SPECIALIZED TURBO LEVO SL EXPERT CARBON REVIEW
Words by Nic Hall | Photos by Drew Rohde
Over the past few years we’ve seen the eMTB arms race charge for longer range, bigger batteries and burlier builds. The Specialized Turbo Levo SL bucked the trend and was among the first sub-40-pound eBikes available aimed at riders looking at a more ‘natural’ riding experience while still benefitting from electronic assistance. Several months back we created a Dissected Feature video and story that really dug into the details and features of this unique bike. Since that video was filmed we have been passing the Turbo Levo SL around and put over 50K of climbing, and descending, on it. With that much time on the bike, we’d say it’s time for a long term wrap up.
Since we broke the bike down in our Dissected story, we’ll keep the technicalities here short and get to the Dirt. Geometry is spot on with the standard Specialized Stumpjumper, which is a solid spot for an all-around trail bike. The head tube angle is 66 degrees and the seat tube is 74.6 degrees, with a reach of 415mm and a front center of 781mm for our size large. Wheelbase is 1,217mm and bottom bracket drop is 27mm. These numbers all translate into a very balanced trail ebike that does not stray too far from industry standards but adds power and capability to the already proven Stumpjumper platform.
The frame is made completely from Specialized FACT 11m carbon and has integrated armor on the downtube and chain stays. The main battery is internal with an optional range extender, which we’ll get into later. All cables are internally routed and rear hub spacing is 148mm. Specialized’s Turbo Levo SL has 150mm of travel front and rear. Squish duties are handled by a Fox Performance 34 Float fork and Fox Float DPS Performance rear shock on the Expert Carbon model. Fork offset is consistent through the sizes at 51mm. Build spec consists of a SRAM GX eagle drivetrain and G2 brakes with 200mm front and 180mm rear rotors. An X-Fusion Manic dropper with 150mm of travel fits in the 34.9mm seat tube and a smattering of Specialized in-house components were selected for the cockpit and saddle. Bars are 780mm wide with a 27mm rise and the stem is 40mm with a 5mm rise. Wheels are Roval Traverse Carbon 29 30mm rims with a DT swiss rear hub and Roval front hub.
Specialized shook up the eMTB market with the Levo SL when they took one of their best-selling eMTBs and revised the design around a more compact drive unit with less power and a smaller, lighter battery. The SL 1.1 motor is a 240-watt unit capable of 35Nm of torque. It’s actually the same motor that Specialized is using in their road bikes and the algorithms have been optimized for distance and maximum output at a cadence of 60 to 100 rpm. The fully integrated battery provides 320Wh of power with an optional 160wh extender that fits in the bottle cage. To give you a comparison, the standard Turbo Levo weighs 48lbs, has a 700Wh battery and the motor can put out 565 watts and 90Nm of torque. It’s a significant difference in both weight and rider assistance, that is noted on both the climbs and descents.
Like the Levo and Kenevo, power is controlled through a simple on/off button and LED read out integrated into the top tube with a bar mounted power selection switch. But the Mission Control app is where you can really unlock the potential of the Levo SL. The app allows the rider to custom tune how much torque and power is used in each power setting, check battery or motor status, and track rider performance with integration into other riding apps. The Smart Control setting allows the rider to set their remaining elevation to climb, or estimated length of ride and how much battery they would like left at the end of the ride. The app then builds a custom tune for that ride.
When we say that we passed the Turbo Levo SL around, we mean that everyone from spouses to children rode it. Literally anyone that could fit on the bike took it for a lap. Several of us took it on trips throughout the Pacific Northwest and into California and have battled back and forth with where this bike fits into our evolving mountain bike world.
Charge times on the main battery were consistently around the 2-2.5-hour mark. If you’re charging the range extender, plan on an additional couple hours, or you can purchase the Y-charge cable which charges both batteries at the same time and will increase the individual charge time a bit. The battery extender, which weighs 2.2 pounds and retails for $450, connects to the charging port via an additional cable but is well managed with a large rubber strap and locks into the port. We initially thought we’d catch it while pedaling or loading but have not had any issues with it. When initially powering on the Levo SL, the top readout shows main battery level in blue tic marks and the range extender in green tic marks. Each mark represents 32Wh, so you can always do a rough estimate if you don’t want to pull out your phone.
As you could imagine by the 35Nm of torque, the Turbo Levo SL climbs right between a full Turbo Levo and the non-powered Stumpjumper. When in full Turbo mode, which utilizes 100% of available power, the power level is about double what you can put out with a traditional bike. Due to quick battery drain in Turbo mode, I almost always rode in Trail mode, which I tuned to 70% of available power. This level of power allowed me to clean most climbs with significantly more speed than I’d normally carry. On the steepest climbs, I’m able to climb non-powered bikes at 3-4MPH but on the Levo SL, I average 5-6mph. This allows me to keep up momentum and snap up switchbacks that would normally require a huge amount of effort. Due to the lower torque, the Levo SL doesn’t want to constantly loop out like some of the bigger bikes. It really does feel like climbing on a trail bike with a bit more speed. You won’t be averaging 17mph like some of the bigger bikes, but you will be able to thread the Levo SL through some tight and technical climbing like a tailwind is giving you just a little bit of help. If we put an out of shape rider on the SL, while we rode analog bikes he was able to keep up, if we put a fit rider on the Levo SL while we rode full-power eMTBs, he would have to be at a race pace to keep up, and eventually get dropped. Take that for what it’s worth.
Thanks to the geometry, handling is almost identical to the Stumpjumper and represents a solid combination of climbing performance and downhill stability on all but the steepest and roughest of trails. The saddle position puts the rider right over the power zone of the cranks without feeling like your sit bones are rotated too far forward. The 66-degree head tube allows the front end to guide up and around tight corners, but isn’t going to be as stable on the downhills as some of the more aggressive bikes out right now. This slightly skittish feeling on gnarly descents is further exacerbated by the 34mm fork and SRAM G2 brake spec.
