The Specialized Turbo Levo Pro is part of the most popular e-bike range in the world and it gets a major revamp for 2021. So what's new?
We swing a leg over the third generation Specialized Turbo Levo Pro. Do all the updates justify the eye-watering price?
Specialized Turbo Levo Pro need to know
- Third generation of the successful Turbo Levo platform.
- Retains the Brose motor with 90Nm torque and 565w peak power, but reinforced belt and updated firmware to improve reliability.
- Transformed with bang-up-to-date sizing and geometry borrowed from the Specialized Stumpjumper Evo.
- Adjustable head angle, BB height and chainstay length.
- Six frame sizes with the option to go long or short according to riding style.
- Full carbon frame with mixed wheels.
- New MasterMind TCU display integrated into top tube.
- Three model range starts at, wait for it, £8,750.
At the end of March, a virtual reality house was sold for $500,000. Not a real house that can be lived in, but a 3D digital file that can only be explored with a VR headset. Almost simultaneously, we also arrived at the point where a new electric mountain bike from Specialized costs as much as £13,000. And I’m not sure which one sounds more incredible.
One thing I do know is that this inconceivably large sum of money at least gets you something physical in return, along with the opportunity to create actual lived experiences, real good times, genuine endorphins and tangible memories. And compared to Specialized’s analogue offerings – such as the Specialized Enduro S-Works, with no motor or battery, for £11,500, or the Specialized Aethos S-Works road bike which doesn’t even have suspension, for £12,000 –the new Turbo Levo almost looks like good value.
But enough of the price, because the harsh reality is, those who can afford it will still buy one, and they’re probably all sold out by the time you read this anyway. And for those of you lucky enough to be in the market for a new Turbo Levo – S-Works or not – you’re in for a treat.
If you’ve watched our E-Bike of the Year test on YouTube, or read the reviews online, you may recall we ended our critique of the previous Turbo Levo by saying it needed an Evo-style makeover, with S-sizing and more aggressive geometry to bring it back in the game against total rippers like the Whyte E-160 and Trek Rail. And as if to prove our soothsaying skills, that’s exactly what’s happened. But it’s not the only thing. In fact, if we were to break down the enhancements to the Turbo Levo range, they would cover five distinct areas: sizing; geometry; wheel size; interface and reliability.
So before covering how it rides, let’s go through those one by one.
Specialized introduced its S-sizing model with the Stumpjumper Evo back in 2018 with the aim of differentiating models more by reach than seat tube height. At that point there were only two sizes – S2 and S3 – but by keeping seat tube and head tube lengths similar, it gave riders the chance to choose a frame size based on how they wanted the bike to handle, rather than their saddle height. Now that size range has expanded to six options – S1 to S6 – and the Enduro, Kenevo, Stumpjumper and Turbo Levo have joined the S club party.
Specifically the new Turbo Levo gets a reach range that spans from 412mm to 532mm in increments of between 20 and 30mm. It’s a significantly longer bike then, as the old model started at 415mm and grew to only 480mm, but not only that, with an extra two sizes shoehorned into the range, riders can benefit from finding a much more suitable fit. And because the seat tube lengths are shorter, and standover heights more consistent around the median sizes, someone of average height can opt for an S2, S3 or S4 depending on whether they prioritise agility or stability.
