Six months aboard the Specialized Levo
Earlier this year we found ourselves blasting around the Victorian High Country aboard the (then) brand new Specialized Levo. Having received the bike before its official launch to the public, we chose Mt Buller as an ideal testing location to put this high-performance e-MTB through its paces. We had a mega time, with the gorgeous vistas and loamy alpine singletrack reminding us why we love Buller so much. Oh and the bike? Sure, that was pretty impressive too.
In the six months since that launch, our Specialized Levo Pro test bike has been ridden hard and it’s been ridden a lot. It’s bounced from California, to Mt Buller, up to Flow HQ Newcastle, back down to VIC High Country, and now back up to Newcastle where it’s residing with Mick as his personal long-termer.
With half a year gone by, and with the honeymoon having well and truly worn off, what’s it been like to live day-to-day with the Specialized Levo? Have there been any surprises? Has anything broken? And is this still the best e-MTB we’ve ever tested? Here we’ll be diving into our long-term experience of testing the Specialized Levo Pro.
Beyond the honeymoon
With the Specialized Levo being one of the most popular e-MTBs on the market, there was always going to be a great deal of anticipation and excitement around the launch of the new third generation model. Seeking to capitalise on the hype, the development team at Specialized certainly didn’t hold back on the updates.
Having moved to a trendy mullet setup with a 27.5in rear wheel, the new Levo has also adopted shorter chainstays while incorporating the 6-way adjustable geometry system we first saw debut on the Stumpjumper EVO.
There have been improvements to the electrics too. While Specialized carried over the huge 700Wh internal battery, the Brose-manufactured motor has been updated with more robust sealing and a tougher belt design. Peak torque remains at 90Nm, but the delivery of power has been refined thanks to the implementation of the latest MasterMind firmware.
MasterMind TCU – tidy, but too geeky for some
Another innovation has been the new MasterMind TCU display, which is integrated right into the frame’s top tube. We love the crystal-clear screen and the fact that battery status is displayed as a percentage. Having a clock on there is surprisingly handy too, and assuming you record your rides via the Mission Control app, there’s really no need to carry an additional GPS head unit. It all leads to a beautifully clean cockpit, with no bulky screens on the handlebars, and minimal wires on show.
While we did geek out on all the data pages, to begin with, Mick admits that as a set ‘n’ forget rider when it comes to anything electronic, he’s no longer making use of all those different metrics. In fact, he rides with the Levo in Stealth mode, which dims the screen, loses the beep noises, and displays the battery level only. This reduces the visual distraction for the rider and for others, in turn, it helps reduce the ‘e-MTB factor’ in the whole bike. Mick clearly loves to ride this bike, but talking about e-bikes to other riders on the trail not so much, positive or not (opinion piece coming soon on that).
It’s not to say that the MasterMind TCU isn’t impressive, because it is. And riders who are really into their data will love having all that information at their fingertips, like the live consumption reading and the power input/output levels. But if you’re not one to typically ride with a GPS computer on your bars, fuss over Strava, care less about data, or do not wear an Apple Watch, all those metrics might feel a little unnecessary or distracting.
Any durability issues so far?
Our Specialized Levo Pro test bike has had a heck of a time over the past six months. Not long after the launch it actually went back to Specialized for a photo shoot, where it was pounded by around the High Country. Indeed the red Levo has been the village bicycle for a lot of riders, and it’s seen a load of different trails and conditions in that time.
While much of the bike has been flawless, the biggest durability problem we’ve encountered has been with the suspension components.
Following the Mt Beauty photoshoot, we discovered the Fox Float X2 shock was leaking air. That was whipped off and sent to Ride Fox Australia to be rebuilt under warranty, and since then it’s been performing a-ok.
Unfortunately, the Fox 38 has also developed a loud clicking noise that was noticed when lifting the front end. We initially suspected the headset, but after some diagnosis in the workshop, the noise has been tracked down to the fork internals. We’ve taken it off the bike to send back to Fox for inspection, so we’ll hopefully find out what’s causing the noise. A RockShox ZEB Ultimate has stepped in as a stunt double for the time being.
These aren’t the first issues with recent Fox products either. We’ve had sloppy performance from both a Transfer and Transfer SL dropper post, leaky seals on a 38 fork, a leaky air spring on a 38, and a blown damper on a Float X2 shock. Hopefully this isn’t a broader trend and we’ve just been really unlucky.
