Most electric bikes that you see on the street are set up for commuters and delivery riders. They’re heavy, with wide tires to soak up bumps, and come decked out with fenders and luggage racks. Bikes like this are great if you want to leave the car at home and take an electrically-assisted ride.
But what about battery-powered performance road bikes? This type of bike has always perplexed me — adding weight and complexity to a design meant to be as light and nimble as possible. That is, until I spent a few weeks riding the Specialized Turbo Creo SL Expert Evo, an e-bike that makes assisted road riding feel completely logical.
Full Disclosure: Specialized loaned me this high-spec Turbo Creo SL Expert Evo for a few glorious weeks of city and trail riding. Returning it was a challenge.
The Specialized Turbo Creo SL Expert Evo — which we’ll just call the Expert Evo from here on out — is a serious bit of kit. Designed by the American bike builder in California and engineered at its e-bike base in Switzerland, the Creo line encompasses all of Specialized’s battery-powered road bikes.
Across the range, prices start at $6,000 and can rise to more than double that, depending on the specs you choose. In the case of my review bike, that spec included a frame, forks and wheels all made of carbon fiber. It also sported hydraulic disc brakes, a 12-speed electronic shifter, rugged gravel-friendly tires and even a small front shock absorber right below the handlebar stem.
Because this is an electric bike, you get a 320-Wh battery pack and Specialized’s latest lightweight motor. The company claims this combo is good for 80 miles of range, which can be upped to more than 100 miles thanks to a neat range-extending battery that fits snugly in the water bottle holder.
The Expert Evo is a gravel bike that sits near the top of the Creo range and costs $9,750 plus tax, delivery, and your pick of pedals. For me and the set of Fyxation Mesa pedals on this particular bike, that came to $10,744. For that price, you could buy something like a 2007 Dodge Ram 1500. But if you gave me the choice between an aging pickup or this, I’d take the bike in a heartbeat.
The best way to think about this bike is to imagine someone picked out every single tiny flaw with a regular bike and corrected it. (Well, except for the saddle. All bike saddles are awful and there’s seemingly no fix for that.)
Let’s start with the way it rides. As with every Specialized e-bike, the Expert Evo is pedal-assisted, which means you only get power from the motor when you’re pumping the pedals. Specialized sums this up nicely in its slogan for these bikes: “It’s you, only faster.”
There are three levels of assist to choose from. Eco gives you the smallest boost but the greatest range; Turbo gives you the most boost. In the middle is Sport, which threads the needle nicely. Regardless of the level you select, the assistance tops out at 28 mph. You can go faster than that, of course, but it’s all down to the power you can muster through your legs.
I really liked the way this bike delivered its electric assist. In Eco and Sport, there was no noticeable acceleration or jolt when the motor kicked in. Instead, I just began to feel like I had the pace and endurance of a Tour de France rider whenever I left the house. When I stopped pedaling and the motor cut out, the bike continued to roll nicely and there wasn’t a dip in speed at all. Other e-bikes I’ve ridden seem to have a bit of extra drag that kills your momentum when the assistance drops out. But the lightweight frame and aerodynamic riding position of the Expert Evo mitigated a lot of this.
In fact, I found that turning off the motor left me with a very lovely analog bike. I could happily eat up the miles with no assistance at all; the incredible light weight of the bike and the conventional 12-speed setup made it ride like any other bicycle, with no notable penalty in weight or responsiveness. And unlike the VanMoof S3 that I reviewed, there was no drop in functionality with the Expert Evo’s electronics turned off.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Turbo setting. This was the only mode where I felt a noticeable difference when I stopped pedaling. It was great to have a boost of power to quickly get up to cruising speed, but the need to always keep pedaling to keep the motor engaged meant I had to change my riding style a little.
The interesting thing is that since giving the Specialized back, I’ve found that on my normal, “acoustic” bike, I now keep to that same style of constant pedaling while on the move. Again, this style of riding makes me feel a little like a rider on The Tour, but a lot slower now that I’ve lost the electric motor.
You cycle through those three modes via built-in buttons on the bike. When you change mode, the LCD screen in the frame shows your assistance level, with the text on the screen changing color depending on which mode you choose.
As with every e-bike worth its salt, there’s also a smartphone app that lets you customize the assistance level. Called Mission Control, the app gives you insight into all the settings and options on the Expert Evo, and lets you track your rides and export that data straight to exercise logs like Strava.
