As we’ve noted in other reviews, when you’re riding an e-bike you tend to find yourself smashing through the terrain, rather than floating over it. FOX noticed that a lot of e-bikes were rolling onto the trails with 32mm-legged forks that were under-gunned for the kind of abuse they’re likely to face. The Trek Powerfly we’ve got on test is a classic example, coming stock with a slender RockShox Recon, so we’ve taken the opportunity to test the FOX 34 e-bike fork to give us the confidence to wallop the trails at full e-speed!
How is an e-bike optimised fork different to a normal FOX fork?
No batteries were harmed in the making of this fork. The e-bike specific nature of these new FOX forks relates to the way they’re constructed, not any electronic internals.
It’s really a matter of more beef. There’s extra material in the fork crown and the walls of the stanchions are thicker, so you’re getting a fork that’s much stiffer overall and better equipped to handle the heavy loads imposed by a speeding e-bike.
Because of the extra wall thickness of the fork legs, there’s less room for the air spring assembly, so a FOX 34 e-bike fork actually uses the air spring out of a FOX 32. Similarly, a FOX 36 e-bike fork runs the air spring from a regular FOX 34 (with the latest super plush EVOL tech – read about it here). The lower legs are the same as a regular FOX 34 fork.
What about the damper?
On forks with running FIT4 damper, the unit is identical to a standard FOX – the wide range of low-speed compression adjustment on the FIT4 damper can happily accommodate an e-bike’s extra mass. However, e-bike forks with the cheaper GRIP damper get a slightly different damper tune that’s a little stiffer than that found in a standard GRIP damper.
Setup so far?
As mentioned above, we’ve popped these on a Trek Powerfly. There’s a recommended pressure and rebound guide on the back of the fork, but following the guide felt too soft for our liking. In our experience so far, because e-bikes are much heavier, a softer suspension setup just ends up taking all the liveliness out of the ride and the bike can feel super wallowy to throw around. We ended up running about 15psi more than the chart recommended, and so far we’ve been running the fork’s high-speed compression adjuster in its middle setting for more support.
Can I run these on my normal bike?
Sure, why not? We think loads of riders would appreciate the extra stiffness. The only difference externally between this fork and a regular FOX is the sticker telling you it’s optimised for e.
E-bike optimised forks are available in loads of configurations: FOX 34 in 27.5 or 29, in both Performance and Factory guises, 110-150mm travel options; or FOX 36 in Factory only, with 130-170mm travel.
Hooley dooley, it looks like a fire truck. What’s the Trek Powerfly 7 FS about?
The Trek Powerfly FS is the e-bike e-quivalent of the Trek Fuel, in terms of suspension travel and intended usage. It runs 130mm travel at both ends, but rather than the 29″ wheels found on the Fuel, the Powerfly rolls on 27.5″ wheels with 2.8″ Schwalbe rubber. Plus sized rubber is pretty common in the e-bike world, giving you the grip to make the most of the power on tap.
While we’re starting to see more and more long-travel e-bikes, this one is intended as an all-round trail bike. Trek do have a more aggro version of the Powerfly too, the LT, but it’s not available in Australia yet. Insert face-palm and crying face emojis here.
What’s under the hood?
Bosch have been given the job of making you feel invincible on the climbs. The Performance CX Line 250W motor is a mountain bike specific unit with gobs of power and a 500 amH battery, which is nestled nicely in the down tube.
The Bosch system has an e-MTB specific drive mode too, which automatically alters the power output to suit your pedalling forces, rather than forcing you to toggle between power modes. We actually tested this mode out a few months ago on a Bosch e-bike demo day, read about it here.
We swapped the fork out. Sorry Trek.
The Powerfly 7FS comes with a basic RockShox Recon fork. Ermahgawd… We understand that a motor ain’t cheap, but this is still a $6500 bike, it should not come with a fork that is commonly found on a $1200 hardtail.
We didn’t even leave the workshop till we’d swapped the Recon out for something more appropriate, taking this opportunity to try out one of FOX’s new e-bike optimised numbers. These get a stiffer chassis than a conventional FOX 34 and a damper tune that was originally intended for the bigger hits of Enduro racing, which is what you really want with the extra weight and speed of an e-bike.
The Trek Fuel series is a long-standing favourite of ours, so we’re looking forward to seeing how it goes with a little bit of battery behind it! Stay tuned.