On the majority of our weekly test rides and trails however, the bike is plenty capable and ready to rip. It has just enough weight down low in the frame to allow for the benefits of eMTBs in corners or momentum preservation, but not so much weight that it feels sluggish or hard to get off the ground. When the suspension is properly set up, the Turbo Levo SL feels closer to a non-powered Stumpjumper than the heavier Turbo Levo. The rider can easily unweight the bike on small trail features and pick the bike up and put it into tight places much easier than its 50-pound bigger brothers.
The bike stays composed in almost all situations and utilizes all 150mm of travel without feeling harsh at the end of the stroke. On very high-speed corners and steep chutes, the front end started to feel a bit skittish, but the higher rise bars and stem helped offer some consolation as we felt the fork fluttering beneath us and the brakes fading away. Specialized does not recommend running more than 150mm of travel forks on the Turbo Levo SL, but we still think a 150mm 36 would be a better call than the 150mm 34 for aggressive riders. We also would have preferred Code brakes as this bike is a blast to ride in all sort of terrain and the extra weight quickly overrides the G2 brakes for our riding terrain. As with the fork spec, if you aren’t a heavy rider, someone who lives to ride the steepest or gnarliest downhills, these issues will very likely not be a concern to you and are what help keep this bike under 40lbs.
We’ve always been proponents of shorter cranks on eMTBs as they help with pedaling through gnarly sections at higher speeds. Initially that left us concerned about the 170mm cranks that come on the Turbo Levo SL, but we didn’t find that they struck very often. The higher bottom bracket and lower climbing speeds may have something to do with less pedal strikes, but we still think 165mm cranks are the way to go for eMTBs. The Roval wheelset is both lightweight and strong. Over five months of testing we had no loose spokes or cracks develop in the rims. The in-house Specialized tires are very impressive, and we found the Butcher to be on par with the best front tires we’ve been testing. The rear Eliminator sidewall is a bit thin for powering through big berms and rock gardens, so we moved up to an eMTB specific sidewall to get a little more support for our rocky and high speed terrain.
Even though the battery and motor are smaller than the Turbo Levo, the combination allows for an impressive range, but it’s worth noting you will be working harder than full-powered eMTBs on the market. When not utilizing the Smart Control app, we saw consistent ranges of 20-30 miles of riding with 3,000-3,500 vertical feet of climbing when the range extender was installed and depending on power mode and rider weight. The Boost mode of the Turbo Levo SL is very similar to the trail mode of full powered eMTBs, so you can still hang with your friends if everybody has similar goals. When using the Smart Control app, I was able to squeeze out a few 40-mile rides in the 3,500K of climbing range, but I also put out significantly more effort than a normal trail mode eMTB. The upside of course is a more natural, light and lively feeling eBike on the downhills.
The Wolf’s Last Word
The Specialized Turbo Levo SL is a unique eMTB that fills a previously untapped section of the market. Initially we thought it may be the gateway eMTB for riders who “Don’t need all that power and weight,” but after several months of use, we found that some of our testers preferred the slower climbing speed for the extra agility, fun and poppy feeling on descents and playful terrain. Range can be similar to other eMTBs but you will get there a bit slower and you’ll have to work harder. It’s a trade-off some riders are happy while others preferred having a Kenevo or Turbo Levo to maintain their “All boost all the time” mantra. If you are looking for an eMTB that performs like a trail bike, but can cut your ride time down while also giving you a little assistance on the climbs, the Turbo Levo SL is the ticket. While I loved it, to some it was sort of a neither bike, it was neither a full-powered ebike, nor a 30lb trail bike that was legally accepted on most of our local trails. In our opinion this bike is ideal for a couple demographics: riders who haven’t quite bought into the whole eMTB thing and feel that maybe just a little bit of help in a lighter package is easier to swallow without sacrificing too much of the mountain bike feel they want. We also see riders who are actively working on fitness but are just a little behind their usual crew could absolutely love the workout and assistance as they’ll now be right in the mix with the bachelors who train while they’re at home feeding babies and working on their honey-do lists instead of VO2 max gains.
Is the Specialized Turbo Levo SL the Goldilocks of eMTBs? It could be, for some.
Weight: 39.3 lbs (large)
Frame: Fact 11m full carbon, 29 specific. 150mm travel
Fork: Fox Performance 34 Float 29, GRIP damper 51mm offset 15×110
Shock: Fox Float DPS Performance 210×52.5 RX trail tune
Battery: Specialized SL1-320 integrated with 160Wh range extender
Motor: Specialized SL 1.1 230w
Brakes: STRAM G2 RSC 200mm front/180mm rear
Shifter: SRAM GX Eagle 12 speed trigger
Handlebar: Specialized Trail alloy, 27mm rise 780mm wide
Stem: Specialized Trail alloy 5mm rise 40mm
Saddle: Specialized Bridge Comp, Cr-mo rails
Seatpost: X-Fusion Manic 150mm
Hubs: Roval 15×110 Front, DT Swiss 350 12×148 rear
Rims: Roval Traverse Carbon 29, 30mm internal
Front tire: Butcher GRID trail, GRIPTON compound 29×2.3
Rear tire: Eliminator, GRID trail, GRIPTON compound 29×2.3
Cassette: SRAM GX Eagle 12 speed
Cranks: Praxis M30 170mm
Derailleur: SRAM GX Eagle 12 speed
Snappy and playful
Offers a more MTB feel than heavier ebikes
Smart Control App
Interesting launch to a new category of eMTB
SRAM G2 brake spec
Premium price tag
Not as powerful as full-size eMTBs
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