Review: All-new Specialized Levo SL Expert Carbon

Keen shredders, rejoice: today the e-Trail category finally has a bike capable of appealing to the trail purists.

The Levo SL is a 150mm, 29er, with trail geometry and a small motor. On paper, it is not much more than a downsized Levo. On the trail, the dynamics are vastly different. So who then is this bike for and will it’s arrival dilute the appeal of the Levo?

STELLENBOSCH, South Africa - 24 January 2020 - Myles Kelsey of BIKE NETWORK during the 2020 Specialized Levo SL launch. Photo by Gary Perkin
The Levo SL Expert Carbon – a svelte 17.6kg.


THE MODELS

The Specialized Levo SL is available in five models which all have the same 320Wh fully integrated downtube battery, 150mm travel, feature the same motor, 29er wheels and identical geometry. The Comp, is the only alloy frame option, it weighs 19.4kg and is available in five sizes. The Comp Carbon is a full carbon frame option with alloy wheels. The Expert model (tested here) is a carbon frame and carbon wheel build. The S-Works model is a full carbon gig with SRAM AXS build and a few sneaky weight savers like carbon bars, marginally lighter wheels and carbon cranks which drive the weight down to 17.35kg (with tubes, large model). The S-Works model is sold with a range extender. The Founder’s Edition is limited to just 250 bikes worldwide. It is individually numbered, features gold foil graphics, rainbow flavoring on the cassette, chain and brake hardware. It also includes two range extenders. All carbon models are available in a small, medium, large or extra-large size with reach numbers that start at 415mm on the small and top out at 480mm on the extra-large.



TECH TALK: WHO IS IT FOR?



THE BUILD

FRAME| Specialized Levo SL, 150mm travel, Fact 11m carbon front and rear, Integrated battery, sealed bearings. 
FORK| FOX Performance Elite 34 Float, 150mm, FIT4 damper, 51mm offset, 3-position adjust
SHOCK| FOX Float DPS Performance, 3-position adjust, RX Trail Tune
MOTOR| Specialized SL 1.1, custom lightweight, 240 watts and 35Nm
BATTERY  | Specialized SL 1-320, fully integrated, 320Wh
EXTENDER| 160Wh Range Extender – as an optional extra on this model, but is included with S-Works model, Weight: 1kg
BARS| 8-degree back sweep, 6-degree up sweep, 27mm rise, 780mm, 31.8. 7050 Alloy by Specialized
STEM| 40mm, 5mm rise by Specialized
BRAKES| SRAM G2 RSC, 4-piston, with 200mm/180mm rotor combination
SHIFTER| SRAM GX Eagle
MECH| SRAM GX Eagle
CRANKS | Praxis, custom offset
CASSETTE| SRAM GX Eagle, 12 speed, 10-50t
FRONT TYRE| 29 x 2.3″ Butcher GRID TRAIL
REAR TYRE| 29 x 2.3″ Eliminator GRID TRAIL
RIMS| Roval Traverse Carbon 29, hookless carbon, 30mm ID, 28h
SPOKES| DT Swiss Industry
HUBS| DT Swiss 370 / Roval Traverse
SEAT| Specialized Bridge Comp
SEATPOST| X-Fusion Manic, 34.9mm, 150mm
WEIGHT| 17.4kg (with sealant, no pedals)
RRP| R155 000


GEOMETRY

The geometry is exactly the same as the Specialized Stumpjumper trail bike whilst the axle path of the rear wheel is a little more rearward in direction.

