The Angry Singlespeeder rides an e-bike and doesn’t hate it

After a month on Specialized's Turbo Levo, the verdict is: thumbs sideways

E-bike Opinion
The irony is that 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.

The irony is that 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.

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 [email protected]. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.

“No way.”

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.

A MORB could be a very useful machine for trail crews who need to maintain hard-to-access motorized and non-motorized trails.

A MORB could be a very useful machine for trail crews who need to maintain hard-to-access motorized and non-motorized trails.

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.

Continue to page 2 for more from the Angry Singlespeeder »

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.

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  • Scotch Hennesy says:

    I rode a buddies MORB. I too am a purist…but returned from a small loop with a big smile. I don’t ever see myself buying one of these…but it allows my over weight buddy to get out and ride with me. He beats me to the top of every climb now. Hey..anything on two wheels is ok with me. Thumbs up!

  • 25lbs&counting says:

    Nothing against e-bikes, it’s just how long will it take before upgrade kits become available and turn these things into high watt dirt bikes? That is my issue and then we’ll be back to square one with trail access. Trying to demonstrate to land access groups that not all mountain bikers are the kind that tears up trails trying to get “rad”.

    • Matthew Klure says:

      This is my biggest Argument against the MORB on my local trails. There are plenty of OHV trails these bikes can be on. The problem with allowing only a certain wattage and below on Shared Hiking and equestrian trails is no one is going to be policing them, better to just blanket ban them from trails shared with pedestrians and Equestrians, we have enough trouble in-certain area’s of this country just keeping access on those trails.

      Also I have ridden one of these, they are a blast to ride, just not on certain trails.

  • Tom says:

    Tough topic. No black and white. Kurt, I will give you a good-natured hard time about the statement that below 30% isn’t worthwhile, so you didn’t try it. Huh?! Parachute, open mind, try before you spout off, etc……

    Anyway, I have an older friend who was partially paralyzed years ago in an mtb accident. He’s recovered pretty darn well, but remains a bit on the weak side. He has tuned his Turbo Levo to 15% power using the app because “it’s exactly what I need to keep up with my wife”. Damned if he isn’t riding that thing 5 days a week.

    My biggest worry about the surging popularity of these creatures is that it will result in more crowding of my already overcrowded local trails.

    But I still want a real electric dirt bike to replace my beloved KTM 200 (for use only on moto trails, of course).

  • Jim says:

    I’ll be 69 years old in a couple of weeks, I’ve been riding mtb’s and road bikes for over 30 years and I have as yet to ride an e-bike. Hopefully I’ll never see the day where I consider riding one of these e-bikes. I won’t pass judgment on those that for whatever reason choose an e-bike, but for me my credo is, “you have to earn it to burn it”.

  • Roy says:

    I’m in my sixties and don’t need one yet. However as time marches on the climbs do seem to get harder. On a mountain bike trip last week we averaged over 3000 feet of climbing a day with our biggest day at 4800 feet of sometimes very steep climbing. There were times I wished I had a little help getting up those hills. As a strategy for stronger and weaker riders to spend time together it seems ideal.
    I have ridden the Turbo Levo and don’t think it’s advanced to the point that many people would want to buy one. As with all things the market will decide if these bikes have a future. I hope they do as I hope to ride well into my eighties.

  • somacose says:

    I posted this earlier today on the Singletrack mag homepage but as i’m an e-bike user, and infrequent poster on the e-bike forum section – too many opinionated haters so i don’t bother with it now so i thought i may as well copy/paste my thoughts on the matter.

    If it wasn’t for my Scott E-Genuis 710+ i wouldn’t be able to ride due to a 25yr old spinal injury that over the previous 8 years has now progressed into an inability to walk more than 20yards without tripping up, and these days i’m lucky if i can manage to work for 4 hours/day before i have to head home and shuffle around the house whilst bouncing off the walls to maintain my balance. This is due to a deterioration in my leg power output to such an extent that when i go out on the road for a couple of miles with my Kinesis Tripster i can get overtaken by people walking and if there is a hill, no matter how small then it’s pretty much game over – return to base.

