Specialized introduced their first electric bike internationally back in 2012, it was a road-only model that turned heads because it was beautiful looking and super quiet. In 2016 they wowed ebike enthusiasts again with their first mountain models in the US including this hardtail called the Turbo Levo Comp 6Fattie. At $4,000 it isn’t the most affordable electric mountain bike on the block but it was designed from the ground up to be a respectable mountain bike first and then thoughtfully-electric. The wires are internally routed, the mid-drive motor completely replaces the bottom bracket and merges with the frame and the battery pack slides up into the downtube. The entire geometry of the bike was built around the added weight and tube sizing and it’s being made available in four frame sizes so you don’t have to compromise body position and comfort if you’re taller or shorter. They even have female-specific electric Turbo models. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a fanboy for Specialized and actually purchased one of the more expensive FSR full suspension models myself in early 2016 because it was one of the first Brose motorized bikes to hit the US and I wanted to see how the motor performed. So far, I’m loving it!
The motor on this thing produces an impressive 90 Newton meters of peak torque output. It’s rated at 250 watts nominal, which is efficient, but peaks out closer to 530. It climbs very well and hasn’t failed me or my friends when riding on actual mountain terrain in Colorado, California and elsewhere. It isn’t as easy to bunny hop or lift when navigating technical terrain but it something you get used to and is applicable to all ebikes (which tend to weigh 40+ lbs). I realize this video review was a bit underwhelming since we just tooled around on the streets of New York City with under-inflated tires but it illustrates an interesting point. The bike blends in and being a hardtail, would work well for commuters. It does’t have a big fancy display that could get scratched at a rack, it has 10 gears so even pedaling unpowered feels comfortable and the all-black frame doesn’t attract unwanted attention from fellow commuters or trail riders. The quick release skewer and bolt-in battery aren’t great for urban parking but the battery can be removed easily enough for charging in-office and the EnergyBus charger uses a magnetic connector that eliminates bent pins and snag drops or trips. I was a bit bummed that the seat stays didn’t have bosses for adding a rear rack but it’s a purist bike… what you do get are a bottle cage with trail tool from the SWAT series and a remote seat post dropper.
Powering the bike up is incredibly fast and simple. Once the battery is charged (on or off the frame) you press the rubberized button on the left side of the downtube to switch it on. At once, it shows 10 LEDs (all green when full and changing to red as 10% increments are expended). Above and below the power button are rubberized up and down buttons that change assist, all of them seem well protected against water and are indented to reduce snags or crushing if the bike tips. It’s a simple, rugged and non-distracting design for the rider but ironically garners interest and attention from passers by. It’s one of the areas I’d like to see addressed with the app. I’d like to be able to turn off the side LED lights! The fact that this electric bike (and all newer Turbo models) are compatible with a “Mission Control” app and that it works on select Garmin devices is a huge win which offers some unique abilities that very few other ebikes have. And ultimately, even if LED light control isn’t one of them, it’s an issue that black electrical tape fixes easily enough. While the app sort of makes up for the lack of a more traditional bar-mounted ebike LCD display it doesn’t completely address the need to bend over in order to change assist levels (of which there are 3). The app lets you tune acceleration, torque and power for the second level of assist as well as record rides in an e-bike are of Strava. You can search and plot courses with GPS and even tell the bike to “get me there and back without draining the battery” to help reduce range anxiety. In my own experince, the app is cool but not something I use regularly. One of the biggest reasons is that it requires Bluetooth and uses GPS while also illuminating my screen and there is no USB charging port on the bike to offset that drainage. The secondary reasons I don’t frequently use the app are that my phone is huge and I don’t want to mount it to my bars and that sometimes when I’m trail riding I don’t get good reception so the GPS features are useless anyway. One approach is to set the custom performance levels with the phone then just toss it in a bag or pocket the screen off. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s nice to have an app and I LOVE that my Garmin can control it vs. my phone but I don’t use it for much beyond tuning.
