The Specialized Turbo Levo Alloy can be considered the most successful electric mountain bike to date. There are thousands of them pounding the trails.
The success of the Specialized Turbo Levo Alloy range can be attributed to Specialized’s holistic design approach, where everything is integrated to simplify and enhance the user experience. Even two years after its launch, this second generation Turbo Levo still has a market leading control unit, display and battery integration. Furthermore, while the motor has been plagued with reliability issues recently, it is still the most powerful on test. And that’s not only on paper; you can feel the extra grunt when you ride it.
Up until now we’ve only ridden the carbon-framed version of the Turbo Levo, so it was interesting to ride this alloy Turbo Levo. From a distance it’s hard to tell the difference. They both share the same silhouette with the distinctive asymmetric Sidearm, compact front triangle and four-bar linkage. Cleverly, Specialized has routed the internal cables through the top tube and along the Sidearm, allowing the down tube to be kept as small as possible, effectively shrink-wrapped around the battery. Yet structurally it retains much of its integrity, as the battery slides in from underneath and there’s no need to cut a massive hole in the tube. The custom 700Wh power pack not only boasts the most capacity on test, it also slides in and out with ease, secured with a single 6mm Allen key. And Specialized even includes a tool for this job slung beneath the bottle cage. It’s a design masterclass in integration and user interface and one that all the brands here could learn from.
Specialized Turbo Levo Alloy Comp review
You don’t get lumbered with too much extra heft with the alloy frame, either; this Comp is only 500g heavier than the 2020 Expert Carbon Comp and the second lightest bike on test, despite having the biggest battery. This being Specialized, there’s also a comprehensive array of frame protection, including a flap over the gap between the chainstay yoke and the front triangle, a moulded chainstay protector and integrated battery handle/motor guard. You also get an upper guide for added chain security.
The Fox Float DPS Performance shock has a pitter-patter, ground-tracing response, which makes the Turbo Levo properly agile and engaging on fast singletrack. The three-position compression adjustment is within easy reach beneath the top tube if you want to stiffen things up for smooth climbs – a little too accessible in fact, as it’s very easy to nudge the lever into the firmer position with your leg. We’ve actually removed the lever on previous Turbo Levos to avoid this happening.
The shock is attached to the extension yoke with offset hardware, giving you two different geometry settings. But since it is neither particularly low nor very slack, we left it in the more reclined position.
Up front there’s a Fox 36 Rhythm, which is basically the same fork as the Marzocchi Z1 fitted to the Merida eOne-Sixty. Weirdly it felt more supple than the Z1, working in perfect harmony with the super active rear end, but it doesn’t have the support to shoulder the Levo’s mass when tipping into steeper trails. Here the short front centre and long chainstay pitched our weight over the front end, reducing control and in one instance, causing an unceremonial OTB.
It may be the most expensive bike on test, but the high price tag of the Turbo Levo Comp is not reflected in the build kit. That said, the brakes, wheels, drivetrain and dropper post are all functional and effective, they just feel a bit bland. The Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain shifts nicely, although it pings loudly when you shift under load. We were relieved to find that the SLX four-piston disc brakes were consistently solid throughout the test, and we really liked how easily we could dump speed without having to try and crush the brake levers.
Moving away from its own Roval hubs, which have a tendency not to last more than one UK winter, Specialized has laced the hookless 30mm rims to Shimano Centrelock hubs. These use loose ball bearings, rather than cartridge units, so we’d definitely recommend packing them with fresh grease a couple of times a year. And wrapping them all up are Specialized’s own Butcher/Eliminator Grid Trail tyres with Gripton rubber. That’s a lot of grrrs, but their growl is much worse than their bite, particularly in damp conditions and/or cold temperatures.
We’ve lost count of how many great rides we’ve had on various Turbo Levos over the last couple of years, and it was no different on this 2021 Comp model. The sheer grunt of the Brose/Specialized 2.1 motor is completely addictive, and still out-runs the others every time in a drag race or hillclimb. The trouble is, once you’ve tried it in Turbo it’s really difficult to drop it back into Trail, especially with that big battery to boost the range. And the slick Misson Control app lets you easily tune the characteristics of the motor and create a custom mode if you want to balance out power with range. You can also choose to run it with or without the handlebar remote, as the app and simple top tube interface lets you control everything if you crave a minimal look. Having said all that, the calibration is not quite as polished as the Bosch, with a slightly slow response in certain situations and the overrun, when you stop pedalling, is not as consistent as it is on the Performance Line CX. And following a spate of issues, it’s going to take time to rebuild confidence in the Turbo Levo’s reliability.
With super supple suspension front and rear, lively, agile handling and a softness to the chassis that allows the back wheel to find the path of least resistance, it’s a lot of fun on mellow gradients and flowing singletrack. As such the Turbo Levo loves to change direction, hop between lines and carve turns. It’s strong as an ox on the climbs and those long chainstays help find traction and stop the front wheel from wandering. Reverse the gradient and that uphill prowess can bite you in the ass, shifting your weight balance forward and making it a handful on steep descents. Not helping out Turbo Levo Comp in this department was the fact that we measured a 10mm taller BB compared to the Expert Carbon we rode earlier this year, which will have the knock-on effect of raising your centre of gravity.
The Turbo Levo opened people’s eyes to how good e-mountain biking could be, and it still leads the way in several areas, most notably the packaging of, and interface with, its battery and motor. That motor still has the power to rip your arms off, wired to a battery so big that it puts an end to any range anxiety and mounted to a lightweight chassis with hyperactive suspension. But the sizing and geometry are outdated, with a short front end and long rear centre that means you end up trying to survive steep descents rather than attack them. There’s an imbalance to the proportions that’s impossible to solve by upsizing either, as the head tube and seat tubes take the larger frame sizes out of reach. This is something that has been addressed with the adoption of the ‘S’ sizing on Specialized’s newest models, and we fully expect it to make an appearance whenever the Turbo Levo is next refreshed.