I have test-ridden hundreds of mountain bikes over the past two decades and generally I avoid knowing two things about a bike while test-riding it – the weight and the price. I prefer to focus on how the bike rides because ultimately, that’s what’s important. I don’t want to be swayed by the knowledge of the weight and the price. I got to ride the new Specialized Turbo Levo last week. It officially launched globally today (23 March 2021). Here’s what I experienced as well as the details on the world’s most advanced production mountain bike.
By Sean Badenhorst
I love test riding eBikes. They make every trail a different riding experience. I obviously expect the pedal-assist to allow me to climb faster and with more aggression. And I hope that it will feel and handle like a regular bike on the descents. Some do. Many don’t.
When I first saw the Turbo Levo Generation 3, the size of the bike made a big impression. It’s tall, with wide bars and big tyres and a Fox 38 fork. You can see it’s built to take on rugged riding and big hits. It’s an absolute beast of a bike.
James and Kylie from Specialized then gave me a run down on the specs. All I wanted to do was touch the bike and ride it. But I listened. Their enthusiasm was infectious and I found myself really paying attention to every spec they mentioned. Normally, I would just nod and seem interested if any bike rundown took that long. But this really is a fascinating bike, which incorporates some ground-breaking technology.
The first ride I did was in Jonkershoek. The trails are closed to the public still while the fire damage is being cleared up, but Specialized’s Bobby Behan had made a special arrangement for this test ride. We climbed up Irish, which is a long singletrack climb with a number of switchbacks. I toggled between Eco, Trail and Turbo as I followed Bobby’s wheel to get a feel for the three assist modes. Freewheeling and braking into uphill switchback turns isn’t something I’m used to but then I’m not an eBike owner, so don’t get to ride them all the time.
The climb was really fun though. I’m not the fastest climber on an acoustic bike but I’m always a committed climber and I thoroughly enjoyed the ascent which challenged my handling skills more than my physiological conditioning. But that’s eBikes, right? They all climb great. Well, all the ones I’ve ridden anyway. The new Turbo Levo S-Works comes with SRAM AXS electronic shifting, which was superb as always, never once giving me any shifting angst. This bike also has an electronic Rock Shox dropper seatpost, which worked well, but is an absolute luxury.
Turning to tackle a few sections of the Armageddon descent got me a little excited. I had done this descent a couple of times before on regular trail bikes and a marathon bike, but not that recently. I know it’s a challenging drop down the valley slope and that it requires maximum focus. I usually always follow a local down his/her home trail, but when Bobby said I should go down first, I was thrilled. Blind-riding descents is probably my favourite thing to do on a bicycle and I had what seemed to be a very well-equipped bike to handle anything.
My one concern as I plunged down the first section of trail was how well the new Turbo Levo would handle tight turns. In my experience, all the eBikes I have ridden have been long and a little cumbersome through tight, fast turns. But after the first few tight turns my trepidation was gone as I really did flick the bike smoothly and fearlessly through them. And it felt so good that I wanted to push even harder and go even faster.
When you’re riding a descending trail blind at speed you need to be really confident in the bike. The further I went down the descent, the more confidence I gained. Drops, roll-downs, jumps, rocks, sketchy surfaces, bermed turns, flat corners – I hit everything with full commitment and the new Turbo Levo just handled everything with composure. Obviously I had both the fork and the shock fully open and put loads of trust in the tyres (2.6 Butcher upfront, 2.6 Eliminator on the rear).
Unfortunately, we couldn’t ride the whole descent because there were bridges burned and fallen trees in the way, but I had enough time to really connect with the new Turbo Levo and its capabilities – and I wanted more. I noticed that I’d used all the available 160mm of travel on the fork and 150mm travel on the shock and was content with the tyre pressure, which at the start of the ride seemed a little hard, but which I appreciated when things got rough.
We then steadily made our way up the Fire Hut trail, which had been cleared and declared safe to ride and that descent, which is far more manicured than Armageddon, saw me pushing the limits a bit more, especially through corners. I was keen to see how much I could really push this bike through sketchy-surfaced turns. How much I needed to put weight over the front to keep from washing out. While there were a couple of nervous moments, mostly because I didn’t know the trail and preferred to under-brake rather that over-brake, the new Turbo Levo left me impressed.
The next day we did a ride from Stellenbosch into the Banhoek Conservancy trails network and back. This was a switchbacks ride of note. Some very tight uphill switchbacks on the Bothmaskop ascent and a series of switchbacks on the descent into the valley on the other side which got progressively closer together as we reached the base – almost like a bent corkscrew.
