Bike Test: Specialized's R240 000 S-Works Turbo Levo

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The Specialized Turbo Levo rolls high-volume tyres, but the rear wheel is slightly smaller (Photo: Lance Branquinho)
The Specialized Turbo Levo rolls high-volume tyres, but the rear wheel is slightly smaller (Photo: Lance Branquinho)
  • This is the third iteration of Specialized’s battery-assisted mountain bike
  • It rolls different wheel sizes front and rear, to balance traction and agility
  • With trick Fox components and lots of suspension travel, it will roll over any terrain features 

New for 2021 is the S-Works Turbo Levo, the brand’s most potent e-bike. At R240 000, it is anything but affordable, but it also represents the absolute best in all-terrain e-bike technology and a build tallying any mountain biker's fantasy component specification.

The proliferation of e-bikes over the last few years has been such that brands are no longer consider them supplementary to their core mountain bike business. With the benefit of its e-bike R&D facility in Cham, Switzerland, a product like the third-generation Turbo Levo commands significant engineering resources. 

What’s new on the 2021 Turbo Levo?

Business at the front, party at the rear. Yep, the Turbo Levo runs a mullet setup with a 29er wheel up front, to help it roll better, and a smaller 27.5-inch rear wheel to incorporate shorter chainstays, giving it more agile handling.

Geometry has been overhauled and is now adjustable via the headset and a flip-chip in the chainstay link. You can run it with a head angle of anywhere between 65.5-degrees on flatter gradients, and 63-degrees when descending really steep terrain. The bike’s bottom bracket height can also be dropped as much as 7mm, courtesy of the chainstay flip-chip, creating an e-bike that has terrifically responsive handling through tight corners.

On this new Turbo Levo the mid-drive motor gains better water protection, improved firmware and updated software, which all combine to provide smoother power delivery. Paired with Specialized’s Turbo Levo motor system is an LCD screen (TCU display) built into the e-bike’s top tube. It displays battery consumption (in percentage), current mode and a load of other functions, when integrated with the Mission Control App.

The Turbo Levo’s suspension specification has been upgraded to deal with bigger hits, with this e-bike being capable of confidently descending even the most technical downhill trails. Up front there is the new Fox 38 fork, with 160mm of suspension travel, trailed by a 150mm Fox X2 shock, at the rear.  

Turbo Levo
The Turbo Levo's top tube info screen has a great user interface and clear display (Photo: Specialized)

There’s an App for that

You don’t need the Mission Control App to ride this new Turbo Levo, but there’s a whole load of sorcery within it that allows you to adjust so much on Specialized’s latest e-bike.

Once connected, you can choose how the Turbo Levo delivers power in specific modes, although we discovered that tinkering makes things worse, as the factory settings are essentially perfect. The Turbo Levo’s pedal-assistance is nearly instantaneous and there is almost none of the typical power surges, which is often an annoying feature of e-bike riding.

If you have a familiar local trail, simply enter its distance and elevation into the Mission Control App and tell it how much battery you want to finish the ride with. This technology works perfectly and even if you scroll through the ride modes during the ride, it will recalibrate once Smart mode is reselected.

The App has a host of other settings to fiddle with and can be connected to a heart rate monitor too. All data is signalled to Turbo Levo’s top tube screen, which remains wonderfully clear to read (even in direct sunlight). It also gives the exact percentage of battery power remaining, as opposed to the confusing battery status ‘bars’, used on many rival e-bike display systems.

e-bike
Turbo Levo is much heavier than a conventional mountain bike, but rides with amazing agility (Photo: Lance Branquinho)

What’s the Turbo Levo like to ride?

Specialized’s new Turbo Levo rides closer than any other e-bike, to the agility of a standard 150mm enduro mountain bike. Its measured power delivery, that whisper-quiet electric motor and the modernised geometry make this an e-bike you feel immediately comfortable on.

The mullet configuration may sound gimmicky to some but the resulting shorter chainstays are worth it. Tight switchbacks are dealt with much easier, without having to worry that the rear wheel will track with similar agility to the front-end.

At speed, when flowing down a trail, the Turbo Levo has incredible lateral stability, yet it is a lot more manoeuvrable than you’d expect for an e-bike. The wireless dropper seatpost certainly helps give you extra leverage to influence direction changes, whilst the 2.6-inch wide Butcher tyre at the front, delivers huge cornering turn-in confidence, especially riding loose, off-camber, switchbacks.

The Turbo Levo isn’t light. It weighs 22kg, but rides like a much lighter bike, possibly due to the Roval carbon-fibre wheels and most of the e-bike’s additional mass being centred around the Turbo Levo’s bottom bracket are.

e-bike
The Fox 38 fork has 160mm of suspension travel and soaks-up terrain (Photo: Lance Branquinho)

Great downhill - and in the air

Fox’s huge 38mm stanchion fork absorbs big hits with ease, allowing you to push harder and faster each time you ride technical terrain. The only components that felt under any pressure were those Magura MT7 brakes, despite the 200mm rotors. You carry so much rolling momentum between corners, with the battery’s extra boost making pedal strokes count for a lot more, that Magura's large brake levers are pulled with force, to keep things under control.

Impressively, the Turbo Levo felt surprisingly natural in the air, when riding off drops or boosting small jumps. E-bikes tend to dip the nose in the air, as the heavy downtube crests a jump, but the Levo felt confidently balance when its wheels left the ground.

Climbing with the Turbo Levo has always been easy, but the upgraded power unit makes it less likely to overshoot tight corners, which is something that happens with novice e-bike riders. A maximum power output of 565W and 90Nm is sourced from a 700Wh battery pack, which Specialized estimates will give you five hours of Turbo Levo trail riding time, in the lowest pedal-assist mode.

We found that it easily coped with two and a half hour trail rides, returning home with more than 30% battery capacity, even having used multiple modes. Most notable was the smoothness with which its power is delivered. Specialized’s engineers seem to have discovered how to integrate natural assistance rather with their e-bike, instead of that power surge that requires you to constantly adjust gearing and cadence.

e-bike
If you are going to take the plunge into e-bike ownership, Specialized's Turbo Levo range is the technology pinnacle (Photo: Lance Branquinho)

Verdict

The Turbo Levo purchase price has increased by R10 000 over its predecessor, but the bike is vastly improved and more connected than before (both to the rider and the Mission Control App). There is no real value proposition with a R240 000 mountain bike, but the Turbo Levo is built with the most impressive technology and components available, including an AXS wireless drivetrain, the best Fox suspension bits and carbon everything.

This is the most agile and comprehensively integrated e-bike we have ridden. If you’re a fit mountain biker, then Specialized’s Turbo Levo would be a great ‘recovery day’ bike, allowing you to go out and session trails, improving your technical skills whilst prevent fatigue on the climbs.

For those mountain bikers who have legacy injuries or might be feeling the reality of age, but still wish to enjoy the reward of downhill trail riding, the Turbo Levo is perfect. 

If you’re upgrading your e-bike or looking to switch to an e-bike, Specialized’s third-generation Turbo Levo is the most compelling new battery-assisted mountain bike you can buy. And if R240 000 is slightly beyond your bike budget, there is the Pro Comp version, for R195 000.

 

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