A motor is a motor. At least, that’s the position held by the National Forest Service, dozens of state and local governments and more than a few riders. And it’s true. I checked. Every dictionary that I could find uses the same definitions for the word “motor” as it does for the word “motor.” I challenge you to find one that does not.
But when we at Bike heard Specialized would be releasing the lighter-weight, lighter-powered Turbo Levo SL, we agreed that this new motor might bring with it, if not a new definition, a new meaning. Put aside for a moment the legal and political opposition many of us may have to electric mountain bikes, and simply consider the emotional opposition. The complaint that it’s not really mountain biking. That it’s not challenging. That electric bikes stifle creativity on the trail. But what if there were one that didn’t quadruple your power on the climbs. And what if it weighed only a few pounds more than a traditional, motor-less bike? Could you then call it a mountain bike?
Many will still say no. After all, a motor is a motor, so it is therefore a motorbike. But isn’t it at least more of a mountain bike? And if it is, could that threaten the absolutism that fuels much of the e-bike debate here in the U.S.? Truth is, we have no idea. But we’re going to try and find out. Bike senior writer, Ryan Palmer has been riding a Levo SL, and once he’s good and ready, he’ll help tackle the philosophical questions that this bike has us asking. But for now, we’ll help tackle the simpler ones.
Easiest place to start is the numbers. The Levo SL runs on 29-inch wheels and 150 millimeters of travel front and rear. It’s essentially a very slightly more conservative Stumpjumper. Most importantly, it weighs almost 9 pounds less than the already relatively light Turbo Levo. For reference, that’s like taking a top-end 31-pound enduro machine and chopping 6 pounds off it with minimal cost to capability. Granted, the Levo SL uses a Fox 34 instead of 36 and is built around narrower tires. In fact, Specialized takes pains to say it will maybe kinda sorta work with a 2.4-inch rear tire, but it’s spec’d with 2.3. That’s quite a departure for the category that is keeping plus-size tires alive. But really, the biggest chunk of the weight savings is in the downsized motor and battery, each taken indirectly from Specialized’s e-road bike, the Creo. That new hardware means the Levo SL puts out a bit less than half the watts of the current Turbo Levo.
On the other end of that motor’s down-sizing is that of the gas tank. The existing Levo runs on a pretty large 700 watt-hour battery. The Levo SL battery is 320 watt-hours. Again, slightly less than half. On eco mode, Specialized claims up to 3.5 hours of ride time. But given how many variables there are, time is a pretty arbitrary metric for gauging battery life. Specialized has an app that allows you to get pretty granular with power management and battery use, though.
There’s even a function that allows the bike to meter out the power just enough to get you home. We’ll just have to wait and see what that really means. There’s no 100% reliable way to predict range, especially when you go beyond eco mode. And chances are, you’ll want to go beyond eco mode, but the range will drop swiftly as the power increases. Of course, if you turn the power off completely, Specialized claims there’s no drag, so it ought to ride like a normal, albeit slightly heavy bike if you want ultimate battery conservation. But for all the ways the Levo SL aims to win back e-bike skeptics, longer range appears not to be one of them. Then again, that really depends.
For riders not just banging out lunch laps or sneaking in a drop between clocking out and cooking dinner, the Levo SL works with the un-creatively named “Range Extender” external battery. Currently in use on the Creo, the roughly water-bottle-sized device has about half the capacity of the Levo SL’s on-board battery, giving you about half-again as much range. That battery weighs about 2.2 pounds. For comparison, a full 24-ounce bottle of water weighs about 1.6 pounds. It clips in and straps down to a Specialized cage and plugs directly into the system. As an interesting side-note, the Range Extender is just small enough that up to two of them are permitted in carry-on luggage. It then can power the bike on its own after removing the on-board battery, which would need to be done for air travel. And that’s a bit of a chore on the Levo SL. You need to remove the motor before you can remove the battery, so it’s something you don’t want to do often. It’s meant to charge while in the bike. That integration is one way the bike got so light.
Another way it got so light is by making it really expensive. If you want every gram of the claimed weight savings, you’d need to pony up for the S-Works build at $13,525 which also includes one Range Extender that normally goes for $450. The Levo SL Expert doesn’t include the Range Extender, but still gets a full carbon frame and carbon wheels and drops to $9,025.
The least expensive carbon Levo SL gets an alloy rear end and goes for $7,525, or there’s an all-alloy version for $6,525. But the bike that will be getting all the press today is the limited Founders Edition. That gets you not one but two Range Extenders, a full AXS kit, some neat custom bits like a gold leaf S-Works logo on the frame, not-quite-matching-gold logos on the fork and a custom saddle, all for just $16,525. But let’s not get baited by that. There are people out there walking around with wrist watches that cost as much. Good for them. Don’t pay it no mind.
Anyway, that’s not the one that Palmer is riding, although he is on the S-Works build. He’ll also be trading off occasionally with a full-powered Levo for comparison. We’re going to take our time on this one. There’s a lot to process, and not all of it is measured in watts and amps or grams and millimeters. After all, despite what Webster’s will tell you, a bike is not a bike.
This article originally appeared on Bikemag.com and was republished with permission.
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