First ride on the Specialized Turbo Levo SL in Malaysia

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Over the course of the week, I was truly blessed to be able to try out the new Specialized Turbo Levo SL. On my birthday, I wrote about what the bike meant to me after hearing about it on the news. The Specialized Turbo Levo SL is an electric mountain bike (eMTB), one that has evolved over the years and has carved itself a niche in the market. What sort of niche is that? It is a lightweight eMTB that rides and feels exactly like a normal manual bike when you ride it.

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When I got the news from the folks at Specialized that they were bringing the Turbo Levo SL up to Kuala Lumpur, I just had to be there to give it a whirl. So, on a bright sunny day, I drove up to the Putrajaya Challenge Park (PCP) to see what the fuss is all about. Mind you, based on what I wrote previously, I was going in with a bias that I preferred to keep to a two bike strategy.

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Initial Impressions

Firstly, when putting the Turbo Levo SL side by side with the current generation of the Turbo Levo, the difference might not be noticeable. It would take an eMTB owner to spot the difference which would be the size of the motor.

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Looking at it from a distance, at certain angles, the Turbo Levo SL can definitely pass off as a normal manual mountain bike. Its slim profile does take someone with a keen eye for details to truly notice the subtle differences in both the down tube and the bottom bracket. Initially, I thought it looked like a normal Specialized Stumpjumper but upon closer inspection, you would notice the differences.

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From left: Turbo Levo 2018, Turbo Levo 2019 and Turbo Levo SL 2020

Whilst Aaron Chan and Tan Soon Soon were getting their photos taken as Ambassadors for Specialized and to also pose for the new set of Specialized’s spring collection (which looks sick by the way), we took the Turbo Levo SL out on the trails to see what the fuss was about.

First Ride

I was so excited to test it out that I totally forgot to turn on my GoPro but the first thing which hit me was how nimble the Turbo Levo SL was. My first impression on that was it could have been due to the weight of the bicycle. The model I was riding on was the Comp Carbon model which retails for RM31,125. Since the bike travelled from Singapore (yes you can bring it on a plane!), it didn’t have its battery in the downtube but rather we were riding it using only its range extender battery (160Wh). The weight of the bike was about 18kg but I can say for sure, it didn’t feel as heavy as one would think!

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Fewer issues lifting this bike up to put on the car’s roof rack

I have always had issues lifting my Turbo Levo onto my car’s roof rack, hence I decided to stick with a boot rack to transport my Levo. With the Turbo Levo SL, I could easily lift it over my head and yes, I do admit that I have improved my strength a bit thanks to my classes at Fuel Athletics but I promise you, it is light.

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Left or right? I say we go left to have a little bit of fun hitting the jumps

It was only on my second run down that I realised why the bike felt nimble and nice to throw through the berms. The shorter chain stay made all of that difference! The Turbo Levo SL has a chainstay length of 437mm, compared to my 2018 Comp Carbon model which has a chainstay length of 459mm, the difference of just 22mm might seem small but it truly can be felt on the trails. Mind you, this is even comparing the Turbo Levo SL which was on 29″ wheels versus my 2018 Comp Carbon on 27.5″ wheels.

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A shorter chainstay length makes for a nimbler feel and yes, those are my socks!

Can it climb well?

Now, the answers you have been waiting for. How does the Turbo Levo climb? In short, if you turned it to Turbo Mode, climbing with the bike is still easy. No, it isn’t as easy as a Turbo Levo on full turbo mode but you definitely can feel the assist. The story is a little different when it comes to Eco or trail mode. You definitely can feel yourself working out to climb up hills. If you have never ridden an electric mountain bike before, on climbs, the power assist of the motors can help you through some technical sections such that you don’t have to put your foot down. With the Turbo Levo SL, you definitely still need to be fit and technically sound as well to be able to clear certain technical climbs.

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Someday I will attempt the gap jumps with a Turbo Levo at PCP

I was pleasantly surprised by how quiet the motor is, if you are on eco mode, you can barely hear the motor. As you crank it up a notch or two, you would get a subtle whirring sound and once you take it to turbo mode, needless to say, you can’t enjoy turbo without a little bit of oomph. Another thing I welcome is the ability to switch multiple gears at once. Due to the Turbo Levo utilising the Brose motor which outputs 90Nm of torque, Specialized has limited the number of gears you can shift to is 1 at a time and we are limited to just 11-speed. With the Specialized Motor developed by Mahle, the lower torque meant that a 12-speed drivetrain is usable and you can shift through multiple gears at once.

The Nitty Gritty Details

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The evolution of the Turbo Levo has come a long way, much thought and afterthought were put in to ensure that there are no wasted designs and everything could be used in many different purposes. For example, the motor used to be housed in a case which uses its own bolts. By this generation of the Turbo Levo SL, there are just a few bolts holding everything in place. How efficient is that!

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In the previous generation of motors, there were issues where mud, water and dirt would get itself stuck in the motor and cause it to overheat at times. This time we could clearly see that Specialized has learned from their mistake and started to implement measures to ensure that doesn’t happen.

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Ride Impressions

In short, I was blown away. The sensation of riding it feels exactly like how a mountain bike is. There are no extra words needed for me to justify anything because, from the moment you get on it and take it down a trail you are familiar with, everything just clicks. I took it down a trail I was familiar with and I did absolutely zero setups with the suspension tuning and even cockpit. It felt familiar and it felt comfortable. The only thing I would have changed of course is the size of the bike because, as a 178cm guy, the medium felt a little short for me.

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I am glad Specialized didn’t put a large screen on the handlebar

Popping the bike felt easy and compared to my Turbo Levo, I didn’t need to put in the extra effort. Taking it over jumps and drops felt more natural, similar to that of a normal manual bike. Specialized also improved on the tyres that came with the Turbo Levo SL. The issue I faced with my Butcher tyres was that the sidewall was a little soft and the side knobs weren’t large enough to give me the confidence I needed around the corners. With the new set of Butcher Trail tyres, they fixed all that and I could immediately tell the difference.

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Cameraman: Oi why you never strap your helmet? 

Conclusions and afterthoughts

My TLDR version would be, just buy the bike. It is definitely a bike I would want and I would break my two bike strategy up just to accommodate the Turbo Levo SL. Technically if I would have my way, I would probably have a 6 bike strategy but hey, don’t judge me. Why would I want the Turbo Levo SL? Since 90% of my rides will be at Bukit Kiara in a year, the Turbo Levo SL is just perfect for it because the trails aren’t long and the rides are short between climbs and descents. Having a lighter eMTB also helps at the technical sections and the ability to travel with the Turbo Levo SL just opens up many many new horizons. You can carry up to two range extender batteries with you on the plane!

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Mandatory after ride drinks 

Would I change the specs of the bike? Personally, I would change the pedals, grips, handlebars, stem, brakes and front fork. As I am heavier set (yes I weigh 99kg now thanks to the biggest loser competition I am participating at the office), the components which came with the Comp Carbon such as SRAM Guide R brakes and the Fox 34 fork might be a little underwhelming for me. That would add some additional weight to the bike but I can live with that.

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Definitely a big shout out to Jiun, my buddy who was there to test out the bike as well as to Aaron and Soon Soon who are the Ambassadors for Specialized in South East Asia (Glad to have been able to test out their Specialized Enduro to see if I needed an S3 or an S4 size). And not to forget VJ and Ben from Specialized for the amazing opportunity to test out the Turbo Levo SL. Without you guys, this whole thing wouldn’t have been possible.

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