Bike Life Adventures with Dirty Gertie Vol. 1

In my last post, I had confessed to my purchasing my very first EMTB (electric, pedal-assist mountain bike) and I wanted to give my first impressions on my Specialized Turbo Levo SL Expert bike named Dirty Gertie.

With the few rides I've gone on with Dirty Gertie so far, I can say I have fallen in love with this bike. I've ridden mountain bikes regularly since 2014, and during that time I have struggled with seasonal allergies and potential exercise-induced asthma. Over the years I've tried different allergy medications and used inhalers, but never have I found a perfect solution for me feeling 100% amazing during my rides.

To be honest, I avoid riding some trails during the worst allergy days, because I know that it will aggravate my lungs to the point of feeling extremely uncomfortable. Even on days where my allergies aren't so bad, I avoid riding certain sections of trails because it's hard on me. When I go out for a ride after work during the busy season, I'm tired. Not only physically but mentally and emotionally, too. I want my rides to invigorate me, not smash me down into exhaustion even more. Also, with having stressful years one after another, I would say that my fatigue level is on the high side. Working on keeping my anxiety and depression under control, I want the one thing I love doing to bring me joy rather than feeling like an obligation or chore.

I went out after work and had a ride that was just over 14 miles and let me tell you, I felt amazing! I could tell I had ridden my bike longer outdoors than I had in a long while, but I felt like I could keep going. My lungs felt like they had worked, but they weren't burning and I didn't feel like I was suffocating from the inside out. The only reason I stopped my ride was that I had gotten too cold after the sun went down. If it had been warmer, I would've kept riding a few more miles with my headlight on.

Riding the Turbo Levo SL, I felt like I was experiencing what I thought mountain biking would become for me. I thought over the years if I worked hard and pushed my body, certain climbs would aggravate my lungs less. I thought that maybe I would be able to breathe better or not become so wiped out. In my mind when riding Dirty Gertie, I was experiencing mountain biking like the strong, local riders.

I've been on group rides with those riders, and I am at the back of the pack. I struggle to keep up and my lungs feel like they are going to literally blow up inside my body. I end up having the "post-race" coughs for probably 15-30 minutes after those rides. I'm told I keep up well, but my body is absolutely throwing up an invisible middle finger. This bike is a complete game-changer for me. I feel like I could join one of those group rides, still be in the back, but not feel like complete shit post-ride.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL Expert
The big question is: What have I noticed with riding the Turbo Levo SL?

#1. I'm truly not riding faster than my personal limit. 
I feel every person has a speed limit that is most comfortable for them and their riding style. If one were to exceed that limit, that is likely when crashes happen. Ultimately, when I'm riding Dirty Gertie, I'm not riding faster than my usual average speed on the trails. What I am able to do is maintain my average speed a lot easier as there is less drastic change due to riding up difficult climbs. I'm able to pedal through tough climbs easier and more smoothly, which keeps me riding a more consistent pace.

For example: If Travis rides behind me, oftentimes he's riding too close behind me on uphills because I slow down on steep climbs. I struggle to hammer up them without losing my ability to breathe. If Travis were riding behind me when I'm on my Turbo Levo SL, this wouldn't be an issue because I can keep going uphill at a more consistent and controlled speed.

#2. I'm pedaling probably 90% more often than I would be on an acoustic bike (non-pedal assist bike.)
I'm constantly pedaling which allows me to ride more smoothly and efficiently. I'm not coasting in areas just to give my body a break from pedaling because I'm exhausted. Ultimately, I'm rotating the pedals more often because it's not too tiring to do so. I'm not stopping for breaks during my ride because I'm feeling tired- I'm only stopping because I want to take some photos.

#3. I feel like I can ride over obstacles or tricky areas more efficiently and smoothly.
The assist helps me, as a skilled rider, to ride even more efficiently and fluidly on technical climbs and sections. If I did not already have handling skills down, I don't feel that the EMTB would really help me with this. Because I have the basics down for body position/handling skills the EMTB allows me to utilize my skills with less physical strain. Ultimately, what I'm trying to say is that an EMTB won't magically create a mountain biker, you still have to learn the basics in order to ride successfully. It could, however, make it easier for someone who doesn't have "mountain bike fitness" to enjoy learning to mountain bike. One could focus more on learning skills and not worry about the physical learning curve so much.

Some folks may have concerns over pedal-assist EMTBs causing erosion or damaging trails. What I've found so far is that on any climbs that I've done that usually have me zipping my back wheel out on when on an acoustic bike, I'm riding smoothly on the EMTB. I'm not putting out as much extra force. Because of the power transfer, I'm not struggling to maintain traction as much as I would on my other bikes, resulting in a smoother ride and less rear wheel zip-outs.

Yes, I'll be riding more trails more often (as my schedule allows) but I feel like I'll be riding them more effectively because of the assist. Also, if I'm going out after a storm to check for downed trees and such, I can cover more ground more efficiently. A bonus!

#4. It's no different than riding any other mountain bike with gears because you still need to shift!
You cannot entirely rely on the assist to make it easy to get up a hill, the purpose of the assist is to assist- not do it for you. When I'm out on Dirty Gertie I am shifting to keep my cadence up. My goal isn't to make the motor do all of the work. A lot of the time I'm on either Eco mode or Trail mode, but here and there on a steeper climb I'll bump up to Boost and turn it down as soon as I've crested the hill. Right now I'm more or less playing with the settings to see what they feel like, but I'll definitely NOT be using turbo mode often. I like the more natural feel of Eco or Trail mode for 99% of my riding.

#5. Yes, EMTBs give you an advantage. 
There is zero chance of denying that riding a pedal-assist EMTB gives an advantage. It absolutely does. I can feel the legitimate difference in how wiped out I feel when I'm riding the EMTB vs. one of my acoustic mountain bikes.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL Expert
Do I feel guilty? Absolutely not

Frankly, I'm more excited to join group rides with the guys (when group rides happen again) because I know I'm not going to be coughing up a lung at the end.

I'm more excited to ride with Travis because I feel like I'd be less in his way on uphills or be able to more easily keep up with him if he's riding in front.

The weight of the Turbo Levo SL makes me feel more confident, stable and planted. It's a bike that inspires confidence!

I'm stoked to go out for a ride after work because even if I'm tired, I know I can have a good ride. My body is no longer the limiting factor! What limits me now is if I have a headlight and warm enough clothes to keep riding when the sun goes down.

I used to turn up my nose to pedal-assist bikes.
I originally told myself that I was strong, fit, and had absolutely no need for any sort of pedal-assist bike. Also, the only pedal-assist bikes I was used to riding have been the Specialized Turbo Como or Turbo Vado bikes we have at the shop. I never felt 100% comfortable on either one for whatever reason. I'm thrilled that many folks love them, but they just didn't spark my love of pedal-assist. The Specialized Turbo Levo SL is the bike that converted me to truly understanding why pedal-assist bikes are so fabulous. If you could ride a bike that takes away physical limitations such as fatigue or asthma, why wouldn't you?

There are many options out there for pedal-assist EMTBs and I'm not writing this to say that the Specialized Turbo Levo SL is the only way to go, but I will say that it ticked off all of the boxes for me for a pedal-assist bike that I would want. A bike that I can lift somewhat easily and it's a bike that delivers just enough power for me to ride without triggering breathing issues. For me, it feels so much like an acoustic bike in how it rides and handles and that took away the intimidation I had of pedal-assist EMTBs.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL Expert

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm so grateful that things aligned to where I was able to make this investment and it's been a ray of sunshine in what has been a cloudy time in my life.