Has the power to burn and a 700Wh battery to keep the lights on
With a bigger battery and beefier fork can the new Specialized Turbo Levo Expert Carbon retain it top-status in the e-mountain bike market?
Specialized Turbo Levo Expert Carbon need to know
- Updated e-bike gets 700Wh battery for increased range
- Fox 36 fork adds much needed muscle to the front end
- Four-bike range starts at £4,249 and goes all the way to £10k
- 29in wheels, carbon frame and smooth, quiet Brose motor
Specialized nailed the e-bike game with the Turbo Levo. The first model led the way with its fully internal battery and sophisticated integration, then the second iteration dropped a ton of flab, emerging from its v2 boot camp both leaner and meaner. With up to 700Wh from the internal battery, ample power from the Brose motor, instant response thanks to Specialized’s sophisticated calibration, and all that weight loss, the Turbo Levo was definitely the e-bike to have in 2019.
Nothing stands still for long in the e-bike market though, so 18 months on from its launch, and with a chassis that remains fundamentally unchanged, is the Turbo Levo still the smart choice?
Competition has certainly heated up since. Most significantly Bosch introduced its revamped Bosch Performance Line CX motor and battery last year, with the new unit being much lighter and more compact than its predecessor and without all the chain suck issues in the mud. What’s more, it introduced a 625Wh battery that narrowed the gap to Specialized’s flagship powerpack, while the intelligent Bosch eMTB mode let you set and forget your power for the duration of the ride. Of course the motor is only half the package – you need a great chassis to bolt it to as well – but almost immediately you could buy it fitted to impressive bikes like the Whyte E-150 and Focus Jam², and more recently we’ve seen weight records broken by the extravagant Mondraker Crafty RR.
For its part, Specialized has not entirely rested on its laurels. The key change for 2020 is the introduction of the 700Wh battery to all but the entry-level bike. Last year you had to fork out for the eye-watering £10k S-Works version, or £7.5k Expert, to get it, but now it’s also found in the alloy-framed Comp at £5,499.
There’s been a slight refinement to the offering as well, with the old Comp Carbon and its wimpy Fox 34 fork deleted from the range, while this Expert Carbon model upgraded from a RockShox Pike to a beefier Fox 36. There’s now a rubber cover between the back of the seat tube and the swingarm to help prevent this area getting clogged with mud and trapped moisture damaging the wiring. Specialized has also changed the design of the FSR link slightly to reduce mud build-up.
The bare bones remain the same however, and it doesn’t take long for the 2020 Turbo Levo to remind me why this is such a sorted platform. I love the way the electronics are integrated into the bike so that they blend in rather than stand out. Such that, should you wish, you can turn on the motor and not touch another button for the duration of the ride. But if you do want to toggle between modes, the control unit is always within easy reach without compromising your dropper post remote. Sadly that’s not the case with the Bosch system as you’re forced to run a large screen that sits distractingly at the edge of your vision.
There’s still masses of power from the gutsy Brose motor too, but it’s never overwhelming and always on tap across a wide range of cadence speeds. Rev it at the base of a steep climb and it won’t leave you floundering, but wind up in too high a gear on a slight incline and you can still get moving. At first this test bike seemed to run less power in the middle Trail mode, and lacked a bit of responsiveness compared to the Comp I rode last year, but accessing the settings via the Mission Control app let me tune the output in each mode to replicate my old bike. What I couldn’t do anything about was the noisier motor. It’s still a quiet system overall, but this particular model definitely makes more noise than the one I gave back.
Coming from the puny 34 fork on the Comp to the 36 on this Expert really hammered home what a compromise that was last year. Not only did it lack stiffness – and by the end of the year noticeable play had developed in the bushings – it sunk into its travel all too easily. The 36 still needs overinflating, or additional volume spacers, but you can push it much harder and with greater confidence. With the extra weight of the 700Wh battery pressing down on its shoulders, that’s not to be sniffed at.
It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the Butcher/Eliminator tyre combination. Yes, the Grid sidewalls have held up so far, but the rubber compound is so hard, and offers so little grip in the wet, particularly when cold, that it compromises the whole bike. You’ll need to budget for a good front tyre if you’re buying this bike.
How it rides
The extra weight of the bigger battery noticeably alters the handling of the Turbo Levo. The front end is more reluctant to come up, so you have to work harder to be as dynamic when picking up over obstacles and changing direction. At times I struggled to find the right weight balance between the axles too, possibly a result of the slightly conservative geometry and sizing. It could definitely be slacker, it could probably be a little bit longer in each frame size to bring a bit more stability, and having tried it with the shock off a Stumpjumper Evo, it could definitely do with a lighter compression tune to add grip and suppleness to the rear end.
On the other hand, that bigger battery brings a substantial boost to the range, such that I no longer had to worry about when to turn back for home – like the proverbial Duracell bunny, it just ran on and on. So far, I’ve only ridden it in stinking winter conditions, but even then I’ve been able to clock up 50km in Trail mode and still have a couple of bars left in case I’m feeling greedy.
To return my initial question then; does the Turbo Levo still represent the best e-bike investment? I’d say if range is your priority, it still edges the competition. But time marches on, and if you rarely ride long enough to trouble a 500Wh battery, and want your e-bike to be as capable as possible, there are other options worth considering – particularly those with the latest Gen 4 Bosch motor.