When Specialized came out with the first Turbo Levo FSR, they were already very keen on full system integration - even if it meant creating some components and software all on their own to have it their way. With the launch of the new Levo, their drive for building the total package has reached another level.
At the moment, 19 people are working at the Turbo Innovation Center in Switzerland, which is focusing solely on the development of the Turbo e-bike line, and the dedication shows.
The new Turbo Levo is a ground-up redesign with a slimmer, stiffer and more capable chassis. It has lost a considerable junk of weight overall, is equipped with a new technology system, and features about 40% more range. Trying to list all the major improvements in detail will take some time.
Specialized Levo Expert FSR Details
• Intended use: all-mountain/trail
• Wheel size: 29" or 27.5"+
• Rear wheel travel: 150 mm
• 66º or 65.5º head angle
• Frame material: Fact 9m carbon/M5 aluminum
• RockShox Deluxe RT3 rear shock w/custom valving
• Motor: Specialized Turbo 2.1, 250 W
• Battery: Turbo M2-700, 700 Wh
• Sizes: S-XL
• Weight: 21.55 kg (w/o pedals, w/o tubes)
• Colors: carbon/monster green, storm grey/rocket red
• Price: €7,999
Weight saving was a key factor with the development work, while also adding stiffness and higher precision to the feel of the frame. The biggest amount of weight was shed by developing the new motor together with Brose. While it was necessary to utilize a carrier to hold the motor in the frame with the old system, Specialized was able to lose 400 grams by ditching the carrier and another 400 grams from the new 15% smaller motor itself.
Three types of frames are available: The S-Works model is fully made of Fact 11m carbon fiber, the Expert and Comp Carbon features a Fact 9m mainframe with M5 alloy rear stays and the Levo Comp and Levo come with a full M5 Premium alloy frame. Thanks to the same design parameters, the aluminum-framed version of the new Levo now weighs less than the old S-Works carbon model.
Specialized also took what they learned from the three-year development of the new Stumpjumper and implemented it into the new Turbo Levo with 150 mm of rear wheel travel. Before the addition of the sidearm, they saw that under certain riding conditions the distance between the shock mounts changed under load. Adding the sidearm allows the bike to track better, plus, having the links on the sides of the seat tube further adds stiffness to the package. This new generation of Levo runs on 29-inch wheels with 2.6" tires for added steering precision compared to 2.8/3.0" plus tires, but the frame is designed to also be compatible with up to 27.5" x 3.0" tires.
For every bike model, Specialized takes every single shock to the dyno, tears it apart and custom tunes it under its Rx-tuned program. In regard to the new Turbo Levo, Specialized changed the suspension kinematics considerably and added to the compression tune, providing more support in the mid-stroke of the travel and more progression at the end of the travel. The shock mounts fit regular metric shocks to allow for more aftermarket options.
Another nice touch is (except for the S-Works model) every bike is available in two to four different color combinations. And yes, you can fit a water bottle in the main triangle. Nice details include a small custom chainguide to keep the chain in place and a multi-tool is hidden in the stem's top cap. Fork stop bumpers are integrated into the down tube. Of course, there's an FSR-link on board that separates suspension from braking influences.Motor and electronics
Specialized has been working closely with Brose to build the new 250w motor, which essentially has turned into the Brose Drive S Mag, at least in terms of most of the hardware. Among other things, they have been the driving force behind the brand new motor mount positions, to achieve the shortest chainstays possible and integrate the motor better into the frame. Built with a complete magnesium housing, they could have opted to make the motor even lighter but decided on making it stronger as well. Compared to its predecessor, the motor is also more stable and any thermal issues are claimed to have been eliminated. The motor features a quiet belt drive, which is free of vibrations and a double freewheel design that disengages the gearbox when you hit 25 km/h.
The firmware, electronics and electronics board are fully custom-built by Specialized to give their bikes the Turbo treatment, really making the Specialized 2.1 motor quite a step up from the old 1.3 model and separating it from the regular Brose Drive S Mag motor.
One of the biggest extra features is the addition of a bar mounted control unit to switch between the support modes (Eco, Trail and Turbo) or activate a new walk mode that instantly adds ample assistance when pushing the bike up a hill. Also, the small Ride Mode display that provides you with basic information about the charge level via 10x LED lights is now situated on top of the top tube, compared to the location on the side of the down tube from older models. Furthermore, the display now also shows what support mode you are riding in by three circular LEDs. The unit can be removed by shops to reveal a diagnostics port, which allows them to access a plethora of information about the bike with their specific Turbo Studio software.
