Superlight Turbo Levo SL creates all-new e-bike concept. We’ve ridden it and it’s very exciting indeed!
Specialized Turbo Levo SL brings a natural ride experience and dynamic handling thanks to low-power, low-friction motor and small capacity battery.
Hot on the heels of the DH-ready Specialized Turbo Kenevo comes the Turbo Levo SL, it’s fully 4kg lighter than the regular Turbo Levo and closes in on the ride feel of a conventional bike.
2020 Specialized Turbo Levo SL need to know
- Lightest e-bike we’ve tested, the S-Works model weighs 17.3kg
- Ride feel is closer to a Specialized Stumpjumper than a Specialized Turbo Levo
- New Specialized-developed motor weighs 1.9kg, while motor and battery combined tip the scales less than just the motor on the Turbo Levo
- Weight and space saving comes from power reduction power — 240w output and 320wh battery
- New Range Extender battery with 160wh fits into bike’s bottle cage
- Levo SL is based on the Turbo Levo, with side arm frame design, most geometry, and sizing adopted
- 150mm travel front and rear, 29er wheels and 2.3in tyres, with no mullet option
- Smaller motor design means Specialized can spec shorter chainstays than the Turbo Levo
- Four full carbon options, including a Founder’s Edition with limited 250 unit run, and one alloy frame option
- Marine grade radial seals and a Gore-Tex membrane enclosing the motor, designed to improve waterproofing
- Efficient motor with less than 2.5watt drag means you can pedal the bike with the motor off, Specialized says
- Much improved Mission Control usability, with power modulation, heart rate and range control, better error messages and AutoStart to turn your phone on
- Integrated battery is removable, but only by taking the motor out first
- Suspension kinematics close to the Stumpjumper in leverage terms.
- Five models, ranging from the top-end limited run Founders Edition (price TBC), to the S-Works Levo SL at £10,999, and on to the alloy Levo SL Comp at £4,999
2020 Specialized Turbo Levo SL pricing in the UK
- Founders Edition – TBC
- S-Works Levo SL – £10,999
- Levo SL Expert – £7,499
- Levo SL Comp Carbon – £5,999
- Levo SL Comp – £4,999
The ‘less is more’ concept
With two full-powered e-bikes already in the range (the Turbo Levo and Kenevo) Specialized says it recognised there is a demand for a lower-powered e-bike with significantly lower weight. The idea is to appeal to riders who want enough assistance to get them up the hills and ride for longer, but don’t want the overly heavy feel of a 21kg bike on the descents. Specialized developed the Levo SL to fill this hole, in tandem with the Turbo Levo, which incidentally is one of the reasons the weight is so low on that bike.
Motor and battery
The Levo SL uses Specialized’s new 1.1 motor, while the Turbo Levo and Kenevo use the 2.1 motor. The 1.1 delivers a peak 240w output and 35Nm, which is less than half that generated by the full-fat Turbo Levo. There’s far less battery capacity to play with too, with a 320wh battery hidden inside the downtube. It is possible to remove this battery and charge it off the bike, but — unlike on the Turbo Levo — you have to remove the motor first, and eight bolts securing the power pack. The battery is best charged on the bike then.
You can’t fly with a conventional e-bike because the battery cannot be checking into your hold luggage with the bike. The Levo SL is different though, Specialized says, because you can take out the internal battery without having to take the cranks off. You can then carry range extenders, which we’ll get to next, onto the plane. I don’t think you’ll find many people doing this, but let us know it appeals.
If you think you’ve seen this motor somewhere before, it first appeared on the Specialized Turbo Creo SL road bike — it’s the same drive unit and batteries, but the mountain bike features a walk button on the bar mounted control unit.
Also new to the Levo SL is the range extender, a 160wh battery designed to slot into your bottle cage, and connect to the bike through the charging port. Buy the S-Works model and one is included (two with the Founder’s Edition), while you’ll have to pay aftermarket for bikes lower in the range. Interestingly, you can choose to drain the internal motor first, or the range extender, or use both at the same time, all set through the Mission Control app. You can charge both the range extender and the internal battery at the same time too, through a Y splitter that comes with the charger.
There are no plans to offer the range extender on the Turbo Levo, Specialized says, and don’t even think about trying to plug one in and try it on the older bike — they use a different voltage, the Levo is 36v and the Levo SL 48v.