Then the Bethlehem Farm trails, which are mostly man-made and manicured, but with well-placed gap jumps, wooden berms, and loads of flow, inviting you to just let go but throwing in a challenge from time to time to keep your anticipation gauge at maximum.
All of these the new Turbo Levo conquered with ease. The only time I felt like I was riding an eBike was on some of the jumps, where I had to really boost the take-off quite deep in order to give the bike enough ‘float’ to deliver clean landings. By the time I had followed Bobby back to Stellenbosch, via Bothmaskop, my arms felt more weary than my legs. I would have liked more time to ride the new Turbo Levo so that I could really get to explore all of its features, but two rides did give me sufficient time to explore the bike’s character and most of its limits.
Of the two rides I did, the charge down the Jonkershoek slope on a rugged piece of challenging singletrack was where I really experienced what the new Turbo Levo is capable of. And I’m not the most skilled descender. But I’m above average. There’s so much bike here that not a great number of South Africans will truly get the most out of this bike. But those who buy it, can be sure they are buying the most technologically advanced production mountain bike available currently. Oh, the model I rode, the top-of-the-range S-Works, weighs 21.8kg and costs R240 000 (the Generation 2 version currently costs R223 000). There’s also a new Turbo Levo Pro Carbon that sells for R195 000.
While the Generation 3 Turbo Levo is packed with features, which you can find via this link https://www.specialized.com/za/en/turbo-levo, these are the features that stood out for me from a South African riding perspective.
New, highly adjustable geometry
With a smaller rear wheel, Specialized was able to shorten the rear stays (441mm vs 455mm on the Generation 2) to eliminate the characteristically long wheel base. The frame has been redesigned accordingly and also offers six different geometry settings. Six! Three different headset cups allow you to angle the headtube at 63 degrees, 64.5 degrees (which I rode it at) and 65.5 degrees, while the bottom bracket height can be adjusted, via a flip chip to 7mm higher/lower (I rode it in the high setting).
The new Turbo Levo can cover up to five hours of riding on a single full battery charge. If you know eBikes you’re probably thinking that most modern eBikes can cover close to that in Eco mode on flattish terrain. But the new Turbo Levo is able to do that with authentic gradients and challenging terrain – in other words real mountain biking. Smart Control ensures that the duration of your intended ride is given the appropriate pedal assist support for up to five hours. It works it out based on your ride duration input and ensures you don’t suffer from the dreaded range anxiety.
With Mastermind Turbo Control Unit (TCU), the new Turbo Levo’s ‘brain’, which controls the hardware and software, there’s integration of rider and bike like never before. It allows real-time support tuning, while you’re riding and gives you information via the small screen on the toptube, which is customisable based on which measurements you want to see by default or by scrolling through. You can even pair a heart rate belt to the bike to monitor your ticker’s response while riding. The TCU also integrates with the Mission Control app on your smartphone, where you can customise your Turbo Levo’s performance parameters to your liking, including percentage assistance in each of the three modes. Speaking of modes, there’s a fourth mode on the new Turbo Levo – Shuttle Mode. I never used it, but apparently this is basically your ‘highly assisted’ ride home when you’re shattered.
Mullet wheel configuration
Specialized has designed the new Levo Turbo with a 27.5-inch wheel on the rear and a 29-inch wheel on the front. It’s called a mullet by the industry, which sort of makes sense, but technically, with the smaller wheel at the back, it’s really a reverse mullet… This allows for better handling and I damn well felt the benefits. Not once while riding did I actually think about the fact that the rear wheel was smaller.
Other key stats:
Suspension travel: Front – 160mm, rear 150mm
Motor power: New Turbo Levo delivers up to 565 Watts with 90 Nm of peak torque
Watt Hour battery capacity: 700 Wh for all-day riding
Battery charge time: 5 hours 15 minutes from ‘flat’ to 100%
Range – with 700 Wh battery: ECO MODE 3.5-5.5 hours/50-70km distance/2000-2500m ascent | TRAIL MODE 2-3 hours/30-50km distance/1500-2000m ascent | TURBO MODE 1.5-2.5 hours/25-45km distance/1000-1500m ascent
Sizes: S1, S2, S3, S4, S5, S6
More detailed specs and information here. https://www.specialized.com/za/en/turbo-levo