The ultimate power ride : Specialized Turbo Levo Comp

I’ve been riding & racing bikes since I was 15 years old. My love affair with two wheels started when my best friend’s brother came home with a custom 10 speed that weighed less than half of what my Sears Huffy weighed in at. I couldn’t believe the way the bike rode. Every time I mashed on the pedals the bike accelerated like there was a motor on it. Once around the subdivision loop & I was hooked. A few months later I had my very own 1986 Centurion Iron Man Expert (Dave Scott Edition) in Magenta & Yellow. It was amazing.

I’ve always been interested in the mechanics & evolution of bicycles. I like the bleeding edge, always have, it keeps things interesting. I bought one of the first Mtn. Bikes on the scene back in 1992 or 93. A Yakota Yosemite Pro. It was a high end bike at the time, but man it was a tank! It weighed around 35lbs but with the fat tires and front suspension this thing chewed through dirt trails like they were paved. A few years later when Softride was at the top of their game I bought one of those weird bikes that had the seat on a carbon fiber arm attached to this oddly shaped frame with wheels. These were fun bikes too. Then when Trek launched the Y-22 carbon fiber bike I was one of the first people in the shop to buy one (I’ve actually owned 2 over the years) & fell in love with Mtn. Biking all over again. So when I first started seeing & hearing about electric bikes I was intrigued.

A little history

Before I dive in, I want to give a little background & insight into why this was the best decision I’ve made in a while. I have a recurring chronic liver disease called PSC which has decimated 2 livers resulting in my having to undergo 2 liver transplants in the last 12 years. This has had a devastating affect on my fitness & ability to regain/retain any level of fitness. Cycling has always been my escape, my way back to baseline & without it there is a big, gaping hole in my life. I have been unable to ride a bike for the last 5 years at any length without literally having to pay for it for days afterward recovering from the massive expenditure of energy.

The Turbo Levo has allowed me to ride how I like to. I can go out for 10, 20 & 30 miles at a time. Without this bike I am limited to short, really flat rides that are, for someone who is used to being able to ride 50 miles at a time, extremely unfulfilling. Okay, with all that in mind let’s get to it.

The new guard

33 years later & I have that first bike feeling again. It’s like I’m that 15 year old kid again riding this amazing new machine, only now it’s with a Specialized Turbo Levo Comp E-Bike.

I’ve ridden hundreds of bikes & owned more than my fair share over the years so I know what I like. The only requirements I had going into this new bike is that it had to be a Mtn. Bike & it had to be a 29er. Until now my primary Mtn. Bike has been a Gary Fisher Rig. It’s a single speed 29er hard tail. After the 1,500 plus miles I’ve put on that bike I knew that any new bike would also have to have 29 inch wheels. That one decision made it exponentially more difficult, there are only a few 29er E-Bikes so when I discovered that Specialized offers an entire line of them, it really got my attention.

I rode my first E-Bike several months ago & was impressed by how well it rode, & after getting on the Turbo Levo I was gob smacked by how well the motor works. Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty weird at first. It felt like the pedals were pulling away from me & I found my foot coming off the pedal a bit during the first few minutes. It didn’t take long to get used to & after lowering the power level everything started to make sense. I mashed down on the pedals & bike flew! With the motor engaging at 100% the bike really moves. You have no idea that the bike itself weighs in at 50lbs! Since it’s full suspension it’s extremely comfortable & absorbs rough terrain easily. After the 30 minutes I spent tooling around a local park, riding up some steeper hills & then bombing back down them my mind was made up; the Turbo Levo was the bike.

First impressions

My first decent ride was a 30 mile, mixed surface ride along a route that I was very familiar with. This route has a little bit of everything. A good climb at the beginning, some flats, & a pretty fast decent on a gravel fire lane followed by 6 miles of rocky/gravel road. Even though the bulk of the ride is on pavement, the bike crushed this route with ease.

