It's Electric! The 27.5+ Specialized Turbo Levo

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<b>A flash in the pan, a gimmick, or just another step in the evolution of bikes that allow you to have more fun?</b>
<b>2 weeks after the World Cup hit Leogang, we returned to these mountains on a whole different mission: ride the Specialized Turbo Levo, an electric pedal-assist mountain bike.</b>
<b>The 2016 Specialized Turbo Levo. 140mm of travel, 67 degree headtube angle, Pike, X01, Reverb...</b>
<b>...and the small matter of a battery and a 250W electric motor.</b>
<b>It may seem far-fetched or downright irresponsible to throw this bike into the metaphorical deep end by riding it straight up a gnarly mountain and expecting it to deal with the kind of terrain normally associated with 8-inches of travel...</b>
<b>...but my experience on the trail is that this bike is eminently capable of looking after itself and its rider. The extra weight (+/- 8kgs or so) actually helps give the bike a very stable feeling, and the rest of the componentry has little to prove. This package delivers riding fun in ways we never imagined. Sam Benedict pictured.</b>
<b>Specialized did not want to force the rider to deal with any kind of power controls on the handlebars. You can operate the bike via this "trail display", 3 buttons and a set of LEDs that help you change power delivery modes and keep an eye on your battery levels.</b>
<b>The Levo will allow you to take on climbs you would previously only have attempted in a lift or on foot. The power delivery is smooth and completely linked to how hard you push on the pedals. There is no throttle of any kind.</b>
<b>To the casual observer, the Levo puts on a good "I'm just a mountain bike" show. And new as we are to 27.5+ tires and electric bikes, in many ways, that is just what it is. A mountain bike with some pretty impressive new capabilities.</b>
<b>From the front, the only thing hinting at something new going on are the 27.5+ tires. When it comes to outright grip and holding a line, this new development is definitely for real. It won't suit every condition and trail out there, but it also outperforms regular tires in certain situations.</b>
<b>Remember how your 2004 DH bike felt when you whipped it? That's pretty much what the Levo feels like in the air. Certainly not a weapon of choice for the air merchants out there, but also not overwhelmed by a few jumps in a bike park either.</b>
<b>Stumpjumper on steroids. At 342-mm the BB sits 7-mm higher than a regular 29er Stumpy, which helps the bike clear obstacles that you might normally strike.</b>
<b>The heart of the beast. Here at Vital we are not exactly experts in e-bikes, but as far as our experience with the Levo goes, we were certainly impressed with the power delivery and what that enabled us to do on the bike.</b>
<b>We rode some very gnarly trails on sight and blind, and the Levo allowed us to get away with a lot. Specialized's Sean Estes leads the author down some rowdy roots, which the Levo simply eats up in stride. -photo courtesy of Specialized</b>
<b>Garmin integration gives you further control over your Levo as well as integration with your navigation. Operate it from the handlebars if you want to, or from the pocket. The functionality offered for the test ride was rudimentary but functional - there's a lot more in store in future versions.</b>
<b>27.5+, 3.0" wide, 800 or so grams, and very much a reason the Levo handles the way it does in the rough. 2 flats for a group of 15 journalists over 2 days in the Austrian Alps is not a bad score, especially considering they were mounted to 44-pound bikes.</b>
<b>Beefed up stays with a brace to help with stiffness. Boost 148 provides the room needed to run the bigger tires.</b>
<b>When they say the bigger contact patch offered by 27.5+ tires helps with traction, they are right. Whilst this shot may be a bit of a ploy, the bigger tires surprised us with their ability to find grip and hold a line over some very rough bits of trail.</b>
<b>Tellingly, there were very few questions at the presentation of the new bikes. Things like geo, travel, weight, etc simply did not enter the minds of those in attendance. At this point, before riding the bikes, most of us were still thinking "gimmick"...</b>
<b>...but that would change once we got a chance to take the bikes to the trail.</b>
<b>See that extra cable? That goes to the trigger of the speed sensor which Specialized has cleverly placed over the rotor bolts - one of which acts as the magnet that triggers the sensor. The sensor is needed to activate the motor, which won't spin up until the bike is actually moving.</b>
<b>Fortunately, the Levo still had its clothes on in the morning...</b>
<b>Integrated chain guide and a narrow wide chainring made sure the chain stayed on for 2 days of rough, Alpine trails.</b>
<b>Specialized geo and unmistakable lineage - the looks grew on us pretty quickly, even with the fat tires and that big motor.</b>
<b>The Pike RC had little trouble keeping up with the extra weight of the Levo. We never felt undergunned with this bike, even when bottoming out front and rear.</b>
<b>The motor and battery are protected by a "skid plate," which we put to the test with a couple of inspired line choices. Test passed.</b>
<b>Being able to remove the battery for charging or swapping for a fresh one on the fly is crucial to the overall ownership experience. Specialized came up with a system that is easy to use, and which seemingly holds the battery very securely in place.</b>
<b>Loosen the retainer bolt and the battery pops right out. Charging the battery from empty to full takes 3.5 hours, and can be done on or off the bike.</b>
<b>New and old workshop friends...</b>
<b>We're most looking forward to the app that lets you control your buddy's Levo... </b>
<b>We were prepared to not like the Levo, instead it opened our eyes to the possibilities now on offer from this new technology. There are many questions to be answered still, but whether or not this is fun to ride is no longer one of them.</b>
<b>As self-proclaimed mountain bike purists, it's hard for us to admit to how much fun we had on the Levo, and not sound like we've been chugging the Kool-Aid. We can only recommend that you try one for yourself, we guarantee it will leave an impression. Available Spring 2016.</b>
<b>We rounded off our Leogang trip with a couple of runs on the regular, non-electric Stumpjumper "6Fattie" (27.5+), and we're happy to report that it takes more than a few new standards and wheel sizes to take the fun out of a mountain bike. This thing is a rocket ship and as for that new tire size...well, there's more to it than just marketing...stay tuned!</b>
Intro Graphic