Available as an aftermarket device (for €89), Specialized also offers the TCU display that fits Garmin mounts. It acts as an information unit, giving you battery percentage, wattage from rider input (without the motor input), heart rate (if connected to a sensor), top speed and all other kinds of interesting data. The unit is compatible with old Levos as well. A lot of the bike's data can also be accessed by most modern third-party bike computers with ANT+ and Bluetooth.
Specialized is still working on an algorithm to calculate the exact range in kilometers available and won't add the feature to the system until it's done right. In the meantime, smart control allows you to tell the bike how much power you want to be left after X amount of riding hours and the bike will adjust the battery support accordingly.
The new battery is now fully inserted into the down tube through the bottom bracket area, without any reinforcements needed. An expander spring leaf on top of the battery locks it into place, so there's no mechanism that can fail or rattle. A rock guard is integrated into the bottom area, where the battery can easily be pulled out after flipping over the connector, which also acts as a cover for the charging port. A small integrated handle makes it easier to carry around the battery. A great side effect of the frame's new sidearm is that it allows for all the cables to be routed through there and the top tube, which in return allowed a reduction in the down tube circumference.
There are two different batteries now available for the new Levo series, both with the same outside shape, but different capacities. The S-Works and Expert models both feature a 700 Wh edition, with all the other models sporting a 500 Wh battery. While the brand new 700 Wh battery weighs 750 g more than the 500 Wh model, it also allows for a range extension of up to 40%, utilizing the same number of 21700 type cells (as also used by Tesla) instead of 18650 cells from the 500 Wh battery.
A state-of-the-art motherboard balances the cells for long life and even the charger is communicating with the battery to guarantee that the temperature of the battery stays within its defined range between 0 and 45 degrees Celsius. If it's too hot or cold, the charger will simply not charge the battery. Storing the battery shouldn't be a big deal, anything between -20 to 60 degrees Celsius is fine.
Ride tests have shown that distances with 2,400 meters in height in Eco mode are now possible to conquer on a single charge. Because of all the improvements and weight savings on the new Levos, even the 500 Wh battery can deliver an additional 5 to 10% of range, compared to the old bikes. A full charge for the 500 Wh model should take four hours, six hours for the bigger brother. Of course, different rider weights, support modes used, cadence, temperatures, type of inclines and even weight and components of the bike itself all affect range in a huge way. Specialized already has different ride examples available and will add a range calculator to their website down the road.
Not new, but also improved: one of the biggest features that none of the other motor manufacturers is offering is Specialized's Mission Control app for iOS or Android, to connect to your e-bike via Bluetooth. Mission Control 1.0 already allowed to adjust the level of assist. Mission Control 2.0 now allows users to infinitely tune (within the legal allowance) peak power and support in each mode, so you can still adjust the level of assistance but also limit the maximum current delivered by the motor.
That means, for example, you could still get to the maximum motor output in Eco or Trail mode (if you were pushing hard enough) with Mission Control 1.0. With 2.0, regardless of how hard you push, you can limit Eco or Trail to your chosen maximum motor output (i.e. 30 and 70%). This is a great feature to manage your battery as you’re basically limiting the maximum current in each mode. Less current equals more range.
A new stealth mode allows you to shut-off the LEDs on your frame. With shuttle mode, it's easier to achieve a higher power output at a higher cadence. Ride tracking, motor heat info, social community sharing and too many other features to list here are part of the program. The Mission Control 2.0 app generally has received some new coding, with the new version launching at a similar date as the new Levos. Geometry
Geometry-wise, the reach for each frame size grew 20 to 26 mm in length, while the seat tube was shortened considerably. With a 380mm short seat tube on the size S model for example, even shorter riders will be able to run telescopic posts with more drop and more riders will be able to jump a frame size up or down to find what they are looking for in terms of reach. The new Command post with 130mm drop is one of the shortest (if not the shortest) on the market and can be slammed into the small-sized frame all the way to its collar, allowing a seat height from 553 to 647mm with this configuration. Same for the 160mm drop post on the size medium frames and up. There are four sizes to choose from: S, M, L and XL.
