Have Specialized really changed the game of eMTB with their lightweight Turbo Levo SL and delivered what many were asking for?
Thanks to Specialized Ireland we spent an eye-opening, whistle-stop two weeks riding one at some of Ireland’s top mountain biking locations to evaluate that conundrum.
If you want to check out our First Look feature with full spec on the Turbo Levo SL then CLICK HERE first. Otherwise we’re just gonna dive right in to the review…
Twelve months ago I dipped a toe into ebike waters. And while the novelty of impeccably easy climbing was enticing, the off-set of suffering a heavier, less playful bike than your average MTB on the downhill sections was more than enough to walk away feeling like I wasn’t missing out on anything in that realm.
That was until Specialized pinged details their all-new Turbo Levo SL into my inbox a couple of weeks ago. Reading through the description of a less powerful – but importantly – much lighter eMTB certainly made me sit up and take notice. Intrigued, I – like many others – were now itching to know if they’d shifted the goalposts of eMTB riding to blur the lines of MTB with their Turbo Levo SL.
At a claimed weight of 17.3kg, they’d certainly shaved a chunk of junk off a traditional ebike and while less power may not favour all ebike enthusiasts, I was happy to roll up my sleeves on the climbs if it meant more thrills on the descent.
Picking the Turbo Levo SL up from Specialized Ireland, Chris ran through setup. He set the sag up 20% in the front and 30% in the rear. He also went about halfway on the clickers for the 150mm Fox Factory 34 FLOAT forks as a base setting. I’m not sure how he guessed my riding ability from Adam, but I never felt the need to touch it after that, it was dialled for me.
On the techy side of things, Specialized’s Mission Control app allows you to connect your phone to the bike. You can use the app like Strava to record rides, but you can also dig deeper and fine tune both the battery and power output.
In standard trim the three power modes are set at Eco 20%, Trail 40% and Turbo 100% of the 240 watt SL 1.1 motor, which I left unchanged. While the Expert Carbon model doesn’t come with an additional battery range extender (that sits neatly in the bottle cage holder), should you purchase one, the app will allow you to determine how both the internal and extender batteries are used. You can group them as one unit or set the extender to drain first and then the internal battery, which would prove handy for those riding loops of their trail centre.
Amped to go
Despite a wet and dreary morning, I was grinning from ear to ear pulling the bike out of the van for its first outing in Ravensdale. And having got first dibs on the bike, it was also Specialized’s first taste of Irish soil for the Turbo Levo SL’s – making me feel like a kid at Christmas.
Purring up the road in Eco mode it was tricky to notice any substantial assistance. There was a bit of ‘go in her’, but nothing compared to riding an industry standard 565 watt ebike in Eco mode and within five minutes of the first gravel road climb that came home to roost pretty quick.
With the jacket vents opened and head scarf off, I was steadily cooking as my legs realised they weren’t on holiday today. Of course, while easier than without a motor, you still had to put your back into it in Eco. Sure enough, flick it to Trail and you quickly picked up speed, but Eco mode felt more like climbing on a roadie or gravel bike than a MTB and that was something I instantly liked.
Dropping into the first run, the Levo SL came alive. Despite the SRAM brakes feeling a little soft (they still needed bedding in), the bike was chasing trail fast. Agile and playful, the rear end cheekily kicked light as I dropped right into a rocky chute, putting another smile on my chops.
Although only one minute long, I could feel that we were onto something different here and after repeated runs of the same trail it was becoming clear that we had an eMTB and that wanted to ride like an MTB. It didn’t smash its way down the trail like a 24kg bike would and was quick to change direction when you wanted to and not the other way round. The motor/battery combo acted like a three kilo ballast between your legs, giving a comforting, supple and planted feel to the handling.
Ticknock and beyond
With Ravensdale complete my next venture took me to Ticknock and an opportunity to sample a mix of trail centre riding and natural descents. Sticking with Eco mode I cruised the opening loop round to the mast without too much effort. From the mast I stuck on Metro 2 (according to Trail Forks app) and did that loop. With slightly trickier climbs, the Levo SL required a bit more graft to clamber over the rocks on the exposed sections.
Darting back round for a second go, flicking into Trail mode definitely transformed that section with the extra power now allowing you to carry slightly more speed to hop over some of the obstacles. In search of a trail called Loam Neeson I veered right midway round skipping down a rocky trail into some open going. However, the rocks soon turned to boulders and there was a severe lack of loam to be found.
