First Ride: New Specialized Levo
Last month, we jetted off to an exotic seaside resort in Rabac, Croatia for a global Specialized media launch. Arriving a full day before the launch, allowed me some time to mix with a few of the Specialized engineers, who are most certainly dirt addicts and not impartial to beer either.
Together with marketing teams from various regions and the head honchos from Morgan Hill, California, I soon realised that this was no small fry, low-budget product upgrade announcement; but something more along the lines of a completely new platform being launched. Although the whole launch was shrouded in secrecy, the presence of the E-Bike mechanical and software engineers, as well as the brief to bring my trail riding gear was a dead giveaway that this was a new trail E-Bike being launched.
The following day the all new Specialized Turbo Levo was revealed to us, and from first viewing it became abundantly clear that this is a completely new Levo. The bike is visibly very different from the first generation model – far more slick, sleek and attractive in appearance.
The Levo is developed in Cham, Switzerland, which is the R&D office for all Specialized’s E-bikes. As it turns out, this office is a veritable United Nations with a total of 19 mechanical and software engineers from six different countries all captained by Specialized stalwart and bike wizard, Jan Talavasek. What struck me is not only are they passionate about their product, their broader industry knowledge is cutting edge and they are as passionate about shredding as I am – and that’s saying a lot.
For the past two years, their daily routine would be something along the lines of an early morning Skype with their Taiwan-based partners; followed by a shred down their local trails to test product whilst using on-board data acquisition to gather intel, followed by some office-based design work and a late afternoon catch up with the Specialized HQ in Morgan Hill, California.
The Specialized Levo development team talks to Bicycling about the new bike:
Product Manager Marco Sonderegger talks to us about the battery and motor:
“We did a lot of rider research and the number one consumer concern we found with E-Bikes was range. With that in mind this new bike has 40% more range. On one of our R&D tests, we did over 2400m of climbing and took five hours to drain the battery to zero. The clearances on the new Levo are class leading; with a 700-watt battery, this bike can take a piggy back or coil shock and hold a big water bottle. We went through about four or five moulds to eventually get the injection mould full magnesium motor housing perfect – this is one of the key areas we saved weight in.”
Brand and marketing lead, Dominik Geyer on the bike weight:
“Weight wise for a medium S-Works model, with a 500-watt per hour battery, with tubes, you are looking at 19.9kg.”
Carbon frame engineer, Vincent Patureau on the motor and frame design:
“We took a lot of learnings from the previous version, we realised we could do things simpler and leaner, like why use two parts when you can use one?
We wanted a way more efficient structure. The whole motor area is a great example of this; we changed the side entry to a low entry motor, which in turn allowed us to save a lot of weight. We went from an old motor unit which was 3.8kg, to a whole new motor which is 3.0kg. The new motor doesn’t require a special carrier or specific hardware to go into the frame.
The motor itself is lighter as we switched to a magnesium casing and this is possible as we shape and design the motor with our motor partner Brose. When looking at the battery install system on the previous version we realised that cutting the downtube to accommodate the battery had an adverse effect on the stiffness of the bike. This resulted in us needing to reinforce the tubes which added significant weight, so with the new bike we set out to create a more efficient structure and system.
We tried to keep the easy installing system and we took a long time to figure out the best way to do this. The new frame features an entirely closed downtube and we designed an entirely new battery to fit inside it.”
Head of MTB product, Joe Buckley on the new bike:
“We had a couple focus areas on this bike. We wanted a more controlled ride and so we built a stiffer frame, which is the reason for the side arm frame design. We wanted to take a lot of weight out of the bike and rearrange where we put the material as a result we saved a huge amount of weight in the frame itself.
The end result is that we had drastic cuts on weight; to give you an idea the S-Works version is now 800 grams lighter than the previous version Levo and the new alloy frame is actually lighter than the previous generation carbon frame. There are also a number of geometry changes as well, the biggest one is probably in reach where depending on frame size the numbers grow between 24mm and 29mm which gives a decent reach. The head angle is also half a degree slacker in the low position and the seat tube angle is steepened by a degree to increase pedal efficiency.
