Specialized Levo SL Expert review

Specialized's superlight Turbo Levo SL is not for lazy e-bikers

GBP £7,499.00 RRP
Specialized Turbo Levo SL climbing
Pros: Instantly familiar trail-bike handling; one of the smoothest, most refined motors on the market; impressive range while being much faster than a regular bike
Cons: Some components, especially the fork, compromise performance for gram-counting; harder work / won't keep up with full-power e-bikes on steep climbs
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While most full-suspension electric bikes weigh well over 20kg, the new stripped-down Levo SL weighs as little as 16.9kg (S-Works model, size small). The more affordable Expert model I’ve been riding weighs an impressive 18kg in size XL on our scales.

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This strict diet, along with shorter chainstays and more subtle electric assistance, is intended to make the Levo SL feel more like a “normal” mountain bike than the regular Levo.

Like the Lapierre eZesty, it’s one of a new breed of e-bikes designed for people who don’t need all the assistance of a full-power e-bike, but want something that’s more similar to an analogue bike in both weight and handling. But has Specialized gone too far with the weight loss?

Specialized Turbo Levo SL S-Works
The S-Works model weighs a claimed 16.9kg in size small or 17.3kg in large.
Etienne Schoeman

Specialized Turbo Levo SL technology

The Levo SL is a 150mm-travel trail e-bike with 29in wheels. It shares much with the regular Specialized Turbo Levo, but weighs around 4kg less. Specialized has achieved this by shrinking the battery capacity to 320Wh (from either 500Wh or 700Wh) and by using a smaller motor that weighs just 1.9kg.

Specialized’s SL1.1 motor is shared with the Creo e-road bike and was developed with both bikes (and perhaps future models) in mind. Because it’s more compact than other frame-mounted engines, this has allowed Specialized to shrink the chainstay length from 455mm to 437mm. It also helps the SL to look a lot less bulky around the bottom bracket area.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL motor
The minimalist motor is both light and compact, helping maintain a sleek look.
Etienne Schoeman

Of course, there is a compromise of shrinking the motor. Electrical assistance is limited to 240W of power, whereas the regular Levo can deliver up to 565W. This makes the riding experience quite different to full-power e-MTBs.

However, this modest power helps eke out an impressive range from the small battery since the rider is forced to do more of the work.

Specialized says it’s worked hard to improve the efficiency of the motor – which is thanks in part to a system of spur gears that allow the electric motor to spin 50 times faster than the crank – and the system offers maximum power and efficiency between 50 to 130 RPM at the crank.

Specialized SL1.1 motor
The SL1.1 motor’s three-stage gearing provides a 50:1 ratio between the motor and the crank with a claimed overall efficiency of 85%.
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

Specialized Turbo Levo SL range

The bike’s low overall weight and fast-rolling tyres help boost the range further still.

After testing the bike in South Africa, I managed about a thousand vertical metres from a full battery, in ideal conditions (dry trails and warm weather), using mostly the highest assistance mode. Specialized says the internal battery will last for approximately 3.5 hours ride time in Eco mode.

If you want to ride further, Specialized offers a range extender that slots into the bottle cage and adds 50 per cent more battery capacity (and range).

This comes as standard on the S-Works model, but costs £300 /$450 as an aftermarket option, and weighs about a kilo. The added extender range is comparable to a full-size e-MTB, albeit with a bit more effort required from the rider.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL range extender
The range extender clips securely into the charging port and boosts range by 50%.
Etienne Schoeman

I was initially concerned that the range extender might fall out of the bottle cage, like so many water bottles, but this wasn’t an issue, even after rattling the bike down some rough terrain.

According to Specialized, because the cable tethers it to the bike, combined with the side-entry bottle cage, it makes dropping the range extender a non-issue.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL assistance modes

Specialized’s Mission Control app allows you to fine-tune the level of assistance in each of the three modes. You can also tell the app how far and how high you want to ride, and it will automatically adjust the assistance to get you to the end without running out.

Cleverly, the app uses the barometer in your phone to measure elevation changes, along with the bike’s inbuilt odometer to measure distance. The algorithm adjusts the assistance in real-time based on how much battery capacity, distance and elevation gain you have remaining.

You can even use the app to set a target heart rate and the bike will provide more assistance if your heart rate goes above this number or drop the assistance when it gets too low. This could be useful for those who want to train in a specific heart rate zone.

Alternatively, you can just push the “on” button on the top tube and go. You don’t even need the bar-mounted controller or head-up display if you want maximum simplicity.

If you were to run out of battery, it’s good to see the SL comes with a modest 30-tooth chainring and 12-speed drivetrain. This makes climbing without assistance far easier than most e-bikes, which usually sport big chainrings and smaller cassettes (as well as more weight).

The motor disengages when it’s off or above the assistance speed limit, so there’s only a 3W (claimed) drag penalty over a conventional bottom bracket.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL drivetrain
12-speed gearing and a 30-tooth chainring make the prospect of a flat battery less daunting.
Etienne Schoeman

Specialized Turbo Levo SL specification and pricing

There are four models in the Levo SL range: the S-Works Turbo Levo SL, Turbo Levo SL Expert, Turbo Levo SL Comp Carbon and entry-level Turbo Levo SL Comp.

The cheapest Turbo Levo SL Comp uses an alloy frame, while the rest are full-carbon.