    Previous to 2008 my spinal cord injury gave me no power output problems at all, i was usually to be found knocking in upwards of 400 miles a week on my Soulcraft single speed, i could comfortably lap Kirroughtree (a local 33km trail) in under 2hours without getting off the bike or placing a foot down and you could say riding a bike was the focus of my entire life, whether or not that’s a good thing is another issue altogether. I bought my first proper mtb, a Muddy Fox Explorer back in 1986 at the age of 14 whilst growing up in Argyll where the freedom of a fat tyre bike with gears and brakes that worked was revolutionary, I explored everywhere within a 50 mile radius of my wee village (Dalavich Loch Awe) and i covered thousands of miles on that bike before i got the desire for N+1 so you could say i was a pretty fit n’ able rider.

    My current E-Bike allows me to continue to get out n’ about, albeit at a greatly reduced pace compared to my previous riding ability, even when i select turbo mode through the motor it will only produce a multiple of the torque i can place through the crank which being practically fuck all means that “fuck all x 300% assistance” still equals very little forward motion compared to my previous riding ability.

    It’s not the same as riding a normal lightweight bike, nothing like it to be honest (at least for me) as i’m constantly aware of the remaining battery levels, If the battery runs out of power then i’m up shit creek so i always plan ahead as pedalling the bike without assistance is not really possible nor practical and the increased weight of the bike and motor really makes itself apparent when it comes to “attempted” quick changes of direction, It’s not the type of bike that leads itself to being lifted over obstacles/fences/gates more than a few times before you realise that the route you have taken is foolish. It’s good at holding a stable line through rocks and over roots which is partly due to the weight/plus sized tyres and it’s quite capable of getting air but you’d better be aware of the mass beforehand as it has a tendency to drop the front end rather quickly – as long as you get over the rear it’s capable enough.

    Having said that i would not be without it as otherwise i’d have to consider myself an Ex-MTB Rider but the weight of the bikes need to come down significantly in future and further thought has to be put into battery placement as having such a weight high up on the frame does not do the handling any favours. The inherent drag/stiction from the motor when it is not in use is very noticeable when pedalling but it freewheels fine, i’m confident these issues will get sorted over the coming years.

    It’s a brilliant bike for my needs but if given the choice i’d swap it in a heartbeat for the ability to ride my Soulcraft like it was 2007 again.

  • Sun says:

    Once I cross over the age of 70 (another 26 years in my case) I sincerely hope I’ll be able to get a little electric assist with only a 3-6# penalty.

  • Wuffles says:

    I really, really wish the focus of this debate would be on the actual issue: trail access. It sounds like ASS went and had a good time on some motorized trails. Awesome! That’s a use of e-bikes pretty much anyone other than a complete purist can get behind. And maybe that can be the driving influence to expand motorized trails that are aimed at e-bikes rather than full on motos.

    Just don’t use them on non-motorized trails.

  • dimitri says:

    Absolutely NOT! As chair of a local MTB chapter and as someone who spends a good chunk of my time advocating for bikers to be allowed on park trails, these bikes are NOT welcome. The industry is going in the wrong direction and I will boycott any bike manufacturer who is selling bikes for anything other than commuting.

  • Bicyclist says:

    “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.”

    It’s not about that or that electric MTBs are not fun, it’s just that they have no place on non-motorized tails. That’s it. It needs no spin from that point.

  • freeski1057 says:

    Let’s get real here. The technology of e-bikes is in it’s infancy. They WILL get lighter, more powerful, and more agile. I am skeptical that many of these bikes for mountain biking will be used by folks with disabilities (though their will clearly be some); most I’m fairly certain will be used by those who aren’t fit enough to ride unassisted or worst case by those simply looking to go faster than they can on their own power. On motorized or multi use trails I have no issue but I think by definition they don’t belong on non-motorized trails. I’m not a “hater” and won’t be getting in anyone’s face about them. I think e-bikes in general have incredible potential for commuting and tooling around town in place of cars but I can’t support allowing use on any non-motorized trails.

    • outhere says:

      Real world, the class 1 e-mtbs have multiple assist levels, and even with 500WH, range is quite limited, so the tendency is to milk it best you can, by using the lower levels, to get in longer rides. You start putting out some effort in that case, and if you want to ride hard uphill, over 10mph, you need to put out as well. Why bother? It is very fun 🙂

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