We shaved a few millimetres off of the chainstays – they are 455mm now. We also introduced a flip chip for geometry adjust which alters the bottom bracket height by about 10mm and the head angle by about a half a degree. We changed the leverage curve to prevent mid-travel wallow and excessive bottoming out. Our suspension team spent a lot of time looking into the shock tunes with a lot of test riding to determine what was best for this bike.
There are naturally some differences between the shock tunes of this bike and the Stumpjumper, due to the differences between the sprung and unsprung weights. Regarding wheel size we have seen a lot of more core riders move to 29-inch wheels for the improved ride characteristics and as we made more changes to the bike, we saw people ride the bikes differently and so it made sense to move away from the big 27.5 x 3.0 tyres. The 29-inch tyres come with a little more tread, save a little more weight and they make up for the vagueness of the 3.0 tyre providing more trail feedback.
Setting the bike up
My initial thoughts were ‘yea yea ho hum’ so we now have the power to ride more trails with a power unit that delivers 410% more power (than what I can) on the trail… While the adventure factor of E-Bikes is significant, I want to have fun every time I ride – that means if I can’t push the bike hard through turns, rocky chutes, off cambers and descents, then I am not going to ride it. I want a bike with the agility to carry speed on trails, change lines quickly, pop over roots and big jumps alike – so if the bike handles like a tank, then I am not keen on it, no matter how much adventure the assistance enables.
Then something happened – whilst getting my test bike setup for what would be two days of riding, cockpit, tyre pressure, seat position and suspension all dialled in to my preference, I could feel there was something more to this bike than the previous generation and for that matter to other E-Bikes I have ridden. The geometry felt dialled, the kinematics felt great – and I was only in the car park!
The first ride day was in and around the Valamar resort bike park which afforded spectacular sea, island and mountain backdrops, very rocky trails and raw radness in and around the small town of Labin.
Although we were a biggish group we covered 39km, 1258m of elevation in less than 3 hours of moving time. For me, I usually know within the first kilometre of riding whether I am going to enjoy a bike or not, I think after many years of riding either I have developed an affinity for certain ride characteristics or perhaps its deeper than that and I can quite quickly determine whether the sum of the parts of the bike combine to produce magic on the trail and in this case it was very much the later coming into play.
For day one the flowy bike park trails provided a good mix of terrain to test the bike with; loose over hard pack conditions, raw rougher single-track climbs and descents to get drifty on. After a couple laps we headed out of the bike park through the back country and towards Labin where the trails became rough, gnarly, raw lots of rocks, small rocks, big rocks, loose rocks – all kinds of rocks.
Day two on the bike saw us drive inland to a more remote location called Groznjan, where we smashed multiple runs down different trails with the trail head or base camp, as it were, at the top of the hill in an old village. These trails were less rocky yet steeper with more trees, pine needles scattered everywhere, natural fade aways, many grassy off cambers and some real steep and technical climbs back to the base camp.
The trails were very similar to what you would find in backcountry Italy, Spain or closer to home in Sabie, Jonkershoek, or Karkloof. We covered 35km and 1314m elevation in 2H42 of moving time, before the massive electrical storm stopped play. We then settled into a local family-run wine farm nestled in the valley at the base of the trail for dinner and to kuier.
My notes and overall impressions
After more than five hours on it this is what I can tell you – it’s a ripper and quite possibly in the running to be the best E-Bike on the market. Let me qualify that…
By using the geometry of the refined and versatile new Stumpjumper, this new Levo has a contemporary chassis capable of swiftly dealing with multiple trail conditions and riding styles. The only real tweak from the Stumpjumper in terms of geometry, is that the chainstays are a little longer on the Levo to accommodate the motor – and in my opinion, this extra length actually has a positive effect on the bike’s overall stability.
The shorter seat tube of this bike is a welcomed move forward in keeping with contemporary trail bike design, and the longer dropper post ensures that the saddle does not hinder the rider in steep gnarly conditions.
The motor is remarkably quiet and the three power modes of Eco, Trail and Turbo are easy to shuffle through with the bar mounted remote control. Furthermore, I found the motor responds to pedal input intuitively without any excessive bursts or harsh decoupling, which can be unsettling on rowdy descents or steep climbs.
