(c) Tim Bardsley-Smith

[R]eviewed: Specialized Turbo Levo FSR

So this is the first time we’ve reviewed an e-Bike in [R]evolution. Over the past few years I’ve briefly ridden a small handful of e-Bikes at trade shows and launches, but until this Levo arrived at our office I had never really dug my teeth into one. You know, set it up properly to fit me, spent time learning about its motor and battery, essentially treated it as if it were my own bike for a couple of months.

Now I know there are (a shit load of) e-Bike sceptics out there, and mostly it seems that people that are opposed to e-bikes simply don’t understand them because they haven’t ridden one. A lot of mountain bikers assume e-Bikes, with their small electric motors, are just motorbikes and because of that they will destroy all the trails. Not true. Just like regular mountain bikes, e-Bikes come in all shapes and sizes, however none of them have engines powerful enough to do even the smallest ‘roost’ burnout. Take this Specialized Levo for example – it features a 250Watt motor which is powered by a large battery. The bike’s motor only delivers power whilst you’re pedalling. Thus the name, ‘Pedal Assist’. This bike does not have a throttle like a motorbike. It doesn’t have power gauges, dials or any kind of screen. It also doesn’t have a button or a lever that you grab when you want power. You can’t just coast around without putting any effort in. Rather, when you pedal the cranks like a regular bike, the Levo’s motor kicks in and gives you a little extra drive up to a certain speed (which you can set/adjust via Bluetooth using the ‘Mission Control App’ which we’ll talk about in detail further on) at which point the motor shuts off.

If the motor and battery weren’t there, the Levo’s frame would essentially be a Specialized Stump Jumper. Its M5 Alloy frame features 120mm of rear travel and 140mm of front travel. The battery and motor are located discretely in the bike’s downtube and bottom bracket area. This helps keep the centre of mass low, thus improving handling. It is also worth noting that the battery is easily removable with just one single bolt holding it firmly in place but still allowing for quick changing or swaps.   The motor drives the crank spindle via a clutch (all of which happens without the rider needing to do anything other than pedal the cranks – it’s kind of like magic).

Specialized has optimized the Levo’s to function on a choice of three different power output levels; Turbo, trail and economy. Ultimately, the more power/assistance that you ask of the motor, will drain the battery life quicker. You can ride for a longer duration on “economy” mode with less powerful assistance, and in “turbo” mode you get the most assisted wattage at the expense of a shorter battery life.  “Trail” mode sits comfortably in the middle.  In the custom developed smartphone app, the rider can infinitely adjust the output of the three separate power levels amongst other variables.  As I mentioned earlier, Specialized (wisely) made a point not to feature any kind of dials or display screen up on the handlebars. Instead, they want to encourage the rider to pre-set their power level using the Mission Control App, which then allows you to fully focus on the trail and the experience without distraction whilst you’re riding.

Specialized offer models within the Levo range in two different wheel packages; with regular 29’er wheels or with 6Fattie (27.5+) wheels. Our test bike came with the latter wide rubber option. Geometry wise, the Turbo Levo is a true purebred trail bike. A slack 66.5 degree head angle is matched with a roomy cockpit / toptube, and great standover height which allows you to really move the bike around underneath you whilst riding. The 342mm bottom bracket holds the shorter 165mm cranks in position whilst the 459mm rear is nice and short and adds to the bike’s playful handling.

Spec wise I won’t spend too much time talking about that with you for the simple fact that Specialized Australia won’t be offering this exact model in the local market. That said, Specialized Oz does offer a complete range of Turbo Levo complete with five models to choose from, starting at a ticket price of $6500.  Regardless of the model you choose, you’ll still be getting a host of cool features and spec across the board, including Autosag self-adjust rear suspension, Specialized command (dropper) post, SRAM guide brakes, and Roval wheels.

A wise man once said, “You don’t buy an e-bike to pedal up flights of stairs”. And he was correct. However, when you’ve got an e-bike, riding up flights of stairs turns out to be a shit load of fun! Seriously, you have to try it. Whilst riding up a staircase is at the far end of the scale it does set an accurate scene of this bike’s true capabilities.

“Do you know what my favourite song is right now? It’s the one that goes, “Weeee Wee Weeeee” and lasts for about an hour. It’s the same song that I find myself singing every time I ride this bike.”

The easiest way to explain what it feels like to ride the Levo along a trail with the boost of its pedal ‘assistance’, is if you imagine what it is like to catch an escalator – but rather than stand still on the escalator and let it do its thing, you walk up the stairs and you feel like you’re really moving quickly, but with the same amount of effort as if you were walking up regular stairs… Does that make sense?

