A Look Inside Drop Bar E-Bikes

While it’s likely clear that our opinion of e-bikes is high here on the Cycle Oregon blog we thought it would be best to bring in expert opinion. In our previous post we introduced Bob Williams who clipped into a pedal-assist road bike at the start of 2020 and, as a retired engineer, has been collecting data on his experiences in the saddle ever since. Joining him in this post is John Cordoba, Product Manager for Road / Gravel / E-Bikes at Specialized, the maker of the bicycle Bob has been riding. 

Bob, you’ve ridden thousands of miles on your e-bike and as an engineer you’ve documented your experiences along the way. We’re excited to get to all that data but, first, please tell us about you and your bike.

Bob Williams “My wife Catherine and I rode a lot with Portland Velo (bike club) pre-COVID.  She is a ride leader at 18-20 mph level and me with the 16-18 mph group.  She consistently averages around 2 mph faster than me and 3 mph more on hills as she’s a born climber. I’m a bigger rider so I like it when gravity helps me!  I tested a few e-bikes at the beginning of 2020 and chose the Creo. It’s a game changer for me and for us, especially once COVID hit and most of our riding was just the two of us together.  She can now ride/climb at her pace and I can match with a bit of boost.”

“I’ve done a bunch of testing of pedal-assist boost levels and I find that with Boost 1 (Eco) set at 35% bring-it-on power and 40% peak that she can ride her ride and I can keep up and get a workout like normal.  Hills over 10% grade do send me into Boost 2 (Sport) -though I have rarely ever used Boost 3 (Turbo)”

Bob Williams and his pedal-assist road e-bike, a Specialized Creo make a quick stop along Surveyor’s Ridge on the north side of Mt. Hood

In our previous post, Bicycling magazine’s Bill Strickland said, “I have never seen someone – not one person – get on an e-bike for the first time and not smile.”, but this isn’t only about fun, it’s about the experience of real riding. What is a common misconception people have with road & gravel e-bikes?

John Cordoba“I think the biggest misconception riders have is that this is a moped, or that they are not going to get a workout. The pedal-assist motor in the Creo SL only provides assistance when you’re pedaling; the harder you pedal the more it rewards you with power output. Our SL 1.1 system is a lightweight motor and battery with just the right amount of power to double the output of the rider and plenty of range to do epic rides with.”

Check out this informative Q&A with John Cordoba on Dustin Klein’s channel

Bob Williams“Conceptually for a road bike the only aspect that a motor adds is you have the capacity of adding watts to the cycling calculus – meaning you can go faster and longer.  I’m always charmed by how different aspects of making cycling “easier”, or “faster”, or “going longer” are deemed either legitimate or not. That is, they are considered “OK” versus some form of “cheating or doping”. I can remember when having a 32-tooth cassette was heretical (or even a 28!), or using a compact chain ring, etc.”

The formulas aren’t very complex – you either reduce weight or design aero shapes to lower the watts needed for speed and/or endurance – or you add watts via a motor. If the context of the riding is a competition then a level playing field is crucial, any form of doping is antithetical to the goal of winning on a level playing field. If the concept is riding joy, or relationship enhancement, or simply distance, then it really doesn’t seem to matter what someone rides. The goal is really rider compatibility and enjoyment, in a sense the bike disappears into the back ground and the ride experience takes precedence.

So, this feels like a regular road bike?

John Cordoba“Yes, it does. We wanted a lightweight package, we didn’t want huge amounts of power as the bike needs to be an extension on the rider.”

Bob Williams“My experience to date, riding lots with my wife’s faster group, is there’s no problems at all related to the e-bike. My Creo is a really smooth operating bike with no real lag or anything when going in or out of power. My goal has been to be invisible and it’s worked out just fine.”

These are not just commuter e-bikes with drop bars?

John Cordoba – “We launched our first Turbo bike, The Turbo S, back in 2012 and started working on it as far back as 2009. We could have put that system on a drop bar bike but it took years of development to get to the Turbo Creo SL that riders want. We wanted good range and road-bike-like handling and it has taken us over 10 years to get to the point where we have the technology available to have a bike that gives us the same feel of a road/gravel bike, but amplifies our effort, lets us ride further and gives us more fun.”

