Would you leave your car for this hybrid?

- Andy Leuterio - The Philippine Star

Back when I had an office in Makati, I rode my bike to and from work on my car’s “coding” days. Living in Paranaque, it took me an average of an hour a day pedaling through traffic to get to work, or only a little more time than it took to drive. If it wasn’t for the fact that most days I had to attend meetings in the field, I would have ridden my bike to work every day and saved myself a ton of money in gas, parking, and toll fees.

Today, more and more people are seeing the wisdom of bike commuting to work. These people own cars but are fed up with wasting their time in traffic and spending a small fortune every month just to own and operate a car on our congested roads. On weekdays, they bike to work. When it’s time to take the car, they really use it for better tasks like taking the family to road trips, going to the mall...in other words, maximizing the car’s passenger-carrying capacity when it’s needed and keeping it in the garage when a 1-passenger vehicle is better suited to the task.

For a lot of people, though, the concept of bike commuting is still an unpalatable idea. One reason is a question of fitness: not everyone can ride more than 10+ kilometers without suffering mightily. Another reason might be image: as much I love bikes, sometimes you just look goofy on one. There really are people who would rather get stuck in gridlock than be caught dead on a bike. Finally, there are the ones who are allergic to motorbikes. As nimble and economical as your basic underbone can be, most car lovers will either think a motorbike is too dangerous or, for the status conscious, too low-brow for their ego.

Then I got to try the Specialized Turbo during a trip to the US, and then I realized this may just signal a paradigm shift for our car-loving consumers. Featuring a hybrid drivetrain, the motorized rear hub doubles the wattage you normally generate from pedaling, effectively giving you a “turbo” effect that is just a helluva lot of fun. I know I got a stupid grin on my face from the first time I took the Turbo out. On just my warmup effort, I was already moving at 30+kph. When I had settled down into a nice tempo, I was hammering along the bike paths of Monterey at 45kph; a velocity that most cyclists would be happy to maintain for just a few minutes. Note that this is still a bicycle. If you don’t pedal, you won’t move an inch.

With the Turbo S variant, top speed is a gutsy 75kph! That’s enough to let you keep up with the average flow of traffic on nearly any road save for the highways, and the bike has a range of around 60 to 80kms before you need to plug it to a wall outlet for a recharge. Riding the Turbo is just like riding any other mountain/urban bike with disc brakes and paddle shifters. The version I rode had a rigid carbon fork for extra bump absorption and had semi-wide tires for all-around street use. The bike has three operating modes: Turbo (full power), Eco (around 50 percent boost), and Off (full manual). On open roads, “Turbo” mode was as addictive as you’d imagine it to be as I could zip by like I was on a motorbike. “Eco” mode was more ideal for grocery and café runs through traffic, while “Off” was just a limp-home mode. You can still pedal the bike if the battery runs out of juice, but it weighs more than 30 pounds! As long as the battery has juice, any person of even modest fitness can get going at a decent clip with the Turbo.

As magnificent as the bike’s performance is, it’s also easy to love with a fashionable aesthetic that doesn’t polarize onlookers like your average folding bike does.

Now for the price. If Dan’s (the Philippine distributor of Specialized) were to bring to market, it could easily fall into the P200k-300k bracket. Many cycling enthusiasts already spend that much (or even more) for the latest and greatest racing bike, but is the market ready for a hybrid commuter bike that essentially performs almost like a scooter but is priced like a Vespa?

On the one hand, you have a bike that will save you a lot of time from traffic, saves you the expense of gas, parking and toll, and emits virtually nothing but your own carbon dioxide and occasional methane (wink!). It’s also pretty fast, so you don’t have to be Alberto Contador to get to work every day without getting drenched in sweat.

On the other hand, this isn’t your ordinary, cheapo commuter bike. One thing is for sure. If I were to ever get my own Turbo in the Philippines, I might actually look forward to commuting every day rather than dreading the thought of hours stuck in my car. After all, I can think of better things to do with my car than waste my time in gridlock.

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