Bike Review Oct / Nov 2019: E-bikes

Specialized Turbo Levo Comp

The Levo Comp was the first of the 2020 bikes to land in our office, and we were unashamedly keen to swing a leg over the latest iteration of what has the most cutting-edge e-offering in our market for the last few years.

Unashamedly fast, the Levo range has always leant on Specialized’s racing pedigree to give us fast, fun bikes, making the most of pedal assist in a performance capacity.

That Alan Hatherley won the inaugural World E-Bike Championships in Canada in September is no surprise; if ever there was a race-ready e-bike, the Levo was it. Specialized has made some fundamental changes for
2020, though, with more travel and a trail-bike geometry tweak shifting the Levo focus into much more of an all-rounder. It hasn’t lost any of its speed on the climbs (Strava has separate e-bike segments, some of which may have been damaged in the writing of this review) but there is a marked improvement in how playful the bike feels on the technical, singletrack descents. Where the previous model was point-and-shoot in the gnarly stuff, the new version responds better to rider input; it is still a brute, with the chunky tyres, low centre of gravity, lots of travel and a bit of excess weight, but you find yourself picking lines and trying to descend better, rather than just battering your way through. In fact in the singles of Tokai we found ourselves backing off a bit as the corners came up that much faster and our eyes grew a lot larger at the speed the Levo gathers.

The walk-assist button is a must-have, whether you are conquering W2W, or just getting the bike into your garage.

Experienced mountain bikers will love this – there is much more feel and finesse available – but Specialized has managed to make it magic without losing the beginnerproof stability the original model did so well with. With 150mm travel, courtesy of the RockShox Lyrik SC up front and a Deluxe Select+ on the rear, there is little on the trail that feels unconquerable, and SRAM’s 200mm, fourpiston Guide RE stoppers are ready for when you do need to slow it all down. SRAM provides the 11-speed shifting, with one-click GX shifting (so you can’t mangle things with the motor), an e-specific KMC chain and X-Fusion’s slick dropper post rounding the spec off.

The Comp-level bike we rode features two game changers; an all-aluminium M5 frame, and a monster
battery. The former adds a bit of weight to the bike (trims cost, you can’t have both), but is wonderfully bulletproof when it comes to day-to-day oopsies. And e-bikes are more susceptible to non-crash trauma; they are bulky and difficult to wrangle, meaning that they fall over on a whim, whether you are propping them up for a photo op, or trying to clear that gnarly rocky climb. Paint chips and a dent or two are traumatic, but far less so than a terminal carbon crack.

The battery is a thing of dreams; 700Wh over the standard 500Wh means 40% more range. What does that mean in reality? We managed a couple of 2000m+ ascent rides in our test period – and climbing is what drains the battery fastest. Twice up to the Constantiaberg radio mast, with enough left to rail the singletracks on the way back down each time, and get home into the wind. The mast and Noordhoek peak, in one ride, and still 20+% battery left (Specialized’s on-bike display is a ten-bar number, which we loved – you don’t have to go into the app to see how much trouble you are in with your battery) means this bike is both fast and fun, but also lets you explore further than any e-bike we have ridden. 100km+ of useful juice. And, wonderfully silent. Out in nature’s peace and quiet, this was the quietest we rode.

Muted earthy tones with a hint of dayglo
and a slinky asymmetric frame; the Levo is

Specialized leads the way, too, with their companion app, which not only lets you see how much battery you have left, but allows you to set the three levels of assist the bar-mounted control gives; we rode on the factory settings, but by playing a little you could comfortably get a five-hour ride in on Eco at 15%, which would overcome the weight of the bike and give you a smidgen more power on the climbs. The Levo really is a bike for exploring our wide-open spaces. Max assist is set at 32km/h, a nice bonus but also a big temptation – you will ride the Levo harder than you want, everywhere, and get fitter and stronger than you thought.


