PEZ Rides The Specialized Turbo Creo Gravel E-bike: Review
When the folks in Morgan Hill, CA offered up the opportunity to spend a few weeks riding their new Turbo Creo gravel e-bike, how could I say “no”? I’d previously ridden some of the first generation e-bikes and wanted to see what riding a newer, lighter, performance-based e-bike would be like.
So to steal a line from one my favorite Monty Python skits … and now for something completely different.
Specialized Turbo Creo SL Expert EVO – $9,750
Here are the specs, per Specialized:
- Battery: Specialized SL1-320, fully integrated, 320Wh
- Charger: Custom charger, 48V System w/ SL system charger plug
- Wiring: Harness Custom Specialized wiring harness w/ chargeport
- UI/Remote: Specialized TCU, 10-LED State of charge, 3-LED Ride Mode display, ANT+/Bluetooth, Road Remote
- Motor: Specialized SL 1.1, custom lightweight motor
- Frame: FACT 11r carbon, Open Road Geometry, front/rear thru-axles, fully integrated down tube battery, internal cable routing, fender/rack mounts, Boost 12x148mm
- Seat Binder: Specialized Alloy, 30.8mm
- Fork: Future Shock 2.0 w/ Smooth Boot, Boost™ 12x110mm thru-axle, flat-mount disc
- Crankset: Praxis Alloy Cranks
- Shift Levers: Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc R8070
- Cassette: Shimano XT, 11-speed, 11-42t
- Rear Derailleur: Shimano Deore XT Di2, Shadow Plus, 11-speed
- Chain: Shimano Ultegra, 11-speed
- Chainrings: 44T
- Rear Brake: Shimano Ultegra R8070 hydraulic disc
- Front Brake: Shimano Ultegra R8070 hydraulic disc
- Stem: Future Stem, Pro
- Tape: Supacaz Super Sticky Kush
- Seat post: X-Fusion Manic Dropper, 50mm travel
- Handlebars: Specialized Adventure Gear Hover, 103mm drop x 70mm reach x 12º flare
- Saddle: Body Geometry Power Expert, titanium rails
Wheels and tires
- Wheels: Roval C 38 Disc, carbon, tubeless-ready, 38mm depth, 24h
- Tires: Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss Ready, Transparent Sidewall, 700x38c
How much does it weigh?
I know this is going to be the first question everyone has, so … drum roll …
Call it 28 pounds sans pedals, cages, and bike computer mount. Of course, most of the “extra” weight is the motor and battery.
So by road bike standards, it’s a heavy bike. You would expect a comparable carbon road bike to weigh in at about 11 pounds less (much more so for a race build). But the Turbo Creo isn’t a total pig. A comparable carbon gravel bike (such as the Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon) would weigh in around 21-ish or so pounds, and commuter e-bikes typically weigh 35+ pounds.
The other thing to remember is that the Turbo Creo SL Expert EVO comes with a dropper seat post. If that’s a feature you don’t need/want, you could save yourself ~500 grams (a little over a pound) by swapping it for a carbon seat post (for example, the Specialized S-Works Pavé SL if you wanted one designed with compliance in mind).
I haven’t used the dropper seat post on gravel, but it’s fun to drop it descending on tarmac to get “semi-Superman” tucked #aero #marginalgains
How’s The Fit
The bike I tested was essentially an out-of-the-box/off-the-showroom-floor bike that you can buy at any Specialized dealer. Although Specialized’s size guide would put me on a size medium (for riders 5’7″ to 5’10” and I’m 5’8″), I got a size small. My rationale for that is that a size medium has a fairly “tall” head tube (163.5mm). I know gravel bikes are set up for a taller (and shorter) riding position than road bikes (and I ride a long and low Phi Slamma Jamma on my road bikes), but that’s way taller than the head tubes on my road bikes . A size small still has a taller head tube (145.5mm) than my road bikes so I surmised it would still get me more into a “gravel” position.