If you’re riding in full-power mode, the surging feeling as the power kicks in or cuts out can make it hard to navigate tighter, technical climbs, something we’ve experienced many times with some pretty amazing uphill crashes! You’re left with the option of either toggling down to a reduced power mode (which is obviously not ideal, it’s another thing to worry about), or living with the on/off feeling of power delivery.
Bosch, one of the world’s largest providers of e-bike battery/drive systems, have been working on a solution, which they’ve implemented with the latest update to the CX mountain bike specific motors. It’s called, unimaginatively (they’re Germans) their E-MTB mode, and it replaces the Sport setting in their power mode options menu.
The whole idea of E-MTB mode is to naturalise the feeling of power delivery, so the response feels much more like a normal mountain bike under pedalling forces.
The whole idea of E-MTB mode is to naturalise the feeling of power delivery, so the response feels much more like a normal mountain bike under pedalling forces – it delivers a less aggressive power output if you’re pedalling slowly and gently, ramping up the juice when you’re hammering at the pedals.
It sounds simple in principle, but we’re sure it was hard to achieve. Normally with the e-bikes we’ve tested, the different modes deliver a set response when you pedal; for instance, your pedal input is 100Watts, it adds another 40Watts. Or in Turbo mode, your 100Watts input might be boosted up to 250Watts at the rear wheel.
Toggling between the Bosch Turbo and the E-MTB settings was revealing.
What the E-MTB mode achieves is decoupling this direct multiplication of power, so that the output generated by motor isn’t directly proportional to your pedalling force, but rather takes into account the speed of your pedal stroke and the speed of the bike too.
How does it ride?
We had the opportunity to try out the system on some of our home trails. It was our first experience on a Bosch powered e-bike, and we were riding hardtails (sub-optimal), so it’s hard to compare the experience with our time on other e-bikes in a meaningful manner. But we did get a good feel for how the E-MTB mode works – toggling between the Bosch Turbo and the E-MTB settings was revealing.
The next step for Bosch is to get rid of the massive and ugly display unit that clutters up the bars.
In the E-MTB mode we had gobs more control on the climbs, particularly on the ledgy, slow-speed, stepped sandstone ascents that are characteristic of Sydney mountain biking. With Turbo mode engaged, we found ourselves smashing up them, banging our rear wheel into the rocks. But when switched to E-MTB mode it was easy to lift the front wheel with a lot more grace and precision and then lift the rear wheel, just like we would on a conventional mountain bike. After toggling back and forward between the two modes for the first half of the ride, we just left the bike in the E-MTB setting and forgot about it.
To be honest, when we’re riding an e-bike, we don’t want to be reminded of that fact all the time, and so having a power mode that just lets you set and forget (as opposed to switching between modes all the time) is a blessing. The next step for Bosch is to get rid of the massive and ugly display unit that clutters up the bars – this would be another great step towards making their system even more mountain bike friendly.
We’re hoping to get a Bosch powered e-bike on test soon, so we can give the system a proper assessment and see how it stacks up against the competition.
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.
It’s no secret that Specialized are putting a lot of weight behind these bikes and helping to drive the acceptance of e-bike culture here in Australia, and their global visibility in the internationally booming market is mighty as always. Their message ‘the power to ride more trails’ is being cast far and wide, and it makes a whole lot of sense to many people, we aren’t arguing with anyone who chooses to ride one. Since whisperings of e-bikes began echoing around the internet, we cannot recall one thing in all our years that attracts such a wide variety of feedback, and especially negative attention, than the topic of these bikes. Thankfully we’ve got pretty tough skin! But when it comes down our involvement in the segment, we are all about it. We’ll be reviewing the bikes for what they are, and supporting the communication channels and discussions as we see the benefits for those who would make the most of one, and that is that.
Before we get into looking at what the 2017 Specialized Turbo Levo FSR is, we’ll recall a couple of our recent posts on the topic of electrically pedal assist mountain bikes.
Specialized have been developing electric bikes for a while – their Turbo electric assisted commuter bike is an impressive piece of work – but e-mountain bikes are a different kettle of fish, and the hub-drive motors found on many commuter bikes aren’t appropriate off road. Instead the Levo uses a centre-mounted motor, that has been custom built exclusively for Specialized.
In the last few months, we’ve had a couple of discussions about electric assisted mountain bikes which have really captured the essence of the debate over the place of this technology in mountain biking. We have recalled both of these interactions here, without bias.