Specialized Turbo Levo Comp 2020

RRP R100,000

(based on Large bike)

Top Tube (horiz.) 631mm
Reach 455mm
Standover 781mm
BB Height 347.5mm
Chainstays 455mm
Front / Centre 781mm
Trail 111mm
Head Angle 66.04°
Seat Angle 74.48°
Wheelbase 1,235mm


Merida EOne-Forty 500

Loic Bruni dominated the 2019 DH season on a bike with a smaller rear wheel thanfront; the mullet bike is here to stay, and Merida’s new e-bike is a cracking example.

Merida has produced a supermodel with its 2020 e-bike offering. Clean lines, a subtle paintjob and small touches like the cooling vents behind the head tube (Thermo Gate – they even have a name!) are a big step forward, and the resultant ride, is too. Lively and lithe, this is a bike that wants you to give it full gas on the climbs, so that it can get dirty in the really technical stuff. Partly, this is down to the firm’s slightly different take on e-bikes, with a 650B rear wheel and a 29” up front certainly a nod to what is happening in the gravity side of mountain biking. But this is not a gravity bike, with ‘just’ 140mm of travel up front, and 133mm on the rear. Merida has gone with a carbon fibre frame, with an aluminium rear triangle, which helps give the bike a light feel (if an e-bike can feel light), magnifying the low centre of gravity the Shimano Steps E8000 motor gives the bike – the end result being a nimble XC feel that is fun and fast, but still capable on the medium-hit rough stuff.

Thermo Gate – the cooling ducts behind
the headtube double as cable guides, while helping extend battery life.

Does the smaller rear wheel make sense? Kinda – if you are active on the descents and enjoy the airborne route as much as the firmly-planted one, then you will love it. If you are a rubber-is-meant-to-be-in-contact rider, then you might find it bogs down a little, after the front has rolled through so smoothly – a terribly small difference, but certainly there. We got used to it very quickly, and learnt to unweight the rear a little more on the rough descents, while enjoying the on-rails feel it does give on bermy, twisty trails. The suspension on the eOne-Forty sees a welcome return of one of the halcyon fork brands; Marzocchi was famed for its buttery-smooth travel in the 90s, but faded a little as the big names swamped the OEM market. The Bomber Z2 is an e-bike-specific unit that handled everything we threw at it, gloriously, and matched to the Suntour edge rear unit. The biggest compliment we can pay is that we didn’t fiddle at all, once we had set the bike up.

The spec on the 5000-level bike continues the light/ fast feel, with Deore shifting, and nice big rotors for when you have Nino-ed yourself in a bit deep – it stops on a tickey. The Steps motor is powered by a 504Wh battery, and we were pleased with the comfortable two-hours plus we got out of it in full play mode (medium assist on the climbs, minimal on the descents). Control is through a sleek bar-mounted double button unit, which toggles through Steps’ three modes – Eco, Sport and Boost – reliably and easily, even with gloves. The Shimano display is small and unobtrusive, giving you all you need to know, but you will need to make some shade to read it under the African sun. The battery is housed in the downtube, helping keep the weight low, behind a cleverly-designed ‘lid’ that doubles as a bash guard, protecting from front wheel debris. You don’t need to remove it to charge, but if you are a spare-battery person, it is one of the easiest to swap out we have seen.

Italian chic – it was a joy to ride Marzocchi again.

The wheels and tyres are the only real nod to the smash-‘em capability of this bike: big and bold, with 2.5” Maxxis Minion rubber up front, and 2.6” on the rear, mounted to big, broad rims that will soak up more than enough punishment. The deal is sealed with a Merida branded dropper post and a gathering of the firm’s fit and- forget finishing components, all of which combine into a durable yet light machine.



Merida EOne-Forty 5000

RRP R84,999

(based on Large Bike)

Top Tube (horiz.) 602.5mm
Reach 449.5mm
Chainstays 439.5mm
BB Drop 24mm
Fork Length 551mm
Head Angle 66.5°
Seat Angle 76.5°
Wheelbase 1,204mm


Commencal Meta Power 29 Signature

Commencal has a long history in downhill mountain biking, carrying French legends Nico Vouilloz (10 times world champion) and, more recently, Amaury Pierron to gravity glory across the world. The Andorran firm is unashamedly gravity-focussed, and while our review bike boasts 29-inch wheels (still sacrilege in some gravity circles), there is no doubt it screams to be pointed south.