At this point I’m still riding with the factory settings of power distribution. The Turbo Levo has 3 settings; Eco, Trail & Turbo. By default the power distribution is 20%, 50%, & 100%, & is highly configurable from within the Mission Control app. Right out of the box this setup is fine, but after a few rides I found that the difference between Eco & Trail not really that great & since those 2 settings are where I do the bulk of my riding I would end up adjusting them. Initially though I left them as they were so I could get a feel for the bike, & it performed perfectly. The first big climb of the day is nearly 1,000 feet & the Turbo Levo ate the hill with ease. At full power (Turbo) I averaged probably 12 or 13mph for the climb. As with any bike, the riders ability to pedal smoothly can make a big difference in how a bike rides & the Turbo Levo is no different. Even at 100% the motor assist doesn’t affect how smooth your cadence is; the motor simply integrates seamlessly into your riding style and the bike just flows.

The fat tires dig in and grab the ground extremely well, & man, the tires are fat! The Turbo Levo comes with a ground grabbing 2.6″ front & 2.3″ rear tires. Being a full-suspension bike it floats along the terrain absorbing the ruts, roots & rocks easily and staying seated is made easy. It descends with grace and the relaxed geometry makes for a smooth ride but doesn’t sacrifice much agility in the process. It’s not as agile as my Gary Fisher Rig, but it’s a completely different experience. You can get out of the saddle and power through the hills & dive hard into the corners in ways that only a hard-tail can handle. Mostly it’s just different. I bought the Turbo Levo because it’s full suspension. I wanted a bike that would be comfortable for a 50 mile off-road ride. The only real difference in riding style is that on the Turbo Levo you stay seated through all the climbing to get the most efficiency from it, & honestly I prefer to remain in the saddle on climbs anyway so it fits my riding style well.

At the end of the ride I still had about 40% left in the battery and actually I didn’t charge before my next ride, which was an easy 10 miles and it took care of that route with ease. So far, I have little to complain about. On the inclines at lower power settings you can feel the weight of the bike (it’s hard to get away from the fact that it weighs 50lbs!), but it’s an E-Bike after-all so I just let the motor take up the slack. I mean, that’s why I bought it, right?

The nitty-gritty

About a month later, several rides and more than 150 miles I’ve settled into the bike. I’ve made some adjustments to how the motor assists me as I ride & I think the tuning changes I’ve implemented are better suited to my style of riding. I’m becoming more familiar with how the bike responds under different conditions & speeds.

Power settings : Eco, Trail & Turbo

Right out of the box I think the power settings are okay as starting point, but it is lacking. First off, the different between Eco & Trail isn’t significant enough to really highlight the capabilities of the bike & the power Bosch motor. It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to make some changes, but figuring out what those changes needed to be took some figuring. and I think I’m on the right track, but honestly the 4 configuration points are a little hard to figure out what they do, how they affect the motor & it’s response to the rider. The Mission Control manual is maybe 50/50 on helpfulness so the best way is going to just play with the settings, ride for a while & try again. The configuration setting that is most vague is Shuttle. Specialized explains it as:

With Shuttle activated, you easily get full motor support when pedaling in a higher cadence with less torque (equals leg power). Generally speaking, the motor delivers high power in the most typical riding cadences above 50 RPM when Shuttle is on. So, if you’re someone that prefers to spin a high cadence with less leg power, you’re now able to get maximum motor support. Additionally, Shuttle gives you full support with less leg power when starting from a standstill, like at a traffic light.
• 0% means that Shuttle is off.
• 100% results in the greatest effect of Shuttle.

Turbo mode settings
Trail mode settings
Eco mode settings

By default, Shuttle is set to 0, so I’m trying it out at 20% for the next several rides but so far I haven’t really noticed the difference yet but I’ve only gone 20 miles on the new configuration.

The other 3 are pretty clear and the biggest changes I made are with Peak Power & Acceleration Response, which you can see in the screenshots attached to the post. My initial goal of having a more defined difference between Eco & Trail was met & so far it doesn’t seem to have affected the battery life adversely so I think I’m on the right track. I also lowered the Peak Power in Eco, and increased it in Trail & left Turbo at 100%. When making adjustments keep in mind that Peak Power & Shuttle are a static configuration across all of the modes, so when making changes to these 2 settings it’s a balance between performance & it’s affect on battery life.

