(Pocket-lint) - Electric bikes have seen a huge rise in popularity in the last couple of years and that's led to more traditional brands getting in on the action.
But it's not just about improving the commute, as the Specialized Turbo Levo SL goes to show. This lightweight electric mountain bike (eMTB) is made to appeal to the off-roader who's also keen to embrace the benefits of electric.
We took to the dirt paths of Bracknell's Look Out to find out what Specialized's eMTB has to offer.
- Weight: 18kg (battery 1.8kgs; motor 1.95kgs)
- Frame: Fact 11m full carbon 29 Trail Geometry
- Rear suspension: Fox Float DPS Performance shock
- Front suspension: Fox Performance 34 Float 29, 150mm of travel
The Turbo Levo SL Expert Carbon features a chunky carbon frame that also houses the battery. That's the model we have in on review - priced at a not insignificant £7,500 - but there are other options, from the SL Comp Carbon (£6,500) to the S-Works Turbo Levo SL (£12,500). Yes, it's a lot of money, but Specialized is a pro-spec brand - many of its top-of-the-range non-battery mountain bikes cost several thousand.
The Turbo Levo SL is based on the company's Stumpjumper range. Therefore it's a trail bike through and through, coming with a SRAM Eagle GX drivetrain and 150mm of suspension front and rear thanks to Fox's 34 Performance fork and DPS shocks. That helps adsorb on those drops.
The Turbo Levo SL is not as thin or lightweight as the original Stumpjumper models, of course, because of the inclusion of a motor and 320Wh battery that lives inside the downtube - which can be increased (to 700Wh) via an extender battery housed in the bottle cage - add a respective 1.8kg and 1.95kg.
But the Turbo Levo SL Expert Carbon is also surprisingly nimble all considered: its 18kg weight all-in is certainly more than the roughly 13kgs of a Stumpjumper - and, sure, every gramme counts, right? - but there's the obvious benefit of battery propulsion to help offset that weight. But you do have to ride with the battery in - because taking the battery and motor off would leave a hole in the frame where detritus would get in.
Built into the eMTB's frame is a battery gauge so you can see how much juice you've got left over, which can help you in deciding how you want to use that power. When it comes to recharging there's a covered charging socket found near the pedals. The battery is detachable - but it's not especially easy to remove in our experience.
We especially like the Specialized Swat tool that cleverly hides in the handlebars, and the X-Fusion Manic dropper seatpost that quickly retracts when needed.
Powered up and ready to go
- Transmits to any ANT+ head unit
- Specialized SL1-320 battery (320Wh)
- Specialized SL 1.1 custom lightweight motor
- Specialized Mission Control app for improved battery performance
While you can use this eMTB without the electric assistance, that's not really its point. Plus you can opt to use it with the accompanying Mission Control app to help distribute the power over time/distance.
Controls are found on the left-hand handlebar, allowing you to cycle through the three power-assist levels at the press of a button. It's great for getting you riding and without the faff of having to sort out your phone mid ride.
Upping the power assistance is quick, responsive, and akin to having a tail wind behind you pushing you along. In many cases we found it easier to simply up the power rather than change down gears, especially while en route to our trails.
The Mission Control app delivers more, though, including the ability to monitor and adjust your power usage on your ride in order to make the battery last the whole ride - useful if you know it's going to be a long one.
Dubbed Smart Control, you can adjust the power of the motor to ensure a given battery capacity is retained. That could be for the duration of your ride, a set distance, or adaptive based on training - such as your heart rate (but you'll need an additional heart-rate monitor for this to work). So it's certainly useful if you've got a plan in mind, but we found that it's easier to take things as they come.
However, we found the app a bit basic and a bit clunky - as if it was based on an off-the-shelf template - but it does deliver the core stats. We suspect for tracking, you'll already be using something like Strava anyway though.
This eMTB's hidden motor is both lightweight and efficient, capable of effectively doubling your efforts. However, the maximum assisted speed is 15mph/25kmph - as that's regulation in Europe. But it's really about the addition of power rather than core speed - we managed 23mph/37kmph - which can come in handy up more extreme inclines.
There's no noticeable noise, no waiting for the motor to kick into action, and no jolt when it does. It's very smooth whether you stick to one level or jump up and down through them all. And that means downhill you'll easily forget you've got an electric bike between your legs.
Disregard the motorised functionality and the bike is agile with the suspension able to absorb large hits with ease, while the front and back hydraulic brakes (SRAM G2 RSC) give plenty of control too.
If you're wondering about range, however, then there's no figure that can be easily put on that. There are just too many variables in terrain, rider weight/power, selected mode, and so forth. That's why the app is there to help assist, to squash any 'range anxiety' - if you can call it that on an eMTB!
The Specialized Turbo Levo SL Expert Carbon is an agile eMTB that allows you to easily forget it's electric when you're out on the trails.
But you might question why opt for an electrified bike? Which does raise questions as to its use-case for a lot of people - as we suspect many serious riders will want to use their bodies to do all the hard work.
While we found ourselves still asking whether or not we were cheating by turning on the power assist, it does allow you to enjoy the trails for longer. By taking out some of the grunt work you can focus more on the technical element of a ride.