By Troy Templin
Whether you like it or hate it, road e-bikes have arrived. While we have sister zine Electric Bike Action magazine to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to motor-assisted bikes, the chance to try the new Specialized Creo e-road bike was too enticing to pass up.
Specialized promises their new offering provides all the joys of riding a traditional bike with the added benefits of a little extra power. When the invite for the launch of their all-new Turbo Creo SL arrived, we jumped at the chance to head out to Santa Cruz, California, for a preview of both their road and gravel versions.
The new Fact 11r carbon Creo SL frame combines much of the knowledge that Specialized acquired from their non-assist road and gravel bikes when it comes to construction and geometry. The overall geometry is very similar to the Diverge with a low bottom bracket and room to fit up to a 42mm tire.
The Creo SL is available in four models, one of which is gravel-ready with a dropper post and 38mm tires. The other three models will be road-oriented, but since they all share the same frameset, you could modify the setup to your liking if you have any cash left, which will be a challenge for most of us.
All the bikes use the front Future Shock 2.0 fork (with 20mm of travel) that was recently launched on the new Roubaix. New to Specialized is the use of what they call “boost road hub spacing” with a 110x12mm front and 148x12mm rear thru-axle. This means finding wheels other than those Specialized offers is currently nearly impossible. The 1x-specific drivetrain uses a Praxis crank, and all the current builds use Shimano shifters, brakes and gearing.
One of the most impressive numbers mentioned was the bike’s weight, hitting the scales at just under 27 pounds for the 54cm complete build. We’ve ridden a few e-road bikes with rear-hub motors that are about the same weight, but none offer the promise of 80 miles of range on a single charge (depending on conditions) as the Creo SL does.
It is worth noting, however, that unlike the Specialized, you can swap out the rear wheel of a bike with a rear-hub motor (e.g., Bianchi Aria E-Road, Pinarello Dyodo, Orbea Gain, among others) and automatically lose a majority of the added weight and be left with a close-to-traditional pedal bike.
After relying on a partnership with Swiss motor maker Brose for their previous efforts, Specialized told us they felt restricted by the design constraints of their partners on their previous Turbo bikes, so this is an all-new motor platform (with a new partner) that they have been working on for a while now. The new motor, while much less powerful than the other motors at 240 watts and 35 N/m, is extremely efficient. There is a 320-Wh internal battery that puts the range at 80 miles, with an optional 160-Wh external bottle-cage-mounted battery that can add another 40 miles of range (again, depending on conditions like rider weight, wind and topography).
The internal battery can be removed for airline travel or to lower the bike’s overall weight. There are four assist settings—off, Eco, Sport and Turbo—that are controlled with a top-tube-mounted control unit. Using the Specialized Mission Control app allows each of these modes to be customized.
The big news here, and the reason the Creo SL is able to get so much range out of such a small package, is its unparalleled efficiency. The motor has been tuned for riding cadences between 60 and 110 rpm, and maintaining over 80-percent power efficiency throughout the whole range. The optimal and most efficient power range is between 80–90 rpm at 84-percent efficiency, and the most total power output is at 100 rpm. For comparison, the competition has a peak efficiency of only 60 percent, and that is in a very narrow and low cadence that doesn’t translate to traditional riding.
The new SL1.1 motor weighs (a claimed) 4.3 pounds, owing to its magnesium casing and refined design. Overall the system is a balance between power, efficiency and weight. While we’ve had a lot of e-bikes come through the well-lit penthouse offices of Hi-Torque, thanks to Electric Bike Action, few are up to the task of matching real-world ride expectations and weight targets like the Creo SL.
We had two days’ worth of rides planned in Santa Cruz—the first was a 50-mile road loop that had over 6000 feet of climbing, while the second was a 45-mile mixed-surface and gravel ride with about the same 6000 feet of climbing. Both rides would be challenging on any bike, and the one thing that stood out most to us on the rides was that we didn’t go any easier; we just went faster. And when I say that, I’m not exaggerating! On day one we rode so hard on the climbs and even the flats that day two started out super mellow since everyone’s legs were still tired. Yup, tired legs after an e-bike ride.
The motor is able to read the rider’s input power, and it can be sent to your computer and produce a power metric. While it isn’t as responsive as most of the power meters we normally use, it was accurate enough to give us an idea of the efforts we were putting out. For a cyclist that rides with power, this feature really hits home with how useful an e-bike can be for training and even recovery ride days.
Looking back at the data, I was climbing at just under 300 watts of input power at 170 bpm, which is my normal high effort. The difference was that my climbing speed was significantly higher, thanks to the 230-or-so extra watts that the motor offered. One thing that the Shimano drivetrain lacked was a 10t cog. On all of the fast descents, it was easy to get up to speed, thanks to the extra weight, but we ran out of gears quickly.
As with every bike we test ride at a launch, we will have to get the bikes back home and on our normal routes before giving a full review. On the first ride, both bikes were a blast to ride, and their range while in the Turbo mode was impressive. There was no range anxiety on our planned routes, and I would have confidently done another lap on each route if I could have. The bikes have no noticeable drag when pedaling above the 28-mph assist limit or when in the no-assist mode.
What is noticeable is the price point, which can only be described as exorbitant. The two entry-level versions (road and gravel) sell for $9000, with two additional models heading north to the $17,000 price tag for the Founder’s Edition. All Creo models use the same frame and motor; it’s just the components and accessories
added to take the cost up to such nose-bleed heights.
If you are lucky enough to have the means to make a bike like this possible, you won’t be disappointed. It was an absolute blast to ride, and you can still get as hard a workout as you want.