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Posted by Editor on 06/12/17
We decided to split this interview into two, since it is such a new category of bike. Mike Badyk's review is below and focusses on the bike itself, while mine can be found Here, and provides an overview of the whole electric bike market, as well as my impressions of the Levo.
Welcome to the future. The Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie (Levo for short) is a proper mountain bike with an electric assist motor. Don't even think of it as one of those e-bikes that are a scooter with pedals (we call them DUI bikes - you see people on them that probably lost their license to being impaired). At the heart of it is a Specialized FSR bike, a design that has been around for many years because it is a good one.
The story is a 250 watt motor built into the bottom bracket. All of the technical trickery is sealed up tight. Only a small flap opens to allow you to charge the battery that is incorporated into the down tube. The battery is large at 460Wh with 40 3.2 Amp hour cells working together. It takes between 3 and 4 hours to charge when it is almost drained.
A 250 watt motor is built into the bottom bracket
There is no throttle so don't expect it to work like a motorcycle or other e-bike. The motor kicks in based in on the amount of force you exert in the pedals. You can feel it and hear it. There are three levels of assist available.
TURBO MODE: The motor, while pedaling, provides maximum (100%) support.
TRAIL MODE: The motor, while pedaling, provides 50% support (default).
ECO MODE: The motor, while pedaling, provides 20% (default).
When you turn the bike on it is in Turbo Mode. Press the - (Minus) button and you drop down through Trail to Eco. The + (Plus) button moves you back up again. I have to note that this is on the side of the battery on the left side of the downtube. If you're going to change the assist you need to plan ahead. I rode mostly in Eco mode as it seemed to be more than enough for the riding I was doing. LED lights inform you which mode you are in and how much charge is remaining. These LEDs are mounted on the left side of the battery on the downtube. More on that aspect later.
With the Levo it is really difficult to compare it with a regular bike, but that is what we automatically do. We compare what we are riding with what we have ridden.There are so many factors involved with the Levo that you just have to take it as it is. What I ended up doing was comparing it to itself on repeated rides on the same 40km loop. Temperatures varied considerably with the Spring weather, as did the amount of mud.
I did one loop on Eco mode, which is the lowest power assist setting. That left me about 30% battery life at the end of a 2.5 hour ride (including stops). The temperature outside on that day was around 17C.
I rode another of the 40km loops on the Trail (50%) setting. I was on fumes at the end of the two hour ride. The last light on the fuel gauge was showing red so I must have been close to drained. I have to note that there was no way to see that light in bright sunshine unless you get off the bike. The temp on that morning was single digits, which I will surmise had an impact on the battery function. Average speed was about 4kph per hour faster than on Eco mode, which is pretty significant.
In the back of my mind was what would happen if I drained the battery and had to move this beast? It never happened but I do 4-5 hour rides and I don't think the battery on the Levo would last for a ride of that sort. Yes you would still be able to pedal it but you have a significant weight penalty as it weighed approximately 49 pounds (22kg). You wouldn't be climbing many hills.
Your fuel can be monitored by an App that links via bluetooth to your phone or a GPS
If I have one big gripe it is with the fuel gauge. I want it on the handlebar. Specialized can tell you that it will Bluetooth with a dedicated App on your phone or a GPS/computer, but I want a simple gauge where I can see how much charge is left, and change through the three modes without having to either stop to look at the gauge on the left side of the bike or reach down and hunt for the assist up and down button, or fuss with my phone or computer. I never really took to it as it is.
At the heart of the bike, the FSR is a tried and true suspension design. You also get the benefit of Specialized's Auto Sag feature. Unfortunately, what works well on a regular bike came up a bit wanting on the Levo. I hit the pedals repeatedly especially when I tried to ride more aggressively. I suspect that with all of the weight in the bottom bracket area that the suspension at the BB dives a lot lower when you hit something hard. What I would like to do is set the Auto Sag and then add a bit of air to the spring to see if I could counter that. We didn't have the time to do that with this review.