S-sizing is not the only way in which the Stumpjumper Evo has influenced the new Turbo Levo. The geometry, along with the way it can be manipulated, has also been carried over, the upshot being that its an extremely progressive and highly adjustable e-bike. The head angle can be positioned between 63º and 65.5º in 1º increments using drop-in inserts. The bottom bracket height is a paltry 336mm in the low setting, and our size S4 wheelbase is 1,275mm, which up there with most enduro-ready e-bikes. It’s not all about razzing downhill tracks and railing turns though; Specialized has dramatically steepened the effective seat tube (3º by our measurements), so you’re sat further forward on steep climbs, which helps keep the front wheel weighted, and stops the suspension from sagging excessively. There are shorter chainstays too, but Spesh has added a flip chip at the Horst link to give two bottom bracket heights and two chainstay lengths. Have it long and low if you want maximum stability, or you’re over 6ft tall. Or run it short and tall if you want snappy cornering and more ground clearance. And it has created the room to be able to shorten those chainstays by moving to a…
… Mullet wheel set-up
Yes, the whole Turbo Levo range runs on mixed wheels, with a 29in up front and 27.5in out back, both shod with 2.6in tyres. This move has allowed the chainstays to be shortened from 455mm to 448mm in the low BB setting and 442mm in the high position.
The smaller rear wheel is stronger and lighter, it brings better turn-in when cornering, more arse clearance on drops and steeps and helps the bike feel more dynamic. Judging by the number of mullet bikes that have hit the market in the last year, I think we can safely say this is becoming the default configuration for full power e-bikes.
As you’d expect considering its Silicon Valley roots, Specialized aced the whole user experience right from the start with the original Turbo Levo, and has been gradually improving it ever since. For this third generation it really has taken things to the next level, the most obvious manifestation of which is the new MasterMind TPU. Nestled neatly in the top tube, this is an evolution of the old power button and battery indicator, now upgraded with a full colour screen displaying any number of data parameters, including battery remaining in numerical per cent, distance, elevation, time, power, mode and speed. It’s completely customisable, so you can show loads of data or simply a big, easy-to-read battery life figure.
Another useful function is the ability to trim the power in 10 per cent increments so that you can match your pace to your ride companion, or eek out battery life for a longer range. Other cool features, such as over-the-air updates are planned, but even now there’s a new level of control over the motor that’s literally at your fingertips thanks to the discreet bar-mounted remote. And just like previous Levos, further tuning and diagnosis can be achieved via the Mission Control app.
It’s no secret that the Brose motor in the previous Levo was plagued with issues. Most owners will have had at least one motor replacement by now, which – even with the best back-up and warranty support in the world – causes frustration, hassle and time off the bike. Regaining consumer faith will be a steep uphill battle for Specialized, but it has made significant steps to heal the wounds. The Brose motor remains, which some might find surprising, but with such investment in the calibration, packaging and software that surrounds the mechanics, there was no way Specialized was just going to abandon the German power unit. Instead, there’s now a reinforced belt and updated firmware that gets rid of any power surge that could cause slippage.
Another weak point of the old system could be the wiring and battery connection, so the new version is sealed within a secondary box built into the battery housing. Hooking up or disconnecting the 700Wh battery is still as quick and simple as before with the addition of an extra step where you hinge open the door, then pull out the plug. And because the shape and connection hasn’t changed, you can still use an old battery in the new bike.
There was a time, not so long ago, where even the top of the range Specialized models came with parts that were eminently upgradeable. Considering the price tag of this Turbo Levo Pro model, I’m glad to say that’s no longer the case. The foundations of the bike are functionally sensible, with Factory-level Fox 38 fork, Float X2 shock, SRAM X01 drivetrain and Code RSC disc brakes boasting huge 220/200mm rotors, but their are flourishes of interest, such as the Deity Knucklehead grips and Copperhead stem, that keep it from being a mere in-house parts bin special. Being top-of-the range, you get both high and low-speed compression and rebound control with which to dial-in/mess-up your suspension, the fork is of the short offset variety, which should promote even more steering stability, and there are size-specific Fox Transfer dropper posts, running from 100-200mm in length.
How it rides
As we do with all our test bikes, I measured the geometry, rear wheel travel and weight on the new Turbo Levo. And if you compare our measurements with Specialized’s published figures (taken from CAD drawings) you’ll see they don’t tally up in a few areas. The head angle is slacker, the BB is much lower, the reach is a touch shorter and the travel, at 139mm, is 11mm less than Specialized claims. Of course there can be variations between bikes due to frame and component tolerances, but it’s rare we see such a difference between claimed and actual numbers – Specialized is looking into the discrepancy and getting back to us. Having said that, at no point did I ever think ‘this bike would be so much better with 11mm more travel’.
