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Vital MTB first rode the Specialized Turbo Levo e-bike in the summer of 2015 when the bike was announced to the public in Leogang, Austria. We went in deep with the technology on that trip and realized the bike had potential. Specialized gave us another chance to get some time on the e-bike in the mecca of MTB that is Moab. We decided to take them up on the offer for more hot laps on the pedal-assisted machine in a place we had experienced without a motor. AJ Barlas, a ripping, full-time Whistler area resident who was part of Vital MTB's Test Sessions, recounts his first e-bike experience on the Turbo Levo. -gordo

The mountain bike industry has undergone some serious adjustments over the past five or so years. The entire sport has diversified significantly and with every change there has been obvious speculation. While there are still a number of 26-inch wheel die-hards out there, the new geometries available for 29ers have made them loads more fun than when the “26 ain't dead” trend began. Oddly, the 27.5 wheel size seemed to roll into the mainstream with far less objection, and now 27.5+ wheels are marching onto showroom floors to the sound of crickets by relative comparison.

This doesn’t mean all new advances in the bike industry slide through easier than the first major 29er push, and the e-bike is definitely a very contentious topic for the modern biker. Any e-bike-related post by major media seems to wind up with a lot of abuse directed at both the publication and the bike, but is it really necessary? I have been skeptical of the e-bike movement and, quite frankly, have paid it little attention. Why? I think because I’m honestly happy to go out and watch my heart rate climb and enter the spirit world. Up to this point, however, I was also naive and uneducated on the whole segment... until I sat here in Moab.

Since the 29er onslaught years ago, I’ve personally attempted to look at all pieces of equipment within the industry with an open mind. Even if I know that something just isn’t my jam, I’ve learned there isn’t any point wasting time stressing about it. So with this open mind I went to the desert and swung a leg over Specialized’s pedal-assist bike (aka e-bike), the Turbo Levo. This not only meant riding something that I was somewhat skeptical about, but also revisiting a place that I swore I would never return to. Hear me out.

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Rewind Of Regret

I visited Moab for the first time only two summers ago. It was part of a U.S. road trip my wife and I were doing, with the key focus being the Enduro World Series event held in Winter Park. With that race being held in July, it meant that our travels were during the warmest weather periods of the region. Despite this, we figured we would be able to get a good ride in Moab. Looking back, maybe we shouldn’t have even had it on the list of places to hit during the summer.

After a night in the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City, we awoke to realize that we had actually camped in the wrong valley. This resulted in a drive back down toward SLC, skirting its perimeter as we made our way east along the highway before dipping south through the mountains toward Moab. The cold morning in SLC was quickly forgotten when we arrived to the desert heat of Moab. Despite the heat, my stubborn Australian personality kept on with the plan to ride the following day.

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That following morning we rode out from our campsite at 6:15AM in an effort to make the climb up to the beginning of Porcupine Proper before it got too hot. As it turned out, damage control started before we even got to the trailhead, thanks to the combination of heat and the long climb messing with my better half; frustrating her more than I ever could. It wasn’t until we got to the highest point that she really simmered down with the views helping ease the anxiety. Despite the slight mental reprieve, we knew we were in trouble given the heat and the realization that we had a long way to go.

In the end we made it out, and my wife did so in a better state. After five hours riding in the dry, desert heat, three of which were in temperatures over 100 degrees F (40C), I found myself putting on a brave face in an effort to keep the lady happy and her stress levels low. Little did she know that I could feel my tongue swelling which affected my speech. I was a little concerned to say the least. We made it down safely and I pinned it for the Colorado River, dumped my gear and got after that water, uranium and all! Once a little cooled and able to make a little more sense, I bolted ahead to the campsite, drank as much water as I could stand, loaded up the truck and we left town quicker than a caffeine-induced greyhound jumps the gate after that rabbit!

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Needless to say it was a pretty different experience to what most of our mates kept telling us about—one of whom lived in Moab for a good number of years. Whether it was the trail, the heat, or a combination of both, we vowed to never come back as we drove out of town, guzzling chocolate milk and Gatorades (a combination I wouldn’t recommend and another lesson learned!). We felt that although scenic, we had a decent experience to remember and called it "done."

Fast-forward two years and I find myself back in Moab, only this time early in the spring and riding bikes that make the terrain a little more interesting. In a town that has been fairly outspoken regarding their stance toward e-bikes on the trails, here I am swinging a leg over one for the first time and giggling like a little school girl when the power kicks in—all within a half block from the main street. E-bikes, meet America; America, meet e-bikes.

Fast-Forward To The Future

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The weekend prior to our arrival in Moab is when the town's numbers swell and many a local informed our group of the tourist infestation. For the locals, and the folks of Western Spirit, it’s the beginning of "go season." Although it’s early days, we see car after car in town loaded up with bikes. It’s a good feeling knowing that there are this many of “our kind” around at the moment, but I can’t help but wonder whether what we’re here for changes their view of what "our kind" is.

