Handguards are a brilliant invention and I'm never going through a summer without them. These particular…
Specialized may not have been first to come to market with a mid-power offering but the new Specialized Levo SL is most definitely worth the wait. As with the previous Levo SL, Specialized have chosen to launch on Star Wars Day (May The Fourth).
- Brand: Specialized
- Product: Levo SL S-Works
- Price: £13,000
- From: Specialized
- Tested by: Benji for 2 days
Price tag proviso
This particular S-Works Levo SL is an insane amount of money. I’m going to do my best to NOT review the S-Worksy-ness of this bike. The new motor and the geometry are what’s important here. The bling-bling bells and whistles, while not being entirely irrelevant to the ride experience, can take a back seat.
My thoughts are that the not-exactly-pocket-money £7,000 Levo SL Comp model will be 95% the experience of this bonkers bucks halo S-Works model. This S4 size S-Works model weighs in at 17.26kg. The Comp will weigh more, but not much.
Right. On with the Levo SL. What is it? And is it any good to ride?
320 watts peak power!
Stumpjumper EVO geometry!
In the understandably numbers-focussed world of e-bikes, that’s almost everything some people will need to know. Compared to the outgoing SL 1.1 system, there’s been a significant increase in power. 43% more torque and 33% more power to be precise.
From 35Nm of torque we now have 50Nm. In this regard the SL 1.2 is the same as the TQ-HPR50 motor found on the Trek Fuel EXe. The peak power is now 320 watts compared to the previous SL’s 240 watts (the TQ motor is 300 watts peak power).
Oh, and the de-tuned full-fat Shimano EP8 RS motor of the Orbea Rise has 60Nm torque and 350 watts peak power (out of the box at least; some Rise owners no doubt get them fettled to unleash more watts from that EP8).
Let’s not forget Fazua here either. Their latest Fazua Ride60 system offers 60Nm of torque and a whopping 450 watts of peak power.
In my experience, all ebike power numbers should not just be taken at face value. What is written on paper is not always what is felt out on the trail. But numbers are a good place to start and the new Levo SL either matches or slightly outguns its Trek rival but falls short of the bikes with Shimano EP8 RS and Fazua Ride60 motors.
And there is always the spectre of range to factor in. I’ve always been impressed with the fuel economy of previous Specialized SL bikes (such as the Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL) and not-so-impressed with TQ powered bikes. EP8 RS range is decent. As for the Fazua Ride60, we’ve not had a Fazua Ride60 for long enough to form an opinion.
The fully integrated down tube battery of the Levo SL is 320Wh. And it can be run in-series with an additional 160Wh piggyback battery ‘range extender’ held in the bottle cage. You get a range extender for ‘free’ with the £13k S-Works model by the way.
I’ve not had enough time on the Levo SL to come out with any useful range stats. I’d just say that for 20km/750m rides you can still Turbo your t*ts off if you want. Rides over 20km/750m will require a bit more care and/or range extender battery usage. One one of the test rides with over 1,000m of climbing I needed to break out a range extender but other riders (who were better behaved at keeping out of Turbo mode) got round without needing a piggyback.
Specialized SL 1.2 motor
Besides its 50Nm torque and 320 watts peak power, what’s new about the 1.2 motor? It’s now contained in a two-piece housing (instead of three-piece) which has a lining shaped like honeycomb to help quell and dissipate noise. Specialized claim that it’s around 34-45% quieter than the SL 1.2.]
During the two days I had in North Wales riding the new Levo SL I didn’t have a TQ motor bike on hand to directly compare their loudness. Suffice to say, it is loads quieter than previous SL bikes. I’d still say that the TQ is the quieter of the systems but the SL 1.2 is certainly more than quiet enough; you can’t hear it once riding off-road and/or riding faster than jogging speed (the trail and/or wind noise drowns it out).
As an important aside, Specialized state their new SL 1.2 system uses “the most advanced torque sensors in the industry”. Whilst I have no way of scientifically verifying such a hypey claim, the feel and response of the Levo SL’s motor is as good as it gets.
Like other low- to mid-power ebike systems, there didn’t feel to me like there was much, if anything, in the way of overrun (where the motor still runs for a bit even though you’ve stopped pedalling). The lack of overt overrun does help the bike feel more ‘natural’ (but I must confess to liking a bit of overrun myself).
