The Mother of All E-Bikes: Specialized’s Levo Kenevo is Here

OMG. What IS that?

A 180mm-travel, Ohlins equipped, 2.8″ tyred, descent crusher, that you can pedal up hill faster than Nino Schurter.

The story here is pretty simple. Take the proven Specialized Levo platform, add more travel, better dampers, and slacken it out. What you’re left with is a bike just a few steps shy of a full on downhill rig in terms of descending prowess, but that you can comfortably climb at up to 25km/h. If you want more background on the Levo, read our full review here, or some info about the 2018 Levo carbon here.

Oh yes.

Surely it weights a tonne? 

Of course, probably 23kg. But when you’re barrelling back down the DH run you’ve just pedalled to the top of, you won’t be too worried about the weight, we promise.

Is it alloy or carbon?

Alloy, and there’s only the one model of the Kenevo available at the moment, with the spec you see here (though Australia will be getting an all black version). It will retail for $9000 AUD, arriving in October 2017.

So how does it ride?

Well, if the regular Levo offers the e-experience equivalent to the Specialized Stumpjumper, the Kenevo is more like the Enduro, but with even more of a downhill flavour. Because of the bike’s weight and insane stability, it has a real downhill bike feel about it, it is incredibly calm, absolutely planted to the earth in the corners on its big rubber. It rumbles over the rocks, just like you’d expect of a bike with a 180mm Lyrik and a coil-spring Ohlins shock to do.

The Kenevo isn’t a gazelle, but it was a lot more willing to launch than you might assume.

Getting it off the ground was not nearly as hard as we’d feared, and on just our second run down the hill, we found ourselves cleanly hucking a pretty tricky step-down that we’d have assumed was too big a stretch on a heavy bike like this. It flies evenly too, with all the stability you’d expect.

There is a small price to pay in terms of manoeuvrability when compared to a regular Levo, but the difference isn’t as dramatic as you might assume.

Who is this bike for?

Frankly, we think a lot of former downhillers are going to fall in love with this bike, plus all those riders who generally just live to descend.

We’ve always thought this was a predictable path for the evolution of e-bikes, and we’re a bit surprised there aren’t more long-travel pedal assisted bikes already. You have a motor, it’s not like the extra travel is slowing you down.

We really want to get this bike into some properly challenging terrain to see what it can do.

The pure downhill market is tiny, and shrinking. And it’s riders like the staff here at Flow who have been part of that exodus.  We used to do a lot of downhilling. While getting older is part of it, to some degree we also stopped downhilling because it’s a bit of a hassle: you need a shuttle vehicle, someone is always having to sit out a run and drive, you only actually get to ride half the time and you’re stuffed into a smelly van the rest…. All of these obstacles are overcome with a pedal-assisted bike.

Our test ride on the Kenevo was the first time we’ve done a group ride on e-bikes, and it was a real revelation. We all rode the climb as a group, chatting the whole time, all arriving at the top of the hill together. No one was left out, no one felt bad for holding the group up, and no one had to drive the shuttle. And then we blasted the descent like normal.

Look, you’re either going to love this thing, or you’re going to view it as an aberration of the sport. We fall into the first camp. Why? Because downhilling is a lot of fun, and because shuttle vehicles aren’t.



Specialized 2018 Range Highlights

The new, new Enduro! A few worthy revisions have been made on this recently improved platform.

More #enduro Enduro

Wait, didn’t this bike get a massive update just 12 months ago? Yes, it did. But the feedback from the market and team riders was that perhaps the geometry and suspension rates weren’t quite right, and so Specialized have made some tweaks.

Full credit to them here, as it’s bloody expensive to open new carbon moulds, but obviously Specialized regard the Enduro as a real flagship bike in their range hence their willingness to bite the bullet and re-jig the bike.

Ok, the best looking bike of the year is here.
The Enduro 29er is more than a enduro slayer, it’s a great trail bike too.
Specialized are making it easy and affordable for 2017 Enduro owners to upgrade their linkage to the 2018 version.

Geometry and suspension changes

“We want it longer” was the message from the market, particularly with regard to the 650B version of the Enduro which was proving a little tight for riders who were getting rowdy, and so length has been added to both bikes up front. The Enduro 29er grows by 10mm in a medium, while the 650B bike is 15mm longer.

At the same time, a new shock link and yoke provide a more progressive suspension curve and a small degree of geometry adjustment too – there’s a simple flip chip to give you half a degree of head angle tweakage to play with.

Owners of a 2017 Enduro will be happy to hear the new linkage/yoke is retrofittable, and Specialized are making it available super cheap too.

Longer and more progressive, so you can get more aggressive. #rhyming

WU Post adjust the angle of the dangle

This one has been in the works for a while, as hinted by the massive 34.9mm seat post found on the Enduro frame last year. The new WU Command Post is a re-think of the traditional dropper – as the seat is lowered, it also tilts rearward by 14 degrees. Anyone who has ridden a downhill bike will know the advantages of having your seat angled like this, as it aids getting behind the saddle and makes it generally less obtrusive when you don’t want it.

