First Look | The Specialized Levo SL Represents A New Class Of e-MTB

The New 2020 Specialized Turbo Levo SL Has Arrived!

Today Specialized launches the latest addition to its Turbo electric mountain bike lineup. Called the Turbo Levo SL, this is a brand new full suspension e-MTB that joins the existing Levo and Kenevo models. Upon first glance, the Levo SL looks pretty much identical to the current Levo. Indeed both bikes are built around 29in wheels, 150mm of travel, and the distinctive Sidearm silhouette. With the exception of the chainstay length, even the geometry is the same.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl
The new Levo SL has arrived!

Where the two bikes differ significantly though is in the chassis, and in the power plant. The key story with the Levo SL is that it’s built around a unique motor and battery system, which sees complete bikes coming in four whole kilograms lighter than the regular Levo. That’s a big deal in the e-MTB world, and Specialized knows it. In typically humble fashion for the Californian brand, it isn’t calling the Levo SL the lightest bike in its class, but rather a bike that’s “in a class of its own”.

To find out whether the Levo SL is as good as Specialized says it is, let’s take a closer look at what makes up this new high performance e-MTB. If you want to skip the details to hear about how it actually rides though, be sure to check out our first ride review of the 2020 Specialized Levo SL Expert Carbon here.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike sl 1.1 engine motor
Inside is Specialized’s very own SL 1.1 motor.
2020 specialized sworks turbo levo sl
Upon first glance, it has a striking resemblance with the current Levo. There are some big differences though.

10 Years In The Making

With most brands now onto their 2nd, 3rd and even 4th generation e-MTB platforms, the market has largely been trending towards more powerful motor systems and bigger battery packs. But while others are pursuing more power, more range, and more travel, Specialized has also been thinking about going the other direction for some time.

The original Turbo development project was first established back in 2010. Not even a year in, the team was already pondering the idea of building a lighter and lower-powered e-MTB. Every brand wants its e-MTB to ride like a ‘regular’ mountain bike, but the handling can only be so close when you’re carrying around an extra 8-10kg of mass.

To test the theory, Specialized’s engineers took out first generation Turbo Levo prototypes around spring of 2014, and detuned the motor’s power output to simulate using a smaller and less powerful motor. They then removed the internal batteries altogether, pushed them up a local mountain range nearby the Swiss office in Cham, and rode them downhill to evaluate how a lighter e-MTB would perform on the descents. They liked what they rode.

specialized turbo levo emtb electric mountain bike
The first generation Turbo Levo was a popular bike for Specialized, and introduced many new riders to the world of e-MTBs.
2019 specialized turbo levo
The 2nd generation Turbo Levo is currently one of the best e-MTBs on the market. Specialized has had something else cooking too though.

Could Less Be More?

Going beyond the in-house test team, focus groups were then established to find out what e-MTB owners (and non-owners) wanted from the riding experience. The biggest takeaways from those focus groups? That most riders just weren’t using the full Turbo/Boost mode on the trail. Not only that, they were also finishing their rides with quite a lot of juice left in the tank.

This feedback was validated with data provided by the company’s own Mission Control smartphone app, which Levo and Kenevo owners use to control power output and manage the range of their bikes. There are now close to 100,000 people using the app, which has provided Specialized with invaluable data on average ride distances, elevation profiles, what assist modes riders are using, and how much power they’re consuming on an average ride.

From all this data, Specialized’s team determined that a significant portion of e-MTB riders were hauling around over-powered bikes with far larger batteries than they actually needed.

focus jam2 emtb electric mountain bike
In 2016, Focus launched the JAM² – a full suspension e-MTB that featured a much smaller bespoke 378Wh battery pack to help it edge closer to the 20kg barrier.

The Competition – Focus & Lapierre

This was something that German brand Focus hit on when it launched the original JAM² back in 2016. A bike that was perhaps ahead of its time, the JAM² came with a much smaller and lighter 378Wh battery that allowed the complete bike to edge much closer to the 20kg barrier than anyone else at the time.