Mode & Battery life indicator

The power mode indicator & remaining power indicators are easy to read at a glance; uncomplicated & well designed. Since there are only 3 power modes, the indicator dial has 3 lights that represent the power levels. Off (none lit), Eco (1 lit), Trail (2 lit) & Turbo (3 lit). The battery power indicator is just as easy to figure out with 10 power bars which indicator power remaining in 10% increments. There is also an interesting feature called Fake Channel.

Fake channel allows you to select a device channel to connect the battery charge amount to your cycle-computer. You can choose from heart rate, cadence or power. I chose heart rate since I will likely never have a heart rate monitor. As a side note; in Strava it shows my heart rate start at 100 and steadily decline as the ride goes on so on the ride stats section of the activity details my heart rate does fluctuate (like normal), it steadily goes down. Since this is really odd & not useful as part of the activity I hide it, but it’s nice to be able to see the remaining power on my computer display. I don’t think it’s very accurate though. The power reading on my computer display never matches the number of bars lit up on the status indicator on the bike itself. Not a big deal, but kind of odd – probably another thing I’ll bring up with my LBS next time I’m at the shop.

I am pretty impressed with how adjustable the performance is & it’s more configurable than I was expecting so that was a nice surprise. I imagine that I will likely have at least 2 presets in the end; 1 for trail riding & 1 for road riding.

Ride quality, performance & fit

The Turbo Levo rides great. It’s a good mix of performance and comfort. I mean, there’s only so much you can do on a full suspension bike & it’s not going to handle like a road bike (duh!) but I think the Turbo Levo is a great design. The head angle is a bit more laid back than what I am used to & that is something I am still getting used. The results is that the bike is a bit more lazy in the corners. It’s not a huge deal or huge difference than what I am used to, but I definitely notice it – especially at high speeds & I find myself taking corners and turns a lot wider than usual as I get used to Cadillac handling.

The front end also has a lot more travel (150mm front & rear) in the Suspension than my Rig, which is great but it also affects the way the bike rides. But again, it’s a full suspension bike so it’s a given that the ride is going to be different. All-in-all the Turbo Levo is a Cadillac. It’s a luxury bike that is comfortable & performant. The only complaint I have is a feature really. My Rig has a lock-out option on the fork which I would LOVE to be able to do on this as well. I do as much riding on the road as I do in the dirt, so being able to lock-out the suspension would be totally awesome. I can adjust the compression on the front via a knob on the right leg and the compression and rebound on the rear so I can fine-tune it as I ride more.

I’ve read that a lot of people report that the bike sizes tend to run small but I haven’t really found that to be the case. I mean maybe, but I ride a 56cm Road bike & medium (18in) Mtn. Bike and the Turbo Levo is no exception. I test rode both medium & large & the medium bike fit exactly like I expected it to. I’m 5’9″ tall & the Turbo Levo fits great with very little adjustment. I’m planning on upgrading the stem to one that’s a bit longer, but that’s mainly because I want PNW Components stem with a built-in bracket for a light or a GoPro. I moved the seat back a little when I swapped it out, but not very much. That reminds too, the stock seat on the bike is not a great saddle. In fact I would say that the saddle they chose to put on the bike as a stock option is pretty crummy. It didn’t take me long (2 rides actually) before I decided to get another WTB saddle for it like the one I have on my Rig. WTB saddles are pretty frickin’ awesome & my ass thanks me for the change.

Drivetrain & brakes

Raceface 34t chainring

During the test ride I was a little disappointed by the function of the shifter, in particular the way it shifted up and down. The SRAM components worked okay, but I prefer Shimano so I opted to go with an 2018 XTR shifter & an XT long cage rear derailleur and cogset. I never really used the SRAM drivetrain that came on the bike, so I don’t have anything to say there, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision to go XT/XTR on the Turbo. The cogset I opted for is an 11 speed, 11-40t cluster and I upgraded the front chainring to a 34t Raceface ring to get me a bit more on the top end. Even that jump isn’t really enough to keep me from routinely running out of gears so I will likely jump to a 36t on the front a little later on.