Electric pedal-assist mountain bikes have been around for a few years now, but it's fair to say that they have not been able to generate much enthusiasm from serious mountain bikers. Now Specialized launches the Levo with the promise of fundamentally rewriting the e-bike rulebook. We headed to Leogang in the Austrian Alps to see whether or not they pulled it off. Check out the slideshow from the launch above, then dig into specs, geo, and first ride impressions below. Also check out the ONE Lap edit from the first ride!

Slideshow feature and photos by Johan Hjord (unless otherwise indicated)

2016 Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Expert 6Fattie Highlights

  • 67-degree head angle
  • 342-mm bottom bracket height
  • 459-mm chainstay length
  • Three-inch 6Fattie tire system with 38-mm internal width Roval rims
  • Rider Experience Tune ("RX-Trail") shock: unique compression tune mated to an unusually light rebound tune and a specific air spring volume
  • ROVAL 38mm internal width rims
  • Command Post IRcc
  • 1x11 drivetrain
  • SRAM Guide four-piston brakes
  • M5 alloy frame with mountain-specific battery mount
  • Trail tuned 250W motor
    • Compact and lightweight @ 3,400g
    • Quiet and fast engagement with focus on smooth disengagement
    • 530W / 90Nm max power output
  • Integrated Li-Ion battery:
    • 504 / 460 wh (S-Works, Exp/Comp)
    • Easy to remove, rattle-free design
    • IP 67 rating against dirt and water contamination
    • Chargeable in 3.5 hours, both on or off the frame
    • ANT+ and Bluetooth capability
    • Rock guard
  • 10 LEDs show battery life in real time (1 = 10%)
  • Three modes: Turbo, Trail, and Eco
  • Communicates with ANT+ to display speed, cadence, rider power, and more
  • LEV devices, like Garmin Edge Touring, display and allow for control
  • “FAKE” Channel for communication
  • Mission Control App for controlling the Levo:
    • Adjustable tuning of motor characteristics
    • Smart Control algorithm allows you to set yourdesired ride time, distance, or location which will then adjust yourLevo’s motor & battery output accordingly
    • Diagnostics system
    • Strava integration & Full Pro navigation
    • Ride history
    • For iOS & Andriod devices
  • Pricing (EUR only, US TBD):
    • S-Works: EUR 8999
    • Expert (as ridden here): EUR 6499
    • Comp: EUR 4999

2016 Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Expert 6Fattie Specs and Geometry

First Ride: 2016 Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Expert 6Fattie

by Johan Hjord // Photos courtesy of Specialized

We arrived in Leogang for the latest Specialized launch not knowing what to expect, mostly because we hadn't been told what we were going to be riding. When the curtains were pulled to reveal an electric, pedal-assist mountain bike, many of us didn't really know what to make of it. Reactions ranged from mild shock to excessive hand-wringing, but we were in the Austrian Alps and the sun was shining, and there's no denying that we were all curious to see what the beast would actually behave like once on the trail.

