It was a close battle for the top step of the podium, but when the dust settled it was the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie that took home the Editor's Choice Award in the first ever OutdoorGearLab e-mtb test. Our testers loved the nimble and lively trail manners of the Specialized, saying it felt "more like a mountain bike" than it's competitors. Specialized has also done an excellent job integrating their pedal assist motor and battery into the frame, creating a clean looking bike that looks less like an e-bike than the other models we tested. The Turbo Levo's component spec was spot on and never left us wanting, they really did a great job putting this bike together. While it's obvious we loved the total package and fun ride of the Turbo Levo we did find a couple weaknesses where it lost ground to the competition. That said, we found the Turbo Levo to be the most well-rounded and fun e-bike in our test, read on to find out more about our Editor's Choice Award winner.
Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie 2018 Review
Cons: no digital display, abrupt power assist cutoff
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Specialized has been producing their Turbo Levo models of e-MTBs for several years now, and their experience is evident in the clean look and balanced trail manners of the Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie. After hundreds of hours of head to head testing, the Specialized emerged as the winner of our Editor's Choice Award, just edging out the Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+ for the top spot on the podium. Our testers loved its more nimble and lively feel on the trail and thought it rode the most like an actual mountain bike in our test selection. While the other e-MTBs felt more one dimensional, the Turbo Levo beat them out with a well-rounded and consistent performance on the trail. Our testers were also impressed with the especially clean look of the bike, with the motor and battery integrated into the frame's design, as well as the quietest motor we tested. It wasn't all gold stars for the Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie, however, as it lost points in the e-bike controls and power output ratings metrics. In the end though, those negatives were outweighed by the bike's many positives, read on to find out why the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie was our Editor's Choice Award winner.
Despite being the winner of our Editor's Choice Award, the Specialized was bested by the other bikes in our test selection for its e-bike controls. The controls on the Turbo Levo work just fine, but the lack of a digital display, like those found on both the Commencal and the HaiBike, basically negated any at-a-glance information such as the output setting, remaining battery life, speed, etc. All of our testers agreed that this lack of a digital display was one of the most glaring drawbacks of this otherwise relatively stellar system. The only information displayed on the bike is the battery charge in the form of a ring of LED lights that surround the power and support setting buttons on the non-drive side of the downtube. These lights are very hard to see while seated on the bike, especially while riding, and the only way to really observe them is by stopping and leaning the bike over or stepping off and crouching down. Since there are only three support settings on the Specialized, determining which one you are in eventually becomes intuitive over time since you can feel the differences in pedal assisted support they provide.
Other than the inconvenience of the lack of digital display, we found the controls of the Turbo Levo to generally work well. The system is turned on and off by pressing and holding the power button on the side of the downtube integrated battery. The power button is flanked by buttons which control the motor's support setting, and all the buttons are surrounded by a set of LED lights which display the remaining battery charge. Pedal assist modes can also be changed by pressing the buttons on the handlebar mounted controls located by the left grip. The handlebar mounted controls were intuitive to use and well placed for easy access while riding, though our testers felt they lacked the ergonomics of the Shimano Steps shifter found on the Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+. That being said, the size, shape, and location of the shifter on the Turbo Levo left room for the dropper seat post remote to be mounted under the bar in an easy to reach spot, so it's a bit of a trade-off.
Charging the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie proved to be slightly more cumbersome than the competition. The charging port is located at the bottom of the downtube on the non-drive side of the frame, leaving the charging port cover more susceptible to mud and debris while riding. If we didn't close this cover perfectly, dirt, mud, and water would easily make their way into the charging port. The connection of the charging cable and socket was also slightly more challenging to deal with than the competition, and it didn't feel as positive or secure as the other models in our test.