Another aspect of the new SL 1.2 motor that helps it feel more’ natural’ (less e-bikey?) is the new decoupling mechanism of the inner workings that results in greatly reduced drag whenever you need to pedal once over the 25kmph speed limit. Specialized claim there is “no resistance” but it’s hard to believe or verify this. You can always tell when any e-bike cuts out (the assistance stops, duh) and it feels harder to turn the cranks over regardless of how much – if any – of this extra effort is due to motor drag. Suffice to say, the new Levo SL is as undraggy as e-bikes currently get.
Though the motor falls away quickly when pedalling stops, the power delivery was nicely near-instant when you did start pedalling. I didn’t do any motor setting tweaking via the app by the way. This was all ‘as stock’.
The motor is designed to work best in the 70 to 100 rpm cadence range. Again, this makes it feel very ‘natural’ for experienced cyclists who tend to have legs that have learned to spin at 80 to 90 rpm over the years.
TCU and beyond!
Whilst I didn’t do any tweaking via the (excellent and class-leading) MIssion Control smartphone app, I did use the top-tube mounted TCU panel and handlebar remote to override the default mode setting of 80% peak power in Turbo. Via some easy-to-do (even whilst riding along) long-pressing of buttons etc you can trim the power levels in 10% increments. This is handy for both fine-tuning how you want each power setting to feel, as well as when it comes to tweaking the settings depending on your terrain/battery/mood.
The whole packaging of the er, whole package with Specialized e-bikes is a bit part of why they’re so popular. No other brand of e-bikes seems as well thought out and finished as a Specialized. Getting on another brand of e-bike after being on a Specialized for a bit is revelatory in just how far other brands have yet to come in terms of things like remotes, displays and phone apps.
All in all, the e-bike aspects of the Levo SL are flipping great. It has all the power, the feel, the range, the versatility, the adjustment, the on-trail plantedness that anyone could ask for.
No, it won’t do the stuff that full-power and/or big-battery e-bikes can do. Preposterous moto-trials style technical climbing challenges aren’t accessible on this bike. Neither are truly massive routes using high assistance levels.
But that’s like complaining that a Formula One car isn’t very good at rallying. Horses for courses. The Levo SL is not that horse. The Levo SL is meant to ride like the best trail bike ever made.
The not-electric stuff
That’s the ‘e’ stuff dealt with for a bit. What about the actual ‘bike’ part of the Levo SL e-bike?
Is the Levo SL the best trail bike ever made? Don’t ask me for a definitive answer. I only rode it for two days. I suspect that yes, it could well be the best trail bike ever made but I need more trail time on it to validate such statements. And I’d rather try the not-£13k model because no bike costing that much is the best anything.
I’d also like to try it in a few different geometry (and wheel size) set ups. Somewhat surprisingly (to me at least) the Levo SL comes as a mullet. I personally just don’t really gel with small rear wheels. I’m just too used to the chainstay length and BB drop of 29er back ends I think!
Much like the Stumpjumper EVO from Specialized, the Levo SL offers a good degree of geometry adjustment. The head angle is adjustable (via headset cups) form 63° to 65.5°. The BB height can raised +/-5mm via a flip chip in the rocker yoke. The chain stays can be changed via a flip-chip in the chain stays. This is how you have the option to run a 29in rear wheel if you want to do that.
It’s great that the bike offers these genuinely useful adjustments. They’re especially good if you find yourself between frame sizes in my experience; slacken that head angle out if your reach isn’t quite as long as you’d prefer etc. Kudos to the designers for making all the geometry adjustments much more independent of each other too. Having the chains stays, BB and seat angle separately tweakable is a good thing.
During my two days with the bike, I ran it first with the middle head angle setting (64.25°) and then in the slacker setting (63°). I didn’t tweak the rocker flip-chip, not the chain stay flip chip. Everything in moderation, as they say (or should that be ‘in isolation’?) I’d very much like to try the Levo SL is every single one of its geometry settings. Even the probably-frowned-upon ‘27.5in wheel in 29in flip-chip setting).
Initial thoughts about geometry: I think the reach of the S4v could be a smidge longer, and the effective seat angle could be steeper (although I do wonder what effect changing the chain stay length would have in terms of sat-down climbing position..?)
In terms of frame construction stuff, the Levo SL is made from Specialized’s top drawer FACT 11m carbon. There’s no cool-looking side-arm alongside the rear shock now. Removing the side-arm apparently gave the designers the required space to both run more flavours of rear shock (some piggyback coils will work now) and also change the rear suspension kinematic.
The rear-suspension has higher anti-squat values than before and the general leverage rate is lower/flatter that previous. Specialized explains themselves: “A flatted leverage curve along with a more rearward defined axle path ensure peppy pedaling and climbing behavior, and a lower overall leverage ratio equates to improved small-bump and mid-stroke sensitivity while still providing plenty of progression to smash big hits with intent.”
