11 Sep 2018

From high-paced singletrack missions to back-country explorations, fully-loaded film shoots and the days you just feel like more power, our Levo has been a fantastic part of our bike fleet this season.

The not-so-minor details

Product

Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Expert Carbon

Contact

Specialized

https://www.specialized.com/

This is the second Specialized Levo we’ve had on test, and the third we’ve ridden. Our experiences of the wide world of E-bikes began on the Levo; a first generation bike with 29″ wheels, narrow tyres, so much power, too much power, dubious spec choices and the result was an eye-opening experience. There were many improvements needed for these bikes to ride how we wanted them to.

Tweaking and tuning with the Levo.

Anyhow, this Levo Expert Carbon we’ve had for almost one year has been brilliant, far smoother to ride with the power coming on strong but with less surging power from the motor at unexpected times, much quieter and lighter overall.

Levo couldn’t hide from the Flow upgrade program.

We decided to make a few tweaks to our test bike, in areas we saw the potential for improvement. Namely the fork, brakes, rear tyre.

Öhlins to Marzocchi, Lingonberry to Arancini.

We swapped out the Swedish fork for an Italian one – well, used to be Italian, Marzocchi is now owned by FOX. We didn’t have any major qualms with the Öhlins RXF 36 fork, but we just never felt comfortable with it. On the trail, it felt smooth, quiet and composed, though unlike a FOX or RockShox for we lamented that feeling of knowing where you were in the travel range. All the Öhlins forks we have tried always seem to feel a little different though, maybe this one just needs a bit of TLC.

Big fans of the Bomber Z1’s simple and slick performance.

The new Marzocchi Bomber Z1 was revived by FOX to provide a robust and uncomplicated fork to a lower price point, we had it fitted to our Norco Sight 29er for a few months and really liked it, and always thought it’d be a good fit for the Levo.

After a couple of rides, the front end of the Levo feels more stable, and we’ve noticed reduced fatigue in our hands with the Bomber’s fast and sensitive action working overtime. Click here to see our review of the Marzocchi Bomber Z1.

2.8″ to 2.6″ tyre out the back.

While you can’t fault a big old 2.8″ tyre when it comes to the task of finding traction when it’s rare, but the large volume 2.8″ tyres on 38mm rims feel a little vague underneath you and don’t like landing hard, being pushed into a banked turn or lip of a jump. They need to be run at low pressure, or the benefit of the air volume doesn’t come into effect, and big tyres at high pressure feel like a waste, carrying unnecessary rubber.

Downsized the tyre out the back in the hope of increased precision.

Off came the 2.8″ Specialized Butcher tyre, replaced with a 2.6″ of the same tread. The 2.6″ tyre felt great, while not as large in air volume and therefore not as smooth, we gained in other areas.

We expected this change to lower the bottom bracket height, while it would have, the feeling on the trail was not evident, as the positive impact it had on our local trails was great. Pushing the rear end into turns harder, reducing the issue of catching unwanted rocks sticking out on the sides of our line.

Saint pedals.

Finally replacing the big old plastic DX pedals mainly seen downhill bikes, Shimano Saint’s are made for heavy work and seemed like a good fit for the Levo. With the inherent nature of E-bikes promoting you to keep on pedalling to keep the power engaged, we often find ourselves bashing pedals and cranks into the ground. That promoted two ideas for us; run smaller bodied XC pedals for more ground clearance, or use robust pedals that should resist damage from potential rock strikes?

Big and sturdy, the new Shimano Saint pedals.

We’re going to experiment with this, first up are the Saints.

TRP Quadiem brakes, DH power for a hefty bike.

After hearing many great things about these brakes, we finally fitted them to the Levo. But before we get to the brake performance, let us inform you that replacing the rear brake on this bike was not a quick job, in fact, it nearly broke us. We’ve changed about seven trillion brakes in bikes over the years; this takes the cake for the most painful.

Quite happy with these brakes, nice to try something different too.

Using the handy Park Tool internal cable guide tool (buy one if you haven’t already) to make things simpler, we pulled out the SRAM Code R brake line with the Park Tool thingo, attached the TRP brake line and gently pulled it back the other way. No, no, nooooo it snagged on something. No matter what we did, try, wished, hoped, we couldn’t get it through, the only next step was to remove the motor and inspect.