On our test ride around the You Yangs, we definitely found the WU post’s unique positioning to be more noticeable than we anticipated – we think on steeper terrain the benefits would be more obvious, whereas on flatter terrain it felt a bit funky.

What are you hiding in there….?

Slicker SWAT

The coolest thing ever? Specialized’s SWAT on-bike storage integrations go to a new level for 2018, with a steerer tube stashed multitool and chain breaker. Flip the little door open and the spring loaded system pops out your multitool. Remove the whole system from the steerer tube to get access to the chain breaker and spare quick link.

Making use of dead space to stash your tools.
The SWAT steerer tube assembly removed. Note the chain links stashed too?

Ohlins, now in 650B and with revised sealing

The Specialized/Ohlins partnership gets stronger, with the Swedish manufacturer now offering 650B Boost forks, whereas last year Ohlins forks were only available in 29er format. The reliability issues that plagued last year’s air shocks has apparently been resolved, though obviously time will tell on this one. Hopefully it’s all hunky dory now, as the sealing issues last year really put a damper on our experiences with this bike last year.

Ohlins are now supplying Boost 650B forks too, so there’ll be more of them in the range than before.
The simple adjustments of the Ohlins shock are ideal.


Epically improved Epic

One of the most successful cross-country bikes of all time has had a huge rethink for 2018. The new Epic is a much more modern take on what XC racing is all about, and a really lovely piece of work. We already took a good look at this bike in a previous piece here, but a few recaps below.

The Epic was always going to be a hard one to keep improving, but Specialized have gone to a new level with the latest iteration.

More shredding, less flying over the bars. 

The geometry was been toned down from the savagely sharp handling of previous generations to deliver a more confidence inspiring ride, suiting the increasingly technical tracks of the XCO circuit. With more trail friendly handling now, we’d be surprised if this bike doesn’t woo a few riders away from the Camber. Things like bar width and tyre width have been upped too. Hooray! Going fast uphill doesn’t have to mean being terrified when the trail gets gnarly going back down.

Super light

The Epic has dropped a ridiculous amount of weight. 350g has been shed from the S-Works model, and over 500g has been weaselled out of the Expert level frame. Those are huge chunks to carve out!

No more Horst link!

No more FSR

The Horst link is gone! A big portion of the Epic’s weight loss has been possible with a move to a flex stay arrangement, rather than a using a pivot on the chain stay like just about all previous Specialized dual suspension bikes. Flex stays are nothing new – on a short travel bike like this they can still deliver all the sensitivity and control needed, but with a big gain in lateral stiffness and huge weight savings. Bikes like the Cannondale Scalpel and Scott Spark all use flex stays too.

Improved suspension sensitivity

The Brain system has had an overhaul as well. It’s been shifted from its previous position mid-way along the chain stay to sitting right on the rear axle. This should lead to faster responsiveness of the Brain in transitioning between its closed and open states. The oil flow from the Brain to the actual damper has been improved too, with less convoluted routing.


Gender neutral platforms

Specialized have abandoned the use of gender specific frames, across the board. There are still men’s and women’s versions of most bikes (all the way up to S-Works variants) , but the differences are restricted to things like paint, saddles, crank length, grips, bars and suspension tune.

Now the bike industry is full of spin on this subject, and there are certainly going to be detractors who’ll portray this move as a purely cost saving exercise, but Specialized have their rationale. They say that it’s all about delivering performance first and providing a bike that is most suitable for the ‘experience’ a rider is after, no matter what gender. Just because a rider happens to be female doesn’t mean they want their bike to somehow handle differently to a man’s. After all, a woman riding an Epic wants the exact same performance traits as a guy – they want it to rip uphills and devour fast racetracks.

Men’s and women’s bikes now share the same frames, which means guys can get their hands on this ridiculously good paint job.

Specialized say that the subtle differences in fit that might be required can all be handled in store with position adjustments and small equipment changes, especially if the shop has access to the Retul bike fit system that Specialized own.

Look, it’s a hard one to decipher; on one hand, you’ve got this line from Specialized about experience first. On the other hand, you’ve got brands like Liv bringing out a huge range of women’s specific bikes and pointing to their own research into biomechanics that validate their approach. We’re confused, and we’re sure consumers are too.


 

Lighter, stiffer, more natural feeling and longer travel. The Levo carbon is here.

Levo goes carbon

The e-bike that really spearheaded things here in Australia makes a leap to carbon, gets more travel, and a more natural feeling motor too. If you want to know what we think of the Levo, make sure you check out our full review here.

The S-Works and Expert models get a more powerful battery for longer range than the Comp.

Lighter, stiffer

The full carbon S-Works version of the Levo sheds almost 700g compared to the full alloy frame, but it’s the stiffness gains that are more impressive. With a bike this heavy and with this much traction, keeping it all stiff and stable is hard work and carbon construction does a much better job of keeping it all tracking where you point it.

