Toward the end of October when I am usually wrapping up bike reviews for the incoming winter weather in Colorado, I had the opportunity to squeeze in one more with the Specialized Turbo Levo SL. After covering eMTB access issues for more than two years now, I hadn’t actually spent any time riding e-bikes on singletrack. My context was lacking, and it only made sense to really get to know e-bikes on a more personal level.
The new Specialized Turbo Levo SL seemed like the perfect bike to try. To some, an e-bike is an e-bike. To others, an e-bike is a motorcycle. But, for those who can allow themselves to understand the machines more, will find that the SL is a light-duty eMTB. The battery and motor have been scaled down and the geometry is conservative. E-mountain bikes have often been heavy, cumbersome, and long, and the Turbo Levo SL has been designed for a new take.
To give a little bit more context on why the SL is different from the standard Turbo Levo, we have to look at the motors. The Turbo Levo SL has a Specialized SL 1:1 240W motor with a 230Wh battery, compared to the Turbo Levo’s 565W motor and 700Wh battery. The torque rating on the SL is 35Nm, compared to the TL’s 90Nm. By using a much smaller motor and battery, Specialized came up with an eMTB that is almost 10lbs lighter than the Turbo Levo.
The brand’s Turbo Levo and the Turbo Kenevo both have more travel, and eMTBs as a whole seem well-suited to longer travel categories. What’s the worst part about long-travel or downhill bikes? Their climbing capability. Stuff a motor and battery underneath it and suddenly it makes sense to have a 180mm-travel bike around that someone will consider climbing to the top of the trail on.
The Turbo Levo SL approaches the situation differently and is an eMTB made for everyday trail riding. At the front and rear, there is six-inches of travel and 29-inch wheels. Touches like an inline Fox DPS shock, Fox 34 fork, and SRAM G2 brakes are all signs that this isn’t the battering ram of an eMTB that the new Santa Cruz Bullit or the Specialized Turbo Kenevo are, though some of the 2021 SL models do come with a Fox 36.
The 2020 Expert Carbon build I have been testing ($9,025 MSRP) features a set of Roval Traverse carbon wheels, a SRAM GX 12-speed drivetrain, an X-Fusion Manic 125mm dropper post, an alloy Specialized cockpit, and a Specialized Butcher/Eliminator tire combo. On my scale, without pedals and with the Range Extender – a $450 water bottle-sized battery that fits in the frame and adds 160Wh of life – the Turbo Levo SL Expert Carbon weighs 41lbs.
The Range Extender says it’s capable of adding “up to 40 additional miles,” on top of the “up to 80 miles,” of the SL’s main battery. The range as a whole is determined by a lot of different variables from the direction the wind is blowing that day, to the rider’s weight, how they use their gearing, what power mode they use, the terrain, and so on. There are three different modes on the Turbo Levo SL — Eco mode, Trail mode, and Turbo mode — which are controlled by a handlebar remote next to the dropper lever.
As summer wound down, I wasn’t hauling my bike up to the high country for all-day rides. I still had time to ride on the weekends and found my ideal application for the eMTB: leaving my car at home and pedaling to the trails. I live about five miles away from some of my closest trails, so it’s a quick drive but ten miles of commuting by bike to a trail is a long ride on top of the planned singletrack. The eMTB makes pedaling a knobby-tired 150mm travel bike down the paved path much more bearable.
The Specialized SL 1:1 motor kicks in smoothly, without any jerking or unwanted motion or torque. In Eco mode, I’d say it feels like it takes about 25% of the effort away, but I found out quickly that just because there’s some electric assistance underneath, it doesn’t make everything easier. Even though the SL motor easily adapts to the input the rider is giving, going into technical climbs with more power and speed takes some getting used to. In other words, quicker climbing requires quicker handling.
I never felt that I had too much torque though, and clearing rocky climbs is still dependent on the rider’s skill and the gearing that they are in; the SL motor always felt like it was working directly off of what I put into the crankset. Riders can further customize their motor and power output with the Specialized Mission Control app. Peak power, support, and acceleration response can be tuned to extend the range and micro-adjust how the bike feels under power.
I took the SL for some three- to four-hour-long rides at a time, with about 25-30 miles and a few thousand feet of elevation gain, and usually ended with a third or even half of the battery left.
The geometry is conservative, given that the SL is a 150mm travel 29er, but that works in favor of the eMTB. The 75° STA isn’t as steep as other mountain bikes in this travel range, but with the motor I didn’t feel as strained on the climbs as I would with a non-motorized bike with a slacker seat tube angle. The shorter 1,185mm wheelbase and snappy 66° head tube angle gives the SL an agile personality with responsive handling.
For the most part, the Turbo Levo SL still feels like a planted and speed-hungry mountain bike. The SL is light for an eMTB, but at 42lbs. on the trail, is hefty still and made me work a little to get it airborne or to throw it around. I’d liken it to the personality that many enduro bikes have; focused on a straight line, but willing to play. Where the SL’s build kit seemed to be at odds, was near the front end. I can see why Specialized would have initially specced the SL with a Fox 34 to save weight and differentiate the bike from it’s heavier-hitting counterparts, but a 36, though heavier, would make the SL an even more responsive bike and inspire more confidence on the descents, when the heavy bike is taking repetitive head-on hits.
For 2021, Specialized has specced the S-Works and Expert models with a Fox 36 and DPX2 shock, and SRAM Code brakes rather than G2s, upping the price a few hundred dollars.
I would assume that the low-slung weight on the SL helped the bike with its ability to rail corners. It’s a blast around sweeping corners and feels glued to the ground, while the short rear center makes it easy to whip around tighter switchbacks. The 125mm dropper post was noticeably short though and I could feel the saddle hitting me on steeper trails. It also looks like Specialized has updated the latest size medium bikes to come with a 150mm post.
As a whole, the Specialized Turbo Levo SL delivers a unique experience for eMTBs. With a lighter motor and battery, conservative geometry, and the right component spec, the e-bike is agile, light, and seamless. For eMTBs, brands seem to be making bikes in two camps: heavyweight, long-travel bikes with larger motors which equate to an easy-to-pedal downhill bike. Or, like the Turbo Levo SL and new Orbea Rise: a motor-assisted trail bike with lightweight components for riders who want a livelier ride feel. Specialized has done a great job steering the conversation toward the latter.
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