If the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie played basketball it would definitely be a point guard, it's versatile, with the ability to make moves quickly, but still, drive the lane when the opportunity presents itself. The other bikes in this test seemed more one dimensional, like power forwards, they felt heavier and more sluggish and didn't change direction quite as well. Our testers loved the versatility of the Specialized and were impressed by it's more nimble and playful feel while still maintaining stability at speed. It received much praise for feeling the most like an actual mountain bike on the descents, lighter and more agile, with the ability to ride slow technical downhill as well as fast open terrain. As playful as this bike felt, it's still a heavyweight, and popping airs and the like was found to be somewhat underwhelming as it was on all of the models we tested.
Despite weighing roughly the same amount as the other bikes tested, the Turbo Levo felt lighter, perhaps due to the motor and battery being integrated into the frame, keeping the weight and center of gravity lower and closer to the ground. Some of the bike's agility can also be attributed to its shorter wheelbase, 1190mm on the size medium we tested, 15 to 20 mm shorter than the HaiBike and Commencal respectively. It stands to reason that the shorter wheelbase might decrease stability at speed, but we didn't find it to be lacking, possibly due to the weight of the bike and massive 3.0" tires front and back. Our testers also loved the impressive cornering ability of the Turbo Levo. The 3.0" Specialized Butcher tires deliver massive traction and combined with the bike's low center of gravity made for some impressive grip in the corners.
Geometry numbers on the Specialized are quite modern, with our measurements showing a 65.3-degree head tube and a 75.1-degree seat tube. The reach, however, broke the mold and was the shortest of the bunch at 417mm on the size medium we tested, 10mm shorter than the HaiBike and 29mm shorter than the Commencal. Interestingly, even with this shorter reach measurement, none of our testers complained of feeling cramped on this bike, perhaps because they were having too much fun riding to notice.
Suspension duties were handled well by a Rock Shox Yari RC 140mm fork and a Fox Float Performance rear shock for the bike's 135mm of rear wheel travel. The suspension felt well-matched front and back and was complimented by the massive air volume of the 3.0" tires. Specialized spec'd SRAM Guide R brakes with 200mm rotors front and rear that provided confidence-inspiring stopping power for times this heavy bike got up to speed. The Specialized Command Post dropper worked reliably and ensured the seat was out of our way when descending. The cockpit felt pretty standard with a short stem and slightly narrower, but today's standards, 750mm handlebar, and was notably the least cluttered of all the models we tested.
In general, testers felt the Specialized climbed reasonably well, but we all agreed that there was one major weakness in its uphill performance. The Specialized motor cuts off the pedal assistance the moment the pedals stop turning, resulting in an abrupt interruption of forward momentum, it feels as if you tapped the brakes or a stiff headwind just hit you. This was noticeable anytime pedaling cadence stops completely, whether trying to rail an uphill berm or jockeying your pedals in technical uphill sections of trail to avoid pedal strikes. The power cutoff was sudden and you went from cruising uphill with support to suddenly trying to muscle this 50 lb rig over some chunky rocks, it resulted in numerous dismounts in technical uphills. This was especially noticeable since the other models we tested provided a slightly longer power band which continued very briefly after pedaling stopped. The Commencal did this best, and the HaiBike fell somewhere between it and the Specialized.
Other than the abrupt pedal assistance cutoff, the Turbo Levo climbed relatively well. Power output was consistent, as long as you're pedaling, and shifting between the different support modes was smooth. Climbing position was generally comfortable and neutral with weight distributed well, despite having a slightly slacker seat tube angle than the competition, only about 1 degree. Again, the Specialized handled the "most like a mountain bike" while climbing and had the best trail manners of the bunch with agility as opposed to the more monster truck feel of the other models. Handling felt precise and the front end didn't seem to want to wander nor did it ever really feel like it wanted to wheelie out, even in the steepest sections of climbing. Specialized Butcher 3.0" tires front and back provided monstrous amounts of traction for scrambling up just about anything.
The rear shock features 3 dampening settings intended to increase efficiency while climbing, but our testers all agreed that it wasn't necessary when climbing with pedal assistance and they preferred to traction that the active suspension provided. Specialized specs 165mm cranks on the size medium we tested, The Commencal and HaiBike both use 170mm, and this felt a little short to our testers, but makes sense considering the low bottom bracket of the Turbo Levo. The shorter cranks decrease the chances of rock strikes, and the corresponding loss of pedaling leverage isn't that much of an issue considering the pedal assistance.