  • REACH: 415mm (S), 435mm (M), 455mm (L), 480mm (XL)
  • SEAT TUBE LENGTH: 390mm (S), 410mm (M), 455mm (L), 505mm (XL)
  • WHEELBASE: 1165mm (S), 1185mm (M), 1217mm (L), 1248mm (XL)
  • CHAINSTAY: 437mm
  • HEAD ANGLE: 66°
  • SEAT TUBE ANGLE: 75.3° (S), 75° (M), 74.6° (L), 74.2° XL
  • BOTTOM BRACKET: 348mm (with flip-chip in low position)


ABOUT THE SYSTEM

“At 1.9kg this new motor is the lightest performance motor on the market. It has a different gearbox inside and after analyzing a shit load of ride data we designed the motor to provide uninterrupted support even at cadences as high as 160RPM. It is the same motor as on our Creo road bike. It also has a highly sensitive torque sensor delivering a more natural ride feel. We are riders, we know how riders wash bikes, we wanted the engine to be waterproof. It’s okay if the motor goes underwater – it has a Goretex membrane to protect it from water. It is also okay to ride with the motor off. The motor is designed to have almost zero drag when in off mode. There is less than 2.5 watts of resistance when it is off. We have also changed the way the bike behaves as it decouples on the 32kph limit – you barely notice it at all. It’s a whole new algorithm to manage the decoupling. To achieve the weight goals we went for a magnesium housing and aluminum spindle. In logged testing with employees, we exceeded 100 000km with this motor. The development cycle for this bike dates back to 2016. In fact, in Croatia in 2018 when we launched the Levo, we were already riding the Levo SL at our test facility. I think part of our success is that we have a team of real riders who write the software for the system. They understand exactly what is needed on the trail, and create a system specifically for that ride feel. In 2011 the Swiss office (where all Specialized eBikes are developed) consisted of four employees. We didn’t even have a screwdriver on day one! We are now a team of close to 40 employees and 13 nationalities – it’s a global collaboration really. This bike has changed the way I ride. This is now the one and only bike I ride. My personal Levo SL, which is a bit of an experiment ride with XC wheels on, weighs 15.8kg – with pedals.”Jan Talavasek // Guru at Specialized Turbo in Switzerland

The core battery pack (inside the downtube) weighs 1.8kg and will give you up to about 3 hours of ride time in standard ECO mode settings (30%). It has 8 bolts and takes about 15 minutes to remove but you do not need to for charging. The range extender pack (inside the water bottle cage) weighs 1kg and can add up to about 2 hours of ride time in standard ECO mode settings. It does not need to be removed for charging but takes a mere 10 seconds to remove.

STELLENBOSCH, South Africa - 24 January 2020 - Myles Kelsey of BIKE NETWORK during the 2020 Specialized Levo SL launch. Photo by Gary Perkin
You can charge both batteries simultaneously from a single charger.
The charge time is about 3H20mins. You also do not need to ride with the battery extender pack.


HOW TO REMOVE THE EXTENDER PACK

The extender battery pack can be removed in a few seconds and the connectors have a double seal system to keep them dry.



LEVO vs LEVO SL – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

  • The SL is about 4kg lighter on most models.
  • The SL has a shorter chainstay.
  • The SL has a max motor power of 240 watts compared to the Levo which is 565 watts.
  • The SL is a lighter and more nimble ride whilst the Levo is a full power eTrail bike which is more planted on the trail delivering more power.
  • The support decouples at 32kph on both the Levo and Levo SL
  • The SL has a 320Wh internal battery and can be run with or without a water bottle cage mounted range extender battery which is an additional 160Wh.
  • Using the core battery (downtube) and one extender battery (water bottle) the Levo SL will give you the same range (or marginally more) as you can achieve on a 700Wh Levo, when using the same support settings. The key difference is the average speed will be lower on the Levo SL.
  • The Levo SL range extender does not work on the Levo. It is a different voltage.
  • If you want to travel by plane with your Levo SL, the internal battery needs to be removed and left at home. The airlines will allow you to take the extender pack onto the plane (as carry-on luggage) and then you can ride the bike with just the Range Extender.
  • The Levo SL offers less support and hence will give you a lower average speed on your ride than you would achieve on the Levo, but the range capabilities are almost equal.
  • The Levo is not being replaced or discontinued.


