During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, bicycle sales doubled normal rates in the U.S. as people shied away from public transportation but still wanted a way to get out of their houses and immediate neighborhoods. More specifically, electric bicycles (most commonly referred to as e-bikes), became increasingly popular because they make biking accessible to more people and allow for an easier time riding up hills. Specialized saw this need and created their S-Works Turbo Creo bike which is known for its extremely lightweight frame. On their climate action section on their website, Specialized shares that almost 70% of car trips are under 10 miles and encourages people to turn those into bike trips instead. Although producing those lightweight carbon frames has a significant impact on the environment, Specialized is providing people with an alternative to fossil-fuel burning forms of transportations like cars, trains, and buses with their bikes. Since 1974, Specialized has been a pioneer in bike technology and offers a wide variety of bikes from road to mountain, and this newest e-bike style is no exception from their line of high quality bicycles. However, Specialized needs to increase transparency regarding the supply chain of their bikes and the treatment of their workers. Very little information throughout this review even comes from Specialized which demonstrates their need to publish more information on their sustainability efforts (or lack thereof).
The Turbo Creo has a carbon frame made of FACT 11r carbon which is extremely lightweight and therefore attractive for bikers. Another advantage of carbon frames is the varied responsiveness and stiffness of the carbon that can be engineered in different parts of the bike to provide a smooth yet sturdy ride over bumps and dips. However, the several perks of carbon frames come at the expense of the material’s origins: crude oil. Additionally, carbon frames are not very recyclable because many of the fibers used to make the frames are short and cannot be repurposed into something else very easily. Specialized does reuse and repurpose some carbon fibers into parts like bike pedals, but it happens on a very small scale. Batteries are the other main component of this bike that can lend themselves to recycling, but Specialized offers limited information and resources for users to recycle old e-bike batteries. Specialized has announced partnerships with recycling companies Ecolamp (based in the UK) and Redwood Materials (based in the U.S.), but does not share information about progress made or steps for users to get involved. The company also does not provide information about what materials the battery is made of and how they are sourced. However, even though the materials themselves to create this bike are inherently poor for the environment and likely not sourced well, the fact that this bike is electric means that it provides the user with a form of transportation closer to that of a car. This may save greenhouse gas emissions if users begin riding e-bikes to places they would have previously driven or taken a bus or train.
The process to create carbon fiber frames is quite complex, but it starts with raw materials like polyacrylonitrile which is a polymer manufactured from crude oil. Already, this makes the material inherently poor for the environment and non-renewable. Next, these polymers are heated up and spun into long pieces that resemble strands of hair. At this point, the material becomes almost pure carbon as other elements are burned off. The material undergoes several heating phases and chemical processes that help strengthen it. All of this manufacturing requires immense amounts of energy in huge factories. The machines used in one step in the carbon fiber manufacturing process are 400 feet long which means the machine itself takes a lot of energy to power as well as the building it’s housed in. After the carbon fibers are formed, they are molded into the right shapes for the frame and connected to the other parts of the bicycle. Bikes, especially e-bikes, are complex structures with several different materials all sourced from different places. Because of this complexity, without detailed information about every different material, it is difficult to accurately evaluate Specialized’s performance in this category. Specifically, I would like to see more information from Specialized themselves about the origins of their batteries, as those are some of the integral parts of this bicycle.
There is virtually no information from Specialized about their labor policies and worker treatment. Because bikes are made of so many different materials sourced from around the world, it is likely that workers in several countries or even continents play a role somewhere along the supply chain of this bicycle. However, Specialized does not share information about any of these workers (where they work, what benefits they receive, etc.), so it’s difficult to evaluate their performance. Outside sources reveal that an employee sued Specialized in 2020 because she experienced sexual harassment at the Specialized headquarters. The employee said that “women were treated as less competent than men” in the workplace and that Specialized was not doing anything about it (Bicycle Retailer). All in all, limited information and bad press most likely means Specialized’s workers are not getting top care by the company.