Specialized Turbo Levo SL Comp 2020 Review
Cons: Less battery storage capacity, less powerful drive unit, expensive
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Specialized has been at the forefront of the electric mountain bike market for a while now, and they continue to push the envelope of innovation and design. It seems like most of their competitors are just trying to play catch up as they continue to run away from the pack. This became even more apparent when they released the new Levo SL models, bringing a lower weight and lower-powered option into the fold. The new SL models fit into what seems like a completely new category, splitting the difference between everyday trail bikes and full-power electric mountain bikes.
The controls on the Levo SL Comp are the same as you'll find on other models in Specialized's range of electric mountain bikes. This includes the low profile handlebar-mounted shifter and the top-tube mounted Turbo Connect Unit (TCU) that displays your current support setting and remaining battery life. While we enjoy the user-friendliness of a digital display, our testers have become accustomed to Specialized's controls over the past few years of testing various Turbo Levo models. Specialized does make an aftermarket Turbo Connect Display for $90 for those who require a digital display.
Turning the Levo SL on is as simple as pressing and holding the power button located at the bottom of the TCU on the top tube. The system boots up in just a few seconds and displays the remaining battery charge as a stack of 10 blue LED bars while the output setting (Eco, Trail, Turbo) is indicated in a ring of LEDs at the top of the display. The handlebar-mounted shifter is low profile with relatively good ergonomics. The + and - buttons shift up or down through the motor's output settings. On the bottom of the shifter is the walk mode button which provides a small amount of assistance when pushing the bike up steep sections of trail.
Specialized's Mission Control App is free to download and is not necessary to use the Levo SL, but is useful for tuning your output settings, making custom presets, as well as battery and system diagnostics. There is also a feature called Smart Control that allows you
The Levo SL has a 320Wh battery integrated into the downtube of the frame. An additional 160Wh of battery life can be added with the Range Extender Battery, sold separately for $450, bumping the total battery storage capacity up to 480Wh. The Range Extender battery fits into the bottle cage and gets plugged into the charge port for the internal battery. The Range Extender has 3 LED bars on the top that indicate its remaining battery charge, and when plugged into the bike the TCU displays the battery life in blue and green LEDs. The default setting is to drain the internal and Range Extender batteries simultaneously, although you can set it up through the app to prioritize one of the other.
The charge port is located on the non-drive side near the bottom of the seat tube. This location is an improvement over the regular Levo models, and the door closes more securely and keeps dirt and grime out more effectively. The Levo SL doesn't use the same magnetic Rosenberger plug as the Levo which helps to keep sand and minerals from sticking to it although it takes a little more care and effort when plugging it in.
The Levo SL has a very impressive downhill performance that blurs the lines between a regular trail bike and full-powered e-bike. It can be ridden with finesse, and the downhill experience isn't dominated by its "e-bike-ness" the way that heavier and more powerful bikes can be. Thanks to its lower weight and modern but not extreme geometry, it feels, handles, and performs a lot like a regular trail bike. It's undeniably quicker, livelier, and easier to get off the ground than its heavier counterparts, yet it is impressively stable and ground-hugging at speed and confidence-inspiring when the trail gets steep or rough. Even on the least expensive model in the lineup, the alloy Comp model we tested, the component specification is quality and backs up this bike's downhill capabilities.
The geometry of the Levo SL is in many ways a carbon copy of the full-powered Levo models with a couple of notable exceptions. The differences are primarily in the length of the chainstays and the wheelbase, both of which are 18mm shorter on the SL. Due to the smaller size of the motor, Specialized was able to shorten the chainstays to 437mm, the same length that you'll find on the non-pedal-assist Stumpjumper 29 models. The shorter stays help to give the Levo SL a slightly more playful and flick-able feel and a little more maneuverability in super tight switchbacks and technical sections on the descents. The moderate length 1218mm wheelbase is long enough to feel super stable at speed yet this bike rails corners and never feels like an excessively long enduro-sled. The 66-degree head tube angle feels perfect, slack enough to feel composed at high speeds and in the steeps, but not so slack that handling at lower speeds suffers. Our size large test bike had a generous front center with an effective top tube length of 628mm and a moderate length reach of 455mm.