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Despite the town of Moab being generally against e-bikes on the mountain bike trails, the amount of diverse user groups here results in there being as much, if not more, trail available to the e-bike via the multi-use, motorized trails. With 4x4, moto, and quad trail systems in play all over the area, the three trails that we rode—which included the world-famous Slickrock trail—weren’t even the tip of the iceberg. This is important to note, because despite e-bikes being the latest topic for salty mountain bikers to hit the forums armed with all of their keyboard warrior rage, it’s not illegal anywhere that is either designated for motorized use, or on trails that utilize land where a landowner has given permission.

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Still, our group can’t help but feel a little confused by it all when we’re looking for loops that utilize motorized vehicle trails. During the tour on the Specialized Turbo Levo (Turbo being their brand of electric, pedal assist bikes and Levo being the mountain bike category) many "regular" riders were completely unaware that we were on bikes any different to what they were riding. Actually the only time people noticed anything that had them taking a better look was when we stormed past them up the dirt roads, or made it up features that are damn-near-impossible for the mere mortal. That’s where the e-bike is pretty impressive. Outside of these traits, I felt that the Turbo Levo was still a mountain bike, just with a little assistance for, what many feel, is part of the ride only taken (uphills) to get to the goods (downhills).

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I found myself looking at technical and steep features in a completely different frame of mind after only an hour aboard the Turbo Levo. Rather than approaching such features with little enthusiasm, I began scouting for possible ways up. On slightly easier inclines, finding the trickiest, most ridiculous way possible was the play—this all with a cheeky smirk. After two full days and over 62-miles (100km) on the bike, I continued to find myself cackling at the top of such stupidly-difficult features in disbelief that they were now attainable.

The e-bike (and plus-size tires), while not for everyone, can make inclines that are beyond a rider's natural ability completely possible, and the awkward, steep, and rocky multi-use trails of Moab are a perfect location to showcase this. Neither the elevation or the dry desert air were enough to tire us out on the trails and we ended the days with more in the tank than we would have normally. This after pretty much coming from the couch. Was it all easy though? Definitely not!

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Thanks to the motor and the big box section aluminum frame, which also includes an additional aluminum housing to hold the motor, the bike weighs considerably more and requires added effort to muscle it around. Take it to terrain that contains a lot of rough, square edges and drops like Moab, or put it beneath a rider that enjoys picking the bike up often and the realization of how unfit the upper body is sinks in rapidly. For the less-capable rider I don’t think this would be much of a concern, given that they’re not yet looking to move the bike around or ride technical terrain like the majority of you reading this. But if you’re a rider that likes to get zesty and flick the bike on the trail, bring your big guns, because they’re needed.

Even on the climbs, this additional bike weight results in a need for a more demanding technique to get up technical features. Thankfully as long as the cranks are spinning, the pedal-assist motor will keep the power to the floor, and the 27.5 x 3.0-inch tires deliver gob-loads of traction. Just like the rock-crawling 4x4s with their monster rubber seen in the Moab area, the extra volume of the plus-size tires aids in making the seemingly ridiculous possible. In Specialized's configuration, the MTB e-bike experience seems similar to the experience on a trials motorcycle. The climbs become some of the most enjoyable parts of the ride, just lighter, quieter (it’s near dead silent), and without the smell of exhaust. If a trials moto has ever been appealing to you, considering an e-bike isn’t such a bad idea.

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Overall, I had a blast ripping around Moab on the Specialized Turbo Levo, and I think that you’ll soon see these for rent in local shops. They’re a great match for many people visiting, whether a mountain biker or recreational motor vehicle. Personally, I feel like this is the only way I would spend any real time aboard a plus-size bike too. The pedal-assist and tire combination seems to be a match made in heaven, especially when riding in Moab's terrain.

My second experience in Moab was one that I enjoyed far more than the first, and I owe a lot of that to having an e-bike beneath me. I greatly missed the feeling of sliding around in dirt, but the constant surprises on the chunky, ledgy features that the area is known for were very amusing.

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An Eye-Opener, But Not For Everyone

Right now, the Turbo Levo is not for me, but I really learned to appreciate the bike and its capabilities. I had a lot of fun on a genre of bike that I previously had a lot of reservations around. E-bikes aren’t for everyone, that’s without a doubt, but they are a very suitable tool for a number of riders and applications. Who are we (the core MTBers) to sit and force an opinion down the throat of those that want to get their kicks in a slightly different way? If we all focused on our own enjoyment more than something we don’t agree with, everyone would be better off. After all, no one likes having a religion forced upon them, and while regular tires and human-power mountain bikes are my way of life, I, and you, are in no position to tell someone it is the only way. After all, variety is the spice of life, and e-bikes are the latest hot sauce.

At the end of the day the new wave of technology-rich bikes aren’t impacting the trails any more than regular mountain bikes. They’re not likely going away, and they open up our great sport to more people. If everyone were to have a go on one there would be guaranteed moments where the fun meter would be in the red zone, causing many a rider to reconsider their stance on e-bikes.

Get tech with our First Look / First Ride on the Turbo Levo

Learn more about the Specialized Turbo Levo in the Vital MTB Product Guide

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ardor ardor 4/4/2016 9:51 AM

20 comments newest first

I rode won and I reconsidered my opinion. Great article. Thanks for sharing your experience at Moab and on the Levo. Love technology.