Removing the drive side crank arm was super easy & all I needed was an allen wrench to get it off. Surprising the stock chainring is a steel one which is probably because of the motor but I doubt I will have any issues with the Raceface aluminum ring that I replaced it with. Adjusting the chain guide was equally as simple & so far I’m really impressed with the quality of the components. The crank is nice and light-weight so I doubt I’ll upgrade it anytime soon. It came with 165mm long arms, which I was initially a little put off by as I prefer to run 170mm but given all of the comments I’ve read about pedal strikes on this frame I think I will leave it 165mm.

The brakes on the Turbo Levo are SRAM Guide RE hydraulic disc brakes and they are fantastic. They are extremely sensitive, but not in a bad way. I can easily feather the brakes with 1 finger & stop with no issue. Ever. I have disc brakes on all my other bikes so I’m not a stranger to them, but I’ve never had hydraulic brakes before. I never really cared that my brakes were mechanical discs until now & the difference is very noticeable. They are far more effective than my other brakes & I love them. The only complain t I have is that I have no experience with hydraulic brakes so I don’t know how to adjust them. Besides that the only downside is that you have to put a spacer in the brakes when the wheel is removed. If you pull the lever without the wheel in it messes up the brakes and then you have to readjust them which I’m pretty sure involved bleeding them which can be a real PITA. That’s a minor nitpick though. I have 2 of the plastic spacers so I’m good – I just need to figure out how to adjust them.

Overall

I really can’t think of too many things about the Turbo Levo Comp to complain about. Specialized has always built quality bikes & even though this is the first one I have owned I have always been a fan of their Road and Mtn. Bike. Ever since watching American Flyers I have always wanted a Specialized Allez. Not a new one mind you, I want the one from the movie in all it’s vintage, downtube shifter glory. I’ve also been a huge fan of the Stump Jumper. I’ve ridden a couple and it’s a damn fine bike. So is the Turbo Levo. It’s the nicest, most comfortable & performant bike I have owned to date. It’s also the most expensive. It’s no secret that E-Bikes are expensive & the Turbo Levo is no exception. With a retail price of nearly $6,000, it has become the Telsa of my stable, but it’s worth every penny. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a few things that I would improve, because it does. Rising an E-Bike is certainly different & it takes getting used to. Having the motor assist is great but there are times that I swear there is drag on the rear hub. I’m not 100% certain what makes it feel that way, but at times, generally at low speeds, it feels as if there is something creating drag on the hub. It’s quite puzzling & something that I intend on following up with my LBS next time I’m out that way.

PIN location on TCU

The one thing that I would point out as being the least well thought out is the placement of the connection PIN used to connect your Turbo Levo to your mobile device. Sure the bike comes with a sticker you can put on your manual, bonus point for this, but if you lose it, you have to remove the TCU in order to find the PIN again. It makes sense to put it someplace hidden & protected so it wouldn’t wear off, but that’s kind of a PITA. It would be nice if it was stored with you Special Mission Control account once you connect your bike so from then on you just have to remember your account login. I added mine to the login entry I have for Mission Control in 1Password.

I would happily recommend this bike to anyone who wants a high performance E-Bike. The components are a good mixture of high-end vs. affordable. the suspension is highly adjustable & and has a good amount of travel. Rockshox has been around forever & they make excellent products. While I would like to have the ability to lock-out the suspension (even if it was only the front) but that’s a minor nitpick. The 500Wh battery has good life providing ample power for long rides of mixed terrain, & there is a 750Wh battery available that you could upgrade to if you wanted to spend the dough (about $800).

Even though I upgraded a few of the components when I bought the bike I feel like it’s very well equipped as it comes out-of-the-box, so if you are in the market for an E-Bike Mtn. Bike I would highly recommend you give the Specialized Turbo bike line a serious look, & if you’re in the Portland area head over to the E-Bike Store. They run a great shop, it’s a real LBS. I had an issue with my bike being damaged by the shipper but they hooked me up fast & I was wheels down the very next day.

So what are you waiting for?

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