Specialized Turbo Levo
Uncle Dave went to Croatia and you're really not going to like it - Part 2

Uncle Dave and the (gasp!) 2019 Turbo Levo

Words Dave Tolnai
Photos Harookz
Date Sep 19, 2018

All photos are by Harookz...if you couldn't already tell that a professional was involved.

As I plunged into this project, things got longer and longer as I got more defensive. In the end, like a 15-legged table, it didn't seem like something that would stand if I chopped any one section away. Instead, I've broken this in to 3 partially digestible chunks that will roll out on some sort of unpredictable schedule over the next few days. My one request is that before you dust off your yellin'-at-some-guy-on-the-Internet pants (you will probably have to), please wait until after you've consumed all 3 parts. I'd hate for you to get all riled up only to discover that you're even more riled up after part 3. Rather than getting all worked up twice, it's probably better to save it all up. And just remember...I'm as unhappy as you are about having to talk about all this stuff! Life is much easier if you can just tuck yourself away in a corner and ignore what everybody else is doing.

So...we put off the inevitable from yesterday. The embargo is over, and we can finally talk about the business at hand. The bike that we rode in Croatia? It was carbon fibered. It had 150mm of travel. It was a 29er. It had relatively fat and aggressive tires. Its geometry wasn't exactly the longest and slackest in the world, but it fit firmly into the category of "aggressive 29er". We good so far? Okay then...

It also had a battery and a motor.

I know, I know. I was skeptical too. I saw the inevitable shitstorm coming from miles off and it was very nearly enough to convince me not to go on this trip. I went so far as to approach a few people and seek their opinions on the matter before committing. But, for numerous reasons, I went ahead with the plan. Mostly because it began to seem a little crazy for me not to go do something because certain other people might not like it. Part of me wondered why Cam was willing to wade back into this minefield, but it seemed foolish for me to back away from the challenge if he was up for it.

So. I went to Europe and I rode an e-bike on trails where e-bikes are legal. Which, when pushed, even the hardiest of e-bike haters will sometimes admit is borderline acceptable. But is this like driving down to Washington State to smoke pot, or is it like flying to Iceland to eat whale meat? Some will shrug their shoulders. Others definitely will not.

The actual bike

Now we move on to the part of the article where we talk specifics about the product. Unfortunately, this thing...this specific e-bike...comes as close as I've ever seen to being that mythical beast that people on the internet have warned us about. The one that will trick the world into thinking it's just a regular bike and get every bike banned from every trail everywhere. It's simple and clean and if it zipped by on the trail and you didn't know what you were looking for you'd swear it was a regular Stumpjumper.

But it's not. A regular Stumpjumper, that is. This one comes with a 250 W motor and a 700 W*h battery. And this is where things start to slip away somewhat. The European journalists all seem to speak e-bike, and like a Neanderthal at a smart phone convention, I was left puzzled by many of the conversations that took place. Based on what is going on over in Europe, anybody who thinks this is a passing fad and hopes it will die on the vine is bound to be disappointed. The numerous e-bike devoted magazines and the sales figures thrown around by Specialized suggest that these things are not going anywhere. The people picking them up don't seem to be putting them down.

So, back to the machine. Some of the bigger picture things my non-e-bike brain was able to grasp are as follows:

- The battery is guaranteed to have 65% capacity at the end of 2 years or 500 full charging cycles...it will cost you around 1000 Euros for a new one...motor warranty is 2 years as well.

- Specialized is supporting all parts for 10 years after the last available model year. So if your proprietary battery catches on fire in 2028, you should still be fine.

- Complete bike weight for a Medium S-Works model is less than 20 kg. Which is just over 44 pounds when you plug that meaningless number into Google.

- Expected range is 40% more than the outgoing model, and it will probably go as far as you need it to go before severe crotch chafe grinds things to a halt.

There were hundreds more things that dozens of Specialized employees talked about, but you people are not here for accurate specs on the latest e-bikes, so I won't dwell on that too much (google "Specialized Turbo Levo" for a hotter, more accurate take). What I will say is that whether you love or hate e-bikes, it's hard to deny that this is an impressive piece of design. The controls are slick and intuitive. The battery is as stealthy as is possible with current technology. This is a beautiful machine, especially compared to some of the other bulky monstrosities on the market, and you should be a tiny bit impressed by what has been accomplished here, even if you hate it.