The one and only difference is that the folks in Morgan Hill were kind enough to fit a longer (120mm) S-Works Future Stem since I knew the stock stem (90mm) would be too short given the reach spec (373mm). Even then, it’s not as long as my road bike position.
By gravel bike standards for a small size frame, definitely a long stem — but still an overall shorter riding position for me
Righty-tighty (red arrow) to lock out the Future Shock and lefty-loosen (green arrow) for up to 20mm of travel
With the saddle height and set back set the same as my road bikes (BTW, I put an extra pair of Speedplay X pedals on the Turbo Creo and at least during my time riding on gravel they were fine with my Northwave Extreme GT2 road shoes), my position on the Turbo Creo felt comfortably “right.” I knew that I didn’t want to duplicate my “long and low” road position for gravel riding and I knew I wouldn’t be perfectly dialed in (since I have no reference point for a gravel position), but I also knew I didn’t want a position that was either too short or too upright. What I ended up with was both taller and shorter than my road riding position, but I still felt I wasn’t sitting up too much and I had enough weight over the front to feel like I was in “control.” That said, it was definitely a different enough riding position that it took a little bit of getting used to.
It’s not often that a stock saddle suits me, but my butt (and other important bits) had no complaints riding the Specialized Power saddle
So I know what y’all really want to know about is the motor. There are three levels of pedal assist:
- ECO: Most efficient mode for maximum range while offering good power
- SPORT: Maximum control with sufficient power on demand
- TURBO: Maximum power mode for high speed sections and climbing
In other words: low, medium, and high power pedal assist. The way I think about the different levels:
- ECO is for when you’re not worry about trying to go fast but want to make pedaling easier, e.g., city riding. Also for when the battery charge level is running low and you need to conserve battery power to make it home.
- SPORT is for the vast majority of riding conditions where you want to go faster without having to work as hard as you would on a regular bike. It’s the “sweet spot” that balances power and battery range to give you as much as possible of both.
- TURBO is self-explanatory. It’s for when you want to go as fast as possible — whether for the least amount of effort or for an all-out effort. As much as 240 watts of added boost!
The Turbo Creo motor is a Class 3 motor, which means pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and a maximum assisted speed of 28 mph
Charging is easy. Plug the charger into a wall socket and then connect the charger to the charging port on the bike. It takes about 2-1/2 hours for a complete charge.
Not for charging your laptop!
The charging port is on the non-drive side just above the bottom bracket
Once charged up, the motor is controlled by the Turbo Connect Unit (TCU) on the top tube.
Left: TCU off (red arrow is the power button, green circle is the mode control)
Right: TCU on (blue bars indicate battery level — in this case, 100% full; when only a single red bar is displayed, you have less than 10% battery left)
Left: Default mode when you turn the motor on is SPORT
Middle: Press the mode control button once to go to TURBO
Right: Press the mode control button again to go to ECO
NOTE: If you press and hold the control button for 2 seconds in any mode, the unit will go into OFF mode and the motor will not offer any assistance but the display and lights will still function.
You can also control the motor mode via two remote buttons on the handlebars. Mine came pre-installed on the back of the tops of the bars (about where you would put remote climbing electronic shifter buttons). But they can be installed in different positions, e.g., in the drops or at the end of the bars — wherever is most comfortable/easiest to reach.
Left button to decrease mode from TURBO to SPORT to ECO to OFF and right button to increase mode from OFF to ECO to SPORT to TURBO
What’s it Like to Ride?
Starting with my very first test ride just to see what the Turbo Creo was all about, it put a smile on my face. When people ask me, I say: “It’s a total hoot!”
The zoom is in the bottom bracket
On the flat, you can turn the motor off and there’s not much difference between riding the Turbo Creo and any other bike. Yes, it’s heavier; but I didn’t notice the weight so much. And once I was up to speed, the weight didn’t seem as big a factor as air resistance. To the extent that the added weight required extra work, that was easily overcome in ECO mode.
The battery takes up pretty much the whole downtube and is removable, but according to Specialized: “can only be removed by first removing the motor. Any work required on the motor and battery should be carried out by an Authorized Specialized Turbo Retailer.”