Aside from the electric part, setting up the Levo was straightforward: adjust controls, set seat height, set sag and dial in your suspension settings - so far, so good. The suspension is specifically tuned to deal with the extra weight of the bike, which makes it all transparent to the rider. You set it up just like you would any other mountain bike. After getting briefed on how to operate the controls of the pedal-assist feature, it was off for a warm-up lap.

Turn on the power supply, choose a mode (Turbo, Trail, or Eco - more on that later), and start pedaling. The pedal-assist kicks in when it senses torque on the pedals, and when it detects forward motion via the speed sensor on the rear wheel. In other words, there is no throttle. This feels like suddenly turning into Jared Graves, with every pedal stroke translating into forward momentum, how much of which depends on your power mode setting. In Turbo, the bikes delivers a surge of acceleration as soon as you start pedaling, while Trail and Eco modes are more subtle. In the base setting, Turbo will deliver up to 100% of the available motor power, while Trail delivers 60% and Eco "only" 30%. It quickly became apparent that even 30% is actually quite a lot, and this became our go-to setting once we learned how to ride the bike.

The torque sensor allows the bike to deliver power to complement your own effort. Power delivery is smooth, and feels very natural after a while. The amount of power on tap is significant, and most of our first ride was spent trying on climbs to see what sort of gradient this thing would deal with. Quite a lot, it turned out. "Steeper than it looks" quickly became "haha well that was easy, are there any more climbs we can try?"

There is no point going up a hill unless you can enjoy it on the way down. We were worried that the bike would be a handful in real mountain bike terrain, but that turned out not to be the case. Once we got into the rowdy Leogang trails, it became obvious that the Levo is a real mountain bike. Having never ridden 27.5+ tires before, they were the first eye-opener. When it comes to traction, they offer it up in spades. But not only that, they are significantly more stable over really rough surfaces than their regular counterparts. We were soon searching for root nests and other assorted nastiness to really go look for the limits of traction, in most cases not finding it.

Additionally, the extra weight of the bike helps keep it really planted. We took on some pretty scary sections of trail on sight, and without exaggeration, we were quite shocked by just how capable the Levo is. The traction is impressive, and the bike sticks to its line no matter what the trail throws at you. We found that we could look further ahead and worry less about what's in front of the wheels, letting momentum and grip carry us through sections we would normally expect to pinball. Perhaps the biggest surprise was how playful the bike is. 44-pounds sounds pretty sluggish, but once this bike gets up to speed, that weight translates into momentum that can be used for fun. See a little root double just after a slow turn? 2 pedal strokes and you can launch over it. See a big rock step in the middle of the climb? 2 pedal strokes and you can pop right up the face of it. Want to hit the bonus lines off the side of the trail? No problem, as long as you keep momentum, the bike reacts surprisingly well to rider input, and can be pumped and jumped much like any other good trail bike. Manualing the bike is however a bit of a chore, both due to the weight and the relatively long chain stays (compared to your normal trail bike).

With regards to power and range, our experience over 2 days showed that the Levo will allow you go much further and higher than you would with a regular mountain bike. This is of course one of the main reasons behind building these bikes in the first place. However, if you use the bike in proper terrain, you'll soon find that you are getting a real workout too, especially if you leave the bike in Eco mode. The thing is, it pushes you to go further, and to try things you would normally ignore. We rode some fairly epic loops with significant amounts of climbing, and the bike came back from a 5-hour alpine adventure with 20-30% of battery power still left in the tank. There are more reasons for using Eco mode than just range though: it is actually the most balanced setting, and the one that allows you to really go for the tricky stuff. Turbo mode is too powerful for most climbs, resulting in spin-outs, and even Trail mode has too much for certain situations. Keep in mind that you are not throttling through stuff, as soon as you stop pedaling, the bike stops pushing, so getting through technical sections whether on the ups or the downs still requires good technique and fitness. You just get more trail for your efforts.