While the overall bike weight was lower, the Focus JAM² was still built around the same Shimano STEPS E8000 motor as its competitors, which ultimately consumes the same Watts-per-hour regardless of the size of battery it’s plugged into. Focus was on the right track, but it could only achieve one part of the equation with an off-the-shelf motor. It’s a bit of a chicken & egg scenario, since you can’t really have one without the other. In order to really get the weight down and improve efficiency, you need to change both the chicken and the egg at the same time.

Lapierre has more recently hit on a similar chord with its eZesty, though went one step further with the lightweight and fully removable Fazua Evation motor and battery system. The Fazua motor is less powerful than a Shimano/Bosch/Brose equivalent, but it still has a 400W peak power output and 55Nm of torque. Likewise, its battery is much smaller at 252Wh. The minimalist approach sees the whole system coming in at just 4.6kg, resulting in complete bike weights as low as 18.5kg for a 150mm travel full suspension e-MTB.

2020 lapierre ezesty ltd ultimate
With its smaller Fazua motor and removable 250Wh battery pack, the new Lapierre eZesty drops weight even further, creating a new hybrid e-MTB category.

We haven’t ridden the eZesty ourselves, but we’ve heard good things from others who have. At the very least, its existence helps to legitimise the idea of a new class of lighter weight and lower powered e-MTBs.

In 2016, the lead engineers behind the SL project, Marco Sonderegger (Turbo Product Manager), and Jan Talavasek (Turbo Engineering Director), took this idea to HQ. Of course Specialized’s engineers knew they could make a light chassis, but they would still be constrained by the size and weight of off-the-shelf motor and battery systems available to them at the time. While the Fazua system was an option, the performance, weight and packaging didn’t quite tick all the boxes. Marco & Jan’s answer to the power vs weight conundrum was to build their own motor – an enormous and potentially risky investment for any bike company.

Specialized clearly believed in the concept though, and the project was given the green light. Shortly afterwards, a dedicated Turbo development centre was established in Cham, Switzerland. The facility now boasts over 35 engineers who are solely dedicated to developing e-MTB components and software, which is now starting to bear some serious fruits.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike sl 1.1 engine motor
Inside the Levo SL is a brand new motor designed and engineered by Specialized.

The New SL 1.1 Engine

The result of this huge investment is Specialized’s own SL 1.1 motor system. This motor was first implemented in the Creo e-Road bike, which Specialized launched last year. The Levo SL uses exactly the same motor and battery as the Creo.

Weighing in at 1.95kg, it’s over a full kilo lighter than the Brose-manufactured 2.1 motor found in the regular Levo. To put the weight into perspective, both the Levo SL’s motor and battery combined are lighter than the Levo’s motor alone.

As well as being lighter and more compact, the Levo SL’s motor is also less powerful. It has quite a lot less torque (35Nm vs 90Nm), and peak power output is under half that of the Levo (240W vs 565W). According to Specialized however, the SL 1.1 motor is drastically more efficient, which means it gobbles less Watts-per-hour in the first place.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike sl 1.1 motor engine
The SL 1.1 motor is lighter and more compact than the Brose-manufactured motor inside the regular Levo.

Compared to the Levo’s belt-driven motor, the Levo SL uses a more compact gearbox design. It spins faster too, with a drive ratio of 1:50 compared to the Levo’s 1:27. Because of this, it has a higher-pitched whine that is more noticeable when riding, even if the actual decibel output is supposedly the same between the two motors.

Support across a wide range of cadences was particularly important to the engineering team. They claim that other motors on the market, like the Fazua Evation motor, would lose support dramatically when cadences reached 80-90rpm. During testing though, they found that a mountain biker’s cadence could briefly spike to 140-150rpm, say when stabbing on the pedals out of a corner, or on a technical climb when you’re faced with a steep rock face that you need to quickly accelerate up and over the top of. The SL 1.1 motor is designed to provide maximum support through a wide cadence range from 10-120rpm, and the power curve has been tuned to have a more linear plateau that means it doesn’t drop off at those higher cadence ranges, maintaining support in those situations where you need it most.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike sl 1.1 motor engine
There’s no belt inside the SL 1.1 motor, which allows it to be made much smaller.