At the end of the day, this is what I would consider a premium cross country or trail style electric mountain bike. You can definitely spend more and get higher capacity batteries, full suspension or a fat tire version for sand and snow (all other models in the Turbo lineup) but for many riders the Comp level and hardtail design is great for what it is. It’s the kind of technology that is fun, can help overcome injuries, is a capable commuting platform because of it’s excellent range and app route planning performance and it doesn’t stand out. It’s not as comfortable as the FSR full suspension models but with plus size tires this is still more comfortable than average. As an owner of a Levo I still have an unpowered mountain bike, it’s a Specialized Stumpjumper, that is way lighter and tons of fun in its own ways. The Turbo Levo Hardtail ebike has been designed as a bicycle first with all of the same hardware and accessories as similar unpowered models but it simply takes you further. It’s as easy to tune and upgrade as the other Specialized models and shops aren’t as put off or intimidated by it as some other electric bicycles but it still has cutting edge technology there, sort of set off on its own, meant to “just work” without a whole lot of thought. Someday you might need to replace the battery pack, or even want to upgrade the battery to a larger capacity, but the motor is very durable and should just work. It’s exciting to see more companies stepping into the space, really investing themselves and showing what’s possible now. On the one hand I missed some of the little extras found on electric-first ebikes like a USB charger, display, rack options etc. but these are not items you’d find on a normal mountain bike and I respect that Specialized set them aside and made something more pure here with the Levo.
- The bike looks beautiful in all-black, I love that it hides cables and that they ship it with optional stickers so you aren’t overwhelmed with colors and patterns if you don’t want them
- It’s becoming more common but this is one of the few electric bikes that has bottle cage bosses and the Specialized Z-Cage works great with side-mounting bottles, you could also use it for a folding lock or mini-pump mount, I like that the bike comes with the cage AND a little tool at the bottom (part of the SWAT series of accessories)
- Beautiful battery and motor integration, both are positioned low and center for improved balance and handling
- This is a relatively quiet and stealthy electric bike, great for riding on trails where some riders might not be as receptive to ebikes, it’s a Class 1 so allowed in more spaces than any other type of electric bike (pedal assist only, 20 mph max speed)
- At $4k this isn’t exactly a cheap electric bike but it’s the entry price point for the Turbo Levo series and it comes with a great warranty, dealer support (from a wide network of dealers) and is made in four sizes so the overall experience should be great
- The plus sized tires improve comfort by adding cushion and in my experience they grip well and handle soft surfaces excellently, they do increase drag a bit but the motor and battery make that a non-issue
- Sturdy thru-axle design for both wheels increases stiffness and manages trail and mountain terrain properly, the bike is actually a mountain electric bike and not a converted regular bike where they just slapped on a motor, the frame geometry is specific
- I’m a big fan of the seat post dropper, it’s not as fancy as the higher-end Levos with internal routing but it still works well
- I wouldn’t call this bike super light weight at ~49 lbs but it uses high quality Specialized M5 Aluminum and the RockShox air fork is lighter
- Extra large 200 mm hydraulic disc brakes front and rear for improved stopping power and smoother more controlled stops
- This is one of the few electric mountain bikes I’ve tested that has bumpers to prevent oversteer and frame contact of the fork (since the downtube is a bit longer), nice little touch and another “purpose built” feature
- In addition to the mobile phone app (iOS and Android), you can actually download a special app to some Garmin devices and use them to adjust bike performance and battery use so you arrive without fully expending the charge, it connects with a special ebike area of Strava as well
- The battery integration looks great and the pack doesn’t rattle but it really isn’t “locked” into the frame, a standard hex wrench bolt holds it in place… at least you don’t have to worry about losing the key but a thief could get at it easier and they cost a lot
- The simple LED side display concept makes good sense for mountain biking because it keeps the bars clear and there’s less to break if you crash but the lights can garner unwanted attention, this is something I’d like to have an option to disable in the app, some people use electrical tape to cover them
- Without a standard LCD computer screen or clicker buttons at the bar you don’t get the same feedback about speed, range or battery and aren’t able to adjust on the fly without taking a hand off the bar (or stopping completely to reach down to the buttons on the downtube)
- No rack bosses on the seat stays means you have to resort to more expensive, less sturdy racks if you want to use this for urban riding during the week… or wear a backpack, the beam rack option would also raise the seat post dropper (do not mount it to the sliding part of the seat post)
- The Brose motor system is compact, quiet and responsive (with cadence and assist sensors) but doesn’t offer shift sensing so you can mash gears and wear the chain faster if you don’t pedal and shift carefully (just let off a bit and ease the motor out when shifting)
- Specialized opted for a more compact, smooth look at the bottom bracket so you’ve just got a thin plastic shield around the motor vs. a tougher, possibly easy to replace metal skid plat seen on some of the other bikes… just a different approach and probably fine for cross country riding, I believe there is a sticker protector for the downtube
- Considering the large capacity of the battery pack and the ability to sync the bike with apps and select Garmin devices it would be nice if there was a USB charging port somewhere so you don’t drain your portable device using wireless and GPS featuers