The Levo SL's 150mm of front and rear suspension feels impressively supple and well balanced. Specialized's FSR rear suspension platform is proven and provides excellent small bump compliance and when combined with the additional weight of the bike really gives it a ground-hugging and ultra-smooth feel over high-frequency chop and chatter. It also performed well on mid-sized and bigger hits with a nice ramp-up at the end of the stroke, blowing through the travel and harsh bottom outs were a non-issue. The Fox 34 Rhythm fork also comes with a beefed up e-bike specific crown and felt far more sturdy than the 34s that come on non-e-bikes. It's also worth noting just how well the Levo SL railed through corners. The additional weight of the motor and battery on this bike is as low as possible by the bottom bracket, combine that with supple rear suspension and grippy tires and this bike absolutely shreds corners and eats up fast flowy sections of trail.
One thing that really sets the Levo SL apart from the competition on the descents is the lower weight, 41 lbs and 10 oz, which plays a role in several aspects of its downhill performance. First, and most obviously, it weighs approximately 9-10 lbs less than any other eMTB we've tested. That much weight is very noticeable, it feels quicker, more responsive, and generally more "normal" in how it handles and performs on the descents. Jumping and tweaking the bike in the air doesn't feel like a chore. When you get the Levo SL up to speed, we noticed that pedaling it past the 20mph mark feels much easier and far more natural than heavier e-bikes. In fact, our testers noted that they could barely notice when the drive unit stopped providing pedal assistance when they were really jamming on the pedals.
Despite carrying the lowest price tag in Specialized's line of new Levo SL models, the Comp build we tested gave us little to complain about. While not flashy, the Fox Rhythm 34 fork and Float DPS Performance shock felt great and performed well during testing. The cockpit felt dialed with a nice wide handlebar, short stem, and comfortable grips. The 150mm X-Fusion Manic dropper post worked flawlessly and ensured our saddle was always in the perfect position. The SRAM Guide R brakes are a little under-gunned for this bike, but the 200mm front rotor helps to boost the stopping power. The 2.3-inch Specialized Eliminator rear and Butcher front tires both have excellent aggressive treads and the beefier GRID TRAIL casing that is up to the task of handling the weight and speeds of the Levo SL, plus they deliver excellent cornering and braking traction.
The Levo SL is a comfortable and capable climber, but again, it sets itself apart from the competition because of the fact that it is less powerful. This isn't the bike if you want to soft-pedal and have the bike to all of the uphill work for you. Instead, this is the bike for the rider who wants to push their own watts and have a little help to go a little faster or farther. That said, it has a great geometry, a good seated pedaling position, and the lower amounts of pedal assistance will be just right for many riders.
The Levo SL has a just-right geometry that feels great on the climbs. It's almost identical to the Stumpjumper, and it's clear that they have refined these measurements over the past several years leaving little to complain about. The 455mm reach is long enough and the 74.5-degree seat tube angle is just steep enough that power transfer feels direct and efficient. The shorter chainstays and wheelbase along with a 66-degree head tube angle make for a highly maneuverable bike and it feels responsive and easy to control. Uphill switchbacks are a breeze and picking through technical rock gardens is easy thanks to the lower weight. The lighter weight is also helpful on long grinds, and in the off chance you run out of battery in the middle of nowhere.
Unlike other e-bikes that are twice as powerful, climbing on the Levo SL isn't a spectator sport. You can't really just relax and fly up the hill with minimal effort. Climbing on the Levo SL requires significantly more effort, especially when it gets really steep and the reduced power output and torque become more noticeable. Sure, it makes it much easier than climbing a bike with no pedal-assistance, but you are likely to get much more of a workout than you would on a full-power model. Again, that's the point of the SL models, it's just a little boost in your power and speed.
The FSR rear suspension platform is reasonably supportive, but our testers found they actually used the climb switch for extended climbs aboard the Levo SL. We attribute this to the fact that you have to put more of your own power down into the cranks than on full-power models. The SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain gave us nothing to complain about, and it has plenty of range should you find yourself pedaling back to the trailhead under your own power. The 2.3-inch Specialized Eliminator tire has an aggressive tread and provides loads of traction on most surfaces.