In a nutshell, the new motor is 15% smaller, 800 grams lighter than the previous generation Levo, and amplifies the rider input by up to 410% by providing 560 watts and 90Nm of torque.
In addition to the three ride modes, there is a fourth mode for walking, which makes sectioning pieces of trail or pushing the bike up a trail a total pleasure; the bike literally rolls itself up the trail as you walk and steer it.
Cable routing is smart, to say the least.
The new batteries offer 40% more range, but ultimately the range depends on many factors such as mode selection, riding style, ride profile, rider weight and so on. Still, according to Specialized, and under ‘apple with apple’ test conditions, the new Levo yields a whopping 40% more range than its predecessor.
Battery ride time can be anywhere between one to five hours depending on what mode you use, and just how hard you ride. Having said that, the Smart Control feature eliminates the risk of ever running out of power in the middle of the ride. The Mission Control app allows riders to fully customise the motor settings to their personal needs and preferences, diagnose the bike and extract a report, record it and save it to third party platforms.
I think the new Levo is not for everybody, it’s for anybody; now let me explain why. On the trails, the bike is quite simply an enabler, an equaliser and a lot of fun. I honestly can’t remember when I last had this much fun on a mountain bike.
The bike holds lines and flows with ease, and the added weight (about 5kg more than my regular trail bike) actually increases traction in turns and off cambers. What I really loved were those sections of trail which traverse or drag slightly uphill which ordinarily decrease the gravity flow of a trail. With the Levo, two pedal strokes (whilst in eco or trail mode) gets the speed back up again and brings you back into the flow zone. There is no need to descend in Turbo mode – it’s just too much power and not necessary.
When descending on rough trails, and particularly when under hard braking, the bike is quiet and smooth – in fact it’s so smooth it feels like there is zero pedal kickback at all, which is a massive bonus. I puzzled alongside the engineering team on this point for a while, and we concurred this is likely the efficacy of the new nubbed chainstay protector which breaks up the large waves of the chain into smaller ripples, and not due to any science behind the way the freewheel body decouples.
As for the climbs – we hammered a seven-minute shuttle climb whilst circulating on Day 2; a small bunch of competitive riders rode off the front of the media group and had a lot of fun trying to drop each other whilst using full Turbo mode. On a non E-Bike, this same climb would take close on 35 minutes to summit, and with some real rocky and steep sections it would demand a lot of energy.
The power assist is a hoot on ridiculously steep gradients which enabled me to get over climbs that even the best World Cup XCO racer wouldn’t get up. However, it must be said that climbing technical trails on an E-Bike is not easy, it requires technique and core strength to keep the bike on line to achieve ‘uphill flow’.
Interestingly the climbing assist actually made me want to charge up the climbs harder than I would without an E-Bike and as a result my high heart rate, coupled with the leg, shoulder and core workout I was getting was by no means insignificant. The complete body workout when riding an E-Trail bike is something incredible.
It’s important to note that despite using the Turbo mode (max power) on all of the climbs, I still had a whopping 44% of battery power left after the ride on day 2, the range and potential of this bike is phenomenal.
So, who should consider buying this bike?
This is a trail bike that is so versatile in its nature, it can be used by any rider who is keen to experience more trail and adventure. Further, since it’s a performance equaliser it can also be used by family or friends of different strength levels to enjoy a group ride together. It’s also an enabler to help anybody recover from or manage life-changing illnesses, injuries or health conditions like obesity, cancer, knee operations and so on.
It’s the perfect tool for mega adventures on local trails, holiday riding trips or for covering maximum ground on a mate’s week away riding bikes.
For gravity riders and racers looking to self-shuttle and do more descending on each outing, the new Levo will not disappoint as the contemporary geometry, kinematics and stiffness of the bike make it a real shredder. The bike is livelier than other E-Bikes I have ridden and won’t disappoint the gravity orientated riders.
Endurance racers looking for a different kind of workout or a recovery tool should consider the Levo. In truth, the bikes ingenious design means it suits so many applications of riding and rider type.
In my E-Bike experience riders of a competitive nature actually have more physical workouts when on E-Bikes as opposed to non E-Bikes.
There is a big bright future for E-Bikes, as I mentioned earlier they are not for everybody, rather for anybody.