An electric bicycle’s biggest disadvantage, at least from a bike manufacturer’s perspective, is that most people who buy an ebike are already bikers. A 2018 survey from the National Institute of Transportation and Communities showed that 93 percent of people who buy ebikes own a regular bike.
So how do you attract people who don’t typically bike? From what I’ve seen, the popular route seems to involve beefing up the ebike’s weight to about 65 pounds for improved stability. We’ve tried a few of these and I remain largely unconvinced. As a smaller rider, it’s hard for me to maneuver heavy bikes out of my front gate, up curbs, or into crowded bike racks. What’s the point of an ebike if it operates under the same constraints as a car?
That’s why it was a relief to try Specialized’s Turbo Como SL, which is this year’s super-light (SL) cruiser. The company took many of the features I like about last year’s Turbo Vado SL and put them on a bike with a step-through, upright frame. It’s expensive at $4,800, but if you want a comfortable and upright cruiser, I have to recommend the one that weighs 10 to 20 pounds less than the competition. Your back will thank me.
I gasped when I first saw the Como SL. I’d seen pictures of it beforehand, but I didn’t realize how big it was; “super light” just isn’t a descriptor I associate with enormous, sit-up cruisers. I’m 5’2, and Specialized sent me its smallest frame size. The local bike shop had to cut about 4 inches off the seat post to get it short enough to fit me.
The largest frame size weighs about 47 pounds, which is impressive when most ebikes of this size weigh about 65 (the Electra Townie Path Go! weighs about 55). The small frame is a little lighter— 45 pounds is still not precisely light, but those 10 pounds made a huge difference when I had to get the bike up on my deck to charge the onboard battery.
The version I tried is the Como SL 5.0, which has a few upgraded features from the more affordable Como SL 4.0. Both versions have sit-up step-through frames with Specialized’s custom SL 1.1 mid-drive motor and an internal gear hub, with the option for a range extender battery. They also both come with an integrated front rack, lights, and fenders.
The 5.0 has additional perks, like more gears (8 speeds instead of 5) and the weather-resistant, low-maintenance Gates belt drive. These features are perfect if you live in the damp, chilly Pacific Northwest. An internal gear hub and belt drive can save you from many long afternoons rinsing and lubing your chain or trying to figure out why it keeps slipping off the derailleur.
This is a small thing, but I also like how the aluminum frame has a small handle on the downtube. It looks awkward, but it makes it easier to take the ebike over stairs and lock it to bike racks.
Some of the other features adopted from the Turbo Vado SL make a lot less sense on a heavier bike. For example, I was pretty excited to use Specialized’s Smart Control again, which adjusts the level of battery and motor output depending on what you need. I quickly downloaded the Mission Control app and paired the bike to my phone.
But when I started riding the Como SL with Smart Control on, I got tired! When you downgrade the assistance on a 33-pound bike, I barely notice it. On a 45-pound bike, I definitely do. I got two blocks down the street, pulled my phone back out, turned Smart Control off, and jacked the assistance back up to Turbo.