, in addition to the standard and solid kickstand. The lighting system comes from Lezyne, the Hecto STVZO E65 model with pleasantly bright 210 lumens is used as the headlight.

With a width of 38 mm, the tires offer a good compromise between sportiness and driving comfort. By the way, the latter might be even higher in the 5.0 models of the Vado SL series, since the Future Shock 1.5 system is built into the headset, which is supposed to offer up to 20 mm of suspension.

In terms of weight, the Vado SL shows the advantages of the light motor, which itself weighs only 1.95 kg. The total weight is exactly 17 kg — a good value for a mid-motor bike with complete commuter equipment.

Operation

The control concept already shows that the Vado SL focuses on cycling and the electric drive has a supporting but not a dominating function. Thus the tested Vado SL doesn’t have a bulky display on the handlebars, instead the control element on the top tube is used to switch the drive on and off. The remaining battery capacity is shown with blue illuminated bars, and the selected drive mode is displayed with a three-part circle (for drive modes one to three).

On the left side of the handlebars, there is also a compact button that can be used to toggle through the riding modes using the plus and minus buttons. There is also an integrated button for the pushing aid and a boost button that switches directly to the highest riding mode when pressed. This makes controlling the drive while driving extremely easy and intuitive.

However, the necessity of the Boost button mentioned above is debatable, since with three possible driving modes, you can usually switch to the highest mode just as quickly with the Plus button. However, a button to control the lighting would have been much more useful; but you will search in vain, because the Vado SL always switches on the lighting when the drive is activated. The fun with the light even goes so far that the Vado SL switches on the whole light system when the drive is charged. If you then turn the bike on the top tube off again, the lights go out again. The charging socket itself is well protected from the weather by a sturdy hinged cover, and docking the thick plug is easy once you find the imprinted arrow.

Like almost all current bikes, the Vado SL can also be coupled with an app. The app from Specialized, called Mission Control, can be used in an exemplary manner, with which rides can be precisely recorded and, in addition, current information such as speed, battery capacity, etc. can be displayed. Individual settings of the riding modes can also be made there. In addition, there is the Smart Control function, which automatically adjusts the motor power on the basis of individual data such as planned riding time, distance, altitude and remaining battery capacity — so there is no need to change the riding modes manually.

Ride impression

The most exciting question with the new Vado SL is certainly how the newly developed motor performs in practice. First of all it can be said that despite the comparatively weak performance figures, sufficient support is always provided in urban use! The three different driving modes can be adjusted via app, but the factory setting was tested.

The smallest support level is selected very moderately, only at the middle and even more at the highest level does the motor deliver its power noticeably. But this is only really the case when the rider pedals accordingly — the SL1.1 motor seems to require a certain cadence to deliver the appropriate power. This characteristic may be due to its origin in the Creo SL racing bike.

The controlling of the motor is pleasantly sensitive and especially the limit of 25 km/h, at which the drive switches off according to the european pedelec regulations, is not really noticeable. A circumstance that might also be due to the excellent freewheel function — the Vado SL rolls extremely easily and thus leaves every other e-bike we tested so far. And since the Vado SL can be accelerated quite quickly to over 25 km/h, this point is definitely relevant.

Equally often, however, the noise of the drive is also noticeable. And here it has to be said that the motor gets quite loud under load and a high, slightly grinding sound can be heard. This means that the Vado SL is not really silent, which is also shown by the noisy clicking of the freewheel — this in turn is a behavior that many drivers find positive.

The seating position is sporty but not too bent and thanks to the wide handlebars you have good control. The safe riding experience is also supported by the brakes, which effectively do their job without squealing. And thanks to the high build quality of the Vado SL, nothing rattles on the bike, even on cobblestones. The comfort of this bike is fine: the 38 mm wide tires ensure rapid progress on the one hand, but are thick enough to absorb rough impacts on the other. The saddle, which is still comfortable even after long distances, is also worthy of praise.

Speaking of “long distances”: with a range of 130 km the Vado SL from Specialized is advertised, which sounds quite ambitious considering the not too big battery with 320 Wh. That such claims depend strongly on the rider and the profile of the route was shown by a longer test lap of 2x 25 km. On the outward journey with a climb of 240 m, the average support of the motor was 73%, consuming 105 Wh. The return trip was characterized by partly quite strong headwind, the climb was slightly stronger with 260 m. Here the average support of the motor was 120%, 160 Wh were consumed. Surely not perfect conditions for a long range, but in this case you are still quite far away from the manufacturer’s specifications. The range is probably more like a laboratory value anyway, especially since the Creo SL road bike is said to have the same range — although it should get much further than the Vado SL due to its lighter weight, lower rolling resistance and more aerodynamic seating position. To cut a long story short: a range of about 70 to 100 km is more likely to correspond to reality, which also seems plausible in terms of battery capacity.

Conclusion

With the new Vado SL, Specialized delivers an attractive alternative to the regular Vado models. Compared to those bikes that weigh more than 23 kg, the Vado SL is noticeably lighter, which can also be seen in the sporty design of the bike. Matching this is the motor with its sensitive response and the extremely smooth freewheel above 25 km/h. With these characteristics the bike appeals in particular to sporty riders who like to cycle even without an e-drive — but want motor support on uphill gradients. However, the relatively loud motor noise under load must be accepted, and you should not necessarily rely on the comparatively high range specifications of the manufacturer. Regardless of this, the tested 4.0 EQ model at a price of 3,199 Euro convinces with good build quality, good components and the complete equipment with which it is always ready for the urban everyday life.

All further information about the different Vado SL models can be found on the Specialized website.

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