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Give him credit for a fare review. Didn't ride illegal trails and acknowledged the pros and cons. I'm not a fan of e-bikes, but no need to rip apart this reviewer. Complain to the editors if you don't want to see ebike reviews on here.

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Bike. Motor. = Motorbike

Should have all the rules attached that any other motorized vehicle has. They DO NOT belong on non-motorized trails. Period.

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You are either pregnant or not, and your bike is either motorized or not. Its a binary, a boolean, an either/or.

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I was in Moab this past weekend, and popped into Outerbike a couple times.
I have to admit seeing so many e-bikes was a little disheartening!

I can see a possible justification for those who may be disabled or otherwise unable to ride a mountain bike...
However, there is absolutely no reason to allow an e-bike out on mountain bike trails... motorized vehicles belong on ATV trails!

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e-bikes are mopeds. literally. not mountain bikes.
That's fine for what it is, but companies and 'writers' need to stop pretending they're not motorcycles.

"Any e-bike-related post by major media seems to wind up with a lot of abuse directed at both the publication and the bike, but is it really necessary? "

Yes. Yes it is. Maybe a vitalmoped.com audience will be more friendly.

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Good article, great perspective. I totally agree that there are many people that would love these and there is no reason they should be "blocked". MTB is about having fun, first and foremost. I would love to rent one of these one day and give it a good crack on the local trails. smile

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I can't even take the rest of this article seriously after your Moab introduction. So lets look into my crystal ball... You decided to pedal the whole Porcupine loop instead of paying for a shuttle = amateur. Based on your dehydration, I can assume you brought maybe a couple water bottles on a 30 mile desert loop = double dangerous amateur move. Ironically your lady was doing better in the hydration department so I bet she a actually brought 3 liters in a Camelbak and despite her insistence you told her you'd "be fine" with less, and then tried to save face when you were facing severe dehydration and heat stroke. Yah, totally Moab's fault.

Here I'll start a review of a DH bike in a similar spirit: "I had to go back to Whistler, a place Id sworn never to return - the first time I went the experience was terrible! We took our XC bikes up A-Line and almost got landed on multiple times! When we descended, it was awful - my Fox 32 and 300g rims snapped in half after airing phat to flat, and my new lycra kit got torn up. I nearly broke my jaw wearing an aero helmet and my knees were all cut up. Not sure why everyone raves about Whistler, after limping to my car and realizing I sliced a sidewall on my 300g XC racing tires, I packed up and left Canada never to return. Anyhow, now Im back to do a review on Diggler mountain scooters!!"

Although this comment will likely go unread, let this be a lesson for anyone new to Moab:

1. "Desert miles count double" - this is a general rule when we go, and it seriously holds true. A 20-mile ride on your local familiar trails is not the same as 20 miles in the desert (even if you lose 3000' vert and its 'mostly downhill'). Prepare to get destroyed riding ledges.

2. Dont be the dumbass that tries to pedal up Sands Flats Road - buy a damn shuttle. The 90's is over and there is nothing to prove by doing the whole loop, everyone who passes you in the shuttle is not impressed. You could also pedal your bike up Whistler instead of buying a lift haul ticket, but why??!? This rule doesnt apply to if youre german and pedal up Burro Pass and then ride Sands Flats back to town.

3. Slickrock is the worst ride in the entire Moab area. Seriously, any other trail is better.

4. Bring a minimum 3 liters water, half ice, plus a bottle or two of Gatorade, plus 2 more energy bars than you think youll eat. People are skeptical but typically we go through all the water and food and after one ride they understand. Better to finish with an extra liter than have a story like the one above.

5. Only Specialized (the Walmart of the bike industry) would be dumb enough to 'test' e-Bikes here - Im sure skipping all the epic trails like Porcupine singletrack and Ahab to compete with rock crawlers on blown out 4x4 trails was great.

Nothing personal to AJ, I just see people do dumb things in Moab every trip and it drives me crazy. You should have me write a Moab prep article, lulz.

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Thanks for your comment, DrewB, and the notes on Moab as well. To be honest, I thought we had prepared well for our ride, but indeed had not. Some notes regarding our experience, however: There were no shuttles the day we set out, and we asked multiple bike shops the day before when we arrived in the early afternoon. The early ride start was actually a suggestion of the staff at the time at Redback Bikes. We were merely going on the local's advice.

We vowed to never return when we left in rough shape. Like anyone that has a bad experience, before time has allowed for ample reflection on it, it's often when the silly statements etc set in. As TimBud said below, it was an anecdote that we (my wife and I) find amusing these days, just like a lot of stupid decisions become.

Oh yah, and you should try Slickrock on an e-bike wink

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Not that I endorse their e-bike bandwagon jump, but I have a Specialized so I somewhat resent that comment... An otherwise well stated argument!
Haibike was also there pushing their own brand of mopeds.

Saw so many people/families out there on their actual Walmart brand townies, no lids, in street clothes, and no hydration packs roaming around on the verge of heatstroke.

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hahaha. spot on. Although doesn't everyone need to get tricked into riding Slickrock once?

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