With the motor on (in any mode), one thing that takes a little getting used to is the first pedal stroke from a standing start. Because the motor is pedal assist, that means it kicks in whenever the cranks are turning over. So when you take that first pedal stroke and clip in, the motor kicks in and there’s a little acceleration (which is really noticeable in TURBO mode). The first few times that happened there was a bit of a “whoa” factor because the bike would move faster than expected.
The same thing happens when you go from seated to standing. Because that first pedal stroke standing puts out a little more power, you get an initial acceleration. So the bike wants to move out a little from under you.
If they’re flared handlebars, it must be a gravel bike
Where things get interesting, i.e., fun, is when the road tilts uphill. The different motor modes make climbing easier to varying degrees. You still have to pedal, but not just as hard depending on what mode you’re riding and how steep a hill you’re going up. My experience was that ECO mode was more than enough to offset the extra weight of the Turbo Creo and I could spin up modest hills with relative ease (the really wide gearing also helps). I didn’t feel the “need” for SPORT or TURBO modes to go up them (only if I just wanted to go much faster).
Like a Swiss watch
On steeper stuff, ECO mode made the effort feel more like riding a much lighter road bike, i.e., real work. But the same hills in SPORT mode were made “easy.” Meaning I could spin up them with less effort at the same speed (sometimes even faster) than if I was riding a much lighter road bike. Or if I wanted to put in a real effort, i.e., work as hard as I would on regular road bike, I would go up hills much faster than on a regular road bike. Again, it’s important to emphasize that the motor is pedal assist. You can’t go uphill without pedalling. And the more power you put into the pedals, the more power the motor will add (up to its limit).
Dropper post control on the left drop; Di2 junction box on right bar end
TURBO mode is for making mincemeat out of hills. The best way to describe it is: silly fast (relative to what I can do on a non-e-bike). How silly? Well, on one hill that’s maybe a half-mile long that starts out with a shallow grade (~3 percent) but is more like ~5 percent the last half, I was able to motor up (no pun intended) at ~25 mph! And that was staying seated the whole time. Another example is on a Strava road segment that’s not quite a mile, average grade of a little more than 4 percent, and some sections of double-digit grade. Local boy Joe Dombrowksi (UAE Team Emirates) doesn’t own the KOM but is number 10 with a time of 3:18 (16.4 mph). In TURBO mode, I went up in 3:06 (17.4 mph) and, until I marked my ride as an e-bike ride, was number 7 overall. In other words, I got to experience what it’s like to be a pro rider going uphill.
The triangle is a tight squeeze, but with Elite Cannibal side-entry cages (take-offs from my Felt FC) I was able to (just) fit Camelbak Podium bottles (21 oz/620 ml)
- Specialized’s claim of 80-mile maximum range with the internal battery is realistic in ECO mode. I’ve done 40+ mile rides in ECO mode and used less than half the battery. But if you’re riding in either SPORT or TURBO mode with a lot climbing (especially long climbs), don’t expect anywhere near that kind of range. For example, a 40+ mile gravel ride over semi-hilly terrain mostly in Turbo mode used more than 60 percent of the battery.
- If you want/need to ride further with the motor, Specialized has a range extender battery (it has its own special water bottle cage mount) that will provide up to another 40 miles of riding (again, depending on mode and terrain). But at $450, it ain’t cheap. If you suffer from major motor range anxiety and are willing to give up both water bottles (in exchange for some sort of hydration pack), you could add a second range extender battery.
- The Turbo Creo motor has built-in power and cadence. So you don’t have to worry about those sensors (or the extra cost of a power meter). You can use GPS for speed if you don’t want to use a speed sensor. Turn the motor on and spin the cranks forward to pair power/cadence with your bike computer. The TCU has to be turned on for the power meter/cadence to work. The power meter measures rider power output (not the motor). And it will work in all motor modes (including the OFF mode with no pedal assistance as long as the TCU is turned on).
