After several years of slowly converting to e-bikes (I have several electric cargo bikes now), I finally decided it was time to give an electric mountain bike a go. And why not start with one of the best: the Specialized Turbo Levo.
I tested the Specialized Turbo Levo Expert ($11,000), but the bike comes in seven different build levels between $5,800 and $15,000. All have the same frame geometry and motor; they differ in frame material and component build. The higher end models also have a 700wh battery rather than a 500wh battery which means a longer ride time.
Testing the bike was a hoot! For some reason, I thought riding an e-bike would be a lot more effort than it was, but cruising around on the Specialized Turbo Levo was almost no work at all. I ended up riding much further much faster than I would on my regular e-bike, and still felt fresh at the end. The bike was fast, responsive, and a lot of fun.
Review In A Nutshell
- Smooth motor engagement
- Wide range of sizes including small frame sizes
- Adjustable frame geometry
- SWAT tool compartment
- Seven build levels = seven price points
- No noticeable pedal bob
- Can only shift one gear at a time (SRAM XO1 Eagle trigger)
Price: $11,000 (Expert build level)
Electric Assist Makes Riding A Joy
While I do love big lung-bursting climbs and puke-inducing hard rides, they are an acquired type of fun. Type 2 fun if you will. Riding the Specialized Turbo Levo, on the other hand, is just FUN fun.
One of the climbs I tackled while testing the Specialized Turbo Levo is a crazy steep doubletrack. Normally, it either requires a superhuman effort or getting off and hiking. On the Turbo Levo, I simply shifted down, turned up the assist level and powered my way on up.
The Specialized Turbo Full Power System 2.2 motor has a nice smooth engagement, and I never experienced any noticeable on-off sensation. It does, however, make a bit of a humming noise, particularly at higher torques. Never loud enough to be annoying, but loud enough that it would be hard to be stealthy on this bike.
There are three assist levels–eco, trail, and turbo. I found that the middle “trail” setting was my sweet spot, and I spent 90% of my time there. On the steepest hills, I’d switch to turbo but it definitely sucked up battery life fairly quickly.
The power levels are controlled by plus and minus buttons mounted to the handlebar, but the display is integrated into the top tube of the bike. By default, this display shows your assist level, your speed, and the percentage of battery life remaining.
If you want to play around with it more, there are 120 different display configurations you could come up with. My personal favorite data value is the Rider Power Value which shows how many watts you are putting out under your own power. Yes, a built-in power meter!
The 700wh battery, while plenty for a 30 mile ride with a fair bit of climbing, did require me to keep an eye on it. The bike is heavy enough (more on that in a moment), that there was no way I wanted to be caught out on the trail with a dead battery.
The biggest draw to me of an e-bike is the ability to do BIG backcountry rides. To do that, I would need to carry a second battery. It is possible to swap batteries fairly quickly out on the trail, though doing so does require a hex wrench.
Weight Is A Challenge For Smaller Riders
I read other reviews of the Specialized Turbo Levo and while plenty of them mentioned the hefty weight of the Specialized Turbo Levo nobody seemed to mention that that extra weight can present a challenge. Probably because all of those reviewers were male.
For a 125 pound woman like myself, with a fairly petite build, I definitely noticed the extra weight. (My husband who was riding the exact same bike had no problem with the weight).
Unlike most mountain bikes, the weight was NOT noticeable on the uphills. The motor provided more than enough assist to make me forget the extra weight while climbing.
Where I did notice the weight was when trying to maneuver the bike. It was harder for me to negotiate thru technical terrain as well as jumping on fast flowy downhill trails. Additionally, I struggled to push the bike on the those technical sections that I wasn’t able to clear. There is a “walk” setting to help with pushing, but for technical on-and-off sections I found it was a pain to have to switch between walk and pedal mode.
And I’m not alone. When reviewing notes with my mom (who tested the bike separately from me), she found the weight to be a struggle as well.
I think this is something for smaller or less muscular women to consider, especially if you enjoy riding technical or jump trails. For myself, I would opt for the lighter weight Turbo Levo SL, even though it means less power. The weight difference on the SL is significant.
Wide Variety Of Frame Sizes
With the Turbo Levo, Specialized has eschewed traditional frame sizing in exchange for a numbered system. They offer six different sizes (S1, S2, etc) which fit a wide range of riders.
At 5’5″, I rode the S2 and it fit me well. A S1 should fit riders as small as 4’11”. This is a far better range than we see with most bike brands.
Adjustable Frame Geometry And Mixed Wheel Sizes Are Differentiators
There are plenty of electric mountain bikes coming on the market, but the Specialized Turbo Levo is able to really differentiate itself thanks to it’s adjustable frame geometry and mixed wheel sizes. Both are features not seen every day.
Like the new Stumpjumper EVO, the Turbo Levo can change geometry to better suit the type of riding you plan on doing, making this a good “do it all” bike. I tested the bike in the middle, neutral setting (perfect for most riding), but you can also slacken the head angle for more aggressive downhilling, or steepen it for technical climbing. Additionally, the seatstays are adjustable in order to change the bottom bracket height.
The other interesting thing about the Turbo Levo is the “mullet” design with a 29″ front wheel and 27.5″ rear wheel. The intention with this design is to allow the front wheel to easily roll over obstacles while keeping the rear wheel more maneuverable. While this did seem to mostly work, for me, I still felt the weight limited the maneuverability of the bike.
SWAT Tool Compartment
Is a SWAT tool compartment enough reason to choose a bike over another? Well no, probably not, but it is awfully cool.
The Turbo Levo has a hidden compartment in the headset that opens to provide a multi-tool. Tools are always a tricky thing to carry, so this is both a useful and fun feature.
High Quality Component Build
Since there are so many versions of the Specialized Turbo Levo with different build levels, I won’t spend too much time going over components. The important thing to recognize is that, like all Specialized bikes, the brand is able to use their economies of scale to provide really high quality component builds at a lower price than on most bikes.
On the Turbo Levo Expert–that I tested–these components include Roval wheels, SRAM Code brakes, SRAM Eagle drivetrain, FOX FLOAT 38 160mm fork, FOX FLOAT 150mm shock, and X-Fusion Manic dropper. All are high quality and provide an enjoyable ride.
Both the fork and shock felt plush and provided plenty of suspension for anything I was capable of throwing at it. Despite that plush feeling, I never experienced any sort of pedal bob and everything felt stiff when climbing (which I’m really picky about).
My only (very minor) complaint with the build on the Turbo Levo Expert was the SRAM XO1 Eagle trigger shifter which only allows you to shift one gear at a time. There were a couple of times during testing when I wanted to drop several gears quickly and couldn’t with the XO1. I’m sure this is something I’d get used to, and I will admit it provided clean, crisp shifts.
Bottom-Line: The Perfect Mountain Bike For Anybody Who Prioritizes Fun
Specialized is known for leading the pack in terms of both innovation and value in their bikes. The Turbo Levo is no exeception.
This is a class-leading bike, and without doubt, one of the best options for anybody considering adding an electric mountain bike to their quiver. I found the Turbo Levo to be even more fun than I would have expected with smooth power and the ability to handle any climb with ease.
My only caveat is for more petite and lighter weight women who may struggle with the heft of the bike. If that’s you, you may want to consider a lower power, but lighter weight, electric bike like the Specialized Turbo Levo SL or the Orbea Rise. For everybody else, this bike can’t be beat.
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