Specialized New Electric Bike: Barely Legal

The Specialized Turbo electric bike was supposed to be too fast for U.S. streets. But starting this weekend, you can buy one.

specialized turbo electric bike legal is it legal to buy

    Photo: Courtesy of Specialized

Last year, Specialized made waves in the bike world with the introduction of the Turbo, an electric bike with a top-speed of 28 miles per hour. It was the world’s fastest e-bike—too fast, everyone thought, for the U.S., where the legal limit for e-bikes is 20 mph.

This weekend, the Turbo goes on sale at Specialized dealers in the U.S. How’s that possible? No, they didn’t slow the bike down. They just took a closer look at the law, which states that e-bikes must have a motor of less than 750 watts and an unassisted speed of less than 20 mph. Because the Turbo is an electric pedal-assist bike, meaning you have to pedal to get any kick from the motor, the speed limit doesn’t apply. In fact, the only reason it tops out at 28 mph is to comply with European laws, which restrict e-bikes to 45 kph. Specialized installed a governor on the Turbo that automatically turns the motor off when it reaches this speed.

Other things you should know about the Turbo: A wireless handlebar-mounted set of two buttons lets you select the level of pedal assist (turbo, eco, no assist, or battery recharge, which works on downhills). The Lithium-Ion battery, which integrates into the down tube, has 342 watt-hours of capacity, which allows for (roughly) an hour of riding at top speed. It takes two and a half hours to fully recharge the battery. A dashboard at the center of the handlebars tracks your speed, distance, and battery power. The 250-watt motor is contained entirely within the rear hub. Components include a SRAM XO 10-speed rear derailleur (there’s no front derailleur) controlled by a SRAM DoubleTap flat bar trigger, and Magura MT Carbon hydraulic brakes. It weighs 50 pounds. Price is $6000.

Also, it’s really, really fun to ride.

At a Specialized press event in San Francisco on Wednesday, I sought out the steepest hills I could find on a failed mission to Coit tower (hey, there’s, like, one hidden route up there and lots of one-way streets … ), then zipped along the Embarcadero alongside cars—when I wasn’t passing them. Naturally, I set the motor to turbo mode the whole time. Reaching the top speed on the flats was easy. I never came close to breaking a sweat.

I’m not sure how many riders will be willing to spend six grand on a high-tech urban bike, but I will say this about the Turbo: it got me very excited about the future of e-bikes.

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