What is the Turbo Levo FSR?
Specialized don’t do things by halves, when they set out to make an e-bike they were not going to settle for anything less than the best, so we’re not surprised at all to see how much has gone in to the development of this bike. The Turbo Levo FSR is a proper off-road bike with an M4 aluminium frame, 140mm travel forks, 135mm travel out the back and all the same components that you’ll find on a real mountain bike. The wheels are regular too, and removing them for transport or changing a flat tyre is just as you would with a normal bike.
The Turbo range is huge, with Specialized bringing in a whopping eight versions to the Australian market, two hardtails, five dual suspension FSR and one women’s specific FSR, all using the 6Fattie wheels. And being a Specialized the focus on frame geometry was paramount, so the chain stay length is as short as possible, and the steering angles slack and stable for proper shredding.
The FSR rear suspension is based around the same design that you would find on their entire dual suspension range which uses their Autosag rear shock pressure setup system for guess-free setup, and of course they’ve even managed to fit a full-size water bottle in there and keep the cable routing internally despite the added complications of a battery and motor.
How does it work?
There is no throttle to twist or button to push to get moving, the Levo delivers power to the cranks in assistance to yours. What makes e-bikes ride naturally and well off-road on varying terrain and surfaces is the way that the power is delivered in an intuitive manner, in this case it’s quite complicated to explain when the power comes, stops and how much is delivered as it is sensitive to torque and speed. We’ll delve into more of the working of the system in our final review, but in short the battery power is delivered to the cranks when the bike is moving and torque on the cranks is detected. It rewards your smooth and steady pedal stroke with a high cadence, and the power cuts out at 25 km/hr.
Where are all the buttons and displays?
There’s nothing on the bars, no computer in sight, save for a three button pad on the side of the down tube which turns the system on and off and adjust between the three power modes; eco, trail and turbo. All the rest is done via your smartphone, and the Specialized Mission Control App.
What does the mobile app let you do?
The app has loads of functionality and provides you with all the information and enables complete control. Via a Bluetooth connection you can see information about the bike, the motor, battery life and will let you tune the motor to how you prefer it to react.
The app allows you to see huge amounts of information about your bike, the battery, the motor and your ride times and intensities, sent from the bike to your phone via a bluetooth connection. Delving deeper into the functions of the Mission Control app the ‘tune’ modes allow you to tweak how your bike performs in each of its three settings and how quickly the motor kicks in on each pedal strokes. And then there are nice features like the ability to tell the battery how long you intend on riding for, allowing it to dish out the power evenly and tailored for your ride duration.
What type of motor is in there?
You won’t find any third party brands on the Levo, Specialized have developed their own motor, and do all the development from their e-bike dedicated facility in Switzerland. More on that in our upcoming review.
Why the 3″ 6Fattie wheels?
Aside from powerful brakes, the tyres are a component that we’d expect to be up to the task of keeping a 25kg bike under control, and in this case it makes complete sense that the Levo FSR should use plus sized wheels. The 650b (27.5″) diameter wheels and wide 38mm rims are wrapped in huge 3″ tyres. Our first ride on the Levo FSR was on one with regular 29″ wheels and we’re way more impressed with how the bigger tyres with lower pressure play to the strength of an e-bike. There’s a lot less wheel-spinning with this huge footprint too, certainly a factor worth considering with e-bikes under debate in regards to trail damage.
We’ve ridden and rated two of the 6Fattie bikes from Specialized, the Fuse hardtail and the Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie. Check out those reviews here for more on the concept of the wheel size. Fuse review, Stumpjumper review.
How’s the spec on the Expert model?
The Expert level spec is very high end stuff, for $9999 you’ll end up with a parts spec comparable to the Stumpjumper FSR Expert Carbon 6Fattie which retails for $7200. There is massive 200mm rotors (usually found on big travel enduro and downhill bikes) at both ends to deliver gobs of braking power, and the drivetrain is SRAM’s Xo1 with Praxis cranks and stainless narrow/wide chainring. A neat little chainguide provides added security.
We’re going to ride it, a lot. We want to be able to fully understand how it works, where it shines and where it doesn’t. We don’t need to get into the debate of who they will suit, or where they belong, we’re getting pretty tired of that chat already. But in our upcoming review we’ll hopefully have a whole lot to say about the performance of this bike, just like any other bike review we do at Flow.
