The Specialized Turbo Levo Review: Testing the Specialized ‘Budget’ E-Mtb

This is the best e-mtb I’ve ever ridden. Might as well get that out of the way. I’ve owned a few, demo-d a few, and borrowed a few from buddies, and the third-generation Specialized Turbo Levo Alloy, the cheapest of the Turbo Levo line, is the first that feels like the designers have finally realized the dream of mating the motor with the bike as to make the two feel seamlessly integrated. It’s also just a fantastic platform. The Turbo Levo is essentially a Stumpjumper EVO mullet with a motor; a terrific setup. When paired with Specialized’s powerful new Turbo Full Power System 2.2, it’s the first e-bike I’ve ridden that made me wonder if I even needed an acoustic mountain bike anymore (acoustic, analog, neither term really works for me, but acoustic is a more elegant word so we’re going with that one). 

Specs-wise, here’s what you get with the alloy base model. It starts with an alloy frame with a mullet wheel setup: 29er in front, 27.5 in the back. This model has a RockShox 35 Silver fork with 150mm of travel and a Rockshox Deluxe Select R shock with 160mm of travel. The drivetrain is a mix of SX and NX (the newest, cheapest) SRAM Eagle parts. Brakes are four-piston SRAM G2, with 200mm rotors. The dropper is a barebones Trans X, with different lengths depending on frame size. Finally, a whopping 90Nm motor with a 700Wh battery. That’s an absurd amount of grunt, even for a bike weighing a shade above 50 pounds, depending on size. 

So how does it ride?

Balanced and neutral. Confidence-inspiring. It’s not a downhill masher, but it’s not gonna shrivel if you point it down a black diamond trail. It jumps, it stays true to the lines you pick, it’s lively thanks to the short chainstays. It likes to party, but it’s perfectly fine chilling on the couch watching a movie.

The power delivery is incredibly smooth. The motor is whisper quiet, at least compared with every other e-bike motor I’ve ridden. It doesn’t feel like a mountain bike with a motor bolted on—it feels like a mountain bike built with every performance aspect of the motor in mind. When bike designers first sat down at the drawing board to imagine what e-mtbs could be, this is likely what they envisioned coming far in the future. 

Whether or not that’s something that interests you, or even angers you, is deeply personal, impossibly subjective. What is objective, however, is this thing makes riding a mountain bike so much easier. When there’s one in your garage, your excuses for not riding shrink down to almost nothing. Too tired? Lol. Too hot outside? Not for an e-bike. It’s not a big bruiser like plenty of other e-mtbs, where it feels like overkill unless you’re riding down a volcano. It rides like the Stumpjumper does, just easier and far faster. How is that not fun?

When bike designers first sat down at the drawing board to imagine what e-mtbs could be, this is likely what they envisioned coming far in the future. 

One thing I’ve really enjoyed about this bike is how comfortable and fun it is to ride even around town, or for light duty. We had a rare snow day up in the hills around my Marin County, California, home this past winter and I jumped on the Levo to spin up to 2,000 feet to play in the snow. That ride on my acoustic bikes is an ass-kicker and would have taken the better part of the afternoon. On the Levo, it was a lunchtime excursion. If a guest wants to borrow a bike to cruise the town with me and the kids riding our e-cargo bike, they can hop on the Levo and not feel like they’re wildly over-gunned. For as much tech as is built into this bike, it feels more like a regular old run of the mill bike than any other e-bike I’ve ridden. 

Now, Specialized loves tech-ing out their rigs and this bike is no exception. Mechanically, you can swap out steering cups to change the steering angle, and/or adjust flip chips at the chainstays which can lengthen them and lower the bottom bracket. Digitally, the Specialized app lets you get way into the weeds with customizable power delivery options for the motor, including how quickly you can accelerate, how much force each of the power settings provide, and probably lots of other options I’ve forgotten about. 

I never used any of that. Didn’t feel the need to even once. I had it set up for my height and weight, and that’s all the customizing I’ve done. I’m sure if you love the idea of experimenting with different head tube angles and bottom bracket height you’ll love geeking out with this thing. I just pointed it and rode. 

I haven’t mentioned the price yet because I didn’t want to color expectations. It retails right now for around $5,000 on sale at various places, including specialized.com. It was originally $5,800. This is the least expensive Turbo Levo you can get (the lighter-powered Turbo Levo SL can be had for less than $4k). Cruise into S-Works land and you’re looking at about $12k for the highest-end Turbo Levo. 

I don’t know why you’d do that. The bargain version has cheap plastic shifters, the worst dropper post lever I’ve ever used, no electronic shifting (the horror!), and not a fiber of carbon anywhere (that I can see), and it absolutely rips, putting a smile on my face every time. I’ve yet to wish for an upgraded version of any part on the bike while I’m actually riding it. It’s also nearly indestructible, something I can’t say for the carbon frames I’ve had. 

They cracked the code, is what I’m getting at here. E-Mtbs have been good for a while now, but this is, to me, the first truly realized model. 

Having said that, I’m not getting rid of my acoustic full suspension in favor of this one. I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve yet to feel like I’ve really bonded with any e-bike I’ve had. Something about the motor makes them feel appliance-y to me. Can you bond with a dishwasher? Maybe it’s removing the real struggle when climbing, but I suspect it’s more that it’s dead in the water if it’s not charged. The warmth and enthusiasm I feel for acoustic bikes always being there for you, always ready, the simple combination of muscles and metal pushing you forward—there’s romance there. I haven’t felt that same connection with any e-bike, even the best one I’ve ever ridden. But this is, unequivocally, the best. 

Words by Justin Housman

GIVE YOURSELF THE GIFT OF ANALOG

ADVENTURE JOURNAL SUBSCRIPTION


Four issues, free shipping, evergreen content…