Let’s get some quick questions out of the way:
- Is it fun to ride? Hell, yeah!
- Is it a great mountain bike? Yes, definitely. I could rail corners and do drops that I can’t on my XC bike.
- Is it the best eMTB on the market? Along with it’s 27+ siblings, likely yes.
- So when are you going to buy one then? I probably won’t. And not just because it costs $9000, because that represents reasonable value compared to other premium bikes.
- Why not? You said it was fun and a great MTB… Well, that’s a much longer story than a FAQ can provide answers to, it would be a TL;DR.
- So who would buy it? Lots of people might. Keen bikers whose hips or knees have given up, people who would like to ride with fitter partners, people who like going down but not up so much…
- Should they be banned from trails? I can see no reason to.
Phew, got that out the way.
This is the 29er version of the Levo – most others are 27+ bikes. It was shod with the highly competent Ground Control/Purgatory tyre combo in 2.3″ width and on 29mm (internal) rims. Suspension comes from Fox (GRIP damper 34mm) and the proprietary ‘Autosag’ feature with a 4-bar Horst link rear, just like it’s ‘acoustic’ brethren. Brakes were amazing SRAM Guide, shifting is thanks to SRAM GX and it uses Spesh’s somewhat-quick-to-rise Command Post dropper. All up, a highly competent package that is a blast to ride. It rails corners with confidence and bashes over anything in its way without making you feel that this is a 23kg bike. It is beautifully built, detailed and finished.
I tried two different ride types. First time out I rode with my regular crew. They all have various All Mountain and Trail Santa Cruzes while I usually ride a 100mm full-suss XC bike. This time it was different and I was up there near the fastest in the gravity stuff, despite the fact that once you descend you run out of engine power (it cuts out at somewhere between 20 and 25 kph). I got some major stoke on the flowy downhill stuff like First Addition, surprising myself with the control and poise that I have.
But from a social perspective, even on ‘Eco’ mode (30%) I was too fast for them up hill and it became a bit me-vs-them. At one point Andy and I swapped bikes on an undulating section, me on his Nomad. I suddenly felt an ‘aha!’ moment as I remembered what all the fuss was about, that it’s as much about the adrenaline as it is being self-powered – commanding the bike to do stuff where it is all me and not shared duties with a machine. Then I went uphill and couldn’t stop grinning and feeling just a bit smug…
Day two I went for a solo ride, mostly in ‘Normal’ power mode (50%). I was trying to determine if the e-format suited solo riders who dislike going uphill. It does.I was also trying to determine if being on full power was bad for the trails or other trail users. It isn’t.
Once again I had an absolute blast doing things not possible on my regular bike. I finally got to appreciate some of the newer Woodhill trails like Back to the Future, which really came alive under this bike. I was reasonably tired at the end from going fast and smashing things, but somehow felt a bit empty. Almost like I had just done really well on an exam that I had cheated on. (ps I have never cheated on an exam but I have watched Suits on Netflix so I know what it’s like). I was intrigued to see that I clocked a KOM for the uphill Reverse Psychology section (hey, I deserved it, it’s a really heavy bike OK?) but I was a few seconds slower than my best on the mostly downhill No Vacancy trail. The day before I thought I’d smash my PB on Togs Togs Undies which alternates between uphill and downhill, but I was was about 20s off my PB. But you wouldn’t buy one of these for beating regular KOMs and PBs, because that would just be silly.
I think that Specialized have done a bang-up job with this bike, and it couldn’t really get much better with current state of the art. Even the Mission Control mobile app to control power and tune is good (it also does ride recording, upload to Strava as an e-bike ride so you don’t steal KOMs etc). Power uptake is smooth (on Eco acceleration mode, not Race which was a bit in-yer-face), and boy is there a ton of torque on tap — yet it seems to have an anti-skid programme because you don’t ever do wheelspins, even on loose stuff and mud. Battery life is amazeballs. Battery and motor sit really low down on the bike to aid handling – you can see that the battery actually overlaps the motor at the bottom.
So there we are folks. You can stick with a normal bike, or get a bike that flies up hills and down. Both are fun and have their pundits. Some day, the two worlds will come together and we’ll be able to buy a rowdy bike weighing 15kg that has ‘just enough’ power to assist riders up the uphill bits they hate. Until then, just buy this one alongside your ‘acoustic bike’ and use Eco mode other than when giving people demo rides in the carpark, when you turn it up to ‘Ludicrous’. You know you want to… Or buy them all. N+1
[Update June 2018: Since then, not much has changed to the basic design. Now they are all 27+ bikes, and the entry level is only $6500 which is great value – for that you sacrifice a little bit of battery capacity and a dropper post. The Brose-sourced motor on all variants has increased a bit in torque and there is a power controller on the handlebars.]