2023 Specialized S-Works Levo SL Gen II first ride review
Back in 2020, Specialized unveiled the Levo SL, a lightweight e-mountain bike that literally paved the way for the sport. Three years later, the Morgan Hill-based brand has given the trail focussed e-MTB a well-deserved overhaul, rewarding it with a new frame, a fresh suspension kinematic, and even a refined motor design with a power output in line with that of its rivals. We were invited to Snowdonia, Wales to get hands-on with this new machine.
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The Specialized Levo SL was immediately recognisable. Not just because of its unique sidearm shared with the Stumpjumper but because it also played a huge role in paving the way for lightweight e-bikes by offering a true halfway house between full-powered e-bikes, and humble meat-powered push bikes. Now, Spesh has taken that well-proven formula and diligently refined and improved it by modernising its shape and boosting the Newton meters to match that of its competitors.
For 2023, the biggest change needs little introduction but the brand has done away with that unique side-arm design that added stiffness to the previous frame and this has been done for two reasons. First off, it allows space for reservoir shocks to fit inside that front triangle without fouling on the frame. Secondly, it’s been removed to shave weight.
And that weight saving is important, as to keep up with modern trends, the bike’s reach has grown by 15mm, with an S4 frame featuring a very reasonable 470mm measurement. With that, there’s simply more bike, meaning extra material and more weight, which is why the side-arm has been binned this time around.
That’s not the only geometry change that’s been made either as the Levo SL has received the classic longer, slacker, and lower treatment with all sizes now featuring an adjustable 64.25-degree head tube angle, a 76-degree seat tube angle, and with a 650b wheel at the rear, a very short 432mm chainstay. Oh, and as you might have guessed, this bike has adopted Specialized’s S-sizing model, which utilises shorter seat and head tubes in order to allow potential customers to pick a size according to the kind of ride quality they’re looking for, whether that’s short and nimble, or long and stable.
Adjustable geometry is now an expected attribute and the Levo SL can be tweaked to your preference. Previously found on the Stumpjumper EVO, the latest Levo SL gets a headset cup that allows for +/- one degree of head angle adjustment, and a cool flip chip that adjusts the bottom bracket height. There’s yet another flip chip by the Horst link that allows the user to run either a mullet or 29-inch wheel setup but what’s special here, is that this doesn’t affect the geometry elsewhere on the bike, there’s just a small change in chainstay length.
Spesh has paid extra attention to the suspension kinematic, giving the bike a lower or flatter overall leverage rate in order to achieve more support around the start of the stroke and more control towards the bottom. The axle path has been tweaked to be more rearward to help the rear end cope with square-edged hits and there’s higher anti-squat for better support when pedaling.
There’s been a lot of work in lowering the leverage rate and Specialized says the results include a more speed-sensitive damping and a more sensitive character through normal conditions. The brand also says that riders don’t need to use as much rebound damping, which allows the bike to recover faster after impact, keeping it high in travel. It’s then less progressive at the sag point.
At first, it may look similar to its predecessor but the Turbo SL 1.2 motor contains a couple of updates. While the internals are similar, it uses a two-piece casing, rather than three and, inside, a honeycomb structure has been included to reduce noise. The motor gets further noise reduction through a small redesign of its gearbox, and this is also where Specialized has found a bit of extra power. Combining this with some software tweaks, the Levo SL now kicks out 50Nm of torque with 320W of peak power and 250W of nominal.
All new Levo SL models come with Specialized’s latest Mastermind TCU and there’s a 320Wh battery.
Specialized S-Works Levo SL Gen II - Specifications
On our first ride of the Levo SL, Specialized was extra kind and put me on the top-of-the-range S-Works build which will set you back a whopping £13,000!
For that premium price tag, you’re getting nothing but top-shelf kit. We’re talking a Fox 36 Factory fork with 160mm of travel combined with a DPX2 featuring Specialized’s RX tune that’s been tailored to complement the bike’s lower leverage curve.
It also gets SRAM’s brand-spanking new XX Eagle Transmission drivetrain paired with the Code Silver Stealth four-piston brakes. Those slow 200mm rotors at each end and the bike rolls on a Roval Traverse SL Carbon wheelset shod with a Specialized Butcher in a GRID TRAIL casing and GRIPTON T9 rubber compound at the front, and an Eliminator in the same spec but with a firmer T7 compound at the back.
The drivetrain on this bike makes a hell of a lot of sense on an e-bike. The SRAM T-Type shifts impressively well under a lot of power, which is all too easy to do on any kind of bike but where the forces are so much greater when a motor’s involved, it quickly saves you from mangling your shifting setup due to dodgy shifting decisions.
For the finishing kit, the brand has steered clear of its own brand stuff, and rightfully so. Instead, there’s kit from Deity and a RockShox Reverb AXS dropper with 170mm of drop on this S4 frame.
That’s all bolted to the Fact 11m carbon chassis including a carbon shock extension. I'm told that the bike weighs in at around 17 kilos.
If £13k is too rich for your blood, Specialized offers this bike in a Comp Carbon build which brings the price to a slightly more palatable £7,000.
This bike gets a lower-grade carbon frame with a Fox DPS shock and Foc 36 Rhythm fork. Braking is handled by SRAM Code RS four-piston brakes and shifting is covered with SRAM's GX range. There's an X-Fusion Manic dropper with the rest of the kit coming from Specialized's own range.
