Tested : Pete’s Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert Review.

How does Specialized’s SL ebike concept translate to the long travel Turbo Kenevo SL and what’s it like to live with as a daily driver?

Pete has spent the summer hammering the Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert around the Scottish mountains to see what it can do.

Video and riding stills by Pete Archer.

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

Last time I check in with my First Look Review on the Kenevo SL, things were, on the whole, very positive. I’d yet to be convinced by the Butchers’ ability to grip the ground, the lack of separate rebound adjustment leading to the shock packing up, and the 35mm bars being a touch on the stiff side.

Well, since then I swapped the Butchers out for a set of Vee Tire Co.’s Attack HPL tyres which changed the dynamic of the bike wholesale. While the front Butcher was adequate, the rear was locked whenever I went anywhere near the back brake. Traction has gone through the roof even if the bike rolls a touch slower as a result.

With the mechanical grip part of the equation sorted, I went to wind open the rebound on the rear shock to see if it would solve the problem. Lo and behold, the low speed adjuster did both high and low speed simultaneously. Sorted. I sped the forks up a few clicks to match and the difference was really quite something. A shock that rebounded fast enough let the 6-bar link sing, and a few days in the Highlands racking up some serious miles showed that the rear wheel won’t be permitted to hang up on anything. Even if you try…

The combination of vastly increased grip and suspension working as intended led to me really starting to spool the turbos on the Kenevo SL. So much room in the cockpit to move, so much grip on offer and so much confidence in the brakes to bring me to a halt led to hitting turns brakeless, feet up… This would see me either ride like a hero or get far too excited and run out talent. The low BB is less of an issue now that I have gotten used to it, but I do still have to pay attention to where my feet are at all times.

My hands still aren’t too happy with amount of front end stiffness, so bars with a little bit more give will need to replace the current set as I can’t as easily make the 38s any flexier. This is now one of two fairly minor changes needed to make the Kenevo really be (for me) a true mountain killer.

If I was going to buy a Kenevo SL, I’d likely go for an S2. The roomy 460mm reach on the S3 is amazing, but the seat tube, pierced by the shock, means that a 150mm dropper sits too high out of the post for my short legs, and a 125mm might not solve the issue on this bike. Even with the saddle slammed, on the steeps, my butt is getting caught by the saddle, which is quite disconcerting.

My comments regards the motor drag in my First Look need some clarification… With the TCU turned on to use the motor, in the ‘Off’ mode, you’ve still to overcome the motor drag, and I think in the base setting, Eco only just does enough to overcome the drag. The trade-off is the range you get as a result. If you turn the TCU off entirely, however, it rides like a normal bike, albeit a heavy one. I have been descending with the TCU off so as not to get caught out by a stab of the pedals out of a turn shoving me into the undergrowth.

Climbs and traverses on the Kenevo SL feel very different to your full fat ebikes, which allow you to smash along in whatever gear you like with the 85/90Nm torque dealing with it. This is not so much the case on the Kenevo SL. I’d liken it to driving a fairly low-powered car, mostly that you’ll rinse the tank and get nowhere fast with the revs below idle. The clutch may also come leaping through the bonnet… You certainly need to pick your gears more carefully on the Kenevo SL, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded with impressive range and a decent amount of help along the way.

Six hours in the Highlands saw me only down to 69% battery, proving that a lighter system weight and lower output can get you just as far on a smaller battery. There was a decent dollop of hike-a-bike in these rides but there was still plenty of pedalling. Range extenders are available that increase the capacity by 50% to 480Wh. You’d be getting some serious time in some serious terrain with the extra juice…

Any fears about the range of the standard setup were quashed with a 33 mile, 5000ft elevation day, that while done mostly on Eco or Trail, saw me roll back to the front door with 7% battery remaining. Some faster tyres might see it use less of the juice in the tank, but I’ll go for grip over rolling any day of the week.

So far a single puncture is the only issue with the Kenevo SL, although the SRAM Code brakes do seem to need to be realigned on almost every ride. Sticky pistons perhaps? They have been otherwise faultless when they do run smooth.

What do we think?

A few tweaks have brought the Kenevo SL into its own. If you have the talent, it will take you off-road faster than you have ever been before, shrugging off square-edged hits with ease. Ride it badly and it will be your get out of jail free card. Ride it well and you’ll be going faster than you know what to do with pretty quickly.

The Kenevo SL, and likely it’s other SL brethren, might not be featherweights by any accounts, but they do offer a sensible bridge for riders that want to put the effort in and maybe a bit sceptical about your full fat ebikes. They do definitely allow you to ride more like a conventional bike rather that just having to reluctantly accept that ploughing is the only option.

We love:

  • Easily the best rear suspension I’ve experienced
  • Geometry tuned for high speed and big hills
  • Those anchors
  • Impressive range

Could do better:

  • Trail casing Butchers just not up to the task

You can check out the Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert on their website here.