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Getting Lighter and Faster, E-Bikes Reach Cruising Speed

For some, a powered bike can replace a second car.

Cutout revealing the SL 1.1 Motor and internal wiring of Specialized’s Turbo Levo SL, photographed at the company’s headquarters in Morgan Hill, Calif.

Cutout revealing the SL 1.1 Motor and internal wiring of Specialized’s Turbo Levo SL, photographed at the company’s headquarters in Morgan Hill, Calif.

Photographer: Martin Klimek for Bloomberg Businessweek
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What was shaping up to be the year of the electric car has turned into the year of the electric bike. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a global quandary about how to travel quickly and safely, leading to increased interest in bicycling. Demand for e-bikes, especially, is rising. Pedal-assisted models can reach speeds of about 30 miles per hour, helping people get to work without having to rely on public transportation while also offering a chance to exercise—riders still must pedal.

For companies like Specialized Bicycle Components Inc., in Morgan Hill, Calif., the interest is validating a longtime commitment to electric models. Founded by Mike Sinyard in 1974, the company developed its first commercial e-bike in 2013—the Turbo S, a high-speed commuter model that was a departure from Specialized’s bread-and-butter road bikes. The model “landed our tag line, ‘It’s you, only faster,’” says Chris Yu, Specialized’s leader of product and innovation, and it became the foundation for all electric models going forward.