I bought a 2020 model Vaco 4 in 2021 and after 2400 miles I decided I wanted an IGH and a belt. I use it primarily for commuting and transportation but also gravel trail riding on the weekends. Specialized in 2022 offers a belt and Enviolo IGH in the Vado 3 and the Vado 5 but not the 4! For me the 3 was a step down in performance and the 5 was almost twice the price of what I paid for my Vado 4. Plus I am leery of an automatic shifter. And it was moot anyway as my shop didn’t have one in my size.
So the TLDR is there are several things better about the Vado while the main benefit of belt and IGH are long term features and not as obvious. Otherwise the performance and parts are similar between them and they are a similar price point with the 380+ $700 more than the Vado. They both feel very solid and well made. The Gazelle wins for looks and overall build quality.
First up is the “feel”. When I bought the Vado one thing that I really liked was it didn’t feel like an electric bike. It felt like me powering the bike, just stronger. With most other bikes including the Gazelle it often feels like someone is pushing me from behind, especially low speeds and higher boost. The other thing is noise. The Brose motor has an internal belt and it really dampens out the noise. Only under low speed hi torque do I hear motor struggling. The Bosch motors generally sound like electric motors.
On both bikes the stance can be described as “sporty” or in between an upright and low racing. The Vado is definitely more “sporty” and less upright. The Gazelle has an adjustable stem while the Vado does not. I set my bars adjusted down but I think I would like to be a little lower still. The Gazelle also seems to be taller in general with the pedals higher off the ground than the Vado. This is nice for traffic but maybe less desirable for more gravel riding? I have the high step model (the mid and low step don’t allow for the extra battery option) and straddling the bar standing it pushes up more than a TSA agent if you know what I mean.
The tires on the Gazelle are thinner and less gravel than the Vado. I took it on the rail trail this weekend and it generally felt fine but less “sure footed”. I also skidded on what I thought was moderate braking but maybe that’s getting used to different brakes. I also had a little bit of a burnout climbing a very steep gravel hill. The thinner tires was almost a deal breaker in buying the Gazelle but really most of my miles are commuting on the road and I should be able to get slightly more aggressive tires when the time comes.
The Purion display is a lot simpler and fewer features than the Specialized. The purion should called the Puritan for it’s bare bones simple features. The Specialized had too many features for things like boost and energy statistics but I could ignore those screens. Mostly the Purion is good enough to control the boost and the lights and give me speed and battery level but it misses having a ride timer and average speeds that I liked to see. What really bugs me is it doesn’t have fractional trip miles, only whole numbers. Why couldn’t they have one decimal place? I also prefer the green backlight of the specialized over the white Bosch. SPecialized also had the Mission control app that was fun to record rides. It also let me upgrade some of the firmware through bluetooth and adjust the settings on the different assist levels. Purion doesn’t have Bluetooth but I don’t think I will miss it.
Neither bike gives you a USB accessory charging port. This seems like an easy convenience feature that is missing.
One of the main design flaws of the Vado is the battery pack. I never like the way it was asymmetrical in the frame and they tried to match the colors with plastic. The real problem though is how difficult it is to insert the battery. You have to have it perfectly aligned at the correct angle to hope to work and then as the Youtube videos advise you still have to give it the “Specialized Slap” to lock in place. I spent 5-10 minutes more than once at a trailhead fiddling with it and googling. Because it is so difficult I rarely removed it and faced the challenge fresh each time. I had a little trouble removing the Bosch power tube from the bottom catch but no big deal and it inserts much better. Still not as good as the Bosch external frame battery on my wife’s Trek.
Now the big difference here is the IGH and the belt. I don’t notice any difference in the feel with the belt. It’s advantages is more in what it doesn’t have: a greasy chain that needs to be replaced too quickly (the dirty secret of E bikes is the wear on the chain and drive sprockets). Similar with the IGH that eliminated the derailleur. No more adjusting and tweaking to get it right. The Enviolo continuous shifter is nice but takes some getting used to. With indexed thumb and finger shifting it felt more intuitive which lever to hit. For me at least I get the direction wrong about the half the time with grip shifts. But no big deal with the Enviolo you can shift it back easily and even shift when stopped which is handy. The indicator is a hill with a little cyclist, the larger the hill the lower the gear. It is a bit silly but it is intuitive. I noticed though that getting into the faster range it is very stiff and difficult to move the twist grip. They say this is normal and will get easier after 100-200 miles. I will update when I reach that point.
The Gazelle front wheel is a through axle but with a quick release lever. I had not seen this before but it is quite handy. The Vado is threaded and you need an Allen key to remove it. Same for the real wheel on the Vado. On the Gazelle the rear wheel uses a 15mm bolt. But to remove the wheel you have to disconnect the shifter cable from the IGH. This looks easy in the videos so I am not worried. Removing the wheel looks at least as easy for the IGH than for standard cassette+chain and without the greasy fingers! I ordered a 3Wrencho tire wrench/15mm from Performance Cycles to have a tool on the bike for this.
When it is time to change the belt there is a spot on the frame that comes about to allow the bold to pass through the frame. I haven’t looked at how to do this but it doesn’t look too difficult when the time comes.
Both bikes have a “free-crank” meaning you pedal backwards it is free from the chain ring (they seem to call the front tooth pulley a chain ring for convenience). On the Vado it is a silent mechanism while on the Gazelle it is a clicky pawl similar to a freewheel or cassette but louder even. It allows the motor to run a little longer or to notice you stopped pedaling before it cuts out. Usually this is less than a second. I also notice at higher speeds on the Gazelle I think I am hearing clicks as the motor might be doing more pushing. Don’t quote me on this yet, I am still investigating.
At first I really liked the saddle on the Gazelle. It is a larger style with a nice cushion. After riding only 4 or 5 miles I seem to get a little numb “down there”. Before I changed the pitch I also had some discomfort at the tops of my leg bones. It is also a little “sticky” so you don’t slide but it also makes it harder to adjust your position on it. The Vado is maybe a more traditional racing type saddle which I have no complaints about. I am going to give the gazelle one at least 100 miles and see, if I am still uncomfortable I will swap the Vado saddle back on.
Both bikes have similar charging specs and the port is on the side of the battery allowing you to charge it on or off the bike (by contrast the on frame battery on my wife’s Trek has to be removed for charging as it uses the same port to connect to the motor). The Gazelle came with the 4 amp Bosch Standard charger and I also verified that it was compatible with my wife’s 2 amp Bosch Compact charger. All of the chargers get quite warm but the Specialized one gets too hot to touch at times.
Both charging ports have covers but the Vado gets the nod for an easy magnetic cover while the molded rubber one for the Bosch is kind of annoying to close to insert the tab in the right slot.