The Specialized Como SL 5.0 Is Like the iPhone of Commuter E-Bikes

Key Takeaways

  • The Como SL 5.0 is an approachable, functional everyday e-bike.
  • A carbon belt drive provides smooth shifts and easy maintenance.
  • Modest range and a battery that’s not user-replaceable can lead to range anxiety.
Specialized Como SL 5.0 in yellow
Lifewire / Matthew S. Smith

Electric bicycles have enjoyed a wave of popularity over the past year, but they still face a long-term problem: many people don’t care for bicycles.

Bikes can be uncomfortable and intimidating for newcomers, and though much less expensive to maintain than a car, most require frequent gear adjustment, chain replacement, and lubrication. Most lack an included rack, leaving owners to sling on a sweaty, uncomfortable backpack.

The Specialized Como SL 5.0 ($4,800) solves these issues with a friendly design that, in terms of refinement, feels like the iPhone of e-bikes. Yet the bike also makes tough decisions that undercut its appeal.

Grab and Go

When I say the Specialized Como SL 5.0 is approachable, I mean it literally. The bike’s sleek design and step-through frame opens the bike up to more riders. You don’t need to go a few rounds with Yoga by Adriene to straddle this machine.

The “SL” in Como SL stands for “super light,” which is both true and an exaggeration. Weighing in at 45 pounds, the Como SL is lighter than most RadPower and Gazelle bikes at your local retailer, but still a hassle to carry. There’s a handle below the seatpost, at least.

Specialized Como SL 5.0 belt drive
Lifewire / Matthew S. Smith

The bike’s most convenient feature is optional. The Como SL 5.0, an upgrade over the less expensive 4.0, has a belt drive instead of a chain. I adore it. The belt drive is smooth and consistent, easily shifting between gears while pedaling (or not). It doesn’t require constant lubrication and, because it’s a single piece instead of hundreds of metal links, it picks up less grime.

Standard features include front and rear lights, fenders, and a basket complete with a bungee net. These extras are essential. A recent complaint from a friend who purchased a barebones e-bike drove this point home: they didn’t realize the gear required to ready the e-bike for errands, rain, and long trips. The extras are easily worth $500.

Fast Enough, but the Battery Is a Problem

The Turbo Como SL 5.0’s approachability extends to performance, which is scaled back compared to earlier Turbo Vado and Como models. The Specialized Turbo Como 4.0, which I reviewed in 2019, often felt too fast for bike lanes and sidewalks. 

The Turbo Como SL 5.0 delivers a peak torque of 35nm, down from a potential peak of 90nm in prior models. It’s a noticeable drop but, in keeping with the Turbo Como SL 5.0’s approachability, is a better fit for commuting and errands.

Specialized has dialed back the battery, too, but this decision is more difficult to defend. The battery’s capacity is 320 watt-hours, down from 500 to 600 watt-hours in prior models. Specialized quotes a maximum range of 93 miles with the optional range extender, which adds 160 watt-hours, but my local dealer said I could expect 30 miles in typical use (my test bike didn’t include the range extender).

Specialized Como SL 5.0 battery indicator
Lifewire / Matthew S. Smith

A ride using the middle power assist setting across mostly flat terrain ate half the battery in 15 miles. That’s enough for an urban commute, which averages under 10 miles a day, but the battery will need to be charged every few days.

Charging can be a hassle. Like a modern iPhone, the Como SL integrates the battery into the frame. Owners can’t remove it for charging or replace an old battery. I worry the Como SL 5.0’s range will become frustrating as the battery’s capacity reduces with age. Owners must keep the bike stored in a climate-controlled space, too, as the battery’s capacity is reduced by extreme cold or heat. 

A Great Bike for Newcomers That Needs Refinement

The Como SL 5.0 makes a great first impression. Specialized wisely acknowledges the fact most adults in the United States haven’t touched a bike since they were a teenager and are easily put off by racy, complicated e-bikes. 

However, I’m not convinced the ease of riding will translate to ease of ownership. Integrated batteries are the norm in smartphones and laptops, but those devices can fit in a backpack and don’t weigh 45 pounds. Integrating the battery into the frame of a 45-pound e-bike is different.

Specialized should bring this design to a bike that has a replaceable battery. That would tick all the right boxes for new riders.

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