Bob’s bike is a Specialized Creo SL, shown here in cutaway with the optional range extender battery pack in the water bottle cage. The main battery is housed in the downtube and the motor is located in the bottom bracket area of the frame where the crank arms and pedals attach.

Bob Williams“The bikes I’ve ridden and tested look, feel and ride like road bikes – not commuter or city bikes. In fact most of these e-road bikes are actually based on current analog bikes in the corresponding brand’s current endurance road bike line. Road e-bikes have motors sized and designed to have less torque than commuter or mountain e-bikes so they integrate power much more smoothly which is key in road riding, especially in groups.”

Switching gears outside of bikes-as-transportation, it’s been said that pedal-assist electric motor support may be best applied to gravel bikes and gravel riding. What are your thoughts? 

Bob Williams“I think with transit, especially with cargo, it makes so much sense to have more power for heavy loads though mountain and gravel gravel seem most promising for the benefits of pedal-assist recreationally. Part of the reason to use electric on dirt and gravel is to expand your reach – it’s not just to get up some gnarly mountain, but to get over to that next mountain that’s just a little too far to do on your own.” 

“As for my bike,  it’s both an awesome road and gravel bike! I have it set up with both 700C road wheels and 650B gravel wheels. I especially love the power boost on gravel.”

John Cordoba“Personally, I agree. Especially in the times we are living in, I am not using my Creo SL to join group road rides. Instead I am using it to explore new roads, new parts of the local state parks that I normally wouldn’t dare to explore on my own.”

Perhaps lost in all the focus on electric pedal-assist on your company’s bike, John, is the Future Shock up front. Some purists may scoff at the idea of suspension on road bikes so why did your team put this on the Creo?

John Cordoba“On an e-bike we believe suspension is very important. Because the frame is also housing a battery, the tubes end up getting really big, which in return creates more stiffness. E-bikes are also allowing us to ride faster, which means those pot holes or rough surfaces are coming at us a little faster, and are now harder to swerve.”

We believe suspension is for performance, including road bikes. You don’t see a Formula One car without any suspension, yet it’s driven on relatively smooth roads. Whenever we are able to enhance the performance of a bike based on the rider and the ultimate goal of the bike, we will add suspension or other features based on what we are trying to accomplish, and weigh in pros and cons with all the other features we are trying to build into the bike.”  

Bob keeps his ride clean. We love it!

Our thanks to Bob and John for their time in answering our questions here. In our next installment, we’ll hear their thoughts on power levels, battery life and management and the dreaded feeling of range anxiety. Not to worry, these two experts will help put us at ease and, yes, with even more data.

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  1. Awesome information! I have been looking at e-bikes and this answered some of my questions. Thank you

  2. Scott Raaum says:

    This is great information. Can’t wait for the next installment. I’d like to hear something about cost too.

    1. Manny Corpus says:

      It’s a $7K bike.

  3. "Armour Man" (Jerry Berlin) says:

    Ride Fast, Ride Light–not me. I ride safety. This great review misses a key issue. I hit sand with my 18 mm tire road bike. Broke my hip, surgery and rehab. Sold the road bike, rode the 2018 with my 2.6 inch traction tire mt bike. I could do the climbs at 3-5mph. road bikes blew by me. At the top of the passes, time approached cut off of 4 PM so I rode SAG the remaining 10 – 30 miles down hill, boo hoo. Ran out of time on each day. 2019, used my mt E-BIKE with 2.4 inch tires. I was able to compete each day’s ride, ya hoo. Not fast, not easy, still a wild work out with the increased friction and weight of the mt ebike, but I finished tired and strong. Planning to ride 2021, see you there (you’ll know me when you see me).

  4. I have Torque 1 electric road bike with Torque Sensor , 700x28mm tire, weight 37lbs. It looks just like a regular road bike. I commute to work 17 miles each way, with the mix bike trails and streets. For 4 months it is still ok. I am 67 years old. It is a good way to exercise. My speed about 18mph. With rough surface I just slow down and ride carefully. I am not racing with anyone. BTW it only cost $1100. Last was on sale for merely $1000 with free shipping.