At the Advance Traders 2017 range launch, we were introduced to Lapierre’s e-bikes for the first time. E-bikes already divide opinion with more spite than religion and politics combined, but the Overvolt Carbon will probably take this debate to a whole new level with its wild styling. The Lapierre Overvolt Carbon might just take the cake as the most… well, we don’t even really have the words for it. It’s just crazy. Take a look below and you’ll know what we mean.
The one and only Nico Voullioz was deeply involved in the design of this bike – as many of you may well know, he’s been one of the leading advocates of e-bikes for a number of years now. Much of the design expertise he brought to bear actually stemmed from his time racing rally cars in the World Rally Championship. If there’s one thing he learnt during his rally career, it’s that the centre of gravity matters, which is why so much focus was placed in the Overvolt’s design in getting the mass of the battery and motor as low down as possible. If you can’t make an e-bike light, you might as well make it ride light! Carbon was used for the frame not for weight reasons, but because of the insanely complicated frame shapes needed to get the battery in this position.
Unlike most e-bikes, where the battery is housed on or partially in the down tube, the Overvolt’s amazingly sophisticated carbon frame cradles the battery so it sits right on top of the motor in a horizontal position. We didn’t ride this bike, but you see how it makes a lot of sense – e-bikes undeniably weigh a lot, so anything you can do to lower the impact this extra mass has on the ride will be a blessing.
The Overvolt is compatible with both regular 27.5 and 27.5+ wheels too, with a reversible drop out chip. We think the Plus format makes a tonne of sense on e-bikes, providing the grip to really make the most of all the torque.
Bosch provide the motor, and as we’re still completely clueless about e-bikes, it was nice to have two Bosch staff on hand to answer our questions, including our concerns about the Overvolt’s bulky head unit. Apparently an updated head unit with a much smaller display is coming soon, which will be much more crash friendly.
While e-mountain bikes are already a common sight across Europe, Australian trails are yet to really see much pedal-assisted traffic. We’re aware just how divisive the e-bike debate is, but overwhelmingly the opinions being slung around come from an ideological standpoint, rather than any kind of practical grounding.
And that’s exactly why we thought it was about time to get ourselves some first-hand experience, so our own opinions on the matter were more than just assertions and guesses, like most of the discourse.
Yesterday we joined a crew of Specialized dealers for ride on the Turbo Levo. Specialized aren’t the only player in the e-mountain bike game here, but there’s something about the Levo which has made it a bit of a focal point of the e-debate – perhaps it’s because e-bikes have largely been a European thing, and Specialized are the first large US brand to make a move?
Overwhelmingly the opinions being slung around come from an ideological standpoint, rather than any kind of practical grounding.
While a two-hour ride by no means makes us e-xperts (get it?!) it was certainly enough to answer some of our own questions about e-bikes and the Levo in particular. As you read on, remember that we’ve only had experience with the Levo, so we’re well aware that our experiences might not accurately translate to other brands of e-bikes too.
We want to deliver, without bias or prejudice, the answers to a few of the questions that we had prior to our first e-xperience.
Do they damage the trails more than a normal bike?
NO. Not that we could see or otherwise detect. We definitely didn’t find ourselves wheel spinning or skidding any more than a regular bike, the two things that really ruin trails. The Levo only delivers power when you pedal (you can’t just sit there and wheel spin), and it actually cuts out on delivering any assistance if you’re pedalling hard, so we didn’t find it breaking traction more than a standard bike.
We were riding the ‘regular’ tyred version of the Levo, with 29×2.3″ rubber. We would have to imagine that if we were on the 6Fattie (Plus tyres) Levo, we’d have had more grip, which would have further reduced any skidding or wheel spinning.
The pedal assistance cuts out a 25km/h. Beyond that pace, you’re just manually pedalling a very heavy bike.
Do they present a danger to other trail users?
NO, we don’t think so, but some people may argue otherwise. As far as we could discern during our short ride, the only time you have a truly big speed differential between yourself and other trail users is on the climbs. On the descents and in the singletrack, your maximum speeds is still going to be limited by how good a rider you are, so you’re not really going to be pushing the pace beyond your usual limits.
We’re not sure about other e-bikes, but on the Levo at least, the pedal assistance cuts out a 25km/h. Beyond that speed, you’re just manually pedalling a very heavy bike, so in fact you can probably hit a higher top speed on a regular bike.