Our test model was the range-topping Signature model, with a durable all-aluminium frameset and 140/150mm of Kashima loveliness front and rear. Commencal doesn’t do a carbon bike, favouring the ruggedness aluminium offers technical riders, who tend to step off the bike more often as they push boundaries on rockier, steeper terrain. The bike feels long and lazy with a short reach and slack outlook a nod to its descending heritage – it is no slouch on the climbs, though, and you won’t mind one bit getting back to the top of your favourite trail, before heading down for another run. That is mostly thanks to the Shimano Steps e8000 assist, with a 70nm, 250W motor supported by a 504Wh battery promising 100km if you run Eco, carefully. We got a comfortable 60km run in with 1500m of ascent, over plenty of technical descending and climbing, and the Steps display told us we still had one battery bar of five left, so that claim might be well founded. Will you want to ride 100km on it? We aren’t sure – this bike cries to be taken to the
trail park, and hammered on repeat, rather than lured out on an all-day explore. Max assist is set at 25km/h.

The Kashima suspension adds a whole lot to the price, but is worth every cent for its buttery smoothness.

The Steps (Shimano Total Electric Power System) offers three modes: Eco, Trail and Boost. These are toggled through the bar-mounted switch, which is wonderfully compact and does all you need, with the LCD display next to the stem indicating which you have chosen, alongside your choice of distance/speed/battery life type display. The screen is a little difficult in the bright African sun, sometimes requiring the shade of a hand, but that is a minor gripe for an otherwise superbly simple system, where the power delivery is smooth and predictable. Shimano has a companion app too, where you can adjust the amount of assist for each mode.

The spec on the Signature is top-drawer, and really makes this bike a descender’s delight. Fox provides the Kashima-coated range-topping 36 Factory fork and Float X2 Factory rear shock, both of which have been custom-tuned to cope with the added stresses e-bikes put on componentry, with dampers sorted for the changed weight-transfers, riding styles and more aggressive climbing these bikes will endure
compared to a similarly-equipped “normal” bike. DT Swiss supplies its E-specific wheels – riders tend to hit stuff harder, either because the e-bike has allowed less-proficient users to hit gnarlier stuff, or the gnarkings are riding harder – and our review bike was shod with 2.5” Maxxis Assegais rather than the factory-spec Schwalbes. The KSV Lev Integra dropper post did its job reliably, as did the GX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, with the 50-tooth rear sprocket a nod to the more trail-oriented rider likely to ride this machine – e-bikes

We loved the Di2-style mode selector – you never struggle to find the right button when there wasn’t time to look down in the gnar.

tend toward tighter cassettes, as a rule. The E-click one-at-a-time shifter is an annoyance (the Specialized has it too) but a must-have on e-bikes, where shifting multiple gears under power can spell disaster. Braking is from Shimano, with XT four-pot callipers gripping – admirably – 200mm Ice-Tech rotors, front and rear. The rest of the spec is pure endure – lovely wide 780mm alloy bars, a stubby 50mm stem and a WTB saddle.

This bike will find a happy home among the growing e-assist enduro and DH crowd looking to hit their favourite 500m trail descent as many times as they can in an afternoon, without having to hikea- bike back up each time. With the climbing sorted, fresh arms, legs and minds will love the Pyrenees-proven Commencal geometry more often than should be legal.


Commencal Meta Power 29 Signature

RRP R105,999

(based on Large Bike)

Top Tube (horiz.) 624mm
Reach 435mm
Standover 743mm
BB Drop 17mm
Fork Length 561mm
Head Angle 66°
Seat Angle 75°
Wheelbase 1,235mm

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