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 make it one of the best electric mountain bikes on sale, and 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.
When we tested the MKII Levo in our 2021 e-Bike of the Year test, we were impressed by the unbridled power of the 90Nm motor, the supple rear suspension and Specialized’s best in class integration. With sizing and geometry based on the old Stumpy though, the Levo felt shorter and more upright than the latest offerings from Whyte and Trek. What the Levo needed was the Evo treatment. Well, six months later Specialized has delivered and then some.
As expected the MKIII Levo had a lot of the key features introduced on the latest Stumpy Evo, including S sizing and increased reach measurements across the board. It also has adjustable headset cups that offer three head angles ranging from 63º to 65º, in 1º increments. Flip-chips in the chainstay pivots provide two rear end lengths 442mm or 448mm, while simultaneously adjusting the BB height to give long/low or short/high settings. The shorter chainstays a direct result of switching to a 27.5in rear wheel. Yes, the Levo is now a mullet.
But Specialized didn’t just stretch the old frame and add lots of adjustment, with its straight top tube and beefed up linkage the Levo now looks more like the Kenevo. And while it cerinly looks to have filled out, especially around the linkage, Specialized claims that stiffness is comparable to the old version. Travel hasn’t changed either, the Levo frame still boasting 150mm, even if we measured it at 145mm.
While the amount of travel the Levo pumps out hasn’t changed, the way it uses it is different. By upping the shock stroke for 52.5mm to 55mm Specialized has reduced the overall leverage ratio so it now runs lower pressures. It also increasing the end-stroke progression slightly to help resist bottoming, but it’s not so progressive that you can’t use all of the available travel. Anti-squat has been increased by a whopping 50% too, so the rear end has tons of support at sag, which makes the bike feel insanely poppy, ride light and help load the longer front end on flatter turns. The downside is that now there’s a harshness to the Levo with increased vibribraton through the chassis, even when running the high and low speed compression adjusters on the X2 shock fully open.
In keeping with the bigger is better theme, the Levo gets a 160mm travel Fox 38 Factory fork. You have the same 4-way damping adjustment as the X2 shock and it’s interesting that Specialized has gone with the standard 38, not the e-bike option with the different damping tune. Having ridden both forks back to back, Specialized has made the right call.
With not much change from £11k you’d expect all the best kit on the Levo Pro, and on the whole Specialized delivers. Yes, the side knobs on the Eliminator Grid rear tyre tend to squirm too much when really loaded, and it’s annoying that we had to tighten the carbon Praxis crank arms after every ride, but overall it’s a standout build. The shorter 160mm crank arms provide plenty of pedal clearance and even when running the bike in the lowest possible geometry configuration we had no issues with unwanted pedal strikes.
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.
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. *Update: After around 9 months of riding we sheered the connection box door off the battery when we hit a tree stump. Specialized since replaced the protective cover, but it does show that the door is vulnerable to damage and could do with a beefier hinge. Around the same time, the shock started to lose pressure while riding. It would maintain pressure when stored in the shed, but drop 100psi in five minutes once we got riding. From talking to Fox, the likely cause of this is the shock bending very slightly under high loads, such as when landing a drop, which is an issue that can affect bikes with a shock yoke and eyelets at 90º. In the case of the Turbo Levo, it is possible that that the asymmetric design (thanks to the Sidearm) puts additional stress on the shock structure and seals.
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.
With all of the changes to the geometry and sizing the latest Levo feels perfectly proportioned and perfectly balanced. This makes it a safe place to be and gives you the confidence to really push the Levo to your limits. On flowy, pumpy, jumpy trails and in steep fresh loam it’s an unstoppable force, so it’s a good thing that it comes with that massive 220mm rotor upfront. It’s also offers a blissfully quiet ride; no rattle from the motor, chain or cables. Get the Levo on more chunky, rocky terrain however, or even a rough fireroad, and there’s constant feedback through the chassis. Whether this is due to the increased anti-squat or the stiffness of the full carbon frame is impossible to say, but it’s also impossible to ignore.
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.
With Specialized’s seamless integration no e-bike looks as polished as the new Turbo Levo Pro. None boast the same battery capacity and none have the same degree of geometry adjustment. Factor in the new display and it ticks all the must have boxes. On the right trails it feels like an absolute weapon, but there’s also an annoying amout of feedback thought the chassis. It’s the only chink in its otherwise polished finish. Would we buy it with our own hard earned? Not a chance, we’ll wait for the alloy version and the price to drop. Will the Levo Pro sell out? Without a doubt.