It’s important to take a moment and consider how impressive the construction really is too. It must be bloody tricky to make a carbon bike strong and stiff enough when you chop out half the down tube to stick a battery in there!

Gaping holes, just waiting for POWER. It’s an impressive piece of frame building.

More natural pedal response plus walk mode

The motor and software has been reworked to make the pedal response feel more natural. Previously, the motor relied on the rider pedalling with a high cadence to operate effectively, which felt a bit strange at first. Things have now been tweaked so the motor will reach peak power output at around a pedalling speed of around 20 RPM less, which is more in line with a natural cadence on a regular bike.

A walk mode has also been added that scoots the bike along at 5km/h (super handy if you need to push it along), along with a remote mode to make it a lot easier to toggle between power outputs on the fly.

The belt drive inside the Levo motor is good for 15,000km.
Razzing about the You’ies on the Levo Carbon.

More travel

Front and rear travel has been bumped up to 150mm as well, which is a welcome addition. As we noted in our previous test, the rear end struggled to keep up with the bike’s abilities in the past, so giving it all slightly longer legs is a big win. After all, it’s not like getting that extra travel up the hill is an issue!

A bar mounted button makes for easier mode adjustment. The bottom button toggles the walk mode too.

We discussed the changes coming with the 2018 Levo models in more detail here.


Canola You’ie Vehicle Pan.

Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Carbon

The Butcher 650b x 2.8″ tyres find traction on anything

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.

The Coastal Crew revealed just how capable the Turbo Levo is on demanding trails

Why carbon?

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.

A very stiff downtube, that houses 504Wh of pedal-assist power

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.

The most sleek e-mtb just got sleeker. Hello, Levo Carbon!

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.

Trail Handlebar Remote, motor mode switch & walk-assist

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.

Very impressive for a first gen, but we’re itching to get a Carbon Levo dirty

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Expert 6Fattie

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.

It's alive!
It’s alive!

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.

Read about our impressions of the Levo when we first heard about it.

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.

Connect with some of our queries of the system and experiences after our first ride, we explored trail damage issues, weight, danger to others, setup, how they ride and more.

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.

We write about two opposing sides of the debate of acceptance.

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.

A 140mm travel RockShox Pike, no doubt it is up for the task.
A 140mm travel RockShox Pike, no doubt it is up for the task.

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.

From a distance it looks a lot more 'normal' than many of the common e-MTBs out there.
From a distance it looks a lot more ‘normal’ than many of the common e-MTBs out there, quite streamlined considering what is involved.

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.

Simple and unobtrusive control, the rest is done from your phone.
Simple and unobtrusive control, the rest is done from your phone.

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 smartphone app is loaded with information and tuning features.
The smartphone app is loaded with information and tuning features.

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.

It's all in there, the power.
It’s all in there, the power.

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.

6Fattie tyres are a no-brainer for this bike.
6Fattie tyres are a no-brainer for this bike.

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.

The little chainguide will provide the security you need when there's that much power going through the drivetrain.
The little chainguide will provide the security you need when there’s that much power going through the drivetrain.

What’s next?

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.

Time to spend some hours on this thing, we're really looking forward to it.
Time to spend some hours on this thing, we’re really looking forward to it.

A Very Good Toy…

FLOW3272
Our very first experience on an e-bike was on board the Specialized Turbo Levo.

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.

FLOW3310
Here’s the juice.

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.

FLOW3285
Your second set of legs lives in this box.

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.

FLOW3290
With a standard 29×2.3″ tyre, we didn’t notice any more wheel spins or skidding than we’d expect on a regular bike. We think this would be even further reduced with a Plus sized tyre.

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.

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A speed sensor operates of a magnet on the rotor, cutting the pedal assistance out above 25km/h.

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.

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With the extra weight on board, the suspension works a little harder.

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.

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Half a tank of gas.

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.

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Getting an efficient pedal stroke is less important, so we rode with the seat lowered a lot.

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.

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We found that compared to a standard bike, we shifted less often, and spun the pedals a lot more, rather than stomping.

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.

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The battery on the Levo weighs in at about 3.5kg and is housed in the down tube.

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.

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We can envisage the development of more e-bike specific drivetrain components.

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!

Specialized’s Electric Assisted Mountain Bike, The Turbo Levo

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.


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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.

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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.


 

 

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[divider]The Motor[/divider]

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,

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That’s a whole chunk o’ battery.
[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. Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 2.12.08 pm

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What massive climb?

[divider]Australian pricing[/divider]
S-WORKS  TURBO LEVO FSR 6FATTIE $14,999

TURBO LEVO FSR EXPERT 6FATTIE $9,999

TURBO LEVO FSR COMP 6FATTIE $7,999

TURBO LEVO HT EXPERT FAT $7,999

TURBO LEVO HT COMP 6FATTIE $5,999

TURBO LEVO HT COMP 6FATTIE WMNS $5,999