In terms of construction, the Levo SL’s motor utilises a magnesium housing and an alloy axle to save weight. Huge marine-grade seals mean the motor is dust and waterproof to IP66 & IP67 standards, so you can ride the whole bike underwater if you fancy. Because it’s so airtight though, a Gore-Tex membrane is built into the motor to allow it breathe – a necessary addition to ensure that external water droplets aren’t sucked in past the seals under vacuum pressure as the internal motor cools down after a wet ride.

As for longterm durability? Well, that’s yet to be seen in the mass market. However, Specialized claims the SL 1.1 motor is currently exceeding 100,000km in the torture lab.

A Slimmer, Lighter Battery

To power the Levo SL’s new motor, Specialized has spec’d its own 320Wh lithium-ion battery. It has less than half the capacity of the battery found on the high-end Levo models (700Wh), but at just 1.8kg it is also a whole 2kg lighter too. The smaller volume battery also allows the Levo SL’s downtube to be made considerably slimmer though, which further reduces weight.

The internal battery is secured inside the downtube with two large bolts, where it becomes a structural member of the chassis. The integrated approach means it isn’t easily removable – you’ll have to unbolt the motor first before you can slide the battery out.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike
Specialized tucks the 320Wh battery pack inside the downtube, where it’s secured by two bolts that you can spot on the underside of the frame.
2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike battery 320Wh lithium-ion
The 320Wh battery pack weighs just 1.8kg, which is a full 2kg lighter than the 700Wh battery you’ll find inside the Levo.

That’s unlikely to be a concern for most riders. And if you do want more juice, a Range Extender battery can be purchased separately for $600 (the S-Works model comes with a Range Extender included, and the Founder’s Edition comes with two Range Extenders). This add-on battery pack comes in the shape of a water bottle and is designed to tuck into the cage on the downtube, before being plugged into the main charge port on the non-drive side of the frame. The 160Wh Range Extender battery weighs 1kg, and boosts the Levo SL’s total battery capacity by 50% to 480Wh.

One thing worth noting here is that Range Extender IS NOT compatible with the standard Levo or Kenevo. This is because the Range Extender and the Levo SL’s internal battery run on 48V, and not 36V like you’ll find in the Levo and Kenevo. The 48V batteries operate with a lower current to minimise heat buildup, and they also rely on smaller plugs, meaning the battery pack can be made more compact.

2020 specialized s-works turbo levo sl
The S-Works Levo SL comes with an additional Range Extender battery – that’s the water-bottle shaped thing inside the mainframe.

Come Fly With Me

One last note about the Range Extender. Traditionally, flying with your e-MTB means removing the battery entirely and sourcing a rental battery at your destination, since most airline carriers prohibit you from taking large Lithium-Ion battery packs on the plane in the first place – checked or carry-on. However, both Qantas and Virgin Australia now allow you to take up to two 160Wh batteries with you as carry-on luggage (the batteries do need to be declared, and Qantas does require you to request approval in the first place).

So in theory, you could remove the Levo SL’s internal battery before flying, and take two Range Extenders with you to your destination. That makes the Levo SL the first e-MTB (that we’re aware of) that you can properly fly with.

How Much Range Do You Get?

That’s the million dollar question with every e-MTB, and the answer continues to be as varied as the people who ride these things and the terrain they ride them on. Rider weight, riding style, elevation, your chosen assist mode, and how hard you work the pedals will all have an impact on what kind of distance you can expect out of a fully charged battery. That’s not the answer that potential customers want to hear though, so Specialized jazzed up some numbers for us.

Relying on the internal battery alone, you can expect anywhere from 1 hour on Turbo mode, to 3 hours on Eco. Add on a Range Extender, and the runtime grows to 1.75 hours (Turbo) to 5 hours (Eco).