That said, your average pace IS faster, because you can get up to speed more quickly after slowing down and you don’t fatigue at the same rate as a normal bike. So possibly you could make the argument that a higher overall speed is dangerous and that you have less reaction time because of the acceleration.
Are they heavy?
YES. The Turbo Levo we rode is 22kg. That’s about 8.5kg more than an equivalent non-pedal assisted bike. When it comes to lifting or transporting the bike, it’s a lot of heft. We’d hate to be putting one on roof racks with our child-like arms.
Do they feel heavy on the trail?
YES and NO. Hopping, manualling or pre-jumping the bikes takes a lot more effort, partly because of the weight, and partly because of the long chain stays too. Because of the weight and the longer rear end, slow speed manoeuvres like ledge drops were intimidating at first – we were worried the front end would drop, but we got used to it, you just needed more body language.
You only need a tiny run-up to get up to speed and launch off a lump in the trail from an almost stand still.
On the flipside, the weight is largely hidden by the pedal assistance, and not just on the climbs. We found that the pedal assistance lets you use trail features to your advantage in ways you couldn’t on a normal bike. For example, you only need a tiny run-up to get up to speed and launch off a lump in the trail from an almost stand still.
Are they more stable than a regular bike?
YES. The extra weight, and its location low in the frame, makes the Levo very stable. Compared to a regular bike, it feels much more ‘moto-esque’ in terms of how it holds its line. As a bit of an aside, this highlighted to us how good the suspension and tyres are too. The extra weight makes them work overtime.
Do they descend faster than a regular bike?
NO. We don’t think so. Perhaps the extra weight and stability that comes with it allows you to carry more momentum, but that’s not a big impact. In general, your ability to descend quickly is limited by your skills or the trail/terrain, and the pedal assist doesn’t change that.
Do you set them up like a regular bike?
YES and NO. In terms of suspension and tyre setup, we added a little extra pressure to handle the extra weight, but that was it. Where our setup was different was our seat height. Our bike was equipped with a dropper post, but for much of the ride, we kept the seat lowered most of the way down. The pedal assist means there’s less need to have the seat at full height to get maximum efficiency, so you can run it low and enjoy the lower centre of gravity and only pop it up when you want to stretch your legs on a climb or smooth section.
You can obviously turn the power down, but let’s get real here, most people are going to always opt for maximum assistance.
Is the drivetrain able to handle all that power?
KIND OF. Shifting gears under any kind of power is a bit frightening at first – they CLANG into place with all the load on the chain. You quickly learn not to shift under load. We had one derailleur destroyed in our group (due to a stick) but we almost ripped our derailleur off too after dropping the chain twice. Because of the load the drivetrain is under, it seems that when things do go wrong, they do so quickly and comprehensively. You seem to lose that split second window to lock the rear wheel and avoid ripping your mech off, so keeping it all in good working order will be key.
We can envisage the development of more e-bike specific drivetrains. SRAM have announced EX1 recently, catering for the unique demands of e-bikes. With specific brakes to deal with the weight of the bike, and a drivetrain that can handle the changing of gears under the increased power.
Does your heart rate get up?
YES. But not a lot. We were riding on bikes in full-blown Turbo mode, so they give you maximum assistance. Only on a couple of occasions did we feel like we were really exerting ourselves. In twisty, technical terrain the weight of the bike makes you work a bit, throwing it about, but on the whole you burn a lot less energy.
You can obviously turn the power down, but let’s get real here, most people are going to always opt for maximum assistance, unless they have a really long ride planned and need more battery life.
Does it climb anything like a normal mountain bike?
NO. The technique we found ourselves using to climb on the Levo was very different. You tend to stay in the saddle a lot more and keep pedalling a light gear – you don’t need to get up and crank out of the saddle, pulling on the bars. This means there’s a lot of grip on the rear wheel too, as it’s always weighted.
You also don’t need to plan ahead in the same way. So much of technical climbing is about maintaining momentum, and that ceases to be an issue, as you can regain lost speed so easily.
There’s no denying that much of the skill associated with climbing goes out the window.
Does it take the skill out of mountain biking?
YES and NO. On the climbs, 100%. There’s no denying that much of the skill associated with climbing goes out the window – you don’t need to be able to finesse your way up a climb, balancing grip and pedalling forces. You can just stay seated or just out of the saddle, and keep clawing up on the Levo.