Specialized S-Work Levo SL Gen II - Ride impressions
For my brief taster with Spesh’s new e-bike, I sampled some of Coed y Brennin’s best off-piste terrain as well as some seriously wet and steep trails nestled deep within the Dyfi Forest. Apart from the conditions, the trails provided the perfect opportunity to become acquainted with the bike in its natural habitat.
As for geometry settings, on the trail-centre-orientated day, I had the bike in its standard-setting apart from the headset which was slackened to 63-degrees. On the second day, the head tube was steepened to its standard position of 64.25-degrees. We’ll go deeper into this adjustment in a little bit.
First and foremost, the Levo SL II is a trail bike but it’s equipped motor that delivers a good level of power that extends the ride and makes climbs more tolerable. It does this without over-encumbering the bike with the weight of a large battery, and a bigger powered motor. With that in mind, the Levo’s lively but do-it-all trail bike character is immediately noticeable and it's a real charm.
During my first few hundred meters aboard the bike, I found that the power delivery in eco mode was incredibly subtle, so much so that I had to remind myself that I was on an e-bike. It made up for the extra weight of the motor and battery, making the bike pedal very much as if they weren’t there.
While the motor offers more power (33% more, in fact), another big advancement is that it’s nearly silent. In eco, there’s barely a whisper but understandably, some noise does creep in when more powerful modes are selected. Even though there is some noise, Spesh’s efforts in reducing its volume have paid off.
Providing a real ‘best of both worlds’ feel, shifting the new SL motor into turbo mode allows you to sit back and spin, while the motor does the brunt of the work. Of course, this comes at the expense of battery juice but it’s comforting to know that this is still possible when fatigue starts rearing its head.
Specialized says that the SL 1.2 motor system equipped with the 320Wh battery can offer up to five hours of battery life while in Eco mode. Of course, there’s a huge range of variables to take into consideration but, if I remember correctly, on the first day of riding I clocked in around 35km with 20% battery remaining. This is while flicking through the power modes but mainly using Eco. Of course, motor output and many other features all be fettled within the very comprehensive Mission Control app.
Moving onto the ride and on the climbs, the Levo Gen II is very well-behaved. Its super-short 432mm chainstay, took me by surprise as I was expecting the front wheel to lift and become unruly when the gradient got steeper. However, thanks to the short head tube, weight over the bike was well-balanced when cranking uphill, making all manner of climbs fairly breezy. The 76.5-degree seat tube, while not crazy steep by today’s standards, helps and works well with that chainstay to weight the rear tyre in order to boost grip. This is where the brand's addition of more anti-squat makes its case as the rear end gives little travel to pedalling forces, retaining good efficiency.
The S-sizing concept is a pretty interesting one mainly in the reach and wheelbase figures. The S4 comes with a 470mm reach and, when compared with a large trail bike of similar travel, that’s a little on the short side. Size up to the S5 and you’re then looking at a 495mm reach, so it’s clear that Specialized is really leaning into the agility/stability choice.
Geometry-wise, I’d have expected the bike to be a little longer, maybe about five to ten millimetres extra reach but, as a package, that’s not a bad thing as it rides very much like a trail bike should. Keeping the bike relatively short makes the bike nimble and lively through tighter sections, requiring little effort to snake through consecutive corners. Its agility is only aided by its mullet wheel setup, and to be honest, the little rear wheel suits the bike very nicely.
Although, the bike doesn’t hold back on the stability. As many e-bikes do, the Levo Gen II utilises its weight to make up for any stability lost in its shorter length, almost perfectly balancing stability and agility. But if you’re looking for stability, there’s an option in the S5 size.
The Levo SL Gen II continues to impress with its supportive and playful but ground-hugging suspension platform, which is what I’ve found to be my favourite part of this bike. When pushed into some lengthy, chundery rock gardens the rear end effortlessly keeps the rear wheel glued to the ground. Not only does this rustle up tonnes of grip, but it makes the bike incredibly confidence-inspiring, despite its comparatively short geo. It also staves off fatigue, egging the rider on for another run.
It’s not so ground-huggy that it sucks all of the fun out of the trail, however. The Levo is more than welcoming of the odd jib and hop thanks to an appreciable level of support in the midstroke. This results in a playful ride when you want it to be, but it helps the rear end feel precise and makes efficient use of energy when pumping the terrain.
But importantly, it really is an e-bike that rides like a normal pedal-powered trail bike, it just offers up a bit of assistance to help the rider cover more ground, and easily pedal back up for another descent.
As for that adjustable head angle, having swapped from the slackest to mid-level setting, I didn’t find an awful lot of difference between the two settings. Steering livened up a little in the steeper setting. Stability and support downhill were marginally boosted in the slacker setting. Though with this bike’s suspension platform being so capable, I would imagine that most riders would keep the headset in its 63-degree setting.
During my time with the bike, I struggled to find a particular personality. I agree that does sound negative but I assure you it’s far from it as the Levo SL Gen II simply lets you get on with whatever riding you’re doing. It's familiar, easy to ride, predictable, and it throws absolutely no punches without lacking the fun factor.
Specialized has a tonne of experience designing all kinds of bikes and that’s clear with the S-Works Levo SL Gen II as it’s quintessentially a trail bike in the true meaning of the word. It’s a bike that’s far from a one-trick pony, offering a ride that all riders will appreciate, whether they’re hauling down flow trails at Mach 10 or picking through tech sessions. It is reserved for those with deep pockets but if you’re brave enough to drop the dollar, you won't be disappointed.