Riding the beast - Day One

After the timeshare sales presentation, our free gift from Specialized was the experience of spending the rest of the day riding around our home base of Rabac. Which sounds great, but conditions in Croatia were not terribly conducive to riding. Temperatures were well above 30 C, and we first hit the trails at the height of mid-day. If there was no motor involved, I most likely would have dug deep into my bag of excuses and stuck to lounging by the ocean. But, onwards we went with hardly any concern for the scorching temperature, save for a tiny water bottle and the impulse to dive for the smallest piece of nearby shade anytime we stopped. The electrical assistance was the only thing that made this somewhat bearable.

Many of the climbs were heinous monstrosities, devoid of shade but rich with large rocks and dust. Numerous times I would have been walking on a normal bike, but the e-bike let you power through things with no problem. Indeed, Specialized placed a lot of emphasis on the amount of tuning and work they put in to making all of their systems work together in harmony, and this seemed apparent during climbs. Climbing felt fairly natural, with the bike responding the way you thought it would, just with a lot more enthusiasm. The sole adjustment becomes learning to keep spinning on the way up, and to use your brakes to finesse your way around obstacles.

Things were quite seamless on the way down as well. This bike is as comfortable charging down things as any wide-tired, 150mm travel, 29er that I've ridden. This is not me blowing smoke. A couple of the trails we rode were long, straight, steep shots filled with (even more!) loose rocks and dirt. We were riding everything blind, and trying our best to impress Harookz. A couple of times I caught myself thinking that I probably shouldn't be going so fast but the bike seemed to have absolutely no problems eating things up so why not just let it continue to do so? It felt stable, balanced and planted. It seemed unshakable and it was an absolute blast to ride really fast down a hill.

The only place I felt the weight was when it got really steep and technical. After stopping trailside to cuddle a baby goat (seriously), we dropped into a boulder filled slab of awful that made me a bit homesick. I felt a bit held back on this 50 feet of trail, which by my calculation was about 0.06% of the distance covered over the day. It's definitely a sledgehammer and not a scalpel, but many of you will probably never ride down the type of trail where this becomes an actual problem.

All of the transitions that you typically keep your head down and power through were transformed as well. We rode village to village, along roadways and through farms. We climbed hills that had been far off in the distance. We rode for hours, and then we rode some more when the light got good and we needed to take photos. It was all remarkably pleasant, and there was no worry about maximizing pleasure per pedalstroke. If you took a wrong turn, you just turned around and found your way back. If Harookz wanted another take, you just pedaled back up and gave it a go. If a baby goat showed up, you just stopped and cuddled it and then caught up with the group.

And all of this was done with a massive group, filled with all sorts of skill and fitness levels. Normally this is a recipe for fractured groups and hours of waiting. Sure we scattered and waited our fair share, but for the most part, we kept things pretty tight. The electronic assistance is a definite equalizer. Us lazy bastards can make use of Turbo when we need a little hand, and the smug, fit types can gloat about how much battery they have left because they kept it in Eco all day. Between the heat, the distances, the trail conditions, and the massive group, what we did that day wouldn't have been possible on a regular bike. Honestly. Impossible. I would have collapsed at some point during hour two. Because of this, I can't help but feel positively towards the technology that enabled such an awesome day to take place. And that was only the first of two!

Riding the Beast - Day Two

Day two was a bit more of an adventure. I had to cut my morning swim a bit short and then rush through my fresh croissant at breakfast, as we were all hopping on a bus bright and early for an hour-and-a-half ride north to the mountain top village of Groznjan, where all of our bikes and gear had magically transported themselves overnight.

This zone is something most of us would be more comfortable with. A ridge stretches in either direction from the village and trails drop from along that ridge and collect at the bottom. In Canada the easy road access an loads of trails would have attracted hordes of shuttlers, but we had the place to ourselves.

The dirt and the scenery was completely different than the day before. Gone were the loose rocks and dirt, all replaced with loose pine needles. The trails were tight and steep and many people (mostly Specialized employees, somehow) found themselves in the trees at one point in the day.

Once again, the bikes impressed on the way down. It was hard to feel like you were on anything other than a really capable mountain bike. Only on the tightest switchbacks, where I was tricked into attempts to nose wheelie through them, did the bike not really want to cooperate. As my dad would say "Just don't do that, then", and with that adjustment made, things sorted themselves out pretty well.

And then you'd point yourself up that same hill and have your idea of "climbable" re-aligned.

Anybody who regularly reads what I write, knows that I like to complain about climbing. Really, it's a means to an end, and I generally source out the easiest and gentlest way to the top. Technical climbs are not something that I seek out, but at the same time, riding on the North Shore, my technical climbing skills are probably above average.