SRAM GX 11-speed drivetrain
Rock Shox Yari RC fork
The Levo is not naturally conducive to technical trails. I got over the logs that stymied me on some rides only after multiple tries. There are two logs that have been there for years. The first is the largest and the second somewhat smaller and just 1.5 bike lengths beyond the first. The first time I encountered these logs I went to accelerate under my own power and the motor kicked in and I hit the first log much harder than I wanted to. I finally figured out that I had to do the first log under my own power and then get the motor to kick into get over the second smaller log. I really had to think about it and this didn't come naturally. I found the same issue with rock gardens. Thinking and planning is really required.
I expected more help from the motor on the climbs. Yes, you are less fatigued at the top but you aren't exactly climbing fast. I think a reasonably in-shape person on a standard bike would blow you away on a short steep climb. Put three or four of those climbs in a row and it is advantage Levo.
That being said, the climbing scenario where the Levo is plain incredible is something really steep and really rough. It isn't rally car racing, but more like 4x4 rock crawling. Dump it into a low gear, keep your butt on the seat to make those big, fat 27.5+ 3" tires grip, and you will climb stuff that you won't believe. The first time I tried something like this I burst out laughing at the top. That was way fun.
Another place where I had a blast on the Levo was on the local recreation trail. It is a 3 metre wide crushed stone surface and follows the Credit River. Repeated heavy rains had caused the river to go over its banks and onto the trail where it redistributed hundreds of cubic metres of gravel. It also created some monster size ruts and gullies. I was riding with one of my neighbours and he had to pick his way through the mess on his 2.4" tires. On the Levo I just gunned it, and the motor with the big tires just motored through. Again, a tremendous amount of fun.
Handling is a mixed bag overall. The XL bike is heavy (at an inaccurate estimation of 49 pounds (22 kg) based on a highly suspect bathroom scale). That weight also makes it really tough to flick the Levo around in tight stuff. The long wheel base at 1246mm and the slack 66.5 degree head tube angle make it a real chore in anything requiring finesse. The big tire combined with the geometry makes wheel flop a fact of life. You need to pick and chose where you ride.
I tried to get the Levo over 30kph on flat ground. There was just no way based on what I'm doing. It seems to have a sweet spot for me between 26 and 28kph. On one of my usual rides there is an elevated bridge over a small creek. We almost always gun it and catch some air. You can't do it on the Levo. As you try to get it up to jumping speed, likely over 35kph, it puts the governor on (32kph is specified). You remain firmly attached to terra firma. As your speed climbs and you push harder the governor comes on. To reduce the torque and keep the motor on you have to keep going to lower gears and spin, spin, spin. You can adjust the power setting through the Mission Control App. I never set that up. As it was, I found myself spinning more than I wanted to.
The real story of the Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie is that electric motor, so I haven't mentioned much else about how it was spec'd. The spec is good and, based on my riding, reliable. The Rock Shox Yari RC fork was fine. It worked well in all conditions. The SRAM GX 11-speed drivetrain worked without any problems. With the heft of the bike it came with 200mm rotors and SRAM Guide R 4-piston brakes. They worked but I have used more powerful brakes. Most of the components are in house-branded, which is typically fine based on Specialized's designs. It is a good spec overall. If you have lots of funds you can go to the top of the line S-Works Turbo Levo FSR 6Fattie for a suggested retail of $12,809 CDN. You will lose weight due to a bevy of carbon components. Your wallet will be very light too.
The suggested retail price for our Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie is $7,689 CDN. That is up there, but you are purchasing a very high tech piece of equipment. Levo's are available at select stores across the country right now. I was in to the Skiis & Biikes Mississauga store and they had them in stock. According to bike manager and long time industry acquaintance Marc Cormier, the Levo FSR's have been selling. By contrast the Turbo Levo Hardtails (likely lighter, and a couple of thousand dollars cheaper) haven't been selling all that well. I can see that. With the weight the full suspension is really the way to go.
Would I buy one now? I will use a fishing metaphor - I will nibble but I won't bite. They are close but I don't think they are quite there yet. I don't think I'm quite there yet either. I've got the time and energy to ride a lot. I don't need the assist. Yet. But if I was recovering from something like a knee injury, or I was just starting to get back into shape, I would definitely consider the Specialized Levo. One point I keep coming back to is that as I age I want to keep mountain biking. If I had a bike like the Levo it would keep me going well into decrepitude. I am really curious to see how this evolves in the next couple of years. I predict lots of improvement leading to some really impressive bikes from Specialized.
by Mike Badyk
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