In all other areas, no, you still need to be a skilful rider to go fast. It won’t make you corner like Sam Hill on cut spikes, even if it will give you legs like Nino.
Is the power hard to control?
KIND OF. We think that you’d adapt quickly, but during our brief outing we found slow speed riding a bit awkward, partly because any input on the pedals results in acceleration, even a light touch. This lead to some silly crashes, where we’d get off line and in trying to pedal our way out of trouble end up accelerating into the scrub. Reducing the motor’s sensitivity is possible, but we didn’t have time to do so.
An e-bike kind of distorts that picture, like one of those wonky mirrors that make it look like you’ve got huge muscly legs.
Is it a mountain bike?
KIND OF. In some ways, we found the experience was just like riding a regular mountain bike, especially on the descents, it feels just like a slightly heavier version of what we’re all used to. In the singletrack too, it feels relatively familiar, the big exception being the acceleration and general momentum. It still corners and basically behaves like a mountain bike, we guess. But then we also were struck by just ‘moto-ish’ it all felt – the extra weight, the stability, the acceleration, the lower seat height.
Especially on the descents, it feels just like a slightly heavier version of what we’re all used to.
Obviously on the climbs, the experience is far removed from that of riding a normal bike. That goes without saying.
The thing that’s harder to quantify for us, is that it doesn’t feel ‘natural’, for want of a better word. Normally, you’re very in tune with a mountain bike. Despite all the tech that’s crammed into a mountain bike, it’s still all about you – there’s a direct relationship, you know what you’re capable of, and what you put into the pedals you get back out. An e-bike kind of distorts that picture, like one of those wonky mirrors that make it look like you’ve got huge muscly legs! What you put in isn’t what comes out.
In the singletrack too, it feels relatively familiar, the big exception being the acceleration and general momentum.
Will they be popular?
YES. That’s a no-brainer. Just like we’ve seen amongst commuter bike sales, e-bikes will start to take a larger and larger share of the market. Regardless of whether or not they’re allowed into trail centres or National Parks, they’re going to sell.
Our big hope with their arrival, is that rather than luring traditional mountain bikers away, e-bikes might convince some current moto riders to give it a crack and try e-bikes as something of a middle ground. We know we’d rather share the trails with e-bikes than motos, that’s for sure!
On my usual squeeze-it-in-before-dark loop, I ran into two local legends who I have not seen in many years.
Troy and Chris were some of the crew I really looked up to when I was first getting into mountain biking, I’d ride with them whenever I could. Chris could do the sickest wheelies you’ve ever seen (still can) with a massive grin underneath his massiver moustache. Troy was forever crashing (allegedly he once hit a tree branch so hard with his head that he snapped the seat tower off his old Intense Uzzi) but he was always riding, and usually had the best bikes. I’d tag along with them and a bunch of riders every Sunday. It was a bloody good time, and it makes me happy even writing about it.
Stopping for a chat, Troy told me he was just getting back riding after five years of kids, work, and life. Chris hadn’t really stopped riding, and he seemed stoked (he ALWAYS seems stoked) to have Troy back out there too.
It’s pretty hard to begrudge them wanting to make the most of those precious hours each week when they can escape for a pedal.
After a few minutes of chin wagging, the conversation turned to e-bikes, and Troy and Chris really got going – they are all for it. Both of these fellas are at the age where you’re entitled to slow down, get rounder, take the easy options sometimes. And for these guys, the promise of electric-assisted mountain bikes had them positively foaming with excitement. I asked them why, and they had no shortage of reasons, but in a nutshell, an electric-assisted mountain bike was going to let them ride more of the trails they enjoyed.
With a bit of help from an electric motor, they reasoned, they’d be able to climb faster, with less suffering, letting them squeeze in longer rides with more descents and allowing them to enjoy those descents more too because they’d be feeling fresher.
These guys don’t go as fast on the climbs as they once did. They’ve also got a lot less time on their hands to ride, thanks to family and work demands. They just want to cram as much enjoyment into a tight window of riding opportunity as is possible.
When you look at it through their eyes, it’s pretty hard to begrudge them wanting to make the most of those precious hours each week when they can escape for a pedal.