This button was made for walking
Realising I’d made a drastic mistake (I later learned I was on the aptly named Face Planter), I opted to hike back up and retrace where I’d gone wrong. It was at this exact moment my appreciation for the walk assist button became real. Together with that five kilo weight saving, it was a life saver for sure. With Loam Neeson sketchily completed, I took in Bungle Jungle and the Gravity Enduro Stage 3. While the bike ripped through them, the siege of a Purple Road climb was softened second time round as my tired legs coaxed me into Trail mode – sweet relief!
Stepping it up for the final ride, a visit to Djouce took in a wealth of hardcore trails and wild open mountain. Having never been before, my good mate Ken was sherpa for the day guiding me on a loop through Djouce, Powerscourt, Crone Woods up to Maulin and back through Djouce. Mixing steep switchback gravity fed trails with good honest open mountain riding, it was a perfect way to end this review.
View this post on Instagram
It feels a lot steeper than it looks! Final fling round Djouce on the @specializedireland Turbo Levo SL was an epic one. 🔥 _ Ride review of this steed now up on freewheelin.ie 👨💻 _ #freewheelin #specialized #iamspecialized #turbolevosl #mtb #emtb #ebike #ireland #djouce #cycling #mtbenduro #mtbiking #ridebikes #bikelife #bikesareclass #braap 🎥 – @kenoflat
Send her on!
Specialized referenced that the smaller SL 1.1 motor allowed them to shorten the chain stay to create a more playful handling bike. Riding those 180-degree style corners and steep chutes on wagon wheels, the Levo SL certainly held its own. I had heard mixed reviews of Specialized’s own-brand Butcher tyres, but through a sea of tree roots on a trail called Best Descent not once did the front end wash out. If the added weight made the tyres more planted, I can’t be sure, but there and many other places too, grip was optimum and dare I say it ‘confidence inspiring’. I was also getting away with 24/26 (front/rear) psi on stock tubes, which for an eMTB ain’t half bad in my book.
The open mountain was a good benchmark for the motor’s capabilities. Although initially starting out in Eco, I found switching to Trail mode worked better once we were off any gravel climbs. The bike rode better up the XC style paths and soft dirt trails like Earl’s Drive. In hindsight, dialling the power setting for Trail from 40% to 35% would have been preferable.
Plenty left in the tank
That said for the 20-kilometre loop with three hours of ride time (4hrs plus spin), the battery only used 40% and I spent my time approximately 60/40 between Eco and Trail power setting. By the way, that’s much more positive than Specialized’s stated range of 3.5 hours for the internal battery.
While I praise the Turbo Levo SL’s playful handling on the descent, the knock-on effect of that shorter chain stay was a trickier bike to climb on once you came off the fire roads. At first I put it down to poor line choice as I kept wanting to ‘loop out’ on steep kickers where Ken sailed through.
It wasn’t until I forced myself to sit on the tip of the saddle that I overcame the issue. But that said, it’s a ‘horses for courses’ scenario. I guess you can’t have the best descender and climber in one geometry package and I’ll take descending any day. In truth, if I hadn’t come off the gravel roads to follow a mountain goat like Ken, I’d probably never have noticed the issue.
Messing with my head
Although short and sweet at two weeks, this review was a definite eye opener to a new way of eMTB. Twelve months ago I enjoyed the novelty of riding one, but was happy to hand it back. Back then it encouraged me to appreciate the misery of climbing more knowing I was ticking my thrill and fitness boxes when out for a spin.
Now it seems Specialized are messing with my head. They really have torn up the blue print for eMTB with their Turbo Levo SL because for me it ticks all the boxes I was looking for 12 months ago. Naturally, at €8600 RRP the Expert Carbon carries a hefty price tag, but the more I rode it, the more I wanted to justify it too.
Raising the bar
What will also be interesting to watch is if (and not when) anyone can step up to Specialized and compete with this concept of eMTB. By running their own unique motor, they have got the jump on pretty much every other manufacturer who are reliant on Bosch or Shimano to develop one for them. Arguably, by the time they do release a competing motor, Specialized might be already on to their second generation of the SL 1.1.
So if, like me, you’re looking for a lighter eMTB that provides a less powerful but more playful and (in turn) enjoyable riding experience, then the Turbo Levo SL is for you. I’d even go so far as to say, it might even sway you to go ebike only.
Many thanks to Specialized Ireland for first dibs on their Turbo Levo SL Expert Carbon. Available to demo, book it for a test ride.
- At 17kg has Specialized’s Turbo Levo SL set a new e-bike benchmark?
- Vitus Mythique 27 VRX is a sub €2k MTB trail shredder
- Review: Galibier Ardennes Shield Optics