[First Ride] Specialized Turbo Levo SL Expert Carbon

[First Ride] Specialized Turbo Levo SL Expert Carbon

Ian Collins, 04/02/2020
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Ian Collins, 04/02/2020

Over the past few months I’ve been hearing some chatter about a new Specialized e-bike rumored to tip the scales at only 38 pounds. As the brand was already leading the charge with lightweight e-bikes that didn’t come as a huge surprise, but weight aside, I knew very little about the bike until recently. Taking on a silhouette similar to the current Levo, which follows the form of the latest Stumpjumper, this new Levo SL looks familiar – on the surface anyway. However, upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that the downtube and motor area are a bit slimmer … small enough that it can make you do a double take and easily confuse it with a regular mountain bike. Mainly, it’s what’s inside that’s changed – compared to its standard Levo counterpart, which is the currently the lightest bike in the full power class, the Levo SL sheds 8.8 pounds. Arguably some of that weight loss may be due to parts spec, but the frame, motor and battery did lose a heck of a lot of weight. The size Large “Expert” spec shown here in test tipped the scales at just 38 pounds 12 ounces with a bottle cage and a fair bit of mud on it. It retails for $ 9,000 …

If it all sounds too good to be true, perhaps it is – all of that weight loss does come with a reduction of power and a shorter battery life as well. While the Levo and Kenevo “Full Power” bikes from Specialized boast 565 watts, the Levo SL features 240 watts – in simple terms Specialized dubs the different motors as “4X you” and “2X you” respectively. That’s a reference to a cyclist putting out roughly 240 watts of their own power. Anyhow, let’s dive in to the nitty gritty of this category breaking bike …

Details

  • 240 watts power
  • 320Wh internal battery
  • Up to 3.5 hours ride time
  • ~ 2 hours and 35 minute charge time
  • Range extender 160Wh battery available for an additional 1.5 hours at $ 450 USD
  • 29 “wheels
  • Boost hub spacing
  • Metric shock spacing – 210mm X 52.5mm
  • 150mm travel front and rear
  • 2.3 “recommended tire size
  • 29 “wheels
  • Eco, Trail and Turbo mode controlled via Mission Control App
  • ~38.5 pounds size Large on our scale
  • $9,000 / €8,699.00

Some how, some way – there is a battery and a motor in this bike…

Much like the current Levo, its SuperLight sibling features a bar mounted toggle and a top tube mounted status/mode bar in lieu of a screen display. All of the data you’d want to view can be seen through the Mission Control App – leaving the cockpit clean and distraction free. Above left, hitting the +/- button toggles between the 3 modes (eco, trail and turbo), which is indicated in the circular led above the battery status, shown above right. The bike also features a walk mode – you can press the button with your thumb as it sits on the bottom of the mode adjustment collar.

The motor is really nicely integrated into the bottom bracket area, with the charging port sitting just above the main pivot of the classic FSR system. Also pictured is a nice rubber fitting to prevent debris from getting munched up between the front and rear end.

At this spec level the cockpit is pretty straightforward, but certainly nothing to scoff at – the aluminum in house bar and stem felt nice in terms of sweep and other dimensions, despite likely not being all that light weight…I do wish the bar was a full 800mm wide though. The grips were actually amazing – I’d run them on my own bike to be honest, and the average OEM grips belong in the trash, so that’s really saying something. The X-Fusion dropper seatpost was quite excellent with a smooth, nicely damped return and abundant stiffness due to its oversized 34.9 diameter. It’s paired to a Specialized Command lever, which is very ergonomic – mimicking a 1x shifter paddle. All in all, a very good cockpit.

Aluminum Praxis cranks drive the 1.1 motor and drivetrain along with a well proven SRAM Eagle GX drivetrain, boasting a broad 500% range and crisp, snappy shifts. We’ve gotten accustomed to seeing the now broadly copied Specialized chainstay protetctor, which breaks up noise nicely. Also shown is an in house upper chain guide block to provide added security and keep things running on track.

SRAM G2 RSC brakes feature a tool free, adjustable reach and pad contact bite point at the lever. The brakes are paired to a 200mm front rotor and a 180mm rear rotor. Specialized spec’d the stronger metallic compound brake pads over the standard “power” compound.

Much like the current Stumpjumper, the Levo SL features the “Sidearm” asymmetrical frame design. There is an eccentric cam in the lower shock eyelet that allows you to toggle between low/slack and high/steep geometry settings. The bike has plenty clearance for a full sized water bottle and room for a piggy back shock as well.

Running with the lightweight but sturdy theme, Specialized spec’d their Grid Trail casings with the Butcher up front and an Eliminator out back. Both tires are 2.3″ wide and Specialized doesn’t encourage going any wider out back. The bike rolls on Roval’s Traverse Carbon wheelset, offering excellent on-trail feel and a nice tire footprint and support via the 30mm inner diameter rims.

Fox handles suspension duties front and rear on this, and all Levo SL models. Up front with the 34 Rhythm, and out back with a Float DPS EVOL, with a custom “Rx trail” tune.

Geometry

A quick look at the geometry chart below reveals the crucial numbers to all be nearly identical to the Stumpjumper with the exception of the bottom bracket, which is a bit higher, for improved clearance while pedaling as to be expected on an e-bike. These numbers are unfortunately all a bit dated, with a rather short 455mm reach (Size Large) and a fairly relaxed 74.6º seat angle. A longer reach and steeper seat angle would help both descending confidence and climbing body position respectively. At this point in time, the Stumpy and Levo lineup have yet to take on the improved “SBG” style geometry that the Enduro recently adopted, originally pioneered by Transition a few years ago.