The head angle got slacker as well and can be adjusted between 66 and 65.5 degrees by a flip chip at the rear shock mount. This also changes the bottom bracket height by 10mm. The seat angle ranges from about 75 to 74 degrees in the steep setting, depending on the frame size. Specialized managed to shorten the chainstays by 4mm, measuring in at 445mm.
The Women's Levo Comp FSR and Levo FSR lineup is using the same aluminum frames as the men's models (S, M and L) but with different suspension tune and touch points.Specifications
Unlike some other companies, Specialized opted to stick with 11-speed drivetrains, mostly because of the weight penalty that the new Eagle 12-speed NX cassette (which is capable of taking e-bike loads) would bring to the table. For example, that unsprung extra mass would have added 370 g more to the S-Works model at an area that heavily affects suspension performance. However, Specialized is adding the 1-click shifters to the program, which are said to reduce a lot of shifting problems with e-bikes.
New Praxis crank arms save some additional weight: alloy versions on the Levo Expert and below save 100 grams, the carbon S-Works editions save 200 grams.
There are seven models total in the lineup, including two women's specific frames with same geometry but different touch points. The entry price for the full aluminum Turbo Levo FSR (and Women's Turbo Levo FSR) with 500 Wh battery, NX-shifting and RockShox Sector fork starts at €4,499. One level up is the Turbo Levo Comp FSR (and Women's Turbo Levo Comp FSR) at €5,699, next one up the Turbo Levo Comp Carbon FSR with 500 Wh battery costing €6,799 and our Expert FSR test model with 700 Wh battery at €7,999. Last but definitely not least, the top model - the full-carbon S-Works - with 700 Wh battery, Roval Traverse SL carbon wheels, Fox Factory suspension and lots of carbon goodies comes with a hefty price tag of €10,999.
Running around with my scale, my Levo Expert FSR test bike with carbon main frame and aluminum rear stays came in at 21.55 kg without pedals, including the 700 Wh battery and tubes. The full-carbon S-Works model is said to weigh 19.9 kg with tubes and 700 Wh battery, so realistically, you could get the weight down to 19 kg flat with a 500 Wh battery and tubeless setup. Both those weights are impressive, especially considering the range.
Why is the Turbo Innovation Center located in Switzerland, and not at the headquarters in Morgan Hill?
For now, e-bikes are still centered more in Europe, so we're closer to the market. That was the whole idea when we started years ago. It's getting more global now, but we have such a good team in place and a state-of-the-art facility that it wouldn't make sense to move that to somewhere else. Plus, we can and do consistently work with the people from Morgan Hill remotely, when collaboration makes sense.
An e-bike obviously is far more complex than a regular bike. How does your team go about the design process?
We all work closely together and are close buddies, so we feed off each other constantly and bounce ideas off one another. We all have our specialties, our duties and responsibilities. My main duty, for example, is to build the carbon frame, to make it stable and light at the same time, among a bunch of other factors. Marco [Sondegger] is responsible for making all the right decisions about the electric drive and component choice, what sort of capacity he wants to go after and the motor. We could go for crazy torque if we wanted to, but have to constantly ask ourselves if that would even make sense. So we have to set the bar to where we think is right. For Buck [Joe Buckley], I can design any kind of suspension that he wants, the feel that he is looking for or the leverage ratio. But ultimately, I can only offer him options with all the other factors that need to go into the design from all the other departments.
All that input from the different experts in their field is collected in a brainstorming session with the whole group. At first, we only have a rough concept and a direction that we agree to go into all together. Then, everyone has to figure out the details for their responsibilities. There's a lot of trust within the team between each other. Ultimately, it's really the whole team that brings ideas to paint the big picture. And it's a bigger picture than a single person could come up with by himself. That's how you get the bike to be head and shoulders above the previous one.
Do you set certain time frames for when you have to get to a certain point with your work for the next meeting, so everyone can continue to build on that?
Yes, absolutely. For example, out of five main topics, we have three or four that are good to go into the detailed design process. And if there's one, where we figured out that the way we thought about making it happen doesn't work, we just do another loop. Or sometimes, something just looks impossible or we figure out that it's too much of a compromise to make that idea happen, we have to be okay with the fact that we tried, it's not going to work and we move on to something else. But the rest more or less has to wait to see if the project can still come together as a whole.
So does it sometimes happen that if one of those five topics doesn't work, it affects one or more of the other four in a way that you have to go back and completely rework those ideas?
