Cascade Components is best known for designing and manufacturing aftermarket links that improve leverage ratios for aggressive riding. Their aftermarket links are designed to improve bottom-out resistance as well as small bump sensitivity; many of their models also increase the rear suspension travel. Looking for a solution to the harsh bottom outs I’ve been experiencing on both my Specialized Turbo Levo and Stumpjumper EVO, I ordered a set of links for both bikes.
I previously invested in a Cascade link for a Transition Sentinel a few years ago, and it was a transformative upgrade that improved the riding experience in every way I had hoped for. For riders that log significant amounts of air time and harsh bottom outs on landings, adding a Cascade link with a more progressive ramp-up paired with tuning via volume spacers can take the riding experience to the next level.
Although I knew I wanted to invest in an aftermarket link from Cascade Components, I was unsure on which option I wanted to pursue, as Cascade offers three different link solutions for the 2022 Carbon Turbo Levo.
Should you choose the Basic or the Long Shock kit?
Cascade Components offers two (well, technically there are 3) different aftermarket links for the Specialized Turbo Levo Gen3. (model year 2022 to current) You can choose from the Turbo Levo Link, the Turbo Levo Long Shock Kit, and the Turbo Levo Long Shock Kit (alloy).
The basic Turbo Levo link increases the amount of progress from 20% to 28%, while adding a 10mm increase in rear suspension travel to 160mm. (it sells for $249) My brother, the resident eBike nerd at Bermstyle runs it on his Turbo Levo Carbon Comp and likes it; however, his primary reason for selecting it was that he already had an aftermarket Fox X2 rear shock he was fond of.
The Turbo Levo Alloy Long Shock Kit
The price was right on the basic link, but after talking with the folks at Cascade Components, they encouraged me to seriously consider going all in on the Turbo Levo Alloy Long Shock Kit, which they consider the ultimate setup for the Turbo Levo. Replacing both the link and the yoke, it allows, ahem, requires, the installation of a longer, 230x65mm rear shock.
Cascade also offers a “Long Shock Kit” which is only compatible with the carbon frame Turbo Levo. Unlike their initial take on the Long Shock Kit, the Alloy Long shock kit machines the main link from one block of metal and increases torsional rigidity. It also reduces side load on your rear shock which will increase service internals and durability. Paired with the longer stroke rear shock — it bumps the progression rate all the way up to 35%, while also increasing the travel to 165mm in the rear, leveling up the bike to enduro class travel, and getting it closer to Turbo Kenevo level rear travel.
With this design, Cascade machined the two links that connect the seat stay to the seat tube and shock yoke as a single-piece link, which adds torsional resistance and protects the rear shock from off-axis loads. As I have a passion for “brapping da berms”, the additional stiffness was appealing. It also meant less maintenance on the rear shock, as it would reduce the DU bushing wear and increase maintenance intervals. Rear shock wear is a known issue with the Turbo Levo models, and while it’s gotten better with each iteration of the bike, this is another selling point of the aftermarket link.
The alloy long shock kit is a much larger investment as the links sell for $392. There’s also the cost of a new rear shock you’ll need to factor in. After talking to the folks at Cascade Components, they convinced me this had my name all over it, as the improvements to setup and ride quality were said to be a major upgrade. (they also mentioned they weren’t sure if they were going to continue to offer the more basic long shock kit, as the one-piece alloy link is just that much better.
Of course, now I was looking at $392 plus the cost of a rear shock, which at retail prices could be be in the range of $500-700. At full retail, you could be looking at $1,092 for the full upgrade, which is a lot of money. I had purchased the budget Turbo Levo carbon, and was planning to replace the low end OEM shock as soon as possible anyway.
Bottom line, the long shock kit is a big investment. I have a lot of bikes to maintain and tend to select components that offer a lot of durability and value; I’m also hesitant to invest significantly into a single bike. After installing the links and spending time on the bike, I can say it was money well spent. Plus I took advantage of sales at JensonUSA. (here’s a handy link for the filtered list of compatible shocks)
Suspension Upgrade: DVO Topaz Air Rear Shock
The stock suspension on the entry-level Specialized Turbo Levo is essentially a placeholder a product manager at Specialized slapped on the bike to get riders on the trail at an appealing price point. For novice riders that seeking a carbon rig for cruising blue square trails, it might be acceptable; but for me addressing the mediocre suspension was my first priority.
While I was deciding which direction to go with the rear shock, I installed the stock shock from my Specialized Stumpjumper Comp, which was a moderate upgrade, and I had already added volume spacers to it to improve the progression and reduce the harsh bottom outs I was experiencing on the EVO. And it helped… a little. It was still bottoming out on bigger step-down landings.