 

On the trail

Having spent some time on a much heavier, but much more powerful e-bike recently, I realized right away that there is no sense in getting carried away with apples to oranges comparisons. Instead, I spent a great deal of my saddle time pondering who this bike is for. Compared to average high performance offerings, the Levo SL lands smack dab in the middle of a standard mountain bike and a standard full power e-mountain bike. This is true for weight, with the average trail/all mountain bike being roughly 30 pounds, an e-MTB with similar travel being around 50 pounds and this Levo SL coming in just under 40 lbs. The same can be said for power, and unsurprisingly, in more ways than one, its on trail mannerisms split the middle as well. Starting with the motor and power transfer, perhaps the most glaring attribute is the lack of drag – pedaling the bike with the power turned off is surprisingly smooth compared to every other e-bike I’ve ridden. I’m not going to encourage you to ride where e-bikes where they aren’t legal, but there is a “stealth” mode where you can have the LED’s blacked out, and it is pretty hard to differentiate this bike from a standard MTB, visually speaking. The motor’s noise is pretty quiet, but a far cry from “silent” as Specialized claims. Power transfer is generally smooth without too much of a distinct drop off when you pause the pedals, however if the terrain allows I found it was better when I could just keep the pedals spinning. This was because unlike on a full power e-bike, even in turbo mode, you don’t get quite as much of a surge in power when you let off, then start pedaling again. You have to work for it a bit more in technical sections and you can’t just rely on the motor and power on the steep, techy climbs. This means that you’ll need a bit more finesse and a different approach altogether. All in all, I found the bike’s low weight to make it more manageable on my upper body and core when it came to throwing it around, but the lower power did mean more time sweating and working for it, especially in the eco and trail modes. Coming full circle, in terms of how much exercise you get, I think the bike lands somewhere between a standard trail bike and a full power e-bike.

As far as the handling of the bike itself is concerned, despite now being a bit dated in terms of geometry (*read: size up if you’re in between sizes), I did find the Levo SL to be an incredibly lightfooted bike, with excellent handling attributes. This should come as no surprise as I felt the same way about the latest Stumpy. While it does fit on the small side, I do commend Specialized for the fact that the geometry is well balanced and adjustable. On trail I’ve certainly never been able to throw an e-bike around like this…it jumps, manuals and slaps turns better than any other battery powered bike I’ve ridden to date. With all of that in mind, despite being a mid travel 29″ bike it does have its limitations when things get gnarly – most of which I’d actually attribute to some of the spec, which was clearly chosen to make an impact by coming in at a freakishly low weight.

Initially, I had my reservations about the idea of mounting a Fox 34 on the front of any e-bike, but it actually proved to be pretty damn good on trail and was rigid enough in all regards. It’s worth considering, despite being freakishly light, this bike still does weigh more than the average World Cup DH bike, so I’d prefer to see a piggyback reservoir on the rear shock to better manage heat on long descents. In the grand scheme of things, the suspension performed quite well and was tuned for the bike nicely. My main complaint was with the SRAM G2 brakes – I’ve never had an issue with them on my non e-bike(s), but even with the metallic pads, they’re outgunned on this bike. Code RSC’s come in at just 76 additional grams for a pair, and would have been far better suited to this application without phasing consumers. During my test time, I took the Levo SL on a very steep and fast trail of mine that drops 1,100 feet in well under a mile, and the brakes simply could not hang. Now, with that said I do think that Specialized have absolutely aced it with all of the rest of the spec. The drivetrain, cockpit, tires are all excellent, and the wheels are stellar – particularly given the price point. As a bonus, it also has a couple of nice Specialized bits that you won’t find elsewhere, like the SWAT CC tool and their brilliant bottle cage.

It’s worth spelling out that you can’t really stray too far from what Specialized has chosen here in terms of the build so this bike might not be the best choice for tinkerers. Sure you could install a shock with a reservoir, Code brakes or a Fox 36 should you desire, but they made a point to say that you can’t overfork the bike, run a mixed wheel setup or install any tires that run much above 2.3″ in width. That said, brakes aside, I mainly got along with the spec, and wouldn’t change much, but feel obligated to pass that information on.

Overall

At the end of the day, looking at it through a personal lens, to be quite frank, I’m still not sure what to make of this bike. I recently acquired a personal e-bike, but did so for very utilitarian reasons: dig sessions deep in the woods, shooting photos with a heavy camera bag and jamming in 6 laps in an hour on a local ripper trail when there’s no way on earth that I’d have time for a big ride. The Levo SL wouldn’t really fit the bill for any of those tasks, but it’s hard to deny that it’s a technical marvel and a high performance machine that will surely appeal to a great many riders. At $16,5000, perhaps the flagship models will appeal fit dentists that want to get more of an exercise on their e-bike rides? Who knows…

One thing is certain, Specialized hasn’t stopped innovating, breaking boundaries and creating new categories – for that they deserve the tip of a hat. If a full powered e-bike is a bit of overkill and you simply can’t stand trying to throw around a 50 pound e-bike, but you do want some power, then this bike should certainly appeal to you. Its lively nature and ultra light weight will make you forget you’re not riding a normal trail bike more often than you’d expect, and sometimes where you least expect.

Pricing and Specs

You can find the full spec sheets for all models of the Levo SL e-bikes here.

www.specialized.com