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The big “S” has entered the e-road bike game, and it’s made quite a splash, with a package that hits a balance of weight, range and power that stands alone in a crowded field. So assured is Specialized of its Creo SL, that it has given it the S-Works badge, reserved only for its cream-of-thecrop performance machines. Those are big shoes to fill in the graces of near-flawless bikes like the Tarmac and Venge. So, does the Creo SL’s performance rise to the occasion?
Specialized hasn’t been a spectator to the e-bike world. Its Turbo program has been on the forefront, releasing commuters (which are an absolute joy) for years now. But Specialized really wanted to get things right on the e-road bike, waiting for the technology to be just right for the performance-minded rider. While competitors have rushed to market, Specialized has had plenty of time to figure out exactly what a performance road e-bike needs to look like.
What it needs to look like is a road bike—one that at a glance could be mistaken for its analog brethren. It also needs to handle like a road bike, while balancing the extra weight of a motor and battery with all-day range.
The bike needs to ride well too. The Creo SL is designed to have similar geometry and bike-handling as a Tarmac to inspire climbing out of the saddle and bombing into corners like Julian Alaphilippe. A Future Shock 2.0 stem finds its way over from the Roubaix, adding compliance to the front end over rough roads. You can lock out this latest version when you don’t want any extra cushion, but it’s nice to leave it at least partially engaged most of the time.
Weight has been an issue with the e-road category. No motor can make a 40-pound bike magic in the mountains. So keeping weight down has been a priority. To that end, the frame is designed with a FACT 11r carbon. A full Creo SL build significantly cuts weight versus competitors down to 12.2 kilograms (26.9 pounds). It’s still about twice the weight of a well spec’d Tarmac but feels like a feather next to most of the rest of the market. And the ones that approach the Creo’s weight can’t even approach the same power and range.
In addition to the carbon frame, weight savings comes from the 4.3-pound SL 1.1 motor—about half the heft of competitors. Designed in house to work flawlessly with the frame, this category-three, hub-based motor delivers 240 watts to assist up to 28 mph, and cycles between Sport, Eco and Turbo modes at the touch of a top-tube button. Complete control over manufacturing is perhaps Specialized’s greatest advantage in the e-road market, allowing it to fine-tune both how the hardware interfaces and how software and hardware meld together.
The Mission Control app provides unparalleled control over your ride. You can adjust how much power each of the three settings provides. And you can plan out a route so that you don’t run out of battery prematurely from overdriving Turbo mode. You can expect a little over 50 miles and a few thousand feet of climbing if you just run Turbo mode all day. That range estimate is from our experience with a “Range Extender,” an external battery increasing battery life by about 50 percent. Specialized estimates about 80 miles—extendable to 120—if you can stay away from the Turbo temptation.
The S-Works Creo SL sets the bar for e-road bike specs, only losing some of its luster in the price tag: $13,500. Categorydefining innovation and performance never come cheap.
The Creo impresses with its handling, tackling descents with the confidence of the S-Works road line. We even bombed some technical descents, hitting nearly 50 mph, and never doubted the handling for a second. On climbs, you can ride out of the saddle without any lurching feeling from the motor. For the rare times you max out the 28 mph power assist, the motor tapers off so you don’t get a sudden drop in performance. When you dip below the 28 mph threshold, it tapers back on just as smoothly.
The motor is designed to work best at high cadences. Slightly un-intuitively, when you want to go faster, especially while climbing, you may have to switch into an easier gear so that you can spin faster and engage the watts of the motor. You’ll briefly go slower, but the motor will quickly have you going faster than before. Having a smooth motor makes any day feel like a career best, providing the psychological boost to dig deeper into your biological power reserves. In fact, the ride where we went most memorably deep in the pain cave this year happened on a Creo. There’s just something about climbing at WorldTour speeds that can drag the best out of anyone.
Specialized doesn’t see e-road bikes as simply a vehicle for recovery or for older riders. Sure, it’s great for those needs, but it can still be a performance tool for the high-end racer. Hence the “it’s you, only faster” tagline. Whether any serious racers will pick up a Creo as a training tool remains to be seen—especially because it’s not cheap. We have seen cases this season of pro riders “moto-pacing” other riders up climbs using e-bikes, but no pros specifically using them as training tools. But, who knows? The e-road bike category is only really starting to heat up, and Specialized is positioning itself way out in front.
$13,500; 12.2kg / 26.9 lbs
Shimanbo Dura-Ace Di2 with 1x 46 chainring (the Creo is 1x only), Shimano XT 11–42 cassette, S-Works Power Saddle, S-Works carbon Future Stem, handlebars and seat post, Roval CLX 50 wheels with S-Works Turbo tires