This bike lets you climb things that would not be possible on a regular bike. This bike lets you climb things that you might struggle to push your regular bike up. Some of the hills we climbed were beyond steep, as well as ridiculously loose and rocky (the pine needles were reserved for the downhill trails, I guess). "Unrideable" doesn't even begin to describe them. We stopped at the bottom of one of them and one sorry bastard who had a voice really similar to mine called out "we're not riding up that!"  And we did! And it got worse! And we kept climbing! And it's not like you're not working while you're doing this. You get to the top and you're short of breath and you feel like crap. But you're accomplishing impossible things with that energy.

And that was just lap one! Of six! The day just went on and on. Up and down and up and down. We'd stop for a drink and a bite to eat, and then we'd ride some more. And then god saw how much fun we were having and decided to punish us with a biblical torrent of rain, lightning and thunder. So we hid out on the porch of a nice Belgian family, and then the rain stopped so we rode some more. And then we climbed up again and plunged down a hill that I was certain was going to kill at least one member of the party but everybody made it! And we were going to keep going but then god was like "seriously guys...stop doing that" and sent in some more rain so we went and drank wine and ate truffles and played with kittens and fell on our faces until it was time to go home. And once again this day was so fantastic and unexpected and impossible and boosted by technology and it's going to take a lot from you to convince me that this is a bad thing.

Specialized Turbo Levo

This is at the top of the long, steep climb of doom. It ends with this chunky set of stairs. Sean Estes shows that it's no problem.

Don't fret! We're getting closer to the part where people yell at me in the comments section. Just hold on a tiny bit longer. If I could just manage to wrap things up now, I could probably escape with only a few dozen "WHY IS NSMB TALKING ABOUT MOTORBIKES!!!" cast in my direction. I know I'm already pushing my luck and it would be the irresponsible actions of a true sadist to continue any further.

For part 3, where Dave explains himself, click here...

Trending on NSMB


[user profile deleted]  - Sept. 19, 2018, 6:52 a.m.

This comment has been removed.

+1 E-wok
Cam McRae  - Sept. 19, 2018, 8:02 a.m.

Actually most appropriate for part 2 so you nailed it!


legbacon  - Sept. 19, 2018, 9:21 a.m.

Burn in hell!


+4 Niels Cam McRae Chris Meister
Cooper Quinn  - Sept. 19, 2018, 9:47 a.m.

Ebikes always inspire such level headed conversation and discourse.


-1 Dude@
Dave Tolnai  - Sept. 24, 2018, 5:58 p.m.

I wonder if he really means it?  I've done far worse things than this in life...I think this is my first "burn in hell!"


Joseph Crabtree  - Sept. 19, 2018, 10:38 a.m.



+2 grambo Meister
slope  - Sept. 19, 2018, 10:54 a.m.

Nope, still don't get it and I hate to climb.


+1 Niels
Jonas Dodd  - Sept. 19, 2018, 12:09 p.m.

This is an amazing opportunity to use what's arguably one of the best songs ever written:

Judas Priest's Turbo Lover



+9 Jonas Dodd OldManBike Garrett Thibault Carmel ZigaK Mammal abuxton skidrc Derek Baker
Cr4w  - Sept. 19, 2018, 1:16 p.m.

Specialized should sue them for copyright infringement.


+1 E-wok
Alex Nguyen  - Sept. 19, 2018, 12:30 p.m.

people will always be afraid of what they dont know, Science were once considered Witchcraft.. put your headset on, ignore the petty talks, be at the front to show example, and the sheep will start to calm down and follow...


+6 grambo legbacon Reed Holden Skooks Mammal IslandLife dave_f person person Dude@ Meister Aaron Croft Avner B.
OldManBike  - Sept. 19, 2018, 12:51 p.m.

This isn't interesting or provocative. This is a big bike company that decided that the marketing value of getting a guy and a platform to sell off a chunk off their straight-shooter reputations to go on about their unpopular non-mountain-bike products was worth the cost. Sad for guy and platform, but a shrug for us.


0 Meister Poz Aaron Croft legbacon IslandLife Dude@
Dave Tolnai  - Sept. 19, 2018, 4:01 p.m.

This one, I sort of have a problem with.  I totally respect that you don't want to hear what I have to say any longer.  But what you're suggesting is that I'm forwarding an opinion here that I don't really hold?  I was way more than honest about who paid for the trip and the junket nature of it.  I did open the door in Part 1 for you to question my morals based on that....

But why is it always "The Coastal Crew only rides e-bikes because they're paid to" or "Aggy only rides e-bikes because he's paid to."  Has anybody actually spoken to these people?  Would people be surprised to find out that at least one of these people/crews ride them all the time and really like them?

If I had to paraphrase the entirety of part 2 and 3, it would be "hey...you're allowed to hate these things, but there's actually some cool things that might be enabled by them."

