Since February Ben was lucky riding the Specialized Turbo Levo SL, the first in a new breed of light weight e-Bikes.
In the past ten months there have been plenty of ups and downs, literally, and figuratively. This is what Ben thinks about the Turbo Levo SL and about the light weight e-Bike category, now that its competition has stiffened considerably.
In essence, this is a 29” wheel Stumpjumper, complete with FSR linkage. A pure-bred trail bike designed to be versatile and capable for most riders in most situations, and by the way, it just happens to have a motor too. This is where the Levo SL is a bit different to the mainstream, as it has a smaller, less powerful motor, linked up to a lighter, smaller capacity battery. This all adds up to a feathery light weight of only 19kg (41.9 lbs).
The Levo SL range is aimed at riders who want to use an e-Bike to extend their range and who don’t want the full on assistance of a normal e-Bike. It gives you a bit of a boost up the hill and then feels light and playful on the way back down, unlike most full size e-Bikes which are big, heavy beasts, more adept at ploughing than popping.
When it launched back in February, it was a bit of a game changer and was one of the first in the e-Lite category. You can read my first ride impressions here. Since then a number of other brands have followed suit, including the Lapierre eZesty and the Orbea Rise that I rode recently.
Everything about the geometry is a bit conservative for a 150mm travel 29er in 2020, with 455mm reach on the size large tested, a 66 degree head angle and 437mm chain stays. The build kit is pretty modest for the £6250 price tag, with a SRAM NX groupset, Guide R brakes and an X-Fusion Manic seat post.
It rolls on Specialized Roval wheels with a Specialized Butcher tyre up front and faster rolling Eliminator out back, both in the lighter Grid Trail casing. The light tyres were a frustrating choice for me, as whilst this is a light e-Bike, it is still a heavy bike with plenty of travel and these skinny tyres were not up to the job, puncturing easily and rolling around on the rim until I fitted a set of Rimpact to calm things down.
Suspension was handled by Fox with a Rhythm 34 Float fork and Float DPS Performance shock. To put it bluntly, the Rhythm 34 was a bad choice. It just can’t handle what this bike can do, especially with a total weight of about 100kg (19kg bike, 80kg rider and 1-3kg of water/kit). It is flexy and lacks support on all but the chillest of trails. I found the rear suspension to be pretty decent in most situations though. I ran about 30% sag and it seemed to work well with my flat pedal riding style, rewarding a pump and giving me enough grip in all but the most chattery of terrain.
This is where things get interesting, especially compared to a full power, full weight e-Bike. These are the questions that I wanted to answer and that make bikes like the Turbo Levo SL so interesting.
Range: Can a smaller battery combined with less powerful motor and light weight achieve similar ranges and amounts of climbing to normal e-Bikes?
In my experience, the answer is yes, it can do some really long rides with plenty of climbing. I found that the 320Wh battery lasted for a surprisingly long time and I was able to smash out 90 minutes on turbo mode without any issues. If I used trail mode and the odd bit of turbo, then I could usually bag 1100m of off road climbing and about 30km. Then if you add the 160Wh range extending battery I could hit 1500m vert in a day at 80kg bodyweight.
Speed: How does the speed compare to full power e-Bikes?
Assuming similar levels of fitness, you will need to be 1 mode higher to keep with the group. If they are in trail mode, you will need to be in turbo mode. All of the modes can be easily adjusted in the Specialized Mission Control app to tune it to suit the group you ride with and your ability.
Power: If you stand up to clean a steep climb, can you feel the lack of power?
The Levo SL only ever puts out a maximum power of 240 W, whereas its big brother, the Levo can put out peaks of 656W to fire you up and over trail obstacles and tech climbs. The difference is stark, and where a big bike gives you super human climbing abilities, the Levo SL only gives you an extra nudge. Remember though, that the lack of peak power is one of the reasons why you get so much range out of a small battery.
Eco Mode: How does it compare to a normal bike and to e-Bikes?
Whilst you can adjust the amount of assistance in the app, as standard, the Eco mode is very light. It feels like you are having a really good day on the pedals combined with a tail wind. It feels as close to mountain biking as you can get without leaving the motor at home. It is not powerful enough to ride with full power e-Bikes unless you are very fit compared to the other riders.
The low power output in Eco mode makes it an interesting option for riders who struggle to stick with the group on their MTB rides. Riding a light weight, low power bike like the Levo SL could help that rider to continue riding with their friends, whilst still getting good exercise and not having to go for a full on e-Bike.
Tech Climbing: How does it compare to a nimble trail bike?
This is where the SL shines. It feels natural, both in the way the bike handles and in the way the power is delivered. It just feels like you riding a normal bike, but with extra oomph. It encourages you to stand and attack where you would tend to sit and spin on full power e-Bikes. The timing required to get up a stepped section or root mound is exactly the same as on your normal MTB and it feels familiar and fun.