One of the primary things that sets the Levo SL apart, other than the lighter weight, is the fact that it delivers less torque and power output than standard e-bike motors. In addition to having a smaller internal battery, only 320Wh, Specialized designed a smaller and lighter weight motor, the SL 1.1. The SL 1.1 motor delivers 35 Nm of torque and up to a maximum power output of 240 watts. This is less than half of the torque and max watts produced by the more powerful, and much heavier, 2.1 motor found in the regular Levo models. While it feels far less powerful, that's also kind of the point. This lightweight e-bike is most ideal for the rider who wants "regular" trail bike handling and still wants to get a solid workout with some, but less, pedal assistance.
Specialized claims that the Levo SL is "2x You", roughly doubling your power output. This is in contrast to the Levo which they say is "4x You". Turbo mode on the Levo SL feels a lot like the Trail setting on a full-power e-bike, but again, that's the point. If you're after a super-powerful e-bike to blast up steep climbs at 20mph with minimal effort, you're going to want to look elsewhere. If you want some pedal assistance to ride a little faster or a little farther, the Levo SL has you covered. The delivery of the power on the Levo SL is smooth and comes on as soon as the pedals start turning without any of the twitchiness you find with some other drive systems. In the Eco and Trail modes, the power cuts out as soon as you stop pedaling. In Turbo, the power band extends just a bit past when the pedals stop turning. One notable difference between the Levo SL and heavier models is that when the motor cuts out at 20mph it is far less noticeable and much easier to keep your momentum. It feels far more natural, and there is also virtually no resistance when pedaling without the assistance of the drive unit.
Considering the differences between the Levo SL and virtually every other electric mountain bike on the market, it's hard to make a direct comparison in terms of its distance range. It has a smaller battery capacity, but due to the less powerful motor it also uses its power more efficiently albeit with noticeably more rider input. The 320Wh battery is certainly on the smaller side compared to the standard 500 or even 700Wh batteries we are used to these days, but with the optional Range Extender Battery you can bump that up to 480Wh which is plenty to get out on some super epic rides. The Range Extender battery weighs 2 lbs and 6 oz and fits into the bottle cage where it is secured with a thick rubber band. The Range Extender plugs straight into the charging port on the frame and has a twist lock to secure it in place.
On our standardized range test hill, we rode the Levo SL in the Turbo setting for 13 miles and 2,858 vertical feet. When we added the Range Extender battery, we were able to go another 5 miles and 964 vertical feet. Since we've been doing our range testing in this standardized way, we've had the same tester putting in the same amount of effort each time. He was quick to note that it took approximately 50% longer to complete the test on this bike due to the fact that he was going slower as a result of the roughly half-powered assistance compared to "normal" e-bikes. That said, 18 miles and 3,822 vertical feet is as good or better than many of the full-power models we've tested. It should be noted that when the batteries got close to depletion, approximately 20%, the power output dropped noticeably.
To supplement this range test, we also took the Levo SL out for some epic trail rides in the Downieville, CA area. While riding mostly in trail mode using the Range Extender we were able to complete rides over 28 miles with more than 6,000 vertical feet and finish with three bars of battery remaining. Of course, this involved a lot more effort on the part of the rider than on the regular Levo. Those seeking a more normal feeling ride who still want to lay down some effort of their own will find that the Levo SL has an impressive range.
As the least expensive model in the new Turbo Levo SL lineup, the Comp comes with a surprisingly nice build. It's no blinged-out head-turner, but every aspect of the build is functional and well suited to handling how hard you can shred on this bike. Everything is built around Specialized's M5 aluminum frame with the integrated SL 1.1 motor and downtube integrated 320Wh battery.
