First Ride Review : Pete’s Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert.

Pete has been finding out how the blend between a Specialized Enduro and their SL ebike system works on the trail in the new Kenevo SL.

A Specialized Enduro is quite the machine, but what happens when you adapt it to fit the SL ebike system? How does a 170mm 29er go out on the trail when it’s got a 35Nm motor and a 320Wh battery? Pete gives his first impressions.

Photos by Pete Scullion.

Key features:

  • Fox Float 38 Performance Elite Grip2 170mm fork
  • Fox Float X Performance shock
  • Specialized SL 1.1 motor
  • Specialized SL1 320Wh battery
  • SRAM XO1 Eagle 12-speed drive
  • SRAM Code RS brakes
  • Traverse 29 wheels
  • X Fusion Manic dropper
  • £8,750.00 RRP
  • Specialized.com

When you think Kenevo SL, don’t think of it as a lighter weight Kenevo, more an Enduro with a motor. The two bikes are very different indeed. The Kenevo SL, has the 6-bar linkage providing 170mm rear wheel travel but the arrangement of the links has been tweaked to get the SL motor fitted. A full FACT 11mm carbon frame helps keep the weight down and houses the integral Specialized 320Wh motor within the downtube.

While it may currently be the lowest spec Kenevo SL available, it’s far from low spec, or low price. £8,750.00 is the asking price, and for that you get your full carbon fibre frame, complete with the SL 1.1 motor and 320Wh battery, Fox Performance Elite GRIP2 38s and a Performance Float X2 shock, drive train is handled by SRAM’s GX Eagle 12-speed setup, alongside their Code RS brakes with whopping 220mm rotors.

The Kenevo SL rolls on the recently-released alloy Roval Traverse 29 numbers, shod with the venerable Butcher tyres, T9 on the front and T7 on the back. An X Fusion Manic dropper deals with the seat height, and a Specialized alloy cockpit and saddle combo rounds things out.

Geometry

The Kenevo is, like the Stumpjumper EVO, at the modern end of Specialized’s geometry charts. Much like it’s smaller brother, comes with the flip chip and headset cup adjusters to fine tune the bike to your preferences. In the fully down and locked position, the Kenevo SL is well into downhill bike numbers, with a head angle at 62.5 degrees in its slackest and lowest.

Reach on the S3 size is 460mm and is likely about as long as I can manage at all of five foot four.

A 420mm seat tube sits at 76.2 degrees to help you keep the weight forward on the climbs. Courtesy of the smaller motor, the chain stay is a not ridiculous 447mm, static at that length across the sizes. Wheelbase is 1269mm.

Opening moves

Initial impressions of the Kenevo SL is that it is a lot of bike. It has been a while since I rode a bike with this much travel on a 29er platform and certainly even longer since I rode one with a 62.5 degree head angle. The car park test felt slow and sluggish as a result, so I wasted no time in dialling in sag and rebound, then clipping the 800mm bars to something more suitable for me, before going after some serious terrain.

Two things became immediately apparent on the opening climb. Firstly, that this feels more like a normal bike than any other ebike I’ve ridden, and far more so than the Scott Ransom eRide 910 I rode over the winter. On technical climbs the bike allows far more weight shifts and minor corrections, mostly due to the lower weight, rather than having to rely on the brute force of the motor.

Dorado

The second thing was that with the bike in the down and locked setting (head angle fully slack and flip chip in low), the bottom bracket is low. Very low. It became apparent that I’d need to consider my timing of pedals when things got a little more technical on the ups, and hop the back wheel up and over things rather than powering over them. I suspect flipping the chip into ‘High’ will give the cranks a wee bit more room.

Happy enough to ride the bike as it came, bar the handlebar and the suspension tweaks, the usual suspects of the steep trails in the woods behind the house were dispatched in their usual fashion. The tight and twisty trails didn’t seem to be an issue, something some bigger biks struggle with. Cycling through the power settings with no app intervention as yet, found me opting for ‘Trail’ for the duration. The SL 1.1 motor has more noticeable drag than the other ebike motors I’ve used, and found Eco to not offer much in the way of usable power in its factory setting. I’m sure it uses little battery as a result.

‘Turbo’ even in the 35Nm max setting felt a little overzealous in its application, again, something that can be fine tuned. ‘Trail’ is, as with most ebike motors, sufficient for almost any given situation, maybe with the odd blip into ‘Turbo’ for anything that demanded it. A local Munro ride saw me only use 39% of the battery on the way to the 1200m+ summit, so despite the elevation, and decent quantity of riding involved, I was surprised to have so much juice left in the tank.

After the first few runs, I opted to whip the tokens out of the Fox 38 forks, finding them ramping up a little too much, but the Performance Elite adjustments letting me get them where I wanted them. The 6-bar linkage works wonders at swallowing up all manner of hits, especially the square-edged efforts, shrugging them off like they’re not there. The only downside to the way the rear suspension operates is the Float Performance X2 air unit lacks high speed rebound adjustment and I fear it might be a touch on the slow side, making it over-worked on repeated hits.

Things I absolutely cannot fault include anything on this bike with a SRAM logo. Gear shifts have been crisp and on the money every time. Code brakes have been faultless on every bike I’ve ridden recently and I’m a fan of how they go about slowing a bike down but good lord, when combined with a 220mm rotor they are quite the anchors. Specialized have placed their control unit in the top tube, meaning anything on the bar is just for switching modes on the motor, and the one fitted to the Kenevo barely clears the grip collar, meaning it’s out of the way on the trail or when flipping it upside down to get the front wheel out.

I suspect the 35mm bars are a little too stiff for my liking, as I had some hefty hand fatigue coming down the aforementioned Munro, but this is not an issue unique to the Kenevo. I have some comfy 31.8mm bars handy that will remedy that situation. Ebikes also tend to highlight any tyre inadequacies too, and while the front Butcher does the job, the rear feels overwhelmed by both the mass of the bike and the superlative nature of the brakes. I have some stickier tyres to test, so they may both go for something more capable in the near future.

What do we think?

The positive certainly outweighs the negatives with the Kenevo SL, and it’s certainly made me warm to the idea of riding an ebike on the regular. I’ll be honest and say that ebikes haven’t been for me, mostly due to their weight and few I have ridden have changed that any. The lighter motor and battery doesn’t feel like a compromise for me either.

I feel, certainly on the descents, that I can get the Kenevo SL to do what I want to do, rather than just resigning myself to the fact that I’ll just have to point, shoot and plough like on other ebikes. The components have, for the most part shown themselves truly capable, and anything lacking looks to be easily changed, and mostly due to personal preference.

We love:

  • Trail-swallowing suspension
  • Useful range
  • Rides more like a regular bike
  • Those brakes
  • 62.5 degree head angle

Could do better:

  • Rear tyre feels overwhelmed

You can check out the Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL range here.