Specialized claims a nominal power output of 250 watts with the ability to provide up to 530 watts of power for the motor on their Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie. This is a lot of pedal assist support, enough to easily get you rolling up to right around 19 mph.
The Specialized 1.3 motor offers three support settings, Eco, Trail, and Turbo, and shifting through them is easy using the handlebar mounted remote or the buttons integrated into the side of the battery on the downtube of the frame. The transitions between modes felt clean and smooth with no unexpected surges or hiccups in the power band. Specialized claims the Eco setting provides 25% support, the Trail setting provides 50% support, and the Turbo setting provides 100% support. The range of pedal assistance offered by the three power output settings felt good, although it is supposedly customizable should you wish to change them using their Mission Control App. Most of our testers found themselves using the Trail or Turbo settings the most, because why not ride faster, right? The motor also offers a walk-assist setting that helps you push the bike along at up to 3.7 mph. The one gripe our testers had with the support settings was the lack of an at-a-glance digital display, but that didn't affect the performance of the motor or the actual power output in any way.
Pedal assistance wasn't immediate, and about a half pedal stroke was required before you could notice it come on subtly then ramp up with your cadence. This is in contrast to the instant, almost twitchy, torque heavy power of the HaiBike and the quarter pedal stroke to powerful output of the Commencal. Testers thought the Specialized felt like it had the least torque of the models tested, this resulted in it being the slowest to reach top speed. As mentioned above, the Specialized motor topped out around 19 mph at which point a governor prevents it from helping you go any faster. In general, we felt like this top speed was reasonable, but getting the bike to actually go much faster was a challenge considering the weight of the whole package.
The low point for the Specialized was the abrupt cutoff of pedal assistance the moment the pedals stopped turning. This was unique to the Specialized motor and proved to be moderately annoying to all of our testers. The brief continuation of power offered by the Commencal and HaiBike was preferred, and consequently, both bikes scored higher in this rating metric.
All of the bikes tested have similar battery storage capacity, with the Specialized and the Commencal matched at 504Wh, and the HaiBike just a hair behind at 500Wh. It would stand to reason that these bikes would all have a similar distance range, but a number of factors, including rider weight, rider pedaling input, terrain, trail conditions, temperature, and support setting all play into how much distance you can get out of your battery charge. It seems obvious but we'll say it anyway, the more power you use, the faster the battery is depleted, and vice versa.
Our head to head distance range testing saw the Turbo Levo emerge victorious over the competition. On the same day, on the same trail, in the same conditions, in the high output setting, we rode the bikes from fully charged to totally depleted. On that day, the Specialized was the leader of the pack, traveling 20.6 miles and 3,455 vertical feet, 17% farther than the Commencal at 17.1 miles and 3,100 vertical feet, and 15% farther than the HaiBike at 17.8 miles and 3,200 vertical feet. This additional distance range is significant and means you can stay out and play for longer on the Turbo Levo which seems to be more efficient than the other models we tested.
In contrast to the impressive component spec and slightly lower retail price of the Commencal Meta Power Race, the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie doesn't really turn any heads with its build. While it may not be the most impressive component spec in our test selection, it obviously all comes together very well on the bike and on the trail, as it still managed to take home the Editor's Choice Award.Specialized chose the Rock Shox Yari RC fork to handle the bike's 140mm's of front end travel, with a Fox Float Performance rear shock absorbing the rear end's 135mm's of travel. Testers didn't really find any fault in this suspension setup, but if you're looking for more bling there are several more expensive models of Turbo Levo to choose from. They've also spec'd an internally routed Specialized Command Post dropper with 125mm of travel. Our testers are more partial to other droppers on the market, but the Command Post works
reliably, and the 1x under mount remote can't be beaten.
