Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Carbon first ride review

E-MTB now comes with carbon frame, less weight, more stiffness

E-bike
Specialized Carbon Turbo Levo 2018

To the untrained eye, the Turbo Levo looks a lot like an ordinary mountain bike. Photo by Colin Belisle

The majority of e-bikes look like cobbled together Frankenbikes. Specialized bucked that trend when they released the Turbo Levo FSR to the U.S. market last year. Designed in house from the ground up, it looks and performs like an ordinary mountain bike. These attributes have helped catapult it to the top of its class.

For model year 2018, Specialized has upped the ante by producing a new carbon version that’s both lighter and stiffer. While these changes would have been enough to maintain the Levo’s market position, the Big S went further. In addition to the new carbon frame, they’ve introduced a new motor, improved heat management, and updated spec.

Specialized Carbon Turbo Levo 2018

The carbon frame confronted engineers with technical challenges regarding heat management, but the end result is significantly lighter and stiffer. Photo by Colin Belisle

Going Carbon

The carbon Levo is significantly lighter than its predecessor. Specialized claims the S-works frame is 650g lighter than its alloy counterpart. More importantly, it’s stiffer. According to the marketing materials, the Carbon Levo is 40% stiffer latterly in the rear and 20% stiffer overall.

One of the biggest challenges Specialized faced during development was heat management. Anyone who’s run carbon wheels on a rim brake equipped road bike knows where this is going. To help mitigate potential heat issues, the engineering team had to redesign the motor mounts. They also added thermal pads throughout to help replicate the heat transfer of the aluminum frame.

Specialized Carbon Turbo Levo 2018

The Turbo Levo hardtail also receives a new motor. Dubbed the 1.2, it shares many of the same features as the 1.3 found in the FSR bikes. Photo by Colin Belisle

Better Motor

While the headline may read, Carbon Levo, arguably the bigger story is the new Turbo 1.3 motor. This unit will come standard on all 2018 Levo FSR models, and provides a 15% increase in power over the original motor due to a new electronic unit, magnets, better heat management, and a software update.

This upgrade is critical. Under extreme conditions, the previous motor could overheat, which resulted in power loss. Specialized claims these changes, plus the addition of thermal pads, have helped mitigate that issue.

Specialized Carbon Turbo Levo 2018 Trail Remote

The addition of a trail remote eliminates one of our biggest gripes with the original Levo. Photo by Colin Belisle

Remote Control

On the original Turbo Levo, power delivery was adjusted via mode buttons located on the downtube. The idea was to create a clean cockpit, but not everyone like the set-up. With the Carbon Levo, Specialized is introducing a new trail remote. This unit allows you to swap between the various power modes (Eco, Trail, Turbo) and a new walk-assist feature.

If you want to check your remaining battery power, you still have to scan the side of the bike. There is no dedicated screen. If you want to analyze that data on fly, you can use your phone or a GPS device. Garmin, Fenix, and several others have devices that can display information such as battery status or rider input.

Range

You can choose to simply hop on the Levo and go, but Specialized also offers the ability to fine tune every detail via their Mission Control App. Available for both iOS and Android, it allows you to endlessly modify each mode. Everything from assistance level to max motor output is fair game.

Specialized Carbon Turbo Levo 2018

Specialized added more powerful brakes, extra travel, and meatier tires to improve the Levo’s downhill capabilities. Photo by Colin Belisle

Spec Details

Overall, the Carbon Levo retains most of what made the original Levo a class leader. But Specialized has also made some subtle changes to make it even more capable. The bike now comes equipped with a 150mm fork, a 10mm increase over previous spec.

It also receives new 2.8 Butcher GRID tires. This rubber is more aggressive and has a smaller overall volume compared to a 3.0 tire. Brakes have also been upgraded to either the SRAM Guide RE or Code brakes, depending on trim level.

Specialized Levo SWAT Tool

Can’t wait for the SWAT version? OneUp offers a nifty version of a headset integrated tool. Photo by Alex Quesada

Our favorite upgrade to spec is the integrated SWAT tool. With a push, the headset cap would swing away and out emerged a multi tool. This tool will be standard issue on the higher ends trims.