One good example is our cable routing through the top tube and the sidearm. It's kind of the heart of how the bike looks with its slim down tube, holding nothing but the battery. But for the command post, you have to make a big loop inside the frame to go back up to the seatpost. I started looking into the 3D drawing to see if we had enough room for the radius to make it work. I ended up simulating the bending radius on my personal Enduro bike and ran it for quite a few weeks to see if we would wear the housing more. If that one wouldn't have worked, the entire concept would have had to be rethought or we would have had to build a specific routing system for the post. Luckily, it worked and we didn't have to dig deeper.
After getting hammered with too much info to process in a short amount of time, we were able to abuse the bikes for two days on various terrain in Croatia.
Unfortunately, the brand new sturdier tires (Blck Dmnd casing) didn't make it to the launch in time so we had to inflate the tires to awfully high amounts of air pressure. After slashing my front tire within the first hour of our ride, that air pressure went up even higher. Usually running some form of puncture protection system in my wheels with low air pressure, it felt like I was back to the 90s, bouncing from rock to rock and sliding out from the slightest mistake in my line-picking. Sure, the pouring rain during the first half of the first day and slippery muck didn't help, but in the end, it made it difficult to ride the bike at its full potential most of the first day.
Having mentioned the parameters, I can forget the ranting and get to the point that the new Levo simply was a blast to ride. While the original Specialized 1.3 motor wasn't bad overall (especially at the time), the improvements made a whole lot of difference. One of the most annoying characteristics of the old Levo to me was its highly noticeable kick-in and shut-off when you hit 25 km/h or simply stopped pedaling. What Specialized managed to accomplish in terms of motor management with the new 2.1 Rx Trail-tuned motor is nothing but impressive. As a matter of fact, you'll be hard-pressed to notice its engagement and shut-off at all, which is even more stellar if you consider the instantly initiating amount of power the motor can deliver at seemingly any given point.
Where we were going, we didn't need roads. It was quickly obvious that the Levo is a very capable climber in each of the settings. The new info display on top of the downtube is always in view and takes the guesswork out of how much battery life is still left. The power output is perfect to modulate, although in Turbo mode it's best to avoid mashing the pedals like a madman when you're about to navigate up a steep and tight switchback or start out on an incline, or the rear wheel will simply spin out.
Many of the trails we were riding up would have been a chore or even impossible to climb with a regular bike, especially in the slick conditions we were riding in. While that part holds true for most e-MTBs, the lower weight of the bike and decently steep seat angle (although I wouldn't have an issue if it was a couple degrees steeper) made it easy to crawl up technical sections. It was also highly enjoyable to watch how slowly the energy drained out of the 700 Wh battery - I never felt so reassured that even if we rode 'till the sun set and however far we'd head into the backcountry that I still would make my way back without having to swap my battery on that day.
Rolling down the trails, I also quickly came to the conclusion that I would have to revise one of my comments from a previous review that all eMTB's push heavily into corners, as the new Levo really didn't fall into that category. The relatively low weight of 21.9kg with pedals of my Levo Expert test bike and overall concept made the Levo handle closer to a regular bike than all the models I've ridden before. A very short parking lot test with a Levo S-Works model also immediately showed how important weight saving is, even, or maybe especially, once you're moving beyond the 20kg threshold. Every kilo counts, and every kilo less translates into massively quicker and easier handling. The S-Works seems to be taking eMTB handling to another level, and I'd love to get considerably more time in on one.
With a low center of gravity and 780mm handlebar it was rather simple to push the bike from one corner into the next, even on snaking singletrack. Lifting the front end over obstacles and drops came natural and only when trying to bunny-hop without making use of the terrain or trying to slow down abruptly after having entered a steeper chute with a bit too much vigor, did my mind snap back to remembering that it was an eMTB I was sitting on. Talking about braking, equipping the Levo Expert with Code brakes was a good choice. Anything less than a downhill brake on an eMTB is asking for trouble.
Setting up the suspension took a bit of playing around, as I started with the 25% sag the bike was setup for me and thought the suspension to be overly harsh in its sensitivity. However, since I attributed that feeling mostly to the rock-hard tires and was too busy figuring out all the other details for most of the early afternoon ride session, it took me a bit to do something about it. Getting the preferred setting for sag from one of the head engineers, who prefers running his Turbo Levo in a plush way, had me incrementally take out more and more air on an extra big lap (with plenty of LED bars still showing on my Ride Mode display), when everyone else already was on their way to hit the showers. I ended up at the proposed 35% sag, which felt right on spot with Specialized's custom tune to the rear shock - that added support to the mid and end stroke - for a nice mix of comfort throughout the first two-thirds of the travel and ample bottom-out control.