The task of slowing and stopping this heavyweight rig was given to a set of SRAM Guide R brakes with 200mm rotors front and rear and were found to provide adequate stopping power in all situations. A 1x 11-speed SRAM GX drivetrain handles the duties of transferring the power from your legs and the motor, with a 10-42T cassette, and a 32T front chainring mounted to 165mm cranks. Testers did think the cranks felt a little short on this bike, although the pedal assist support does make up for any loss of pedaling leverage.
The Turbo Levo meets the dirt on a big ol' set of 27.5"x3.0" Specialized Butcher Grid casing tires mounted on a set of Specialized Roval 6Fattie wheels. These massive tires provide a smooth ride, and outstanding grip, making this 50 lb bike corner like a dream. The cockpit features a short Specialized alloy stem and a slightly narrower than the competition 750mm handlebar. A slightly wider bar would have been preferred by our testers, but few complaints were lodged. Due to the integration of the battery and motor into their frame design, the Specialized is one of the only e-bikes out there that can fit a water bottle cage on the top of the downtube, and they have spec'd a side pull Specialized bottle cage with a swat tool attached.
We feel that the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie is best suited to everyday trail riding. This capable and well-rounded e-MTB was the most versatile in our test and was generally a blast to ride on all types of trail. The Specialized 1.3 motor offers the longest distance range of all the models tested while also delivering the power you'd expect from an e-bike, and at the same time looking the least like an e-bike and riding more like a regular mountain bike than the competition.
At a retail price of $5,500, the Specialized was the most expensive e-mtb in our test selection, although not by that much. Considering the fact that it's our Editor's Choice Award winner, we feel this is a definitely a good value for the right consumer looking for the most versatile and sleekest looking model out there.
If you're looking for an e-bike that handles like a regular mountain bike, then look no further than our Editor's Choice Award winner, the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie. This bike wowed our testers with its impressive trail manners, offering a surprisingly versatile and well-rounded performance that the competition simply could not touch. The bike's lighter feel and nimble handling made it excel where the competition could not, yet it still managed to maintain stability when up to speed. The Specialized 1.3 motor offers adequate power and the system provides a longer distance range than the competition. The sleek and seamless integration of the battery and motor make this the stealthiest and least e-bike looking, with by far the quietest motor of the models we tested. If you're looking for an e-bike that rides, looks, and sounds the least like an e-bike, while still providing the power and support that you'd expect from an e-bike, then consider your search over.
Other Versions and Accessories
Specialized makes five different versions of the Turbo Levo FSR at a broad range of price points. All the different versions feature the same crowd-pleasing geometry and most have the same battery and motor system. The top of the line model, the S-Works Turbo Levo FSR Carbon 6Fattie, retails for a whopping $9,500 and has the best of everything bolted onto it. This version features a full carbon frame, Specialized's Roval carbon wheelset, a SRAM XX1 11 speed drivetrain, SRAM Code RSC brakes, and fancy suspension in the form of an Ohlins RXF 36 fork and a Rock Shox Monarch RT3 rear shock. The next model down from that, the Turbo Levo FSR Expert Carbon 6Fattie, retails for $7,500. The Expert Carbon model is strikingly similar to the S-works model but has an X01 11-speed drivetrain and SRAM Code R brakes. Specialized's least expensive carbon model is the Turbo Levo FSR Comp Carbon 6Fattie which retails for $6,500. The Carbon Comp model has basically the same build at the model we tested, but with a carbon frame and a Rock Shox Revelation RC fork.
Specialized's most wallet-friendly e-MTB is the Turbo Levo FSR 6Fattie, at a retail price of $4,500. This model has the same alloy frame as the model we tested but features a less expensive component spec and a slightly smaller battery that has 460Wh of storage as compared to the 504Wh in the other models. Other differences include a RockShox Reba RL fork, SRAM Level T brakes, and a SRAM NX rear derailleur.
Is it worth the extra coin to upgrade to a carbon model? That's up to you, but we were certainly impressed with the performance of the Alloy Comp model we tested. That being said, some component upgrades like a burlier fork wouldn't hurt for this heavyweight machine.
— Jeremy Benson, Joshua Hutchens, Paul Tindal, Chris McNamara