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Review: 2020 Specialized Levo SL eMTB powers up big days on big trails

review of the new specialized turbo levo sl
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The new Specialized Turbo Levo SL just changed the game for e-mountain bikes by introducing a much lighter motor and battery system, but how does it perform on the trail? Did we miss the extra power? Or prefer the lighter weight? Or both?

After five massive rides in three days, the Levo SL proved two thing for sure: First, that you can absolutely crush two monster rides in one day when you’ve got a little assist. And second, that after three days of big mountain riding, it doesn’t matter how much assist you’ve got, you’re gonna be tired. Fortunately, the bike was up to the task in all respects. Here’s how it went…

We were invited to Cape Town, South Africa, to ride the new Levo SL in the amazing trails around Stellenbosch. It’s a vast network with a mix of fast, flowing sections, rocky tech sections, narrow cliff-side traverses, and the kinds of climbs that would make you want to quit. In this video, we’ll show you how the new Turbo Levo SL handled all of it, with some very cool tech features hidden inside it’s design. For action photos and a few more thoughts, keep reading…

A smaller motor does not a weak bike make

review of the new specialized turbo levo sl
This photo & feature photo: Justin Sullivan

Our rides started around 9am each day, the first day with only the standard battery charged up inside the downtube. We ended, hours later, with a few bars showing on the display…plenty of reserve for at least another 45 minutes of play.

With the Extended Range battery pack installed, there was literally no reason not to head out for a full day on the trail. Even using Turbo mode nearly the entire time, I barely edged past half full during a 3+ hour ride.

Which was perfect for the flatter, rolling section in the valley between trails. And for the long, sustained climbs that snaked their way up the mountains. You know, the kind of long, leg sapping climbs that you simply put your head down and endure. But not with this bike.

how does the turbo levo sl handle for an e-mountain bike
Photo: Gary Perkin

Despite the smaller motor and battery pack (get the full tech specs in this post), the Levo SL powered my nearly 200lb rider “system” weight right up the climbs. On most of them, it had the juice to turn it into a rally, presenting new skills challenges in the switchbacked ascents.

Indeed, there was no lack of power from the reduced-output system. Not as much power as the regular Levo, but more than enough to provide hours of fun and dramatically extend the time and range I could experience on a bike. Which is kinda the point of this model…to offer anyone the ability to both get a workout, challenge their skills, and make it possible to double or even triple your ride time on a given day.

Mission accomplished on that front, but was it any good on the descents?

Taking the Levo SL down the mountain

is the specialized levo sl e-bike a good enduro mountain bike
Photo: Etienne Schoeman

With 150mm of travel front and rear, the Levo SL tackled some chunky terrain. Big, loose rocks, bigger fixed rocks, and plenty of drops and jumps gave it ample opportunity to shine. Much to my delight, especially for such a technical location, I emerged unscathed. Which is actually saying quite a bit considering I was riding an unknown bike (quickly) on unknown trails with unknown tires (those are new, too, more on those soon). And on a bike that’s at least 60% heavier than what I’m used to. Which means I should have gotten fatigued and probably crashed at least once. But I didn’t. Which is at least partially credited to the bike handling the terrain quite well.

Photo: Gary Perkin

By Day Three, I felt quite at home ripping the Levo SL through the tougher lines. It’s a credit to Specialized that they were able to get the chainstays so tight on a bike with a motor. The benefit is snappier handling, tighter cornering, and basically a bike that feels a lot more like what we’re all used to.

The rest of the geometry seemed dialed, letting me rail berms as hard and fast as I trusted the rubber to hold. Front-to-rear balance was good, too. It was easy to keep enough weight on the rear tire for climbing without lifting the front end up. And it was equally easy to get off the back on descents without ever feeling like I was going to go over the bars.

Motor or not, the bike has great angles for just about any type of all-mountain riding.

But will it jump?

test ride review of the new specialized turbo levo sl eMTB
Photo: Etienne Schoeman

Judging by some of the Specialized crews’ talents, yes, it’ll jump just fine. They were launching off everything, but most also had at least 3-5 more days on the bikes than I did.

I’m not much of a jumper to begin with. But I’m getting better, and can generally nail the non-gap jumps and some trickier jump-to-berm whips here and there. But I couldn’t quite get the hang of this bike in the air yet. It’s not just the extra weight, it’s being able to feel where that weight’s center of gravity is and how it’s affecting the bike in air that’s tricky. And since I really, really didn’t want to wreck before nearly 24 hours of flights home, I stayed mostly low on this trip.

That said, by the end, I was hitting some of the smaller ones and feeling comfortable. I suspect it’s just a learning curve.

The lightweight that punches like a heavyweight

where to ride mountain bikes in stellenbosch cape town south africa
We started down there, rode up here, descended back down there, then rode up the other side…no biggie.

Overall, the Levo SL was a blast. The motor really is just here to make your rides longer and bigger, and by the end of day three, I was crushed. I’ve never slept so much on planes than I did on the way home from this trip.

What’s particularly intriguing to me about this one is that it can easily bridge the fitness gap between friends and family. I can imagine my kids hopping on this and keeping up. They’ve got handling skills, but I’m way faster. It would certainly up the fun factor for them, which in turn ups the fun factor for me.

The system was rock solid, even with the Extended Range battery nestled into the water bottle cage. Nothing rattled or seemed loose. Traction on the climbs and descents was rock solid. Even the FSR suspension behaved well, with little discernible pedal bob. I left the shock in “Descend” mode virtually the entire trip and never felt like suspension movement was robbing me of power. Sure, the motor helps a lot with that, but I really couldn’t even notice excess motion back there.

If you’ve been holding out on e-Mountain Bikes because they’ve been heavy, unwieldy, or just plain ugly, the Levo SL is worth a test ride. I kinda want one. I mean, for my kids, of course…


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Richard Anderson
Richard Anderson
4 years ago

Only $27k for the founders edition. Ouchie

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