My Wahoo ROAM has a e-bike page/screen that I set up for riding the Turbo Creo
- I haven’t used it, but Specialized has a Mission Control app that you can use to customize the motor characteristics and adjust the motor and battery output based on how far or how long you want to ride. #technogeek
But Isn’t Riding a E-bike Cheating?
I know traditionalists/purists will say it is (and I understand that sentiment). But as one of my riding buddies said, “Only if you’re competing against people riding regular bikes.” And as another one of my riding buddies said, “Only if you don’t disclose that you’re riding an e-bike.” I think those are both fair statements. And I was riding with both of them (and they were on regular bikes) when they made those statements.
I know not everyone is a fan of disc brakes on road bikes, but they’re pretty much de rigeur on gravel bikes and a must have for e-bikes
Moreover, the Turbo Creo is a pedal assist e-bike (I can’t emphasize that enough). That means the motor kicks in only when you’re pedaling. There’s no throttle. So it’s not like you get a “free ride” when you stop pedaling. At that point, the bike is just freewheeling like any other bike. In other words, you still have to work to ride the bike. Granted, you have to work less for any given speed/power output. Conversely, you get more speed/power output than you would for the same effort on a regular bike.
And on Strava, I mark my rides on the Turbo Creo as e-bike rides so I’m not taking away anyone’s KOMs or claiming PRs.
If you’re going to run a 1x, you need a chain keeper up front and wide range cassette in back
Of course, there’s this: But Chuck … even for an old fart, you’re in good shape. You can still ride a bike. You don’t need an e-bike! Fair enough. But in that case, the only person I’m “cheating” is myself. Or put another way: I’m giving myself an “unfair advantage.” How much of an advantage?
This isn’t a direct apples-to-apples controlled experiment comparison, but I looked at my Xert data for two different “easy” rides of similar length (40-something miles), elevation gain (~2,000 feet), and average speed (~15 mph) — one on my Colnago V3 and the other on the Specialized Turbo Creo (riding it mostly in ECO mode but where I went TURBO up one hill just for grins and giggles plus the last few miles to get home on time because I was on a schedule). These are the numbers:
- “Real” bike ride
- Average power – 90w
- Equivalent power – 114w
- Work – 993 kj
- Strain score – 186
- Calories – 1093
- “Cheater” bike ride
- Average power – 73w
- Equivalent power – 94w
- Work – 934 kj
- Strain score – 183
- Calories – 1028
Again, this is a single data point and shouldn’t be considered scientific or statistically significant, but I could do roughly the same ride with almost 20% less power output (both average power and equivalent power) riding the Turbo Creo (of course, in either SPORT or TURBO mode, I would gain considerably more unfair advantage). Interestingly, however, the work, strain score, and calories for both rides were very close to each other. Go figure.
If riding the Specialized Turbo Creo SL Expert EVO doesn’t put a smile on your face, you’re not doing it right
Y’all will have to be the judge based on your criteria. But I’m not feeling any guilt riding the Turbo Creo. Plus it’s not like I’m riding it all the time. Just on certain occasions. And honestly, it’s fun. Isn’t that what riding a bike should be about? Like I said … it’s a total hoot!
The Allure of Gravel
My first real gravel ride (on any kind of bike) was out in Middleburg, VA with a couple riding buddies who have more experience gravel grinding than me (and one of them is just a stronger rider than me). So I rationalized riding the Turbo Creo as an “equalizer.” About 34 miles total — 14 of which were on gravel. Fairly technical with a lot of up and down. A couple of steep-ish climbs of moderate length. One short, steep-ish, twisty-ish descent.
Before … still clean
I rode some of the flatter sections of gravel without the motor engaged just to get the “feel” of the gravel experience. But I spent most of the ride in SPORT mode, which meant I could keep pace with my riding partners with less effort. But it’s important to emphasize that I was still pedaling and having to put out my own power. It’s not like I wasn’t breaking a sweat.