This is particularly impressive since those latter numbers are basically the same as the range on the regular Levo, even though the battery capacity is considerably less (480Wh vs 700Wh). Sure, your average speed will be a bit slower on the Levo SL, but it’s otherwise able to hit a similar range to its bigger brother because the new SL 1.1 motor is so efficient.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike turbo connect unit
The Turbo Connect Unit (TCU) houses the brains of the system. Inside is a USB port for connecting the Levo SL to a laptop for diagnostics.

The Brains Of The Whole Operation

As with the Levo and Kenevo, the Levo SL locates the Turbo Connect Unit (TCU) on the top tube just behind the stem. As your first touch point with the Levo SL’s motor, the TCU features the on/off button, another button for changing between the three assist modes, and an LED array that displays remaining battery life. Each LED bar represents 10% of the battery capacity.

The TCU is also the brain of the whole system. Using ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, the TCU can pair with Garmin GPS head units to display riding speed, distance, cadence, the chosen assist mode, remaining battery life, and even the rider’s power output. Alternatively, Specialized sells a Turbo Connect Display (TDU) head unit for $150 that’ll put all of that info right in front of you.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike turbo display unit computer head unit
For $150, the Turbo Display Unit gives you all of the info. However, the TCU will pair wirelessly with Garmin GPS head units, and Wahoo is apparently working on connectivity too.

All Levo SL’s come fitted with a remote switch on the left hand side of the handlebar, which is exactly the same used by the Levo and Kenevo. This remote allows you to change assist modes on-the-fly without removing your hand from the grip. If you prefer a cleaner setup though, the remote and its cable can be removed entirely. This means you’ll need to adjust assist modes using the TCU, or in the most millennial way possible, with your phone.

New Mission Control Tunes

Specialized has continued to evolve its Mission Control app, which allows users to control power delivery and battery range via their smartphone. You can use the app to log your rides, and it’ll sync to Strava to upload them automatically – as an e-MTB ride of course.

For those who want to get really nerdy with their e-MTB, you can adjust both the support level and the peak power output for all three power modes. Specialized calls this Infinite Tune, and it allows you to tailor the bike’s power delivery to your preferred level. (Fun Fact – Infinite Tune is what Specialized’s engineers used with the early Turbo Levo prototypes when they wanted to simulate riding with a smaller motor).

If you’re particularly sensitive to range anxiety though, simply select the Smart Control function and tell the app how far, or how long, you plan on riding. The motor will then automatically deliver the maximum assist level possible to ensure you finish your ride without running out of juice. The really clever part? The more you ride your bike, the smarter the Smart Control function becomes, as it learns the consumption demands of your riding style.

Additionally with the launch of the Levo SL, Specialized has introduced two snazzy new metrics into the Mission Control app. One is the elevation slider, where you can input how much climbing you expect to be doing on your ride. This improves the system’s precision significantly, so it can more accurately predict your range throughout the ride.

You can also now connect a heart rate monitor to the app, and – get this – you can tell your bike that you want to ride within a specific heart rate zone, and it’ll automatically adjust the assist levels to ensure you don’t go below or above that range. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but it could be useful for pro riders who still want to go on a training ride but need to keep their heart rate below a certain level.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike sl 1.1 engine power curve delivery eco trail turbo
Infinite Tune can be used to adjust the support level and peak power output of each assist mode. This particular example comes from the personal bike belonging to the Turbo Product Manager, Marco Sonderegger. When in ECO mode, Marco will only get strong support from the motor if he’s pedalling hard and putting in the effort.

Levo vs Levo SL

Given the striking similarities, it’ll come as no surprise to learn that the Levo SL was developed in parallel with the regular Levo. And since they’re both e-MTBs with 150mm of travel and 29in wheels, there’s obvious overlap between the two. Will they be able to survive alongside each other? Specialized thinks there’s enough differences that they’ll happily coexist.

For those who want maximum power and range for big mountain brawling, the Levo is still the obvious choice. It’s got a lot more grunt with a huge battery, and it features burlier components along with the ability to take up to a 160mm travel fork, properly chunky tyres and even 27.5+ wheels.

