First Ride: Specialized Levo SL

Details and first impressions of this new lightweight e-mountain bike

E-bike Pro Reviews

38+ lbs, modular batteries in a package that doesn’t call attention to the fact it’s an e-bike.

Four years ago, we rode the Specialized Levo around the jeep trails of Moab, Utah, and it opened our eyes to the possibilities e-bikes could offer as we discussed here. The Swiss-based engineering team asked me what I wanted to see next and I asked for a sub-40 pound e-mountain bike with less power but with modular batteries for configurable range. This year, Specialized invited a crew of journalists to Cape Town, South Africa, for a product launch. They immediately called me out and said, “Francis, we are here to deliver what you asked for.”

Specialized Levo SL Highlights

  • Much lighter than the standard Levo
  • Less power, smaller batteries
  • Smaller, more efficient motor
  • 150mm of front and rear suspension
  • Five models range in price from $6,525 to $16,525
  • Available now

We traveled a long way to experience how the Levo SL climbed and descended. Photo by Gary Perkin

Specialized introduced the Levo SL, a lightweight addition to the Levo eMTB line weighing in as low as 38-pounds with 150mm of front and rear travel. It is the lightweight counterpart of the Levo, which comes in at a hefty 47-pounds with a similar component spec. This bike is targeted for the rider looking for an e-bike experience that is assisted but feels closer to riding a traditional mountain bike. It’s lighter and more agile with less motor power and asks for more rider participation. This bike can be characterized as light, poppy and nimble, with more power contribution from the rider’s legs. It can also be a good option for Levo owners who rarely use, the Turbo, fully-assisted mode of the Levo or other popular eMTBs today. Surprisingly, despite the lower weight, the range was not compromised.

Here’s how the Levo SL fits into Specialized’s e-mountain bike family.

How is the Levo SL different from the Levo?

The platform is very similar to the current Levo, with 150mm front and rear travel. But with the smaller motor and battery, the frame is much sleeker and the chainstays are 18mm shorter. The geometry is unchanged from the Levo with identical reach and seat tube and head angles. The stock stems have been shortened to 45mm from 50mm across all sizes. And there are quite a few notable component changes across the board.

With the smaller motor and battery, the bike hardly looks like an e-bike. The down tube is thinner and the big bottom bracket frame box above the chainring on the Levo is reduced significantly on the SL.

The biggest difference is the motor and battery and this is where the weight reduction is achieved. The heart of the system is a smaller, more efficient motor, developed exclusively by Specialized and currently in use in the Creo line of road and gravel bikes. The motor produces 240-watts at peak power, compared to the Levo motor that produces 565-watts. Torque on the SL motor is 35nm compared to 90nm for the Levo. Not only is the SL motor less powerful, but it is also more efficient running cooler when driven at less demanding levels. With these lower motor power demands, the battery is reduced from the traditional 500wh to 320wh. Massive weight savings were achieved here.

The Levo SL trades a bit of power for a lighter weight chassis. Photo by Gary Perkin

Component changes

There have been significant improvements to the spec of the Levo SL compared to the Levo. First, 12-speed is now used extensively across the line. This is a key improvement as the Levo uses a dated 11-speed system that is a bit limited in range with a 42-tooth big cog.

The next improvement is the elimination of all Specialized dropper posts. This was widely seen as a weakness in the line with limited dropper lengths and the absence of any damping control. Droppers will now be X-Fusion Manic posts throughout the line or SRAM AXS wireless post on the S-Works or Founder’s models. Dropper length shipped with bikes will be size-specific ranging from 125mm to 170mm.

First Ride Impressions

The Levo is the smoothest, most natural feeling e-bike in the market and we’re happy to report that the new SL continues this tradition. It is almost undetectable when the motor starts assisting and when it cuts off. And at 20mph when the motor shuts off, one can just keep pedaling along to higher speeds since the drag of this motor is noticeably less than Levo’s or other motors in the market.

The noise level though is now noticeably louder than the Levo, especially under load and high RPM. The original Levo motor is the quietest in the market, virtually undetectable in some situations with its unique belt-drive inside the motor. For compactness, the new SL motor does away with the belt-drive and goes about the task of gear reduction with a series of plastic and metal gears. The result is a louder, higher-pitched noise that travels farther and is more detectable with the human ear. The noise level is very similar to that of Shimano and Bosch motors but at a slightly lower level.

Levo SL Reliability

Of course, we don’t have extensive experience yet with the durability and reliability of this motor but we predict it will be more trouble-free than its predecessors. Our reasoning is three-fold. First, there is no more belt-drive inside this motor which was the culprit of the majority of Levo 2.1 motor problems. Second, this motor has been in the public’s hands for about a year now in the Creo road and gravel bikes and we really haven’t heard of many issues about reliability problems with it. The motor really does not seem stressed, putting out 240 watts as opposed to the 565 watts of the Levo motor. And finally, Specialized has implemented much more intensive testing and QC protocol for this development, logging hundreds of thousands of actual trail time hours on this motor before its release.