UPGRADES TO THE MISSION CONTROL APP

The improvements to the Mission Control App are by no means insignificant. So we know the app allows you to infinitely customize your support settings within all three modes of eco, trail and turbo which allows you to ride with the exact level of support you prefer. It has a preset ride page which means you can also preset and save multiple ride tunes. For example, you can now set a “Saturday Mates Ride” tune for when you are riding with your XC buddies, a “Thursday Night Ride” tune for when you are riding with your eMTB crew etc. The Smart Control feature kills range anxiety by allowing you to enter how far, how long, how high and how much battery power you want leftover at the end of your ride, into the app. The app then modulates the modes to get you there. The system talks to your phone every 60 seconds during your ride to achieve these ride targets. An elevation slider, which you adjust on the app, instructs the bike to conserve power for the last climb home. Additionally, when using a heart rate monitor, you can set your targeted heart rate zones within the app and it will constantly adjust the power to keep you within that zone. This is great for recovery rides. The improved functions on the Mission Control app include an auto-start feature, the Led’s have a stealth mode for night riding and basically, the more information you put into the app the more it improves your ride experience.



RIDE IMPRESSIONS

STELLENBOSCH, South Africa - 24 January 2020 - Myles Kelsey of BIKE NETWORK during the 2020 Specialized Levo SL launch. Photo by Gary Perkin
From the first pedal stroke, there are two things that are blatantly obvious: the bike offers less all-out brawn than the Levo and the weight savings make a massive contribution to its agility. It feels so very close to a normal trail bike that I found myself forgetting it was an eBike. With the extender pack batteries, it is a bike that is begging to be taken into the backcountry to clock up miles whilst shredding.
STELLENBOSCH, South Africa - 24 January 2020 - Myles Kelsey of BIKE NETWORK during the 2020 Specialized Levo SL launch. Photo by Gary Perkin
At 17.6kg the ‘pop and play’ dynamic of this bike is something special out on the trails. This bike eats small bumps and ramps nicely on bigger hits too. I ran the fork and shock in the middle compression settings everywhere.
STELLENBOSCH, South Africa - 24 January 2020 - Myles Kelsey of BIKE NETWORK during the 2020 Specialized Levo SL launch. Photo by Gary Perkin
A full support eTrail bike usually weighs around 21 to 25kg which necessitates some adjustments in your ride style. You need to brake earlier, use more force to initiate subtle line corrections on technical trails and so on. I found the Levo SL pretty much negates the need to ‘ride it like an eBike’. I found it is easier to charge a little hotter into tight turns and snap out the exit. On technical trails, the SL feels so similar in handling to a 15kg trail bike.
STELLENBOSCH, South Africa - 24 January 2020 - Myles Kelsey of BIKE NETWORK during the 2020 Specialized Levo SL launch. Photo by Gary Perkin
The decoupling of support at 32kph is a total non-event that Specialized attribute to the algorithms within the system. On the whole, throughout 100km of testing on a wide variety of terrain, in any of the support modes, I never experienced anything funky with the system. The support is there when you want it to be.
STELLENBOSCH, South Africa - 24 January 2020 - Myles Kelsey of BIKE NETWORK during the 2020 Specialized Levo SL launch. Photo by Gary Perkin
I have ridden these trails in Jonkershoek on a lot of different bikes and the rollover of this Levo SL is of the best I have ridden. It’s a weird feeling – but if you drop your heels and push into the bumps, it actually feels like the bike is accelerating. Not too dissimilar to the high pivot bikes which excel in these conditions.


THE TAKEOUT

The SL is indeed very special. It’s pièce de résistance lies in its low overall weight and it is a given that its maneuverability, poppy, trail bike feel will appeal to the purists. However, I think it will also appeal to a far broader base of riders who are suited to the sweet spot between a full power eBike and a regular trail bike. To the question of whether it will dilute the appeal of a full power eMTB like the Levo: I think not. Full power eMTB’s are very useful to a broad spectrum of riders and I don’t see the demand for speed and power abating.

STELLENBOSCH, South Africa - 24 January 2020 - Myles Kelsey of BIKE NETWORK during the 2020 Specialized Levo SL launch. Photo by Gary Perkin
See you on the trails! Peace.

| IMAGES: Gary Perkin | LOCATION: Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch |


2 Comments

  1. Great review as always. I have a Transition Sentinal. Will l lose some confidence downhill?

    • Is that the new Sentinel with a 63h/a?


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