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Specialized Turbo Levo SL trail e-bike review

Is Specialized’s Turbo Levo SL trail e-bike a lightweight fun multiplier or a half-hearted compromise?

Specialized Turbo Levo SL Expert Carbon
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Our Verdict

Specialized’s new lightweight Turbo Levo SL is one of the fastest and most fun e-bikes we’ve ridden if you don’t need epic battery life or totally effortless climbing

For

  • Outstandingly playful handling and weight for an e-bike
  • Obvious speed and smoothness boost from the motor and extra mass
  • Super friendly suspension, handling and motor syncing
  • Great tuning app and excellent dealer support

Against

  • Relatively high price
  • Short wheelbase and lighter weight components create a confidence limit
  • Less power than other lightweight e-bikes
  • Relatively unproven motor

Turbo Levo has been a super successful bike for Specialized and the latest generation 2 bike is a benchmark of neatly integrated, user-friendly, superbly supported power-assisted trail biking. The Levo SL matches that mainframe to the much smaller SL1.1 motor and battery from the Creo road e-bike to save up to 4kg over the full power version. But does that multiply the fun or leave it half-hearted on the trail?

Design and geometry

The front ends of the Levo SL and Levo are basically the same and it comes in both FACT carbon and an M5 alloy model with the same single-sided support strut and neat direct mount linkage details. The difference is the compact motor that is mounted to the bike and the smaller battery that is sat on top of it. You also need to remove the motor to remove the battery now, but the spring-loaded charger port cover is really neat. The smaller motor also lets Specialized bring the back wheel closer in, giving a super short for e-bike 437mm chainstay length that’s actually the same as the human-powered Stumpjumper. Tyre clearance drops from 2.6in to 2.3in though. Otherwise, geometry is the same at 455mm reach for the large we tested with a 66-degree head angle, 74.7-degree seat angle and 347mm bottom bracket height (27mm drop).

The motor (240W, 35Nm torque) and battery (340Wh) numbers are very different from the standard Levo (560W, 90Nm and 700Wh battery). The motor is relatively unproven too, having only appeared in the Creo road bike in mid-2019. The win is that the new motor and smaller battery saves up to 4kg depending on models. The £7,999.00 Expert Carbon version we tested weighs in just under 18kg and the flagship £10,999.00 S-works at 17.3kg. As a comparison, the S-Works Levo weighs 20.8kg with a 700Wh battery and the comparable spec, non-motorised Stumpjumper Expert Carbon 29 costs £4999 and comes in at 13.2kg so you’re still paying a high weight and wallet price for the assistance.

Specialized Levo SL Expert Carbon

Although the smaller motor and battery of the Levo SL sacrifices grunt compared to other e-bikes, the weight saved is significant (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Components and build 

Some key components are lighter compared to the equivalent Expert Carbon Levo too. You get a Fox 34 Performance Elite fork rather than a 36 Performance. The 30mm internal Roval Traverse rims are carbon, not alloy and the rear Eliminator tyre uses the mid-weight GRID TRAIL casing rather than a BLCK DMND reinforced casing.

The brakes are SRAM G2 RSC rather than Code R but the rotors are still 200mm both ends. You get full 12-speed SRAM GX Eagle 11-50T gearing with a standard trigger for multiple shifts rather than the transmission nurturing single shift S700 trigger and 11 speed, 10-42T gearing. Specialized’s new stubby Bridge saddle sits on top of an X-Fusion Manic dropper post with a Specialized 40mm stem and 780mm bar. External e-bike features are kept to a minimum too with a small power up/down switch near the left brake lever and a power, mode and 10-step battery indicator button on the top tube. The motor sensor battery sits on the rotor bolts too, where it’s much less likely to be knocked and you get £95 worth of pop up SWAT mini tool in the fork steerer top cap for quick fixes. Despite the higher-spec transmission, suspension and carbon wheels, the smaller battery means the overall price is only £250 more. Pricing is expensive compared to other brands and Lapierre’s Fazua powered E-Zesty which is the closest match in terms of performance.

Specialized Levo SL Expert Carbon

A short rear end promotes a manoeuvrable and lively ride that is not usually associated with e-bikes (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Ride, handling and performance 

As Specialized has targeted the Levo SL at riders who want a more agile and playful e-bike rather than a powered plough, we took it to the tightest trails we knew and let loose. Even though it still weighs 18kg it’s obviously more mobile than most motor-powered bikes. While it’s not particularly low slung, the battery only fills the lower half of the down tube. Add the intermediate steering angles, longer offset fork, short reach and short back end and it’s keen to nip and tuck through tight turns rather than steamrollering straight on. The naturally supple FSR suspension is even more fluid for excellent traction and rollover when pressed into the trail by 18kg of e-bike and the higher BB can mean more pedal clearance too. 

