They’re here to stay
To be frank, we’ve heard it all before. Every mountain biker and their Nanna quickly formed an opinion about e-MTBs when Specialized first launched the Turbo Levo. Grannies were divided into those who frustrated their offspring by continually confusing the terms “mountain bike” and “dirt bike”, and those who, until then, hadn’t considered the possibility of having the strength to ride up a hill since their broken hip took them out of contention for the 1996 Cairns World Champs. Social media comments swarmed with strangely similar rhetoric from passionate mountain bikers, along with those who screamed for legislation or feared widespread trail closures due to the predicted ensuing carnage.
Two years on and the Levo has arguably done more for building and opening new trails than damaging or closing any. Round 2 of this year’s Enduro World Series was hosted in Derby, Tasmania; trails built with pedal-assist.
While we have been fortunate enough to have spent almost a year getting to know the original Levo FSR Expert 6Fattie, many mountain bikers have now experienced the surprise of a barely panting rider passing them on a climb, and likely enjoyed the challenge of keeping up, or catching them on the descent (yes, it was probably us). The Coastal Crew, web edit royalty hailing from the Sunshine Coast in BC, Canada, upset the internet when they took the original Levo to the next level. Filtering out the haters, it was a revelation for many that a pedal-assist mountain bike could descend, corner and even jump like a ‘real’ mountain bike.
There are plenty of other brands making e-MTBs too. Recent sales growth in Europe is beyond any other category of bikes. Driven to stay on top, Specialized have continued innovating and now present the 2018 Levo range.
No one’s going to be ‘gramming a #weightweenie shot of them lifting a Levo with their pinky finger. Using the standardised unit of measurement for any bike related mass, the new carbon S-Works Levo drops frame weight by one bidon of your now near redundant electrolyte fluid. When you’re already manoeuvring 30+ bidons up, down and around your favourite trails with, let’s not forget, the assistance of a motor, just how much difference is one bidon going to make?
According to Specialized, the main benefits of utilising carbon fibre is improved ride quality from increased frame stiffness.
“The frame is 40% stiffer, laterally, in the rear end and 20% stiffer overall. Stiff, planted, and confident—awesome.”
As expected, the S-Works, utilising FACT 11m carbon fibre in the main frame and rear end, is “awesome”. What’s FACT 11m? Well, it’s another industry acronym followed by over simplified marketing jargon to differentiate the modulus (stiffness) of the carbon fibres used in the layup. Essentially, the higher the number, the lighter and/or stiffer the frame can be. The Expert and Comp Carbon models have an alloy rear end and the front end is made from FACT 9m carbon, so we can expect more modest stiffness stats and a not-so-full bidon of weight reduction.
If carbon isn’t your thing (carbon footprint; poor recyclability; fear of damage when locking it up with $400 commuter bikes in your office block’s bike cage – admit it, commuting on a Levo makes sense; or forking out over $6k on a bike, motor or not, isn’t on the cards) then the Levo is still available in men’s and women’s full aluminium frame versions.
What else is new?
From the start, Specialized wanted the Levo to be a trail bike; a category of bikes that is rapidly evolving. For example, plenty of riders now consider a 150mm fork standard issue on a “trail bike”. The 2018 Levo has come to the party:
“Long top tubes, short chainstays, and low BBs are staples of the Specialized mountain bike DNA, and the Levo FSR Carbon has modern trail specs to boot, with 150mm travel forks and Rx Tuned trail shocks for a more forgiving and trail worthy ride. 2.8″ Butcher GRID tires have also been added to maximise grip and keep power to the ground. More capable bikes, after all, require more capable brakes, so SRAM Guide RE and Code brakes have been added to confidently bring you to halt.”
Fork travel has increased 10mm, while rear travel has reduced slightly from 140mm to 134mm. Head angle has slacked around half a degree and bottom bracket drop (from axles) is not as low, but the reduced tyre size (3.0″ to 2.8″) sees BB height (from the ground) a tad lower. Chainstay length remains 459mm, which is about 2cm longer than what you’d expect on a non-levo trail bike from Specialized. These geometry, travel and spec changes, along with the improved stiffness in the carbon models, should see the 2018 Levo handle even more like the ‘normal’ bikes we ride.
All 2018 FSR Turbo Levo models come with the new Turbo 1.3 motor. While boasting 15% more power from new magnets and an all-new electronic unit, significant gains in the motor’s efficiency have been made through improved heat management. Specialized are willing to admit that there was room to improve on the original Levo motor:
“Let’s be honest, the previous motor could heat up and de-rate, which resulted in power loss. Aside from the entire system producing less overall heat, the new thermal pads, paired with the new motor software, ensure improved thermal balance within the motor. The pads inside the motor evenly distribute heat throughout the system, while the external pad simultaneously removes additional heat from the system.”
One of our favourite features from the original Levo is the absence of a kooky looking handlebar display. Simply turn it on at the battery, press + or – to choose power mode, and ride. The Mission Control app (iOS and Android) allows customisation of various settings, but we rarely use it and just ride.
The 2018 Levo now has a ‘Trail Remote’, located between the left-hand brake lever and grip, you can now switch between eco, trail, turbo, and new walk-assist power modes without reaching to the battery. Yes, it’s another thing on your bar plus a wire to connect it, but it appears neatly executed and a still avoids the fragility and clutter of a big display.
For those who do want to geek out on the stats as they ride, the ANT+ and Bluetooth equipped battery allows pairing with ANT+ devices or utilising the updated Mission Control app which lets users analyse modes, current battery life, speed, distance, and rider input wattage. The main changes to the app are the new Infinite Tune feature and refined Smart Control:
“Infinite Tune makes for a completely customisable tuning process. Each mode can be endlessly tuned in its assistance level and max motor current output, completely independent of one another. This is something that’s unrivalled in this space.”
“Inside the Mission Control app is the Smart Control feature, this monitors and adjusts battery and motor output based on rider and ride input parameters. It also works from a smart algorithm that came from thousands of testing hours and a consultation with two Swiss universities (so you know it’s good) that determined when and how to manage power.”
So that means, now Smart Control is supported by Infinite Tune, the Levo will give you the power to ride even more trails, with the feel of the motor’s input tuned into your preferences. We’re mad keen. Are you?
Models and Australian pricing
S-WORKS LEVO FSR CARBON 6FATTIE – $13,000
LEVO FSR EXPERT CARBON 6FATTIE – $10,500
LEVO FSR COMP CARBON 6FATTIE – $8,500
LEVO FSR 6FATTIE – $6,000
LEVO FSR WMN ST* 6FATTIE – $6,000 *ST = Short Travel, 120mm front and rear. Available in SM, MD, LG and we’re confident most Specialized dealers would let men buy one if they ask nicely.