Needless to say, it’s been a real letdown to have suspension issues on an e-MTB that costs about the same as a brand new Mazda2.
The only other breakage to report has been the charge port door. This occurred in the workshop when the bike was rolled backwards while the charging cable was plugged in. As the non-drive crank arm rotated backwards it snapped the plastic door clean off its hinge. Some tape is keeping it in place for the time being while a replacement door is on backorder with Specialized.
Being a powerful go-anywhere e-MTB with a big battery, our Specialized Levo has visited a lot of off-piste terrain. Climbing over fallen logs and bushwhacking through overgrown vines has seen the bike getting absolutely hammered, and that’s evident by how regularly the rotors have been bent out of true.
The S3 size normally comes stock with 200mm diameter SRAM Centerline rotors, though Mick did upsize to a 220mm front rotor for increased power. While the big rotors offer additional bite, they’re also more susceptible to being bent and warped.
We’ve since fitted a set of the new SRAM HS2 rotors, which are considerably thicker at 2mm. They are heavier, but so far we’ve found them to be more resistant to bending. It’s claimed that the extra material and the addition of thermal-dissipating paint will keep your brakes running cooler too.
Despite having gone back down to a 200mm front rotor, power feels pretty similar. The biggest difference we’ve noticed is how much smoother and quieter the new HS2 rotors are compared to the old Centerlines. We’ve not had any issues with brake fade, and the additional heat management is most certainly welcome given how much of a workout the brakes get on an e-MTB like the Levo on the bigger hills west of Newcastle.
The other key change on our Levo Pro test bike has been with the tyres. The stock setup is a 2.6in Butcher T9 on the front and a 2.6in Eliminator T7 on the rear, both with GRID Trail casings. This is a terrific combo that performs well in a wide range of conditions, with the sticky T9 compound on the front tyre being a particular highlight when it comes to cornering grip.
However, after riding the Stumpjumper EVO and the Kenevo SL which both use the 2.3in size, Mick was curious as to how the Levo would feel with a slightly lighter tyre setup, so he got his hands on an identical set of tyres in the narrower 2.3in width.
Mounted up to the 30mm wide Roval rims, these tyres actually measure up at 2.44in wide. They only dropped about 100g in total, but the change in ride feel proved to be quite noticeable, with the narrower tyres offering a sharper feel to the Levo’s handling.
They’re also able to cut through softer surfaces, rather than floating on top of the trail. That does reduce a bit of squish and comfort, but it means the whole bike feels more connected to the ground, with greater precision for aggressive high-speed riding. On steep tech climbs, there’s actually been noticeably more rear wheel traction from the narrower tyre, which is exacerbated in wet and muddy conditions.
If you’re curious about the new rubber and casing options, be sure to check out our separate review on the new Specialized trail tyres.
Why we love the Specialized Levo
Despite the aforementioned issues, we continue to be impressed by the trail-taming performance of the Specialized Levo.
The handling is brilliant, and we’re big fans of the mullet wheel setup, which serves up a hearty helping of enthusiasm thanks to the sharper turn-in of the 27.5in rear wheel and the shorter chainstays. There’s also excellent sensitivity and support from the well-balanced suspension. Somehow it manages to deliver wicked traction, without feeling completely glued to the ground like some e-MTBs can.
The Brose-manufactured 2.2 motor is also one of the best we’ve ridden. It is so smooth and quiet on the trail, and while there is huge torque available, the delivery of power is super intuitive thanks to the new MasterMind firmware that drives it. We’ve had inexperienced riders jump on the Levo, and it’s taken them no time at all to get to grips with the relationship between pedalling input and motor output.
We’ve also had zero problems with the motor, despite clocking up over 1,000km on the odometer. Specialized certainly made a big fuss about all the durability improvements it had made for the 2.2 motor, and so far we have no reason to doubt those claims.
As well as being really tidy, the cockpit is also highly functional and comfortable. The Deity grips and Bridge saddle are fantastic, the 780mm bars have a totally agreeable profile, and unlike the Fox fork and shock, the Transfer dropper continues to deliver slick, trouble-free operation.
