Last year, I got on camera and passionately oozed praise for Specialized’s third generation Levo e-bike. In dramatic fashion, I even exclaimed, “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike, EVER!”
Which if true, would really be saying something.
I’ve had a lot of fun on a lot of bikes over the years. I’ve pedaled alongside kangaroos in Australia, dodged gigantic leaves in the jungles of New Zealand, and heli-dropped in B.C. I’ve ridden Moab’s slickrock, Squamish’s slabs, New England’s tech, and Europe’s jank. I’ve slid around in the desert, hooked up in the dirt, surfed in the loam, and drowned in duff. I’ve even had the honor of doing many of these things among some of the most influential riders in the sport’s history. One time while a bunch of us were bored at an event, we put together a little dirt crit—and then I raced John Tomac around it. John Fucking Tomac.
I did not win.
But perhaps the most memorable moment was at the beginning of it all, when I ditched the training wheels one sunny summer morning on the Jersey Shore. Burned into my memory is the giddy feeling of excitement, bliss and freedom that came over me when I heard my dad yell, “You’re doing it!” from what was clearly too far away for his hand to still be under my seat. I have an awful memory, but the feeling that first ride gave me is still crystal clear.
I don’t even exactly remember my first ride on the bike pictured here, and that was only a year ago. But I do know that the same giddy feeling I got all those years ago comes rushing back whenever I hop on it. The Levo makes me feel like a kid again. All my worries disappear and life is carefree, my hair blowing in the wind as I rocketship around on my fancy new toy.
I cruise the switchbacks of a climb that used to torture me in college with unbelievable speed, not even mad that I’m on a fire road. I’m maybe 2 miles from topping out at the legendary Dr. Park trail in Crested Butte, totally high on life. I’m literally laughing out loud thinking about how, with how quickly I made it up here, I could easily just go do the 20-mile lap again after this.
And then the motor quits. The bike is dead. Life is suddenly less carefree as the reality of riding this 50-pound monster under my own oxygen-deprived power sets in.
But I can’t say I was totally surprised, because to be fair, I had just ridden the bike through the rather high Spring Creek crossing below. What can I say, the bike makes me feel like a kid, and kids tend to do things without thinking ahead. As the water level came up around the shock yoke, I began thinking that perhaps this wasn’t the best idea. But it made it through no problem, and then proceeded to annihilate those switchbacks.
The incessant sound of the chain squeaking—you know, from washing all the lube off in the creek—is what did me in. I couldn’t stand it, so I stopped, turned the bike upside down, and lubed the chain. Feeling proud that I’m prepared enough to always carry a little lube in my bum bag, I flipped the bike over, hit the power button, and was hit back by a big fat exclamation point on the lovely little screen I’d showered with so many praises in my initial review.
I learned a valuable lesson that day: Don’t carry chain lube.
If only I’d known the trick that the cool little Muc-Off tool Pinkbike poked fun of later taught me about putting something in the chainring bolt to help lube e-bike chains, maybe I wouldn’t have killed the bike. But if I hadn’t brought the lube at all, I wouldn’t have had the option anyway. See? The real lesson here is to never be prepared. Though, I think the woman I gave one of the spare pedal cleat bolts I always carry to, while I was embarrassingly dissecting the e-bike I’d just drowned, might have something to say about that. True story.
Life is suddenly less carefree as the reality of riding this 50-pound monster under my own oxygen-deprived power sets in.
Needless to say the rest of that ride was … sweaty.
So what happened to the Levo after that? It dried out and came back to life. Seriously. All it took was 1,000 pounds of rice and a really big bowl. Just kidding. I let the bike dry out for a couple days and it’s been fine ever since. That was eight months ago.
Based on that story, you’ve probably gathered by now that I have not been babying the Levo over the past year that it’s been in my possession. Some of the time, it’s not been in my possession at all, in fact. I’ve loaned it to lots of folks of varying abilities and experience levels. It’s been used as a tool for film crews with heavy packs to get around, and I held the seat to let my buddy’s 8-year-old give it a go. 8-year-olds can be very destructive. It’s been every climate from the muddiest (and snowiest) days in the Pacific Northwest, to the driest, sandiest trails (and beaches) of California. It’s been around the block a bit, is what I’m saying. And through it all, it keeps just keeps in ticking.
It’s impressive, but the bike isn’t perfect. Here’s what I’ve learned from the Levo over the past year:
It seems to like destroying Fox Float X2 shocks. This is not uncommon for Specialized bikes. It’s been an issue for far too long, to be honest. And it’s not just Specialized, nor is it just this shock. It’s a problem that is common among bikes that use long yoke extensions to push the shock. But this bike and two others in my direct circle have experienced shock failures on this bike.
One was an identical S-works model, and the other was Mike Kazimer’s Levo Pro. My shock of choice for this bike would be the EXT E-Storia, because it’s built specifically to take the sort of abuses that yoke-driven e-bikes put on it. But that of course is a very expensive upgrade that doesn’t solve the underlying issue.
This little door that Specialized made to protect the third-generation Levo’s power port is a good idea. But it’s not very tough. After maybe a month of having the bike, I accidentally pedaled the the cranks backward while the door was open and broke it off the bike. The door swings on a flimsy plastic flex-hinge type thing that’s nowhere near robust enough. I think the Gorilla Tape hinge I fashioned as a fix might actually be stronger.
I am also not a fan of the overall design of the port interface. The battery uses the same port for powering the bike as it does for charging, meaning that before charging the battery, you need to unplug the cord that sends power to the bike from the same port. On this bike, there’s a little plastic fold-down handle for doing so. That also broke immediately. I have to pull on it at just the right angle if I want it to pull the cable from the socket instead of just breaking off the hinge. It’s not ideal, and definitely not refined enough to belong on a $15,000 bike. Specialized’s Turbo SL bikes use a whole different system with a very clean spring-loaded port door, and the port is only used for charging. The full-power bikes deserve an equally elegant solution.
Most e-bikes don’t have typical bottom brackets with bearings that you can easily replace when worn. The bearings that we’d typically call the bottom bracket are really just shaft bearings housed within the the motor unit. They’re not super easy to replace, so they ought to last a very long time.
The cranks on my test bike are nowhere close to being gritty, but they’re the slightest bit rougher than when they were new. Kazimer is reporting the same on his bike. There’s no bearing play or noise that would make a service necessary, nor is it detectible while riding in any way, but the slight drop-off in smoothness is worth noting.
My biggest complaints are the shock and charging port issues. Other than that, everything is holding up extremely well. For standout components, I absolutely love the Magura MT7 brakes, even if they do rub more and go through pads a bit quicker than what I’m used to seeing from Shimano or SRAM brakes. They’re so incredibly strong while remaining ultimately controllable. I believe I’ve bled them once over the past year.
The Rockshox Reverb AXS dropper also deserves a call out. Dropper posts aren’t always the most reliable part of a bike. Reverbs themselves have had plenty of issues in the past, but the AXS one has been running perfectly. It hasn’t even needed a vent valve reset.
So, with my relatively minor issues during a year of service, can I still say that the Levo is the most fun bike ever? Well, I’ve ridden many full-power e-bikes since, and they all tend to give me a similar sense of childlike happiness. But I haven’t come across another one that rides as well, and none come anywhere close to the excellent user interface and tech-packed features that the Levo has. I just have to remember not to carry any chain lube, especially when fording deep creeks.