The new motor is a compact, low-drag powerhouse

Levo SL weight-loss details

The Levo claims it lost 8.8 lbs on comparable S-Works spec’ed bikes and that is indeed true. However, that would be comparing the Levo’s 700wh battery to the Levo SL’s 320wh battery which will have less range. For a better comparison, the Levo SL would need to have the range extender mounted which adds 2.2 lbs but puts the SL’s battery at 440wh. Surprisingly, this allows the Levo SL to deliver about the same range as the Levo, albeit expecting more contribution from the rider. But it is a good option to have with the SL’s modular battery system. The rider is allowed to carry as much or as little battery as needed for the ride.

  • Lost 8.8 lbs, same spec. Really 6.6 lbs with comparable range range
  • Motor lost 2.4 lbs, now 4.3 lbs
  • Battery lost 6.4 lbs, or 4.2 lbs same range

The range extender battery drops in the cage and is connected to the charging port.

Getting the same range from a smaller battery

Early experience so far is the Levo SL’s 460wh battery delivers about the same distance and climbing range as the Levo’s 700wh? Smoke in mirrors or is this actually true? From our six rides on this bike, this is actually true. But of course, the experience is not identical and here is where the extra range comes from, given a smaller battery.

  • The Levo SL contributes a max of 240 watts instead of 565 at any given time.
  • The bike is up to 8 lbs lighter.
  • Less drag on this motor allows more contribution from the rider.
  • Motor is more efficient and runs cooler.
  • Software expects a lot from the rider.
  • Wants around 110 watts before it delivers full power.
  • Full torque is not delivered at low RPMs.
  • Need to shift and spin at a higher pedaling cadence.
  • No shuttle mode.

How to make the Levo SL even lighter

What’s really exciting to us is the Levo SL, even the S-Works, is not a whittled down ultralight bike with every ounce shaved off at the factory. It is actually a beefy build and there are opportunities to save significant weight. There is a rumor-ed sub 34 lb Levo SL in the Specialized headquarters where they got the weight tuners to shave ounces off the bike. Here are some of the components that might provide the biggest weight savings when replaced.

  • Wheels – 1800 gram Roval Traverse wheels
  • Burly Butcher Grid Trail Tires. These are around 1200 grams each.
  • Brakes 4 piston Sram with big rotors
  • Claimed weight is in size large with inner tubes

Thus, it is exciting to us that there is an opportunity to save weight without compromising soo much, depending on the application. For starters, we have 1,290 gram Bontrager wheels and 700-gram tires that work very well in our local trails. Of course, pursuing a lighter weight is not a worthy pursuit for most e-bike owners.  But it’s an interesting endeavor, perhaps buy a Comp Carbon model, save money and get it to weigh less than an S-Works.  And with the low drag characteristic of this motor, one can run it with no battery or pedal home with a dead battery without much difficulty.

The low weight makes the Levo SL handle just like a traditional mountain bike. Photo by Gary Perkin

Final Thoughts

It’s love at first sight indeed as we specifically asked for this bike five years ago when we rode the first Levo. It doesn’t look like an e-bike and it doesn’t ride like an e-bike. It just seems more like a bike. As we set it up, tune it and lift it around the garage, it just feels like a normal bike, hardly calling attention to itself.

Riding it, the biggest revelation is the bike’s agility and ability to change direction. It feels like a quick-handling all-mountain bike and it doesn’t call ask the rider to make an adjustment or build-up to it. The weight certainly has a lot to do with it but it’s also well supported by the suspension. The chainstays are 18mm shorter than the Levo, so it’s easier to change direction and throw around corners and switchbacks.

The new Levo has a brand new motor, modular batteries and a 38 lb weight in top spec.

The motor is smooth. Just like the Levo, the motor comes on subtly. It feels natural and it leads the category in the seamless delivery of power. The way it cuts out too at the speed limit is almost transparent and barely detectable. It doesn’t cut out too early but it’s not abrupt either at 20mph. And when it cuts out at the speed limited 20mph, it doesn’t feel like pedaling in quicksand all of a sudden. The drag of the motor system is so low that one can pedal at 21 mph and above, much like an unassisted mountain bike.

On the downsides, the motor is louder than before now that the internal belt has been removed. It’s not quite as loud as Shimano or Bosch motor it’s louder than the Levo. Reach is a bit short and dated with 435mm for a Medium. A 15mm lengthening would have been good given the shorter spec stem and evolving geometries. And finally, we would have wanted to see some Shimano 12-speed spec or better third party dropper posts.

Philosophically, we appreciate that the battery is treated like water now, meaning “carry as much or as little as you need”. The Levo asks you to carry an eight-pound battery even though you’re just going on an hour lunch ride. That’s like carrying a gallon of water for your quick ride. This new platform with modular batteries allows you to carry as much or as little as you need.

The cost of admission to the SL club is very high. $6k plus for the entry-level model with much less power and a smaller battery is pretty discouraging and will put this out of reach of most. On top of that, $450 for the 160wh battery extender is a bit much, too. For the riders looking to pedal a lot and ride a lot and pursue one of the best e-bike handling experiences available today, the Levo SL is a very good answer.

Comp ($6,525)
Comp Carbon ($7,525)
Expert ($9,025)
S-Works ($13,525)
The Founder’s Edition ($16,525)

For a comprehensive FAQ about the Levo SL check here.

For more information, visit: Specialized.com


About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.


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