The adjustable geometry is also useful and really well executed. We’ve been able to try all six settings, which is not hard to do on the side of the trail. Even swapping headset cups can be done in a few minutes, since you don’t need to drop the fork out entirely.
Our Levo is currently running the neutral headset cup, with the chainstay flip chip set in the low & long setting. Despite the lower BB height, the short 160mm crank arms mean that Mick hasn’t had any issues with clipping pedals. We’d look to put the headtube in the slack position if we were gearing up for a week of alpine riding, but to be honest, the Levo has never felt sufficiently out of its depth to warrant going any slacker than neutral. It’s currently tuned really nicely for all-round riding.
What could be improved?
We mentioned in our original review that while the motor performance is powerful, quiet and intuitive on the trail, there is noticeably more drag through the pedals when you’re pedalling past the 25km/h cutoff point. This may simply be the tradeoff for the stealthy operation though – drive units from both Bosch and Shimano offer less resistance through the pedals, but they also exhibit an annoying clacking noise when freewheeling over bumps. Can we not have a quiet AND drag-free motor? Perhaps not at this point in the evolution of the e-MTB.
We’d also be very interested to try the Levo out with a smaller and lighter battery. As it stands, you can achieve massive range from the 700Wh battery, which will outlast the stamina of most riders. The peace of mind is great, and there’s basically no range anxiety whatsoever. It does mean that it’s pretty rare to come close to rinsing the battery though, so for the most part you’re carrying around extra weight without really needing it.
Addressing this conundrum head-on, the new Norco Sight VLT recently launched with three battery sizes (540Wh, 720Wh and 900Wh options), allowing riders to choose the right size for their needs.
Since then, we’ve been wondering what the Levo would be like with a smaller 400-500Wh battery. You’d be able to drop close to a kilo in weight, and you’d also be bringing weight down away from the head tube, which would surely improve handling.
Of course Specialized is already pushing the lightweight e-MTB concept with its Levo SL and Kenevo SL models, which come with a smaller 35Nm motor and a much lighter 320Wh battery. With that in mind, dropping weight from the regular Levo with a smaller battery would blur the existing boundary with the SL models, so we wouldn’t expect Specialized to dive into this concept in the future. We’re still curious to try it though, and we’ll be waiting to see if any other brands follow in Norco’s footsteps with battery-tuning options.
Is it worth the cash?
That’s a question we grappled with when we first got our hands on the Specialized Levo Pro, and to be honest, we’re still grappling with it now. Yes, it has a motor in it, but there’s still no getting around the fact that $20,200 AUD is a stupendous amount of money to spend on a bike.
Sure, the Levo Pro does have a pretty bling-tastic spec with its Kashima gold suspension and dropper post, carbon handlebar, carbon Praxis cranks and carbon Roval wheelset. The high-end build is reflected in the 22kg weight, which is very impressive given the heavy-duty fork and shock. And there’s a huge amount of refinement in the chassis itself, with clearly a huge amount of development poured into the motor, firmware, MasterMind TCU display and the Mission Control app.
That all being said, it’s hard to see the value in it – no matter how well it rides.
Since the original launch, Specialized has added a Levo Expert to the range, which presents a slightly more palatable option for a mere $16,300 AUD. The spec is more sensible for sure. Same frame, motor and battery, but it skips the fancy Kashima-coated suspension, and sticks to alloy for the bar, cranks and rims. So a little heavier, but arguably a far more practical build for a $4K saving. And until Specialized releases an alloy Levo, that’s the model we’d pick out of the current lineup.
The third generation Specialized Levo impressed us when it launched earlier this year, and six months on it continues to impress. We’ve had a lot of adventures during that time, which has unearthed some annoying durability issues, while also reaffirming why we dig this bike so much.
Indeed the Levo offers some of the best handling and suspension we’ve experienced on an e-MTB, with a motor that is ludicrously smooth, quiet and intuitive on the trail. And no brand can touch Specialized when it comes to the slick MasterMind TCU display and the usability of its Mission Control app.
It is bonkers money, and that makes it an extremely hard sell when you can buy a very good e-MTB from the likes of Merida, Norco and Canyon, for literally half the price. Regardless, for the riders who want the very best and can appreciate all the finer details, the Levo continues to be the highest performing all-round e-MTB that (a lot of) money can buy.