That’s right, a light weight e-bike is in your future so I’d recommend you start getting used to the idea. The launch of the Specialized Turbo Levo SL proved that the concept of a lighter, moderately powered e-bike is a viable notion and one that I believe is the future of mountain bikes. It might be five years or so away, but e-bikes will be the norm and I’m happy to spend my hard earned on it now.
I’m more than happy to say I’m an e-bike convert, but that’s not to say I haven’t mentally struggled a little with the idea. As someone that is happy to work hard and ‘earn their turns’, at first I felt like I was 'cheating', that I was lazy and that I wasn’t keeping my previous level of fitness obtained through cycling when riding an e-bike. Tables soon turned though as more and more of my mates, bought or had access to an e-bike. With a whole group of electrically powered riders, we went further, we descended more, we rode in eco to prolong battery life and we got tired. At this momentus group led milestone revealed itself, I embraced e-bikes enthusiastically.
There were still two more things troubling me though, what about those short rides on my own, where I couldn’t help myself from selecting Turbo and razzing out an hour of perspiration free, low heart zone rate trails. How do I prevent myself from the inevitable and hitting that Turbo power button?
Also, the weight is an issue. I’m happy for e-bikes to weigh a decent amount but I found especially in the wet, when things get steep I do struggle to slow down the e-bike stream roller. Ploughing headlong into whatever gnarly trail feature is in front of me, mostly likely with both wheels locked up and a look of pure fear on my shortly-to-be-covered-in-mud face. I’ve decided 23kgs-ish is a tad too much for all 57kg’s of me, unless its dry and grippy – which is isn’t, and I fear, never will be again in the UK should we even survive Coronavirus and get to the summer. Talking to other heavier and more aggressive riders their experience is not the same but for me it’s a problem.
Head into 2020 though along comes the Specialized Turbo Levo SL Comp Carbon and rocks my world. Now this isn’t an advertorial for the big ‘S’ and I’m not saying that this bike is a wholly perfect one, it’s not. The geometry leaves something to be desired for my tastes and the rear suspension in this Comp spec is a little wallowy and linear in feel but the concept is bang on. The 240W motor and the smaller 320Wh battery all adds up to a super sleek, 18.2kg bike that I actually like riding and looking at and doesn’t look much like an e-bike at all.
I know Lapierre got there first with their E-Zesty, a bike which uses a similarly powered Fauza motor and battery but Specialized is in the envious position of being rich enough and have the motivation to work in conjunction with a company called Mahle to design their own motor and battery, the Specialized SL 1.1. The bespoke unit integrates so well into the frame that at first glance its hardly noticeable and in true Levo style the power transfer is smooth and intuitive. Enough on that though, this isn’t a review and I’m still getting to the point where I convince you you’ll own one in five years time.
The Levo SL delivers roughly half the power of a ‘full-fat’ e-bike meaning I’ve got assistance but I am having to work harder if I want to go faster, rather than have all the power laid out on a plate, like I’m feasting at a decadent dinner party, as I feel when I’m riding a full-fat Levo. It’s a perfectly happy medium where fitness and fun is concerned. Stick the bike in Eco and in all honestly I might as well be riding an 'acoustic' bike uphill, the power just overcoming the weight of the motor, that’s fitness dealt with.
Surge ahead and flick the power up to Turbo and I’m whizzing uphill with a moderately decent heart rate, the landscape isn’t rushing past me at warp speed as on a full power e-bike but I get to the top of hill in a very timely manner indeed. The result? I get to ride additional descents on an all-day ride or I get to lap out more of my local in my lunch break whilst still getting a decent amount pedalling in.
The lightweight e-bike delivers when descending too, I can slow this one down, when I want and how I want without drastically changing my breaking point and without using my face as a brake. This one bunnyhops with more ease, its not like laying over a barge on tight slow corners, its lithe and nimble whilst using its weight to give me stability which breeds a new kind of downhill confidence. And did I mention it looks fabulous in a very un-e-bikey way whilst doing all that, ah, I did…
There is more to it though; the Levo SL can keep up with full-fat e-bike with ease. Given a range extender, an average fitness level and a fair amount of time in Trail and Turbo modes (set to 50% and 100% respectively) I’ll keep up with my mates riding their e-bikes in Eco (set at 35%) for well over 1,500m of climbing.
I do only weigh 57kg so, of course, my Levo SL isn’t carrying around too much weight but even heavier riders will experience a similar amount of battery life with some clever power management. And what if I ride with those that still aren’t converted, or at least are yet to find the cash to covert? In Eco on the Levo SL, we will ride side by side all day and both be as tired as each other. Plus, I can boost ahead and get the coffees and cake in at the end of the ride.
There really is no downside, the Specialized Turbo Levo SL has opened the door to our future. It hints at the world where this is the norm, I’m imagining trails full of lightweight e-bikes from all brands, think ‘Santa Cruz E-Nomad Lite’ and ‘Merida e-120 LW’ or whatever they choose to call them. In fact, I reckon within five years time the only non-powered bikes available will be downhill bikes, some XC bikes and a range of road bikes.
I am aware at this point, if I’m being cynical, that maybe the lightweight e-bike or even e-bikes, in general, are fundamentally everything that is wrong with our fast-paced society. We want things now, we want them immediately and we don’t like to wait or work for gratification.
The lightweight e-bike gives us those things, it gives me long descents when I haven’t trained, it fits six trails into my power hour when really I only deserve three and it’ll let me ride for multiple long days in a row this summer when, quite honestly, I haven’t put in anywhere near enough base miles this winter to make this even remotely possible on a ‘normal’ bike.
I’ve got it all immediately with the Turbo Levo SL and I haven’t worked for it, but you know what, I’m good with that. If I want to work harder, I’ll go to the gym or I’ll treat myself to some savage gravel bike miles. My mountain bike is my happy place, and in a busy world where I work two and a half jobs, I’ll take an extra spoonful of fun and ditch the suffering for miles and miles of smiles.
Of course, there are things I would change in my dream world with regards to the Levo SL. I’d alter the geometry to make it suit my tastes, I’d up-spec mine a little to help it cope better with steep Welsh hillsides. I’d like to be able to take the battery out of a light e-bike, living in a house with no garage means charging the bike outside in the rain under a tarpaulin – not the best setup ever. But that stuff is all bike/house specific and not really the point of this opinion piece.
In reviewing for off-road.cc I’m lucky enough to have many bike choices; if I want a 120mm trail bike one weekend I can use one, swapping to a long travel bike the next week, not to mention access to various e-bikes at all times. But say I was to get fired (and I don’t THINK that’s in the pipeline) [rest easy - Ed], a situation where I’d have to buy a bike, hands down it’d be this one. I’d buy a Turbo Levo SL, I’d ride it as my one and only bike and it’d be the best relationship that I’ve ever formed.
Just like the advent of the dropper post, right now you don’t think you need one but soon it’ll be something you won’t live without. The lightweight e-bike is on the verge of inserting itself right into your mountain bike life, it’s a perfect balance of powered, versus un-powered, it descends without downsides, it fills the fitness gaps of the busy varied lifestyles we all have, whilst providing more fun and access to our happy place and for that it is bang on the money. Start preparing now for your future mountain bike self, it will own a light e-bike and you will love it!
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