Believe me...Specialized didn't pay me for that opinion.  A trip to Croatia gave me the information to form that opinion, but wasn't responsible for causing me to lie to myself.

Hate me because you don't like what I said.  Maybe hold off on also assuming that I don't actually think the things that you don't like me saying.


+4 ZigaK legbacon Skooks IslandLife person person Dude@ Meister Aaron Croft
OldManBike  - Sept. 19, 2018, 7:47 p.m.

Except I didn't say that. They bought you talking about their e-bikes, not you saying nice things.


+1 Skooks
legbacon  - Sept. 20, 2018, 2:56 a.m.

Except they are not bicycles.


0 Meister Derek Baker IslandLife Dude@
Dave Smith  - Sept. 19, 2018, 7:39 p.m.

Dude. You can attack Uncle Dave's love for small dogs and his general curmudgeonly prose but you can't besmirch his character.  You don't have to agree with him but be prepared to come with some meat to your argument other than some 5th grade name calling -  He shoots straight and aims true.


0 IslandLife person person Meister Aaron Croft
OldManBike  - Sept. 19, 2018, 8:07 p.m.

Attack his curmudgeonly prose? Please.


-1 Cooper Quinn IslandLife Dude@
Dave Smith  - Sept. 19, 2018, 8:36 p.m.

grumpy adjectivity?


+2 IslandLife Dude@
OldManBike  - Sept. 20, 2018, 7:01 a.m.

Sorry for the ambiguity, didn't mean to criticize your prose either. What I meant was more like, "Do you think I would ever attack his fine curmudgeonly prose? Never."


-1 Chris Meister Avner B. E-wok legbacon redbarn IslandLife person person ReductiMat
Morgan Heater  - Sept. 19, 2018, 1:32 p.m.

Honestly, ebikes seem way better than shuttling or chair-lifts.


+3 Todd Hellinga Perry Schebel Metacomet ZigaK IslandLife
Cooper Quinn  - Sept. 19, 2018, 3:33 p.m.

Which is an absolutely relevant point in places there's chairlifts, or you can shuttle. 

ie, places there's already effectively motorized vertical ascent.


+1 IslandLife
Ivo Stankus  - Sept. 19, 2018, 1:53 p.m.

Regarding ebikes, there's just one thing that I never get: If I'm healthy and relatively fit, what's so wrong about pedaling uphill? Do I enjoy it more than ripping down a trail? No. But I do actually enjoy the challenge of a long technical climb... What next? Electronically assisted trail-running and hiking, because who would want to run up a goddamn mountain?  I'm sorry, but all the pro-ebike arguments do boil down to the question of laziness. Where I live I regularly see 70+ year old dudes and ladies flying up fire roads on 20 year old steel hardtails, so yeah... ebikes suck :)


+2 Mammal IslandLife
luisgutierod  - Sept. 21, 2018, 2:52 a.m.

We were joking yesterday on the next big thing being "assisted-Gyms", with "lift the 15 lb dumbell, 75% assistance"...


+1 IslandLife
RV  - Sept. 19, 2018, 2:03 p.m.

^.   End of debate.


+1 IslandLife
RV  - Sept. 19, 2018, 2:12 p.m.

Interesting timing as the forum is at war over these things.


+1 Meister Kos E-wok legbacon redbarn
flatch  - Sept. 19, 2018, 2:27 p.m.

Brace yourselves,, they're coming. And at the end of the day I think we'll all see there is no boogie man. I hope.


+1 Todd Hellinga
Mammal  - Sept. 21, 2018, 7:07 a.m.

Great. It's likely that many of the places I currently ride will still be available to me then. 

But a lot of the places I aspire to ride, and the truly special areas I only get to access once every year or two could be closed to my activity, as a result. Not because of what I'm doing, but because others don't want to build their bodies up to accomplish their goals. They'd rather reach them in the most convenient ways possible.


0 Niels legbacon
Meister  - Sept. 19, 2018, 9:29 p.m.

I for one am all for e-mtb's.  The problem is the people who like everything else can quickly screw things up. This goes for people on non pedal assist bikes as well. If we go ripping past hikers, joggers, pet walkers doesn't matter what we're riding, it paint's a bad impression.

I agree that there has to be conversation on the topic of access so we do not have a knee jerk reaction like washington state and just outright ban them.

Hate if you want that's your opinion. But e-mtb's are coming

P.S.  Thanks for the article


+8 ZigaK Todd Hellinga chachmonkey Skooks redbarn jaydubmah Mammal IslandLife dave_f Meister
Reed Holden  - Sept. 19, 2018, 9:34 p.m.