Specialized Carbon Turbo Levo S-Works 2018

We’ve never drooled over an e-bike before, but this S-Works level build is dialed. Photo by Alex Quesada

Pricing

Cost of a base level alloy bike is $4299. You’ll need to spend $5500 or more to get a carbon frame. Price tops out at $9500 for the S-Works edition. Specialized offered a S-Works model last year at this price point, but has added value this year by introducing the carbon frame with Ohlins suspension and better brakes.

Specialized Carbon Turbo Levo 2018

Most e-bikes deliver raw fun. The Levo offers the same stoke, but in a package that feels as if it was designed with purpose.

Ride Impressions

There’s a certain allure to a muscle car, the sound, power, and visceral rawness of it all. It’s undeniably fun. Those same attributes make you appreciate the understated elegance of European sports cars. Well If you’ve ridden a Bosch or Yamaha equipped e-bike, you’ve had the muscle car experience. These bikes offer ridiculous low end torque, obnoxiously bulky controls, and they shift with the smoothness of a dump truck. They’re as much fun as a V8 stuffed into a Miata, but they’re crude. It only takes a few minutes of trail time to realize these machines have a long way to go.

In contrast the Turbo Levo is akin to a GT car. It’s quiet and the power delivery is smooth and predictable. Unlike other e-bikes that require a special drivetrain to handle the awkward power delivery, the Levo uses a normal 1x drivetrain. On most e-bikes, that would pose a problem. The gap between each shift is too small, so you’d always be hunting for the right gear.

The Levo sidesteps this issue because it’s a true pedal assist platform. You can still game the system if you’re looking to apply minimal effort, but the power delivery feels the most “normal” of any e-bike we’ve tested. Even in “Turbo” mode, the assistance feels more like a helping hand than a kick in the pants.

Read the Mtbr review of Specialized’s alloy Turbo Levo FSR.

Handling feels similar to the alloy model, but the addition of burlier tires and better brakes help expand the bike’s capabilities. On paper, the lighter frame should offer improved responsiveness, but the complete bike still weighs close to 50 pounds. That weight largely disappears on descents, but is noticeable whenever you try to pull up for a natural double or to boost a lip.

We spent our test period aboard the Turbo Levo at Mountain Creek Resort in New Jersey. In Turbo mode, we were able to easily climb 5000 feet of elevation on a single charge. To put that another way, you could pedal up the Downieville XC course and slay back to town on a single charge. That’s impressive.

With its combination of sleek looks, Stumpjumper derived handling, and efficient power delivery, the new carbon Turbo Levo solidifies Specialized’s position among the top manufacturers of e-MTBs. Competitors are catching up quickly, but for now, the Levo remains the bike to buy.

To learn more, visit www.specialized.com.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

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  • Zane says:

    So do all models of the 2018 levo come with the new remote control on the bar or just the s-works?

  • Brian McInnis says:

    I am surprised/saddened MTBR is testing E-bikes.

  • Matthew says:

    I can’t wait to get one of these and tear up my trail system! Looks like a blast! Should make some of those big hill climbs a piece of cake.

  • tyrebyter says:

    It’s a cycle with a motor… a motorcycle.

  • Brian says:

    Cannondale has had the headset tool stash available for years.

  • Brent says:

    Wow, a motorcycle review on a mountain bike website……..

  • G. says:

    In the 80s every hiker and horse rider said the same thing about MTB and trail conditions. Peddle assist E bikes don’t tear the trail up any more than regular MTBs.
    Its about the ride, to each his own. Survive on the uphill and drop them on the down hill.

  • K says:

    The main issue with the specialized lineup is the huge price difference for only a couple lbs in weight savings on a very heavy bike. Shocks have a bit more technology in the more expensive bikes but basically ride the same. I rode the s-works and the comp models without knowing which bike I was on. Uphill, downhill, over roots and off small drops… I couldn’t tell the difference.

    Overall, these bikes are a ton of fun. You get the same workout but get to go much further and more vertical in the same amount of time. This is a huge plus for people with a busy schedule but like to ride several times per week.

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