Turning the motor off leaves you with a very heavy trail bike. However, Specialized's motor/crank assembly is frictionless when the motor is not engaged, so it's still possible to pedal the bike home if you should run out of juice. It won't be much fun if there's any climbing involved, but it will get you home. Note that the "Mission Control" app has a nifty tool that allows you to set ride duration, distance, or even location and that will then adjust the power output accordingly to make sure you have enough juice to finish the ride.

As previously mentioned, the 27.5+ tires have a lot to do with the "monstertruck-ability" of the Levo. As newcomers to this wheel size, we took the opportunity to put in a couple of quick reference laps on a non-electric 27.5+ bike, the 2016 Stumpjumper 6Fattie.

After we got over the initial shock of being back on a bike that weighs about 17-pounds less than the Levo, we found that some of the aforementioned characteristics do indeed translate. The bigger tires offer gobs of traction, and lots of extra stability over uneven ground. In the dry conditions we enjoyed throughout our stay in Leogang, we were unable to fault the bigger rubber. Apparently, they can be quite problematic in muddy conditions, but in dry natural terrain or in the bike park berms, they are a lot of fun. We also worried about the fact that they are single-ply only at this point, but we saw only a couple of flats in the riding group over 2 days, which is a very good score given the terrain and the bikes we were riding. And yes, a light, modern trail bike is still the tool of choice if it's outright shredability you're after...

So, It's All Rosy Then?

You'd be forgiven if you thought we're gushing about this new bike. We did not arrive in Leogang with the most open mindset when it comes to electric mountain bikes, if for no other reason than thinking of them as not real mountain bikes. Our experience with the Levo over 2 days proved us wrong. This bike delivers a ride that is fun in ways that a normal bike can never be. When you race your buddies up a 10-minute, root-infested traverse instead of just pushing your bike, that's a pretty big bonus. Especially since you can then enjoy yourself on the way down in much the same way as you would with your normal bike. However, there are unanswered questions and some potential for improvement to point out:

  • What will the extra weight and power mean for durability? Shifting under load is a lot worse on a pedal-assist bike than it is on a regular pushbike, and there were plenty of cringe-inducing "skrunch" sounds from tortured cassettes and chains during the 2 days. You need to think ahead and shift when not under load, which is not always easy to do. In steep terrain, SRAM's Guide brakes were impressively fade-free in operation, but what will all that weight and momentum translate to in terms of pad wear?
  • The bike is very stable when jumping, but there is no denying how heavy it is. Bike park style lips need speed if you want to make backside, since extra pop is hard to come by. And if you like to get sideways, this is not the best tool for the job by any stretch.
  • Moving the bike side to side takes a little more body language. Whether this is a good, bad, or indifferent aspect is really up to each individual rider. Once we adjust our riding style, we were enjoying ourselves on the downs without paying particular attention to this side of the equation.
  • There is no denying the potential for trail conflicts that this technology brings along. When you're suddenly able to climb a trail at speed and have fun doing so, it doesn't take genius to realize that at some point, you're going to run into riders enjoying themselves going down. Additionally, there is no proper legislation to regulate trail access for these types of bikes today, so in many cases they might actually be illegal (if considered a motorized vehicle). Being responsible is all good and well, but given how fun the bike is to ride, it's hard to imagine that everybody is going to abide by the law to the letter and stay off forbidden trails. That issue is not all that different to other types of mountain biking today, but the ebikes could easily further accentuate the problem.
  • Trail erosion can be an issue with this type of bike, especially on climbs.

So there you have it. Specialized promised us a unique experience, and that is what we got. We almost wish the bike would have performed a bit less impressively, to allow us to continue dismissing electric pedal-assist bikes as not real mountain bikes, but that simply wasn't the case. Where this goes from here, and how this new technology will impact the sport as a whole is too early to tell, but we will certainly continue to follow future developments with much interest.

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