The Levo SL Comp comes with a Fox suspension package that includes a Rhythm 34 Float fork and a Float DPS Performance rear shock. Considering that this is one of the lower end fork models in Fox's line, our testers were very impressed with how sturdy it felt and how plush it was in its travel. It doesn't say e-bike specific on the fork, but the crown does appear to be beefier than on a standard fork. The Float DPS shock is nothing fancy, but it worked fine during testing and has a 3-position compression damping switch.
The cockpit of the Levo SL Comp is nicely equipped with a generous amount of Specialized branded components. It comes with a 780mm wide alloy Trail handlebar clamped by a nice short stem. At the top of the stem is a Specialized SWAT door that hides a multi-tool that pops up and out of the steerer tube when you need it. At the back of the bike, a comfortable Specialized Bridge Comp saddle is mounted to the top of a 150mm travel (size Large) X-Fusion Manic dropper. The Manic dropper worked flawlessly throughout our testing and we liked the 1x style remote that fits neatly below the e-bike controls.
A SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain takes care of the shifting duties. It features an 11-50-tooth cassette paired with a 30-tooth front chainring mounted to a set of Praxis cranks. While not flashy, this drivetrain setup works well and has plenty of range, even if you run out of battery. The SRAM Guide R brakes worked well enough, and the 200mm front rotor helps when trying to slow down at high speeds.
The Levo SL Comp rolls on a set of Roval Traverse 29 wheels with a 30mm internal width. The wheels come tubeless-ready and have a 2.3-inch Specialized Butcher in the front and 2.3-inch Eliminator in the rear, and both have Specialized's new robust GRID TRAIL casing. The GRID TRAIL casing is thicker and more puncture and tear-resistant with a more supportive sidewall that is great for aggressive trail riding and the heavier weight of this bike.
There's no denying that mountain bikes, and especially electric mountain bikes, are expensive. This is especially true of the new Levo SL models, as the aluminum-framed Comp version we tested is the least expensive in the range at $6,525. That said, Specialized is leading the market in terms of technology and performance, and we feel this is a solid value for an innovative and absolutely ripping e-bike. Bear in mind that adding accessories like the Range Extender Battery will cost some additional money.
The new Turbo Levo SL is a genre-blending electric mountain bike that falls almost directly between regular trail bikes and full-powered e-bikes. It is significantly lighter weight, a result of the more compact and less powerful motor and smaller battery. While it doesn't pack the full-throttle punch of full power models, it makes up for that with its agility and impressively well-rounded performance on both the climbs and descents. It may not be everyone, but those seeking regular trail bike handling and want just a little assistance to go farther or faster should give the Levo SL serious consideration.
Other Versions and Accesories
Specialized makes a couple of accessories for the new Turbo Levo SL models. The most intriguing is the Range Extender Battery ($450) which gives you an additional 160Wh of battery storage and fits in the bottle cage. You must also purchase an SL Range Extender Cable ($35) to connect it to the bike. The Range Extender battery and cable weigh 2 lbs and 6 oz.
If you buy the optional Range Extender Battery, Specialized also sells a Y-Splitter attachment ($60) so that you can simul-charge both batteries at the same time.
Specialized also makes a handlebar-mounted digital display called the Turbo Connect Display (TCD) ($90) for riders who want to view metrics like speed, distance, riding time, power output, support mode, etc, at a glance.
Specialized makes several versions of the new Turbo Levo SL in both aluminum (tested) and carbon frames. The Comp Carbon is the least expensive carbon-framed model at $7,525. It comes with the same build as the model we tested, but with a lighter weight carbon frame.
The Turbo Levo SL Expert Carbon goes for $9,025 and comes with upgrades like a SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, SRAM G2 RSC brakes, and Roval Carbon wheels.
The S-Works Turbo Levo SL will set you back $13,525 and comes decked out with Fox Factory suspension, a SRAM XX1 Eagle drivetrain, SRAM G2 Ultimate brakes, Roval Traverse SL carbon wheels, and a RockShox Reverb AXS electronic dropper post. The S-Works model also comes with the Range Extender Battery included.Specialized also made a limited run of Founder's Edition models that come with an impressive build kit and an even more impressive price of $16,525. Wow!
— Jeremy Benson, Joshua Hutchens, Chris McNamara