While the first functional battery was developed in the year 1800 by Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, a practical battery would not be seen for several decades yet. By the end of the 19th century, practical and portable batteries were more widely available, this finally freeing the electric motor to be used in a wide new array of applications. It might come as a surprise, but the electric motor, battery, and a bicycle were first paired as far back as the 1890s. It would be approximately 100 years later that electric bicycle development finally entered the mainstream, but the technology and concept behind the electric bike were all in place generations ago.
On a trip to Palo Alto last year, we had the chance to ride Specialized’s pedal-assisted Turbo Vado and the model is still our favorite ebike on the market. Utilizing a 350-watt motor and 604-watt-hour lithium-ion battery, the Turbo Vado is capable of traveling a whopping 80 miles on a single charge, which should be more than enough for any daily commute with plenty of miles left over.
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One reason for doing so is the way it is powered, which works in a manner that would be familiar to someone accustomed to a manual transmission car. Like a car, you start in a low gear and work your way up as you gain speed. Since the motor runs through your transmission as opposed to applying power directly to the axle, the gear you’re in really matters. The importance of gearing connects you much more to the road and the terrain, which means you are a more active rider than when using throttle-controlled electric bikes.

Spec-wise, this thing is tricked out. You’ve got the option to go with  Suntour AION suspension or Fox Float suspension. The drivetrain is Shimano Deore XT. Same with the hydraulic disc brakes. The bike also comes with an ABUS Big Bordo folding lock that is keyed for both the batteries and the lock. Super convenient. There’s also loads of other options within the Delite line. Nuvinci and Rohloff drivetrains, 20mph and 28mph motors, standard and plus tires. You get the idea. Lot to choose from.
Above all, the Brompton is a lot of fun to ride in urban settings. Its powerful enough to breeze up hills with near zero effort, but feels nimble. As with any Brompton, you probably won't win a half-mile sprint on it, but thanks to the pedal assistance, you most certainly will get off to a flying start. The reason it stands above other electric bikes is that Brompton has worked out how to apply power assistance to your pedalling so it feels natural. It also doesn't feel so much like it's trying to fight you once you reach the maximum, 15mph assisted speed.
As electric bike options continue to expand, more brands are integrating the battery more seamlessly. That makes them look sleeker (and more like a real bike). Batteries are expensive, so make sure there's a good way lock the battery to your bike if you'll be keeping it outside. Overall weight is important. Some battery and motors can add 15 pounds or more to the bike. With assist, you won't feel that much when you're riding, but you will if you have to carry your bike up stairs or lift it onto a bike rack.
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