Three things:

1) When I used to be a high school teacher I let the kids bring in their playstation on the last class of year to play Guitar Hero (it was a new game their "old teacher" had never heard of). We played it on the projector and cranked the volume. It was a blast. But then I watched the two who brought it in do the Freebird guitar solo on the highest level. I realized two things at this point. a) they had spent enough time playing this game that if they had picked up real guitars instead of the stupid plastic toys they would have become actual guitar hero's. b) They lacked the ability to stick with a hard task like learning a real instrument. The game allows them to always be a star. When you start you are a guitar hero in the easy setting and as you get better you continue to be a hero at harder levels. No one ever has to suffer sucking.

2) If you need an E-moped to ride as good as me, I get it. I would want to ride like me too. Take the Guitar Hero approach to being a great rider - I'm sure that ethic will get you far in life. (Please read this somewhat tongue in cheek)

3) I'm sure lots of the guys in bike videos will like E-mopeds. They make all kinds of decisions I wouldn't (just watch one of their videos). Most of those riders are motivated by something very different than me and I definitely don't follow their lead when it comes to figuring out how I should ride.


Dave Tolnai  - Sept. 24, 2018, 5:57 p.m.

1 - This is a really great argument against playing a mountain bike video game.  I don't think it is a very good argument against an e-bike.

2 - I'm glad this is somewhat tongue in cheek.  If it wasn't, I'd probably suggest...no...I won't do that.

3 - I hear you.  We shouldn't generally look to pro riders to be role models.  I really feel like I've written about that before.  But really, we all pay attention when a pro rider posts an e-bike video.  And there's always somebody suggesting that the only reason they're doing it is because of sponsor obligations.  My frustration is that anybody who suggests an opinion that is pro-e-bike is immediately written off as a shill or it is suggested that they only think that way because of the $.  It just feels a bit cheap to write off any argument that you don't like in this way.


cxfahrer  - Sept. 19, 2018, 11:15 p.m.

Just wanted to say how I enjoyed reading this article and how I hate eBikes ;) !

I have been to some trailcenters lately, where I was wishing I had an eBike - trails that go up and down small hills, and temperatures around 30°C. Horseflies.

Ainsa, Punta Ala. Not really easy fun on a regular mountainbike - trails built for eBikes (I guess).


+10 Todd Hellinga Reed Holden jaydubmah cxfahrer IslandLife Mammal ReductiMat Dude@ Derek Baker Metacomet
redbarn  - Sept. 20, 2018, 2:49 p.m.

Good arguments both ways, bunch of great points. Nice e-MtB's are fun as hell, as are moto's & e-motos. Commuting by e-bike is smart & eco-sound, when it actually replaces driving... Reducing shuttles & lift needs is also pretty eco-sound, esp. in Europe these days (even though one lift probably has a way lower carbon print than 50 e-Mtb's)

But most irksome, and making me embarrassed to be part of the bike industry is the blatant irresponsibility of the brands selling e-MtB. Rather than $10 a trail, good 'ol public education campaigns and trying to work with anti-MtB outdoors groups to improve MtB access, they are universally spending budgets on "mind-blowing" videos (nice e-legal singletrack, wankers) and high-buck junkets to convince core MtB press that there's no harm coming. This will end badly, starting with trail/area closures and injury lawsuits for people getting in over their heads too quickly.

I get it, bike brands, your sales have been flat for years. Hell, you've had to actually do a good job at P&A just to scrape some margin back into the EBITDA (the horror). I honestly don't care how badly you've been beat down over the years, it's time to be f***ing responsible for once, because Amazon is not going to.

So, as you continue to develop an opinion one way or the other, let's try to predict & prepare for the future, just a little...


midlifechrisis  - Dec. 9, 2018, 12:46 a.m.

I always shied away from the lazy option of getting an ebike. Until I did a major career change a year ago, aged 56, from teaching to building trade. As much as I absolutely love my new job, it takes it out of me physically, so every weekend is spent recovering ready for Monday. I used to be one of the die-hards in my club- always out twice a week in all conditions, riding and trailbuilding. This year I've ridden three times and I miss it. When I have ridden I've struggled, where I didn't use to. So, after much soul-searching, I've ordered one. A good friend of mine is in a similar situation, at 62 he couldn't keep up with the group any more and thought about packing it in, then got a Levo and it changed his life. He rides more than any of us, goes on the big rides in North Wales and is a fitter and happier man for it. That has to be a good reason to buy one, surely. If I was 30, I'd say to myself "stop moaning and get fitter". It's not as easy as that now.


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