It’s here that you’ll also find one particularly nifty party trick, Smart Control. This controls the battery range of your bike by adjusting the level of assistance according to various parameters. The most useful one for me was to set the bike up so the battery would last an entire day on the road.
With Smart Control, you can input the distance you’re cycling and the bike will tailor the level of assistance so you don’t run out of juice mid-ride. You can also set it up to match your cadence, or to maintain a set heart rate throughout a ride. It’s a very neat feature to have.
But when you aren’t using Smart Control to set your range, how far can you go on the Evo Expert? On my regular ride to and from work, I found that four miles on flat city streets using a mix of Eco and Sport would eat up around five percent of battery capacity. After a week of these daily rides, the battery was at 30 percent and in need of a top-up.
On longer rides, like the 40-mile adventure I took one weekend, I drained the battery far more quickly. I left the house on a full charge, but rode back home in Sport with the battery at six percent. Clicking up to the top level of assistance does chew away at the range pretty quickly, but it makes the final few miles of a long ride an absolute breeze. When you need to recharge, you’re looking at a good few hours plugged in. A top-up from six percent to full took just over two and a half hours.
There really is a lot to love about the Expert Evo. The first thing you’ll notice is the weight of the thing. It’s so damn light, just 29 pounds, which made me question whether it really was an e-bike when I first picked it up. On top of that, the 12-speed gearing lets you cycle with or without electric power.
And that brings me to one of the best features on this bike: the derailleur. Specialized gave the Expert Evo a Sram GX Eagle AXS 12-speed drivetrain paired with a set of eTap shifters. This is an electronic setup, which means there’s one more thing to charge and one more app to download when you first get your hands on the bike.
But when you’ve updated the software and plugged it all in, it’s mindblowing. I’ve ridden some incredibly smooth mechanical bikes in the past, and others with truly lovely hydraulic drivetrains, but the Sram setup blows them all out of the water. A gentle tap of the right shifter triggers a satisfying buzz from behind, followed by a clunk as you change up. It’s the same when you flick the left lever to shift down.
What’s more, any worry about the range on this system was unnecessary. I rode the bike every day for two weeks and covered more than 150 miles without needing to recharge the shifter system. In fact, the battery for the derailleur is rated for more than 20 hours, which is a lot of cycling.
Then there’s the riding position. I’m 5’11” with my hair up and Specialized set me up with a large bike. Once you’ve donned a pair of padded cycling shorts, it’s a pretty comfy place to be.
The dropped bars mean you can ride in the classic crouched stance, or settle back in the seat and ride more upright when you’re navigating traffic. You also have the option to play with the dropper post, which drops the saddle height by 50mm at the flick of a switch. This was nice to have when navigating tricky descents.
If you find yourself on rocky terrain, there’s also 20mm of travel in the front thanks to Specialized’s Future Shock forks. This can be tuned to give as much or little compliance as you need.
That front fork came into its own when I hit rougher terrain. All the bumps of loose gravel were dampened nicely, and a harsh hit over a tree root or pothole didn’t leave me with shakes running through my arms. This was low-key one of the best features on this bike, and I might insist it’s fitted to everything I ride from now on.
After a few weeks riding the Expert Evo, I was left with one lasting impression: Everything is nicer on this thing. That electronic shifter is the most enjoyable way to change gears, those hydraulic brakes hit sharper than anything else, and the chunky tubeless Pathfinder tires ride nicer and more reliably than most, offering predictable traction and banishing the fear of having to change a punctured tube halfway through a ride.
Then there’s the boost from the battery pack. It really feels like assistance, rather than an outright replacement for your own legwork. The seamless e-assist gave me confidence to take on longer rides. I’m sure it would make biking a viable alternative to driving for certain people and certain journeys.
What’s more, riding a bike like this makes you want to stay out there as long as possible. On a nice day, it’s a joy to soak up the sun while you cover mile after mile, whisked along at a pleasurable cadence with barely a hint of fatigue. Then, when the rain comes and you’re left with the prospect of a damp cycle home, you know you’ll be warm and dry in half the time it would take on an analog bike.
Sure, the color is a bit uninspiring and the saddle is fairly uncomfortable when you’re hitting those longer rides, but in every other way, the Expert Evo is just fantastic. The price means it’s a somewhat unobtainable ride for most people, me included. But I’m sure that, given the chance, almost everyone would find something to love about the Expert Evo.