In comparison, the Levo SL has a more focussed operating window. It isn’t 27.5+ compatible, and 150mm is (currently) the longest travel fork you can fit to it. Instead of brutish 36 forks and 2.6in wide tyres, all Levo SL models come with lightweight Fox 34 forks and 2.3in tyres. Specialized says a 2.4in tyre should fit in the back, though this will vary from brand-to-brand.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike fox 34 float grip fork
While both the Levo and Levo SL feature 150mm of travel front and rear, the Levo SL comes with a Fox 34 fork on the front to help bring the weight down.
2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike expert carbon
The compact motor allows for much shorter chainstays – another key difference between the Levo and Levo SL.

This is in part due to the short chainstays, which measure just 437mm long. This is exactly the same length as the regular Stumpjumper, and considerably shorter than the Levo’s 455mm rear centre length. Otherwise geometry is pretty much identical between the Levo and Levo SL, with a 66° head angle and a 75°-ish seat tube angle.

Along with lighter components and its smaller motor and battery, the Levo SL comes in 4kg lighter, with complete bike weights ranging from 17.3-19.4kg. That’s a hefty difference to the regular Levo. For a new e-MTB customer who’s just walked into a shop and picked up a few bikes, it’s certainly far less intimidating. It might also be light enough to win over more traditional trail bike customers who up until this point haven’t been tempted by the prospect of an e-MTB.

Telling is the fact that Specialized isn’t worried that the Levo SL will steal sales from the regular Levo. Instead, it is much more concerned about how it will impact on sales of the regular Stumpjumper.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike
Specialized claims the new Levo SL weighs between 17.3-19.4kg, which is around 4kg lighter than the regular Levo.

The Lineup

There are five Levo SL models available for 2020. The entry level Comp model utilises an M5 alloy frame and comes in five sizes from X-Small to X-Large, while the other four models are built around a FACT 11m carbon fibre chassis and come in four sizes from Small to X-Large. All Levo SL models utilise exactly the same motor and battery system.

For those who want to get their hands on one ASAP, the good news is that most of the Levo SL models are already available in Australia through the Specialized dealer network. The only bike that isn’t available immediately is the extremely limited Founder’s Edition.

This is a special model that turns the spec up to 11 and features an extraordinary Spectraflair paint job with gold foil graphics, along with two Range Extender batteries. Specialized is obviously very proud of what it’s achieved with its own motor and battery technology, and this model is all about celebrating that milestone in a suitably over-the-top fashion. Only 250 of these will be available worldwide, though with a price tag of $26,500, they will only be for the most well-heeled riders.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl founder's edition
There are only 250 of the Founder’s Edition Levo SL models available worldwide. As for the price? Well, if you have to ask…

2020 Specialized S-Works Levo SL Founder’s Edition

2020 specialized levo sl sworks carbon
The S-Works Levo SL gets lots of gold bits, a wireless Reverb AXS dropper and a $600 Range Extender battery included.

2020 Specialized S-Works Levo SL

2020 specialized levo sl expert carbon
Sitting in the middle of the five model range is the Levo SL Expert Carbon.

2020 Specialized Levo SL Expert Carbon

2020 specialized levo sl comp carbon
Utilising the same FACT 11m chassis as the S-Works model, the Levo SL Comp Carbon opts for alloy wheels and a SRAM NX drivetrain to bring the price down.

2020 Specialized Levo SL Comp Carbon

2020 specialized levo sl comp
The Levo SL Comp is the only alloy model available. It’s also the only Levo SL to come under the $10K mark.

2020 Specialized Levo SL Comp

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike wil stellenbosch
Wil’s been riding the 2020 Specialized Levo SL Expert Carbon – check out his review here.

So what do you folks think of the new Specialized Levo SL? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so be sure to tell us what you think in the comments below!

Head to for further info on specs and geo. Otherwise, if you’re keen to know how the bike rides and how that new motor system feels on the trail, take a gander at Flow’s first ride review of the 2020 Specialized Levo SL Expert Carbon.

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