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

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.