That’s not a typical headline for reporting about a ride on an electric mountain bike, or more precisely, a pedal-assist eMTB. But that was my frame of mind last week when I spent 3.5 hours demoing a Specialized Turbo Levo FSR 6Fattie at the Lebanon Hills Mountain Bike Trail, courtesy of Rob Stepaniak at Erik’s Bike Shop.
I’m not in the market to buy an eMTB but I’ve been curious to see what problems I would experience on one doing the type of technical riding I like to do. When Rob saw my Facebook post about my wife’s purchase of a Pedego Commuter ebike, he contacted me to see if I was interested in a demo. Oh yeah.
(Yes, I’m fully aware of the controversy on riding eMTB bikes on singletrack mtb trails. This blog post won’t be about that but I did engage in discussion about those issues when I initially posted the photo of me and Rob on my Facebook profile here. Feel free to chime in there. Warning: I enforce civility.)
My first expectation going into the demo was that I’d appreciate the pedal-assist boost for riding uphill interim sections of the trail, i.e., those sections that don’t have any particular challenge to them. I’m rarely a racer and seldom interested in my Strava times for long segments so I’m not often in great shape. And I don’t much like riding long uphills when it’s hot and humid.
I was right. I did appreciate the in-between-sections boost, even though there’s not much elevation at Leb. The day of the demo it was 80 degrees F with a 70-degree dew point and I was working up a good sweat sessioning the obstacles. So it was quite a treat to relax a bit on the rest of the trail. And if I lived near very hilly or mountainous terrain, it would be a no-brainer for me, as climbing for a hour or two is not my idea of fun.
My second expectation was that the weight of the bike (44 pounds) and its pedal-assist boost would adversely affect my ability to ride my favorite technical features at Leb (skinnies, logovers, rock gardens, etc).
I was mostly wrong. The Levo has three pedal-assist modes called Turbo, Trail and Eco — otherwise known as high, medium, and low. I rode in Eco mode the entire time, with one exception (more on that below).
The amount of pedal-assist delivered in each of those three modes is determined by both your cadence and torque, ie, how fast you’re pedaling and how much pressure you’re applying to the pedals.
Moreover, you can not only control the level of assist in each mode. But you can also control how quickly the pedal assist is delivered. Both controls (and much more) are adjusted via the free smartphone app that comes with the bike:
Again, my main incentive was not to see how much the Levo would help my technical riding. Rather, it was to see how much I could minimize its interference. I was pleased when Rob showed me that I could dial the quickness of the pedal-assist response way back. Why? So my timing didn’t suffer.
I rode my favorite lines through Leb’s X and XX rock gardens, no problem. I launched off the drops, over the table tops, and bunny-hopped up the big bridge rock. I cleaned log skinnies and most surprising to me because of the bike’s weight, the uphill rock slab after Tedman’s Curve. For some of the rocks, when my timing wasn’t perfect, I appreciated the Levo’s built-in bash guard — the housing that protects its electric motor.
The log ladders were no problem but I could detect a very slight boost from the pedal-assist Eco mode when unweighting the rear wheel, even though I had the quickness dialed back as far as it could go. It didn’t interfere — it helped, actually — but I wasn’t asking for help so I noticed it.
On the X rock/boardwalk skinny in Leb’s skills park, I typically use some slow-speed pedal ratcheting to improve my precision around the turns. I learned that I had to drag/modulate the Levo’s brakes to keep scrubbing off the slight boost from each ratcheting motion. It wasn’t a problem, just a noticeable adjustment that I needed to make. Of course, if I had wanted no boost whatsoever, I could have just shut off the pedal-assist.
Other than track stands (no problem), I didn’t attempt more advanced technical maneuvers with the bike, eg, nose wheelies, hopping, rocking, etc. I assume those would be more difficult because of the extra weight but maybe not. I’d need to demo the bike for several days to find out.
For the long climb up the X hill and big logover pile, I switched the pedal-assist to Turbo mode, just to experience the Levo’s full power. There was no ‘braaap.’ It was more like having a sudden strong wind at my back. I could see how this would be neat to have for repeated sessioning of some of the gravity runs in the area, for example, Red Wing’s Memorial Park DH run or Piedmont’s BOB section in Duluth. Those generally involve a strenuous 10-15 minute hike-a-bike for me to ride them again. It would be cool to be able to ride them ten times in a row in a short period of time. Likewise, I’d be interested in renting a Levo to ride Spirit Mountain in Duluth when the lift access isn’t available, or Copper Harbor in the UP when the shuttle isn’t running.
If I had the Levo for a month or more, I’d likely be able to assess to what extent it could help my technical riding. I’m skeptical of that but I’ve been wrong before.
Lots more has been written about the Levo since its debut last year. Some notable reviews:
Got a reaction or a questions about the narrow focus of what I’ve written here? Attach a comment. If you’d like to discuss the pros and cons of eMTBs on singletrack trails, chime in here on my Facebook profile post.