When I started looking into options for a metric 230x65mm shock for the long shock link, I discovered last year’s DVO Topaz Air at a discounted cost at JensonUSA. Normally priced at $550, it was 40% off. After a brief online conversation with a buddy who used to ride for DVO, I was sold on it being able to provide the riding experience I was looking for. Ryan’s known for his videos of hucking huge drops in Utah, and anything that will hold up under his abuse will suit me just fine. Ryan was like “Dude, call them up and just EP one”. Admittedly, that level of privilege is the whole reason I have a cycling blog, but that felt like too much effort, and sometimes it’s just easier to click “buy”. JensonUSA ships fast, and the Topaz arrived at my door a few days later.
If you’ve never installed a Cascade Link before, it’s a relatively simple procedure. Remove the rear shock, then unbolt the stock link and yoke, being careful to keep the stock washers oriented to simplify the swap. Somehow I managed to not drop or misplace any of the spacers on this one, which almost never happens.
On the trail
The improvements to setup and ride quality have been a major upgrade.
I am amazed at how plush the rear suspension feels now, and it’s freaking amazing. Much of this could be attributed to the DVO Topaz, which is known for having a supple feel throughout its stoke. During the parking lot bounce test, if someone told me I was on a coil rear end, I would not have doubted them for a second.
Of course, the plush, small bump compliance with a more progressive spring rate is the whole point of the Cascade Link Suspension linkage design. It’s also worth noting that I’ve also upgraded the front end of the bike with a 170mm Zeb Ultimate fork to take the “super bike” theme all the way.
Most of the questions I get about the links revolve around how increasing the travel changed the handling of the bike. Does it raise the bottom bracket height? How does it affect the cornering? How does it compare to the basic Cascade Link?
The bottom bracket height
I’ve spent time on my brother’s S3 Turbo Levo Carbon Comp with a 6″ travel Fox 36 fork up front paired with the basic Cascade Link, but I have yet to do a back to back run so I can’t provide a direct comparison.
I personally think bottom brackets skew on the low side these days. If you’re utilizing the proper corning technique, (lowering your center of mass) you’re loading the suspension and your tires in the turns, which already lowers the bottom bracket. That, combined with the weight of the motor and battery, as well as aggressive geometry — I’m also running enduro or DH level tire casings as well as a Cushcore rear tire insert — means these bikes rail turns.
For the record, I’m running the stock head tube angle with the high bottom bracket height setting. (according to my tape measure its about 365mm tall, static and unsprung)
In terms of suspension performance, I’m pleased with the result. The bike holds a line in chunder, and adds significant confidence in rock gardens. Last weekend I did a run down the Follow the Leader trail, a local black diamond trail at Sandy Ridge, which has a number of big moves. The gnar begins with a sizable rock drop with a tight turn that follows it, a line I have been meaning to do for a while. Until this weekend, (on my trail bike) I’ve danced around it, taking the B-line. Coming up to it, I didn’t even hesitate and just charged the ‘enduro’ straight line. (it might have helped that there were two riders standing there scoping it out, haha) I also did the same on the rock gardens further down the trail, the additional level confidence from the ‘super Levo’ upgrade was substantial.
I am enjoying the additional capacity of the bike – I feel like I can pretty much charge any line, and while I haven’t yet tested the limits of the rear end with super harsh huck-to-bottoms outs due to lingering shoulder injuries, the bike rips down rough trail like a DH bike, and I find it easy to pilot in the air.
Are there drawbacks? With acoustic bikes, I’d argue the weight is a downside — however, the Turbo Levo is an eBike and I can’t tell the difference, and I don’t really care. While this upgrade might not make sense on a Levo SL, I look at the Turbo Levo as a DH bike experience on the trail. (should I have bought the Kenevo?) You could also argue that it doesn’t pump as well with extra travel. But again, I am riding this bike like a DH bike, which is a totally different experience than a trail bike, and while I have no issues hitting on my lines on roller doubles, it’s because I’m charging, and run my rebound fairly quick. (and know how to pump)
With this design, Cascade machined the two links that connect the seat stay to the seat tube and shock yoke as a single piece link, adding torsional resistance and protecting the rear shock from off-axis loads. When carving and ‘brapping’ bermed turns, the bike feels solid and planted. I run 32 – 35psi in the rear plus a Cushcore insert, and haven’t observed any flex, and I like to slap turns pretty aggressively at times.
Was it worth the investment? I think it takes the Turbo Levo to the next level, and everyone who’s thrown a leg over it has been suitably impressed.
Learn more at https://cascadecomponents.bike