From the side, the frame looks completely familiar, yet also strangely different. The new sizing, geometry and mullet wheels have given the new bike a crouching, pouncing profile that feels closer to the Specialized Turbo Kenevo than the old Turbo Levo. There’s no kink in the top tube behind the sidearm, and the shock yoke and seatstays have been considerably bulked up over the previous generation. To me Specialized has redefined the shape of the modern electric mountain bike – sleek, progressive and fully-integrated.
Step on board and the new Specialized Turbo Levo Pro feels like a big bike in terms of wheelbase, but the reach is manageable and the steep seat angle puts you in an comfortably upright position. At 178cm I rode the S4 frame, and even with the reach being somewhat shorter than claimed, I didn’t feel the need to upsize to the S5.
Even with shorter chainstays, the new Specialized Turbo Levo Pro doesn’t seem to have lost any of its climbing prowess. That steep seat tube has helped compensate for the rear wheel being tucked in tighter, and let me get my weight further forward to keep the front wheel down, but I did notice a lack of support and some additional lag from the motor at the low cadences I typically use when really picking my way up a technical ascent. Compared to the Bosch, which always seems to provide the right level of support for precise control, I occasionally felt like I needed to be a couple of gears lower to prevent stalling. These were subtle observations though, and may just be down to variations between individual bikes.
What does give cause for celebration is the exceptionally quiet operation of the motor and the joyfully rattle-free smoothness of the chassis. Specialized has punched the mute button on the new Turbo Levo, and that makes riding it hard a blissful experience. Even under full load the belt-driven motor is quiet enough not to disrupt conversations on climbs, and there’s zero-rattle when coasting down a rough descent.
Downhills really are the happy place for the new Specialized Turbo Levo Pro, too. Where the previous generation started to feel out of its depth on gnarlier, more precipitous tracks – owing to its short front end and long chainstays – the new bike gets a glint in its eye and just devours the terrain. That new geometry instils bags of confidence and the redesigned chassis has an unflinching solidity that lets you shred harder than a data protection officer.
But the new Specialized Turbo Levo Pro is no unwieldy battering ram. This is one of the most dynamic full power e-bikes on the market – up there with the YT Decoy Shred and Canyon Spectral:ON – but arguably more composed than either at higher speeds and on steeper gradients. By going the mullet route, Specialized has helped the Turbo Levo switch direction effortlessly and swiftly, while also helping reduce butt-buzz going off drops. It’s an easy e-bike to manual and a doddle to bunny hop. There’s more pop than a Katy Perry album too, with stacks of support from the Fox suspension. As such, I found it could clear gaps that other e-bikes couldn’t reach, and that meant I ended up riding with more energy and exuberance. You only tend to give what you get back, after all…
While the old bike had a soft, supple ride, the new Specialized Turbo Levo Pro – at this price point at least – is firm and sporty. The damping is never harsh, but it revels in higher speeds, where you’re bracing yourself against impacts, rather than cruising along looking for total bump isolation. I think it perfectly dovetails with the new bike’s attitude and suits riders wanting to rack up the vert rather than chalk up the miles – a job that’s much better suited to the lightweight Specialized Turbo Levo SL anyway.
If you hadn’t clocked it already, I’m totally smitten by the new Turbo Levo. It’s a completely different beast – and beast is the right word – from the previous generation. It’s insanely capable, addictively dynamic, beautifully designed, masterfully integrated, completely adaptable and brilliantly easy to live with. Is it twice as good as the e-bike of the year winning YT Decoy or Trek Rail? No. Would I choose the Turbo Levo over either if I had the money? Absolutely.