First Ride: Specialized Turbo Creo SL
BRUSSELS, Belgium (VN) — Specialized’s newest addition to its vast lineup has a motor, drop bars, and a weight that might surprise you. It also has a name, Creo, that translates from Spanish to “I think.”
It thinks it’s a road bike. It thinks it can handle better than any other e-road bike out there. It thinks there’s a better way to create a pedal-assist motor.
It thinks, therefore it is — a road bike, one that handles incredibly well, with a motor that separates itself from every other system out there.
Okay, wait a second. It’s not really a road bike. It’s an e-road bike, which I’ve learned in the last few months is quite a different thing from a true road bike. Yes, in our crazy little world of segmentation, we have yet another category: e-road is its own little world, and the Creo has the keys to that kingdom.
That’s largely because it does what so many other bikes fail to do: deliver a true race-inspired ride in a package that, while not exactly light at 12.2kg (26.9 pounds, S-Works Fact Creo SL), doesn’t banish this bike to the absurd, laughable, overweight category that prevents ‘real’ riders from considering e-bikes at all. This bike ain’t feathery by road bike standards, but by e-road standards, it’s downright gossamer.
To get to that point, Specialized had to reimagine its carbon layup process to cut materials where it wasn’t necessary and reinforce where it was. But beyond carbon layup, Specialized also created its own pedal-assist motor. The SL 1.1 motor is the big red S’s own creation, allowing Specialized engineers to create a bike that integrates cleanly with the motor itself, rather than having to retrofit or accommodate another company’s design.
And the motor itself even operates differently than others on the market. In particular, you won’t feel a jolt or burst forward when the assist kicks in. The power curve is far more natural than that, and at times during your ride you may not be able to tell when the assist kicks in or turns off at all.
The motor delivers 240 watts up to 28 miles per hour, and when it kicks off, there’s very little drag at all. So you can pedal unassisted and feel like you’re pedaling any other bike. The feeling is quite remarkable, really. If you don’t want to be constantly reminded you’re on an e-bike, you won’t.
An internal battery delivers up to an 80-mile range and 320Wh. If battery anxiety gets the better of you, it’s possible to add a range extender that delivers up to 40 extra miles and 160Wh.
While I was only able to ride the road bike version, there’s also a gravel version, because of course there is. E-bikes may be the fastest growing category throughout the bike industry right now, but gravel is no slouch. The Creo gravel doesn’t differ too much from the road version, though it comes stock with wider tires.
Both versions come with Specialized’s FutureShock with a damper. This system lives in the head tube and essentially allows telescopic movement to absorb road vibrations and hits. The addition of a damper allows you to firm up the movement or soften it depending on your needs.
Brussels, Belgium is legendary throughout Europe for its horrific, snarling automobile traffic. So it gave me not just a little bit of satisfaction to zip past cars stopped completely, even at green lights. I would have done this on any bike, really, but there was something fascinating about having access to what could be the “next big thing” in mobility while those who are still tied to the last big thing sat still and watched me pass.
The Creo makes it easy to forget all that, too, because frankly, it comes startlingly close to feeling like any other road bike, sans motor. It’s fairly light for an e-bike, and it handles better than any e-bike I’ve ridden this past year. The bar keeps getting higher and higher every time I go on an e-bike ride, but the Creo may have just set the standard for handling for the foreseeable future.
That’s largely a function of weight, but also the location of that weight. I’ve now ridden e-bikes with batteries in the downtube, like the Creo, and batteries on the seatpost, like BMC’s Alpenchallenge AMP. There’s a case to be made for both locations, but it seems like it’s possible to create better handling by focusing the battery’s weight as close to the center of the bike as possible, and low.
That’s over-simplifying the handling recipe though; Specialized states that the Tarmac is the design inspiration for the Creo, so it’s got good bones, so to speak. It’s a race bike design, and the Creo certainly feels like a race bike — or at least close to it. Of course you still pay a weight penalty, and yes, the handling lags behind something as wispy as a Tarmac, but remember, this isn’t road riding; this is e-road riding. In that category, the Creo establishes itself early on as a pick of the litter.
This was also my first experience with the updated FutureShock, which features a top cap dial to adjust damping. The original FutureShock felt far too soft to me, so the update is a welcome addition. I instinctively dialed it all the way up to its firmest setting and left it there throughout the ride. I’m happy to report I forgot it was there at all, which means two things: First, it wasn’t too active, like its predecessor; and second, it did exactly what it was supposed to do, which is to soak up road vibrations without affecting handling. This is a significant achievement, and an update Specialized should be proud of.
All that aside, the power curve of the motor really sets the Creo apart. Whether that’s good or bad really depends on you, the rider. If you like the feeling of the pedal-assist kicking in and letting you know it’s on the case, the Creo might let you down. There are times you might forget there’s an assist at all, in fact, because the transition between assist and non-assist pedaling is so smooth. Personally, I liked the subtlety of it, affording me the opportunity to forget I was on an e-bike, especially when I didn’t need a lot of assist in the first place.
Of course, when one of the climbs kicked up to 17%, I was happy to have that assist. It doesn’t punch forward; rather, it ramps up as you pedal, rewarding you for your efforts. This might end up feeling a bit defeating for a user who relies on that big pickup to indicate they’re being assisted, but for someone more used to race bikes and more challenging rides, the Creo feels incredibly natural.
So am I ready to run out and buy a Creo? No, mostly because it’s incredibly expensive. ($9,000 to $17,000. Ouch.) This bike is intended for a very niche audience, and while I am certain that audience exists, I am not it. Every single e-bike ride I have been on has been a lot of fun, but it’s still not my game, especially when I can buy a top of the line road bike without a motor for the same price, if not cheaper. For my money, motorless bikes are still where my heart’s at.
But we’re seeing a big change in mobility happening before our eyes. Consider the Creo the Lamborghini of e-bike mobility. If that speaks to your mobility needs and desires, the Creo is hard to beat.