After … dusted up
At least on the flatter to gently rolling sections, my own sense is that pedal assist was making up for the added weight. I wasn’t riding away from my friends but riding with them (in part because I wanted to). But I also wasn’t just coasting along without effort while they worked.
Don’t ask me why, but this reminded me of the tractor tipping scene in Cars
The real revelation came on the first steep-ish uphill section of gravel. I put the motor into TURBO mode and put in a hard effort. As expected, I rode away from my friends … fairly dramatically. The advantage of the motor is two-fold. The first is obvious: added watts. By definition, that means faster. But the second (related) advantage is that those added watts means you can stay seated on climbs so you can maintain traction better on gravel. So even if you experience a little slipping and sliding (I did), you can keep your forward momentum. More than just #marginalgains.
With views like this, it’s easy to understand the allure of gravel riding
Riding on gravel was fun and I understand the allure of it. You’re out in the countryside and enjoying the scenery more. There are far fewer cars (although we did encounter some cars on the gravel sections and, of course, riding on pavement — but we were out in an area where there are less cars overall). It’s a more laid back vibe than road riding. And even on the Turbo Creo, it was a workout (probably less so than if I was on a regular bike, but a workout nonetheless).
The logistics/time constraints are more difficult for me (having to drive 45 minutes to an hour to get to where all the gravel riding is), but I’m definitely going to try to do more of it. Especially since beer is also a regular part of the gravel experience. We went to Hammerdown for post-ride eats and hydration.
Will ride for barbeque
More Than Just a Gravel Bike
The Specialized Turbo Creo SL Expert EVO is billed as a gravel bike. And it’s certainly that. But it’s also a practical all-around bike. The fact that it can withstand the rigours of gravel riding also makes it a great city bike capable of handling the urban jungle. You can install a full-size rear fender using the Specialized Plug + Play mounting system. You can even install a rear rack if you swap out the seat post clamp for the Specialized Rear Rack Seat Collar. Plus an e-bike makes perfect sense as a commuter bike. Your commute will be a little faster and you’ll arrive at work a little less hot and sweaty. But given how easy it is to ride fast on an e-bike, I’d recommend avoiding bike paths (unless you’re riding with the motor off).
The Turbo Creo isn’t a road bike but there’s no reason you can’t ride it on the road. The gravel tires have higher rolling resistance than road tires, but the motor is a way to overcome that. And in TURBO mode, there probably aren’t that many riders outside of pro riders who would be able to outride a reasonably fit rider on hills. Even though it’s a 1x, the Turbo Creo could easily double as road-focused e-bike with a second set of wheels fitted with smoother/faster road rubber.
And my experience is that it’s possible to ride an e-bike on the road with regular roadies if you’re not a d-bag and exercise some common sense. Even if you’re not as strong a rider as everyone else, the odds are that you can outride them on an e-bike. So don’t. Use the added power to be able to keep pace. Ride at the back and give yourself some extra space just in case a pedal stroke results in a little extra surge. If you really want to ingratiate yourself, go to the front and ride just fast enough to tow everyone in your slipstream, i.e., motor pace.
Or if you really want to challenge yourself, turn the motor off, ride the Turbo Creo like any other bike, and experience what it was like for racers of years gone by when men were men and rode heavy steel bikes over mountain passes on dirt roads.
n + 1 = e
I haven’t reached the stage yet where the only bike I’d want would be an e-bike (but I readily admit that there’s only so much you can do to hold off the inevitability of Father Time, so acknowledge there may come a time some years down the road — hopefully later than sooner — when that becomes a reality), but my time on the Turbo Creo has made me an e-bike convert. If you subscribe to the n+1 school of bike ownership, then you shouldn’t scoff at the idea of one of your +1s being an e-bike. And if you’re a lifelong roadie like me, but want something that’s more versatile/do-it-all (and have the disposable $$$ for a +1 bike at this price point), the Specialized Turbo Creo SL Expert EVO gets my vote. Did I mention that it’s a hoot?
• See more at the Specialized website here.
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