Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.
My buddy stared at the none-more-black Specialized Turbo Levo FSR and shook his head. He refused to ride it or even simply swing a leg over it and just take it around the block. After a couple minutes of convincing and promising not to snap a picture of him riding a MORB (my acronym for motorized off-road bicycles) for all of social media to see, he agreed to give it a try. Ten minutes later he came back with a giant smile on his face. When I asked him what he thought, with a contemplative look, the former MORB hater simply said, “It’s interesting.” That’s exactly what I said after my first ride.
Another friend simply refused to ride it no matter how much convincing I did. He even said, “If I ever see some lazy ass on my trails with this piece of electrified crap, I’m gonna get in their face.” Oh really? What if the person has a terminal illness and they only have 6 months to live? What kind of a–hole are you going to look like when you get in someone’s face and draw conclusions about them? A MORB might be the only way someone can still ride a bike and enjoy “your” trails, so for those who want to play trail police with strangers, my advice is to heed the age old passage, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”.
Read the first ride review of the Specialized Turbo Levo here.
With the exception of a Segway, I’ve never not had fun on two wheels, but based on the extreme prejudice and hatred that electric-assist off-road bikes have generated, you’d think these contraptions were the devil reincarnated. The irony is this: The amount of hate some mountain bikers have towards MORBs ranks on the same level as hateful old hikers whose goal in life is to keep mountain bikes off every inch of singletrack. And the bigger irony is, most of those who hate on MORBs have never even ridden one. Have we learned nothing from the 30-plus years of hatred and prejudice of anti-mountain bike folk?
This is not meant to be a column about promoting how cool or useful MORBs are. Rather, I agreed to ride a Turbo Levo to understand exactly what it is, what it can do, and what it can’t do. The mind is like a parachute, it only works when it’s open. So with an open mind, I brought a Turbo Levo up to Downieville in order to sort it out on an extensive network of moto-legal trails to determine its capabilities and pitfalls. Whether you like it or not, at least for now, these bikes are here to stay. So instead of hating on them like I admittedly did for a bit, I’ve chosen to better understand them by riding one.
Riding a MORB
Although my buddy Evan calls the Turbo Levo a “48-pound dirt bike you can pedal”, it’s not that good. First off, you can’t roost the rear tire on this machine. It’s pedal assist only with maximum output of 530 watts and an average output of 250 watts. Compared to a dirt bike, that’s a paltry amount of power. Sure, the Turbo Levo is fun going uphill on pretty steep pitches so long as it isn’t too technical, but once those steep pitches get littered with big loose rocks, the fun ends. Pushing a 48 pound mass of battery and motor uphill taxes your lexicon of cuss words as much as it does your legs and lungs.
Because of the slack 66.5-degree head tube angle and abundant mid-ship weight, the Turbo Levo forces you to ride at the very front of the cockpit to keep the front end planted on steep uphill pitches. And because of its weight, the Turbo Levo naturally wants to fall over at low speed going uphill. With no throttle to upright the bike, once the MORB starts falling over, that’s all she wrote. Contrary to what some might think, the Turbo Levo will not out climb a mountain bike when the terrain gets steep, rocky, and technical. You might go a little further, but at some point, you’ll be pushing. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to push a normal mountain bike than a MORB.
So long as you keep the MORB to trails that aren’t very technical, it’s impressive how much terrain can be covered. Climbing to the top of Empire Creek Trail from Downieville is a serious undertaking to the tune of 12 miles and 4,000 vertical feet. On my trail bike it takes me at least two hours, and by the time I reach the top I’m drenched in sweat from the effort. On the MORB, I reached the top in a mere 90 minutes with only a mild bead of sweat on my brow. But there was one glaring issue – the 12-mile climb, even in Eco mode (30 percent assist), drained the battery to only one remaining bar. Thankfully the ride back home was almost all downhill, but on that two-hour ride it became clear that for big adventures, the Turbo Levo battery is not yet up to snuff.