Is the new keenly priced Specialized hard tail the real deal?
Specialized Turbo Levo HT 2019
Pies and knees have kept me out of the game for some time, but I came back to mountain biking this summer after trying out a friend’s Kalkhof hybrid and realising that E*POWAH was the way forward. The steed I selected for my illustrious return to the trails and my first foray into the world of EMTBs was the Specialized Turbo Levo HT 2019. And I love it, though not unconditionally.
While Black Friday weekend saw last year’s Levo HT discounted to sub £3000, its official retail price is still £3250. This year’s Levo HT costs £2250, for which you get an identical frame to the 2018 model, manufactured using Specialized M5 Premium aluminium. It enjoys the same slack Trail 6Fattie Geometry and svelte styling as the outgoing bike, so first impressions are usually enthusiastic.
Power comes from a slightly fettled version of the proven Brose 1.2 powertrain. The Brose 1.2e, which also appears on the 2019 Kenevo in Europe is one of, if not the quietest EMTB motors available today. Power delivery is linear and consistent, as well as precise in response to the rider’s input. When the EU speed limiter kicks in at 25 kmph, the transition is barely noticeable. There’s no discernible motor drag, but beware; the Levo HT 2019 is a heavy bike, so it still takes meaningful effort to keep it above the limit under your own steam.
As with all Levo EMTBs you get three modes – Eco, Trail and Turbo – selectable from a compact and idiot-proof bar-mounted control unit. There’s also a walk mode button that I’ve had to rely on a couple of times already, due to over-confidence in my climbing abilities (even with pedal assist). It works well, unlike some of the reports I’ve been hearing about 2019 Levo FS bikes. In the reliability stakes in fact, it’s seems that right now, the Brose 1.2e is a more solid bet than the 1.3 motor on the full fat models.
I would expect that most people who buy a Levo HT will be an e-bike virgin, so like me, will appreciate the simplicity of the controls. Look a bit deeper than the default modes using the Specialized Mission Control companion app though, and there is a host of fine tuning at your fingertips. If you really want to go down the rabbit hole, a well-supported third-party app called BLevo is highly recommended.
I find it commendable that Specialized has managed to offer such a fantastic frame and powertrain at a price point that gets EMTBs closer to the mainstream. The shift in price does mean compromise though. Compared to 460Wh on the 2018 Levo HT and 500Wh on Levo FS models, the 400Wh battery is a slight let-down. On my last ride, a combination of Trail and Turbo modes on mixed surfaces with an elevation gain of around 1000 ft, gave me 30 miles from a 100% charge. Road riding extends the range by about 5-10 miles, with a little power management by the rider. Remember I like the pies though. You may fare better.
To me, the range is just about acceptable, nevertheless the thinking behind the low-end components on a bike costing £2250 is hard to comprehend. 8-speed Shimano Acera is disappointing enough while the Shimano BR-MT200 brakes can be a real liability, especially in the wet and even with 180mm rotors. The forks however – 120mm SR Suntour XCM32 – reduce the whole re-positioning exercise of the Levo HT 2019 to farce. Gavin and Stacey’s mate Smithy says it best. Hideous.
The finishing kit is at best ok, but the major components that determine ride quality and safety take the shine off what could have been an out-of-the-box winner. In contrast, the Shimano STEPS E7000 equipped 2019 Vitus E-Sentier has the 140mm RockShox Recon RL Boost and a Deore-centric drivetrain. It will cost £2399. With a dropper post. I obviously knew the Levo HT 2019 standard equipment was below par for the money and I do plan to upgrade. A move to XT all-round and a decent set of forks costs about a grand. Oh.
As a hard tail luddite, I’m confident that a fully sorted, lightweight and well-equipped bike can handle almost everything an everyday rider can throw at it. I’m not so sure that’s the case for hard tail EMTBs. The added weight of the battery and motor transforms the experience. The lower centre of gravity is welcome, feeling every groove, root and rut through your tailbone not so much. If you’re coming from a FS analogue bike, don’t get the Levo HT.
When you add the woeful forks to the equation, riding the Levo HT 2019 at speed takes a certain amount of composure. If you’re up for it, a sweet section of downhill single track can be an exhilarating experience as long as you can ignore the feeling of hanging on for dear life, rather than enjoying a fast but controlled descent. But if trails, fire roads and slower, more technical riding, as well as commuting is enough for you though, then so is this bike.
Despite the bargain basement kit (which I will swap out in due course) I would still recommend the Levo HT 2019 as an introduction to EMTBs for all but the most hardcore riders. There are better value hard tail EMTBs available but in my view, not with such a sublime frame and powertrain combination. I’m quite happy to stick with the Levo HT 2019. At least for now.
Silky smooth, quiet and rider-friendly motor
Looks great, frame quality and geo to match
Functional, but low-end drivetrain and brakes
The forks, dear God my EYES
Mission Control app has had a few backward steps recently