You can control all the Specialized Turbo bikes from their Mission Control app, and for the Levo SL there’s more customisation than ever before. Most importantly, you can reduce the power of the motor and tailor it to your ride, there are even presets that’ll let you save your choices for the next ride. Why would you want that? It’ll make training rides more manageable, and riding with friends on regular bikes should become more ‘friendly’.
The bike will also moderate the power for you, if desired — punch in your ride distance or duration and Mission Control will balance the power output for you. The range is more accurate now because you can add the elevation you’re covering too. The bike and your smartphone communicate every 10 seconds, adjusting the power accordingly to ensure you keep enough in the tank to get home. It’ll do the same thing with your heart rate too; set your desired training band and the bike will increase or decrease the power to keep your beats per minute with the range.
Finally, there’s now something called AutoStart, you can set your phone to connect automatically to the bike when you press the on button. That’s one less gadget to faff with.
On bike controls
The Levo SL has three power levels, Eco, Trail and Turbo, and all of them are customisable. Eco dishes out 30% power, Trail delivers 60% and Turbo is everything it’s got. You can toggle between the three modes either through the bar remote, the Mission Control app, or through two buttons on the top tube. Just like on the Turbo Levo there are 10 blue bars indicating your battery status, but plug in the range extender and you’ll get five more green bars of juice.
Kinematics and geometry
The Levo SL shares almost all its geometry with the Levo, except it features shorter chainstays. Shrinking the back end is possible thanks to the smaller motor.
Specialized says the kinematics are very close to the Stumpjumper, meaning the suspension is fairly linear. The axle path is slightly different though, it’s less rearward than on the Levo and this is because the SL has a lower pivot position.
The Levo SL features geometry adjust in the shape of the flip chip so you can change the head angle by half a degree and alter the bottom bracket height by 6mm.
Specialized does not recommend you pressure wash your e-bike, but now there’s a ton of waterproofing built into the bike to protect it if you do. There are marine grade radial seals to keep the water out, and the motor is wrapped in a Gore-Tex liner to keep it dry and still allow it to dissipate heat.
Who will buy a Turbo Levo SL? It’s hard to say, but I’d hazard a guess that it won’t be existing e-bikers. They’ve already tasted the forbidden fruit of free power, and it’s hard to go back from 500watts to just 250.
That leaves riders who’ve yet to try or to get on board with e-bikes. Fortunately, that’s by far and away most riders out there. Again though, it could be a hard sell for Specialized to appeal to these riders because the on paper the Levo SL looks underpowered. It takes a prolonged test ride to feel the benefits of the bike.
Specialized Turbo Levo SL: first ride review
With half the power of the Turbo Levo, climbing does feel underpowered if you’re used to a fully fledged e-bike. There’s no thrilling surge of power when you’re climbing on singletrack, instead it subtly adds power to your legs without that on-off feel so many e-bikes generate.
Half the power doesn’t mean it’s half as quick on the climbs though. With much less weight to lug up the hills and almost no drag from the motor it’s more like riding an e-bike on Trail mode, rather than Turbo mode, which is good enough for most situations. The bike delivers that power in a smooth, controlled way too, responding instantly.
The payoff for the reduced power of course comes on the descents where the Levo SL leans heavily on its Stumpjumper heritage. The reduced weight means its far easier to flick the bike between turns than the Turbo Levo. The bike feels nimble, and there’s less incentive to boost out corners on full gas. Instead you have to ride it properly, like a normal bike, keeping your speed.
One of the new motor’s cleverest tricks though, is what happens when you ride beyond the limiter – currently 25kph in Europe and 20mph in the US. The cut-off is so smooth you really don’t feel it, and it makes the bike seem so natural on fast descents. Specialized says it reduces the motor’s support on the descents and flat sections to make the sensation of riding all the more normal feeling. Truly, it’s impossible to tell when the motor cuts out when you ride it beyond the limiter.
Faults? Specialized has tried to deliver the best trail bike for the lightest weight, but in the process it has sacrificed maybe just a bit too much. Gone is the Fox 36 from the new Turbo Levo, and instead we get a too-spindly 34. The 2.3in tyre up front rather than a 2.6in feels like weight-cheating too, and honestly they’re lacking in grip.
The conservative geometry means riders over 6ft will struggle to feel at home on the Levo SL too, especially with the reduced chainstay length over the Turbo Levo.
Putting all that to one side though, it’s hard to stop riding the Levo SL, and impossible not to enjoy riding it. To be able to ride up the hills with decent power, yet ride down them again on a bike that feels agile enough to be a normally-aspirated bike is incredible.