Removing motors to change brakes isn’t really what we want to be doing late on a school night, but we’d come this far, and there was no turning back. With the motor hanging out of the bike, we were able to locate what was causing the brake like to snag; the plastic spiral wrapping around the brake line and derailleur cable.

Bleeding the brake didn’t go to plan either, maybe we’re too accustomed to the SRAM Bleeding Edge system which makes life so easy, you never lose a drop of fluid, you could bleed SRAM brakes on the lounge room carpet with confidence. The TRP use a very traditional bleeding method, pushing a hose attached to a syringe onto the bleed nipple, and catch the fluid exiting the lever end in a plastic bag.

Sure enough, the hose popped off when we weren’t 100% concentrated, squirting mineral oil all over the brake, rendering the pads useless. Yes, yes, we shouldn’t have been bleeding the brakes with the pads in, we know, but we’d just been through hell with the install, so we were impatient.

After buying a new set of pads (compatible with Shimano XT 4-piston or Saint pads without the Ice-Tech Fins), we began the bed-in process. Crikey, they sure do take a long time to bed-in!

A very long time to bed-in, but the power is excellent and nicely modulated.
Big four-piston brakes on 180mm rotors, we’d prefer 200mm, but so far not an issue.

After a couple of rides, they are good-to-go, loads of power and modulation. A nicer lever feel than the SRAM Code R brakes it replaced, though with very comparable power. Maybe it wasn’t worth the installation hassle to change from the SRAM Code to TRP Quadiem, but they sure do look fancy.

Levo update, one year on.

It’s been about one year now with the Levo with no significant issues to report, just a couple little ones.

When cold the motor does make a few clunking noises occasionally, but only during the first couple pedal strokes. We believe this is a quick fix by a Specialized dealer and a known issue related to the clutch, though it’s  just a noise, no damage caused.

A little clunk from the motor when cold, and a rough dropper post action are the only issue’s we’ve had after one year.

The drivetrain continues to shift well, something that’s imperative to a correctly performing E-bike, as a shonky shift can result in the motor cutting out momentarily to avoid damage, so you need perfect shifting. The hanger has bent a couple of times inwards, too easily for our liking, not so much from impact but from laying the bike in the ground on photo shoots. Not a fault, just worth keeping in mind.

Specialized’s Command Post is ergonomic, easy to activate, and hasn’t developed unwanted slop but we think it may have been over-inflated at some point of its life. When lifted from full compression, it occasionally sticks at the top of the stroke, requiring a little bit more of a nudge to drop down again. We’d also love to see a post come from Specialized that doesn’t shoot up so fast towards your bits, one day maybe.

What’s next?

29er?

We’ve been dying to try 29″ wheels on the Levo. Smaller 650B/27.5″ wheels have become the standard for the majority of current E-bikes with their inherent lower centre of gravity, maneuverability, strength and ability to fit large 2.8″ and 3″ tyres into a chassis. But what about the classic benefits of 29″ wheels, would they not bring enough to the party? Would they lift the bike up too high? What if we tried 29″ wheels with a 2.4 or 2.5″ size tyre, and ultra-tough casings in between a full downhill casing and a lighter all-mountain or enduro casing.

A set of FSA Wide’R wheels are ready to fit, and we’ve earmarked a set of Maxxis Minion tyres with the new EXO+ casing. The Levo can take both 29 or 650B wheels, though there isn’t any geometry adjustment like many bikes with interchangability.

Coil shock, or ditching the Autosag?

Another area we’re keen to explore is the rear shock. With only 135mm of travel, the Levo does feel a little under gunned at times. We’ve been hearing great things about swapping the RockShox air shock for an Öhlins coil. Or perhaps a RockShox Deluxe air shock without the Autosag adjustment would be a good option, as Specialized has forgone the Autosag system on the new Stumpjumper in favour of a simpler shock with less internal architecture constraints.

What would you like to see us experiment with the Levo? Leave a comment below.

Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to enjoy riding our Levo and experimenting with different setup and parts. Power up!