Whilst initially it does take a little getting used to the power assistance of the Levo, it is a fast and fun learning process. Within half an hour of my first proper trail ride aboard this bike, it felt like second nature. I found myself pointing the bike up the steepest of steep trails without hesitation and with ease I was able to climb at about double my normal speed. You quickly learn that a high cadence works much better and provides more power than a grinding, slow pedal style. I have a theory that since the motor provides assist based off your sensed input through the pedals, the more frequent and higher peak torque inputs delivered via a high pedalling cadence results in pulses that are higher powered and closer together than those provided by slow, steady pedalling.

Changing gears when out on the trail does feel a little different than I’m used to, even though this bike shares the exact same SRAM X1 drivetrain that is fitted to my personal bike. I found myself ‘munching’ gear changes from time to time. Perhaps this was just a result of getting used to the power of the motor being integrated into my pedal stoke? I’m still not sure. However I did get used to it and since the motor kicks in based on your pedalling torque, you can back off a bit prior to shifting, but there’s a slight delay in motor operation and this leads to longer gaps in pedalling when you want to shift smoothly under power.

It is hard to wipe the smile off your face when riding the Levo. You’re able to ride consistently at such a solid speed that you end up really grabbing those brakes a lot as those corners come up on you quicker than usual, and because you’re covering about twice the amount of trial as you usually would each ride, you are of course riding twice the amount of corners, twice the amount of descents, climbs, etc. For this reason, I can’t help but laugh when people say, “oh yeah but e-bikes are cheating as you don’t have to put any effort in”, in fact I found the exact opposite to be true. Yes your legs aren’t having push and burn as hard as they do on a regular bike, but you’re spinning a lot more circles with the cranks and the upper body workout you get each ride is doubled because you have to attack twice as many corners, etc. etc.

There is no denying that the bike is heavy. I’ve heard it commonly referred to as weighing ‘the same as the DH bikes that we rode back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s’ which I guess is true.  To be fair though, I found that the only times you really notice that hefty weight is when you’re loading it into, or onto, your car, and when you’re jumping. When you’re just riding along attacking the trials, you don’t notice the added weight at all. Even when the trails get really tight and you need to flick the bike around to stay on line, you don’t notice it.

Was there anything that I didn’t like about the Levo? Well yeah I guess so and yeah I do realize this gripe is probably going to sound really petty, but we’re friends so I can be honest with you, right? Whenever I had seen photos of a Levo, and when I first saw one in the flesh, my eyes weren’t drawn to the bike’s budging downtube / bottom bracket area, rather, I struggled to get past the look of those flat handlebars! There is a very legit reason that Specialized chose to spec a (more or less) flat bar to the Levo and that is to keep the ride height down due to the Leo only being offered in 29’er or virtually the same outside diameter, 6Fatty (27.5+) tyres. But never the less, as the saying goes, “the eyes take the first bite of every meal that gets placed in front of you” and I would have to agree. In this case, the flat bars that are spec’d on the Levo are a big turn off. A bike has to look good for it to excite you and make you want to ride it. I think so anyway. And so the first thing I did when I pulled our ‘test bike’ Levo out of the box from Specialized was swap out the ‘flat bar’ for a set of my favourite Truvativ ‘Jerome Clementz’ signature carbon riser bars. Problem solved. The Levo (in my opinion) looked way cooler, the cockpit and ride height still felt very comfortable and familiar, and everyone was a winner, baby!

During the month long testing period I’ve ridden the Levo a lot. Maybe 40-50 different trail outings. I actually found that I was going out riding more often than I have been of late, because of the amount of ‘fun’ that I was having on the Levo. It inspired me to get out and ride more. A couple of times I found myself heading to bed early just so that I could get up early and go for a quick raze before work (and I am usually very much not a morning person at all). I don’t know, this bike is just fun!

I should probably mention that never once did the battery go ‘flat’ on me whilst I was out riding. I got into the habit of plugging it in to charge after each ride (standard 240 volt wall mounted plug). I really dug how easy it was to connect the charging unit to the bike – which was probably an aiding factor to me remembering to charge after ever ride rather than ‘put it off’.

Do I think the Levo represents good value for money? Well let’s take a look; you’re getting the entire motor unit, the battery, all the tech of the sensors and wiring, plus the charging pack, and the total price is only around $500 more than an equally spec’d regular Specialized. Let’s just think about that for a second… bloody oath the Levo is good value!

All said and done, I had a ball riding this bike. It’s mountain biking as I’ve always known it, just more of it because I was able to ride further and ride more trail each time I headed out. Has riding an e-Bike turned me off wanting to ride a traditional mountain bike? No, don’t be silly, not at all. Throughout the test period that I was riding the Levo I was still getting out on my regular trail bike. It all just came down to the type of riding experience I wanted to have that day.

I can see e-bikes being a great addition to the market because they’re going to allow a larger demographic of riders to ride trails they currently can’t. Older riders, riders with injuries, riders that want to carry lots of gear such as trail builders or campers, there are so many different types of riders and different types of scenarios where an e-Bike would be their perfect bike. Just wait until you test ride one yourself!

Browse // www.specialized.com.au

Reviewer // JT

Photos // TBS