Rider Weight: How does bodyweight effect range and performance given the lower power and small battery?
The first thing to make clear is that any e-Bike will have increased range and increased climbing speed with a lighter rider. The output of the bike is fixed at certain wattages for certain modes and when it comes to climbing speed it is watts per kg that matters. For all day rides, the bike has to work harder to overcome gravity and get a bigger rider to the top of the hill compared to a lighter rider, therefore allowing the lighter rider to get more range from the battery.
To answer this properly I have spoken to two friends who own Levo SLs, and both are a good bit lighter than me, weighing between 65-70kg. Their experience is of true all-day capabilities and they recounted rides with 1600-1800m of climbing using trail and turbo modes. Really impressive stuff given the small battery. When riding with full power bikes, they were also closer on the climbs when in the same power mode.
This has led me to do a lot of thinking about who this bike could be for, and I honestly think that to get the most out of this bike then you need to be under about 90kg. Yes, this is speculation, no it is not scientific, but I honestly think that for bigger humans the Levo SL is going to feel under-powered and will have reduced range.
As I mentioned earlier, the Fox 34 fork is not a great performer and really holds the bike back as things get rougher and more techy. Having said that, you can still have a great time on the sleek, black Specialized. It truly does feel like a normal mountain bike out on the trails. When you lean it in to a turn it feels familiar and natural and you would struggle to tell you are on an e-Bike.
The Levo SL is well balanced with the 437mm chain stays and 455mm reach and on flatter trails it is a blast to ride. You can easily flick it from side to side and get as loose as you like, making shapes all the way down the trail. It has the poppy feeling of any good trail bike and I have loved riding it on my local tracks which are short, fun and usually lacking in grip. In fact I have never enjoyed e-Biking more in these local woods, as a big, full power bike just feels like over kill as it ploughs through the trails.
When things get steeper you do wish for a bigger, better fork and a bit more grip from the tyres to slow you down. You can still get down stuff, just not as fast and it feels a bit more exciting as you navigate steep, rooty chutes into catch berms. Since autumn arrived I have been running a set of Michelin DH 22 tyres on it for an upcoming winter tyre test and the difference in ride quality was immediate. The tough side walls allowed me to run low tyre pressures and the tacky, well spaced knobs dig in and clear well, adding a new dimension to the bike.
Despite the fork limiting your outright grip and speed, this bike is still fun to ride down all but the gnarliest trails. It isn’t super fast and when you get in trouble the bike won’t get you out of it like big forks can sometimes do, but if you accept that and enjoy a more chilled journey then you will probably get on just fine with the Levo SL. It is a great trail centre bike and I must admit that a lot of lighter and less capable riders would find the Fox 34 fork to be ample for their needs.
After only a few hours of pretty chilled riding, the Levo SL broke down mid-ride. It was just completely dead. No power, no drive. This led to an hour of pedalling to get home, which was actually not too bad as it’s only a few kilogrammes heavier than my enduro bike and there is no resistance from the motor when you pedal. The bike had to be sent back to Specialized for a repair under warranty which was unfortunately just at the start of the first lock down in March, leading to a lengthy wait, as they were closed. Since I received the bike back there have been no further issues.
The other problem I have had has been with the range extender battery. When you plug it in, the bike will use the power in it up first, before switching over to the main battery. As the extender nears empty it tells the computer that the battery is nearly dead and the bike goes into a power-preserving eco mode that can’t be over-ridden even though you still have the entire main battery still available. This has led to very annoying mid-ride suffer-fests until the range extender is exhausted and the full power kicks back in.
I recently rode the Orbea Rise M-Team which comes in at £7999 with a higher end build kit, including a Fox Factory 36 fork. It is really hard to pick the two apart after only a couple of hours on the Rise, especially as it had sketchy low profile tyres on it. The Rise arguably has more potential on the down hills thanks to the bigger fork and more modern trail geometry. What I will say is that they both feel like true trail bikes and I thoroughly enjoyed both bikes. I am hoping to get a Rise in January for a full test and an in-depth comparison.
What do we think?
Sometimes a bike is more than the sum of its parts and the Specialized Turbo Levo SL is exactly that. Yes it broke down and yes, the fork frustrates the hell out of me, but I couldn’t help but love this bike.
I love the concept, and the execution of the carbon frame and specially tuned motor is awesome. It is not great value for money though.
You really are paying for the frame and e-components and if you are a fast and hard-hitting rider you will need to upgrade quite a few parts to really make the most of it. One thing is for sure, I want to spend more time riding this new breed of light weight e-Bikes.
The e-Lite concept and execution
Surprisingly long range
Trail bike feel
Could do Better:
It broke down
Flexy and poorly damped fork
You can check out the Specialized Turbo Levo SL on Specialized’s website here.
Read all of our bike tests on our Bike Reviews page here.