Part 2) The Committed Cyclist
A few weeks back, I was visiting my mate Pat, in Brisbane. Pat’s one of those guys who manages to find more hours in the day than most of us – he works a demanding job, he and his wife raise three kids, he’s always renovating his house, and in the midst of it all he manages to squeeze in an impressive number of hours on the bike too. By all rights, Pat is at a stage in life where he could quite easily let mountain biking drop off the radar, but he hasn’t.
He’s the guy who gets up at 4:30 to punch out 60km of hills and still arrives at his desk with his first coffee while while most riders are making excuses. He’s strong on the bike, but he has to work on it, it doesn’t just happen naturally; he trains, he races often, he’s been known to use a calorie counting app.
The helping hand of a motor isn’t just a matter of equipment choices, it’s changing the nature of the sport.
In one of our many bike-related chats, we turned to e-bikes. Pat’s face soured, he clearly wasn’t a fan. I wanted to know what his opposition to electric-assisted bikes was. There wasn’t a standalone, single issue that Pat could put his finger on, more a feeling that it just wasn’t ok.
“Don’t you think it kind of defeats the whole point of mountain biking?” asked Pat.
For Pat, the idea that you’d want to bring electric assistance into the trails doesn’t make sense – having the helping hand of a motor isn’t just a matter of equipment choices, it’s changing the nature of the sport.
In Pat’s viewpoint, an intrinsic part of mountain biking is the work you put into it. Reward for labour; the harder you put in, the better it gets. Climb a long way, you get a longer descent. Train well, you can ride further and enjoy it more. Electric assistance throws that equation out of whack.
It’s also about the purity of it all (and I’m putting words in Pat’s mouth here), the direct relationship between your efforts and the feeling of flying through the trail. Electric assistance introduces something foreign into the experience, which for Pat would make it something other than mountain biking.
What do you think? Do you share a philosophical allegiance to either of these viewpoints? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook.
Electric assisted mountain bikes are on their way to Australia, and Specialized are on board in a big way with their new Turbo Levo range.
Mention electric mountain bikes and watch the internet implode. Battle lines are quickly drawn with riders dividing into the ‘it’s not mountain biking’ camp, or the ‘this is awesome’ camp. Whichever side people tend to ascribe themselves too, you can almost certainly bet they haven’t actually ridden one of the new generation of pedal-assisted mountain bikes.
Before we we get ourselves sucked into the pros, cons and propaganda from both sides, let’s take a look at Specialized’s new e-bike offering.
Specialized: To be clear, the Turbo Levo is a trail bike with pedal-assist Turbo Technology, not an electric bike or motorcycle with a throttle. Some riders and trail users may not be as excited as that you and your Turbo Levo are sharing the trails with them. Please be aware of the rules and laws of your local trails.
What is the Turbo Levo?
As far as we can tell, the Levo looks to be an adaptation of Specialized’s new Stumpjumper 6Fattie, with a 3-inch x 650b tyres to deliver absolutely bag loads of traction. If you didn’t see our coverage from the launch of the new Stumpy, take a look here. We also tested Specialized’s new Fuse 6Fattie hardtail just a few weeks ago and came away really, really surprised.
But of course the tyre size is completely secondary to the real talking point of the Levo, its electric motor which should help you crest the nastiest hills like feeling like Lance in his most turbo-charged era.
Specialized have been developing electric bikes for a while – their Turbo electric assisted commuter bike is an impressive piece of work – but e-mountain bikes are a different kettle of fish, and the hub-drive motors found on many commuter bikes aren’t appropriate off road. Instead the Levo uses a centre-mounted motor, that has been custom built exclusively for Specialized.
Of all the electric assisted mountain bikes we’ve seen so far, this has to be most cleanly executed from a visual standpoint. It actually looks like a normal bike at first glance, which can’t be said of all e-bikes. Fitting in a motor, battery and associated electro-doids can make it hard to create a bike with decent geometry – the Levo’s geometry figures all look relatively standard, with the exception of the chain stays which are a lengthy 459mm to allow the motor to be squeezed in.
250W motor specs:
– Compact and lightweight at 3400g
– Quieter, quicker engagement with the smoothest disengagement
– 530W / 90Nm power output
– Battery will recharge in 3.5 hours,
[divider]Mission Control App[/divider]
Unlike other brands which use an onboard computer, Specialized have gone down the route of an external app. For iOS and Android devices, the Mission Control app gives you all the toys to tune the bike including a Smart Control algorithm allows you to set your desired ride time, distance, or destination and it will adjust the Levo’s motor and battery output to suit.