All bikes use a Fox 34 fork and Fox DPS shock, SRAM G2 or Guide trail brakes, and SRAM Eagle 12-speed drivetrains. All of which are standard fare on modern trail bikes, but lighter-duty than the components you’ll typically see on e-MTBs.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL Comp alloy
The Comp alloy model comes in at under £5k.
Etienne Schoeman

All models have Specialized’s SWAT multi-tool hidden in the steerer tube and water bottle cage fitted.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL pricing

  • Specialized S-Works Turbo Levo SL: £10,999
  • Specialized Turbo Levo SL Expert: £7,499
  • Specialized Turbo Levo SL Comp Carbon: £5,999
  • Specialized Turbo Levo SL Comp:  £4,999
  • Range extender battery: £300

A limited run of 250 “founders’ edition” SL bikes will also be made, featuring snazzy paint, a custom saddle, and even higher-spec components than the S-Works model. Pricing is TBC.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL Expert
The Expert model I tested boasts a carbon frame and wheels for £7,499.
Etienne Schoeman

Turbo Levo SL Expert first ride impressions

The Turbo Levo SL Expert’s motor is impressively smooth and refined. There’s no discernible lag when you start or stop pedalling and the power delivery is smooth and predictable: there’s no delayed kick as the electric torque engages like you get with some motors.

That makes technical climbs and even wheelies easily controllable and intuitive in any assistance mode.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL climbing
The Turbo Levo SL has easily manageable power delivery for tricky climbs.
Etienne Schoeman

Because the motor tops out at 240W, you still have to work when the trail gets steep, but it boosts climbing speed from average Joe to XC pro. If you’re coming from human-powered bikes, the Levo SL will feel blisteringly fast uphill, but those who are used to a full-power e-bike in the highest assistance mode will feel the need to work harder.

For gentler terrain, the 240W of assistance feels more than enough, but you may miss the grunt of a “proper” e-bike in steep and technical climbs. The 2.3in tyres aren’t as easy to manage on loose climbs as fatter tyres either, so if you ride the SL with full-power e-bikes you may get left behind.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL loose
The 2.3in tyres are great for smoother terrain and boost road-range, but are fiddly on loose climbs.
Gary Perkin

When descending, the short back-end and low overall weight make the handling virtually identical to an acoustic trail bike; you could almost forget you were riding an e-bike when you’re not pedalling. Even manualing, bunny-hopping and jumping are barely harder than with a regular trail bike. The Levo SL is very easy to get used to and ride dynamically.

This isn’t surprising when you consider that the geometry is almost identical to Specialized’s Stumpjumper trail bike, and the fact that a little more weight isn’t necessarily a bad thing when descending.

At 190cm tall, I would have preferred a bit more reach to feel comfortable descending at speed. But for a trail bike, the handling is well-balanced and easy to get used to when riding mellower terrain.

Specialized’s Grid Trail tyres appear to be an improvement on the puncture-prone Grid tyres we’ve become accustomed to seeing on Specialized bikes. I suffered no punctures after three days of riding rocky trails, and while I’d prefer SRAM’s Code brakes, its G2 trail brakes worked well enough in this case.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL turnbar
The handling is very playful and intuitive, if not the most confidence-inspiring on rough terrain.
Etienne Schoeman

However, the weight savings have gone too far with the Fox 34 fork. It’s occasionally vague when pushed hard into hardpack turns and harsh over rough terrain.

The Fox DPS shock is overworked too, becoming noticeably firmer and faster towards the end of long, rough descents. Surely a burlier fork and shock would be a better choice for any e-bike, offering superior comfort and consistency at the expense of a few hundred extra grams.

It’s on smoother trails where the Levo SL is in its element. Here, it’s refreshingly intuitive and natural to ride, both uphill and down. It could be a good choice for those who need help to keep up with faster riders or squeeze more laps into their schedule, but otherwise want the most unadulterated ride-feel possible.

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Specialized Turbo Levo SL early verdict

If any e-bike can claim to handle like a conventional trail bike, this is it.

Product Specifications

Product

Price GBP £7499.00
Weight 17.3kg (Large)
Year 2020
Brand Specialized

Features

Features • Rims: Roval Traverse Carbon 29. hookless carbon, 30mm inner width • Hubs: DT Swiss 370, three-pawl system. SRAM XD driver body • Spokes: DT Swiss Industry • Battery: Specialized SL-320 fully integrated, 320Wh • SWAT: Specialized Z Cage Swat CC Multi Tool in steerer tube without chain tool
Brakes SRAM G2 RSC, 200mm/180mm rotors
Cranks Praxis, custom offset, 170mm arms, SRAM X-Sync Eagle chainring, 94 BCD, 30t
Fork Fox Performance Elite 34 Float 29, FIT4 damper, 51mm offset, three-position adjustment, 15 x 110mm, tapered alloy steerer
Frame 29 Trail Geometry, integrated down tube battery, enclosed internal cable, Command Post routing, 148mm spacing, fully sealed cartridge bearings, 150mm travel
Front derailleur SRAM GX Eagle, 12-speed, 10-50t
Grips/Tape Specialized Trail Grips
Handlebar Specialized Trail, 7050 alloy, 8-degree backsweep, 6-degree upsweep, 27mm rise, 780mm, 31.8mm clamp
Motor Specialized SL 11. custom lightweight motor
Rear derailleur SRAM GX Eagle, 12-speed, 10-50t
Rear shock Fox Float DPS Performance, three-position adjustment 52.5 x 210mm, Rx Trail Tune
Saddle Specialized Bridge Comp, hollow cr mo rails. 155/143mm
Seatpost X-Fusion Manic, infinite adjustable, two-bolt head, bottom mount cable routing, remote SRL LE lever, 34.9mm. S 125mm, M/L 150mm, XL 170mm
Stem Specialized Trail, forged alloy, four-bolt, 5mm rise, 40mm
Tyres Specialized Butcher (f) / Eliminator (r), GRID TRAIL casing, GRIPTON compound, 29 x 23in