While 35Nm torque is low on paper, the carbon wheels and lighter tyres accelerate hard if you can get a couple of pedal strokes in. While the Eco mode is too limp to be much use and it’s not as torquey (35Nm vs 60Nm) as a Fazua-powered bike, Trail mode is enough for very noticeable assistance without burning the battery in Turbo mode. There’s very little chance of spinning the back wheel or lifting the front with too much power either and it matches up very naturally to rider input through a wide rev range. There’s absolutely zero pedal resistance once you’re beyond the legal 15mph/25kph cut-off and the low weight obviously helps unpowered speed too. While our sample was very noisy, we’ve spoken to other testers who’ve ridden the bikes who said theirs were conspicuously quiet. You can also adjust all power settings, harvest additional ride and bike ‘health’ data and even create a timer to make sure you finish your ride in Specialized’s excellent Mission Control app. Given that no e-bikes are totally trouble-free, it’s also worth noting that Specialized and their dealers have a fantastic reputation for getting riders sorted and back on the trail super quick.

While it’s a super-user-friendly assisted trail cruiser, it’s a deceptively rapid bike on descents too. The lighter weight agility lets you pop and pump the bike easily, the unsprung to sprung weight ratio of the suspension makes the Levo SL super smooth through the chunder and the Fox 34 forks are a lot more forgiving on hands and forearms deeper into punishing descents. The tyres conform better than DH rubber too which means you can run both fork and shock in Trail setting to stop the excess sogginess and over-travel you get in fully open mode. The lighter wheels with the motor kick multiply the effect of every pedal stroke you can get in. That meant on the tight, twisty but pretty rough red grade ‘Descent Line’ trail at Stainburn, it clocked our fastest ever time from hundreds - if not thousands - of runs (don’t worry we edited to an e-bike run afterwards).

While overall balance is very even, the noticeably flexible, long offset fork, lighter weight, narrower tyres on 28-spoke wheels and short wheelbase can be pushed to their limits relatively easily in tougher terrain though. That meant we had a few scary moments during testing, particularly braking hard into rough, tight turns and the 780mm bar often felt narrower when trying to hit harder lines. Strong riders will be able to overpower the motor easily when sprinting or grinding up really steep pitches too. While the lower power outputs make it much more frugal, and you can add a 160Wh ‘battery extender pack’ into the bottle cage to boost range, it’s still 200Wh shorter on juice compared to the equivalent Levo.

Specialized Levo SL Expert Carbon

The short wheelbase and relatively light build can feel a bit overwhelmed when faced with fast rough trails (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Verdict

The bottom line of any mountain bike review is how much fun you had riding it, and on that basis, the new Levo SL is an instant hit. If you’re happy to trade watts for a weight engaging and super enjoyable play bike and/or super smooth cruiser. It gives just enough grunt and grounded weight to boost speed up, down and along without it being obtrusive in the handling or aesthetics. That means you can ride the trails you normally do, in the way you normally do, just faster or for longer. 

Plus if you want a more powerful, bigger battery bike, get that equivalent Levo, and if you want to charge black runs or bike parks then get the DH shaped, 180mm travel Kenevo. While comparative pricing is high, don’t forget to factor in excellent, well-established dealer back up which is even more crucial when it comes to e-bikes, especially ones with a relatively unproven motor.

Tech Specs: Specialized Levo SL Expert Carbon 

  • Discipline: E-Trail
  • Price: £7499.99
  • Head angle: 66-degrees
  • Frame material: Fact Carbon mainframe and swingarm
  • Size: Large
  • Weight: 17.9kg
  • Wheel size: 29-inch
  • Suspension (front/rear): Fox 34 Performance Elite 150mm travel, 51mm offset/Fox DPS Evolution 52.5mm stroke
  • Components: SRAM GX Eagle 10-50T 12 speed gearing and shifter. Praxis M30 30T chainset. SRAM G2 RSC brakes with 200mm rotors. Specialized Butcher GRID TRAIL front and Eliminator GRID TRAIL rear 29 x 2.3in tyres on Roval Traverse Carbon 29 rims with 28 DT Swiss Industry spokes, Specialized front hub and DT Swiss 370 rear hub. Specialized Trail 780x31.8mm bar and 40x31.8mm stem, X-Fusion Manic 150mm dropper post, Specialized Bridge Comp 143mm saddle

Buy the Specialized Turbo Levo SL at Specialized