Even though the leverage ratio is rather high at about 2.85:1 and with no piggyback reservoir on the RockShox Deluxe RT3 rear shock, most of the time the rear shock providing 150 mm of rear wheel travel didn't feel overwhelmed with the trail bike riding situations we encountered. Sure, some nasty rock garden sections might have been even less of a challenge and could have been taken at higher speeds with a bit of extra travel front and rear, but it always depends on what you are looking for in a bike. It took me until day two to forcefully bottom-out when hitting a decent sized drop to almost flat at speed, but other than that, the suspension felt quite capable of taking the bite out of rocky or rooty trails, constantly following the terrain and providing grip when it counted.
I'd still have to play around more with the setup of the RockShox Pike RC29 fork to feel fully comfortable on it, but I ended up reducing the air pressure in the front as well down to almost 30% sag to reduce some chatter.
While I do like 27.5" plus tires up to 2.8" in width with their extra grip on an eMTB, running a setup with 29" by 2.6" of course has its benefits. The steering when hitting corners or berms hard of course is more defined, although I have a hard time discerning how much more or less grip the 2.6" Specialized Butcher tires could provide without throwing some anti-flat systems into the wheels and lowering the pressure to my comfort zone.
It took me until day two though, to really grasp the potential of the new Turbo Levo FSR. The sun was out, the trails started drying up quickly, the tires started hooking up in corners and with every new trail we encountered, the fun factor grew exponentially. In the end, I ended up spending most of the ride in Turbo mode, somewhat less in Trail and almost no time in Eco when heading up the hills, simply because my legs generally felt tired on this trip, it was too much fun not to, and I wanted to see where my remaining battery level would end up on both days. When the thought occurred on one of the many ascents that I would have liked a bit more power in Eco and Trail to refrain from jumping into Turbo mode too often, it was an eye-opener that I could do just that, or whatever else I felt like in terms of power delivery and maximum power. A quick adjustment with the Mission Control 2.0 beta app, and the bike did exactly what I wanted. Waiting for a software update from another e-bike motor manufacturer to tweak a support mode suddenly felt like a huge deficit - most likely, because it really is.
After climbing 1,400 vertical meters by the end of the second day and still having over 40 percent left in the bike's tank, it is safe to assume that I could have rather easily cracked the 2,000 meter barrier, even if I continued to predominantly ride in the Turbo setting. Granted, I'm a very lightweight rider, but having seen from considerably heavier riders that had similar amounts of battery power left, while spending a higher percentage in Trail and some in Eco and Turbo mode, it was obvious that the extended range is going to take exploring trails with an eMTB to new levels, without having to carry a charger or second battery on extended rides.
Kudos are also due for combining a longer reach with way shorter seat tubes on an e-bike - most companies still don't understand the conundrum that smaller riders face when trying to combine telescopic seatposts with more than 100mm of travel with short legs. If it was up to me, I'd add another centimeter of reach to each frame size, but I guess that's just one man's opinion in a sea of options. While I'm usually riding size S frames with modern geometries, in case of the Levo I'd probably jump up a size for some extra stability. Not that the size small frame's handling offers much room for complaint with the wheelbase showing a comparable length to other modern regular bikes, thanks to the bit longer chainstays. Specialized wouldn't comment on an update of the Turbo Kenevo, but it's safe to assume that the next generation of Specialized's long travel big-hitter will probably feature most of the advancements from the Turbo Levo.
At the end of the day, when the charger isn't handy in the garage, getting the battery out of the bike to carry inside the house isn't a big deal. Either put the bike on its side or upside down. Unbolt a large bolt at the bottom, flip down the connector and pull the battery out of the frame. With only the bottom part of the battery being exposed in the frame, chances of you making a mess in the living room after a ride in the dirt are limited.
Lately, I have been of the opinion that the big players at this point have all refined their motors and software settings to a pretty advanced level, but after riding the Turbo Levo it has become clear that Specialized has raised the bar and is setting the new standard in terms of full system integration and especially motor management, which others will have to catch up to. Engagement and disengagement of the motor support is incredibly smooth, the motor is delivering loads of power output, the weight is low, the range extended, the handling of the bike very balanced and even the looks are absolutely pleasing.