I’d say that the Levo SL felt significantly less squidgy under pedalling and nicely-firmer in the mid-stroke compared to previous Specialized bikes (e-bike or otherwise). As for how it handles bottom out, it felt okay to me. In general, the back end felt impressively and pleasingly consistent in action no matter whereabouts it was in its travel.
In terms of spec, I’m not going to go into that too much. Again, it’s talking about the bits and bobs that make up this S-Works Levo SL’s price tag. Specialized are in no way alone in coming out with such five-figure ‘showroom’ models but it still doesn’t make it right. I really wish we could test the builds that aren’t so gratingly unaffordable.
Anyway, spec. The key takeaway here is that the Levo SL bikes have ditched the stuff that wasn’t really good enough. The forks are now 36mm stanchion. The brakes are 4-pots and have 200mm rotors at either end.
Such en-burlying is testament to the fact (FACT!) that circa 40lbs is the perfect weight for a mountain bike in terms of on-trail feel and handling. Honestly reader, they way 40-ish lb bikes feel to ride is fabulous. They offer the famed planted, traction-sucking, line-holding feel of e-bikes but also exhibit the level of nimble hustling of a normal bike. They don’t feel scarily brittle or sketchy. Nor do they feel runaway train frightening or hope-I-don’t-get-entangled fretful.
The new Specialized Levo SL may have arrived late but it was worth the wait. It offers the great trail bike geometry of a Stumpjumper EVO, a massively punchier feeling motor than before, impressive range, improved rear suspension feel and an unrivalled quality of polished package.
Is it perfect? Well, the move to mullet is not my cup of tea and I’d prefer a steeper seat angle and/or longer chain stays but… I digress. The Specialized Levo SL may not the ebike I’m waiting for (I like more travel in my e-bikes) but it will be exactly the bike that a whole swathe of people are going to go for as Their First E-bike. And it’s a great choice that they won’t regret. Patience is a virtue.
As ever, happy to help with further information or clarification. Ask away in the comments section below!👇
Specialized Levo SL S-Works Specification
- Frame // FACT 11m carbon, 150mm
- Shock // FOX FLOAT X
- Fork // FOX FLOAT 36 Grip2, 160mm
- Wheels // Specialized Traverse SL
- Front Tyre // Butcher, GRID TRAIL casing, GRIPTON® T9 compound, 2Bliss Ready, 29×2.3in
- Rear Tyre // Butcher, GRID TRAIL casing, GRIPTON® T7 compound, 2Bliss Ready, 27.5×2.3in
- Chainset // SRAM Carbon
- Drivetrain // SRAM XX Eagle T AXS, 12-speed
- Brakes // SRAM Code Stealth, 4-piston caliper, 200mm/200mm
- Stem // Deity 35mm, 50mm
- Bars // Roval Traverse SL Carbon, 6-degree upsweep, 8-degree backsweep, 30mm rise, 780mm width
- Grips // Deity Knuckleduster
- Seatpost // RockShox Reverb AXS, 30.9mm, 170mm
- Saddle // Bridge Ti
- Motor // Specialized SL 1.2, 50Nm, IP67 Waterproof
- Battery // Specialized fully integrated, 320Wh (plus 160Wh range extender included with S-Works models)
- Size Tested // S4
- Sizes Available // S1, S2, S3, S4, S5, S6
- Weight // 17.26kg (38lbs)
Geometry of our size S4 test bike
- Head angle // 64.6º
- Effective seat angle // 75.8º
- Seat tube length // 425mm
- Head tube length // 120mm
- Chainstay // 432mm
- Wheelbase // 1,238mm
- Effective top tube // 631mm
- BB height // 348mm (-29mm drop)
- Reach // 470mm
|Top Tube Length (MM)||560||582||604||631||659||691|
|Seat Tube Length (MM)||385||385||405||425||445||465|
|Seat Tube Angle||75.8||75.8||75.8||75.8||75.8||75.8|
|Head Tube Length (MM)||95||100||110||120||130||140|
|Head Tube Angle||64.6||64.6||64.6||64.6||64.6||64.6|
|Chainstay Length (MM)||433||432||432||432||432||432|
|Bottom Bracket Drop (MM)||34||29||29||29||29||29|
|Bottom Bracket Height (MM)||343||348||348||348||348||348|
|Stack Reach Ratio||1.504||1.452||1.407||1.351||1.303||1.246|
|Front Center (MM)||727||754||778||807||836||870|