The Specialized S-Works Turbo Kenevo SL works its magic in many different ways, but at the root of them all is its superb blend of stability and agility.
The new Specialized S-Works Turbo Kenevo SL proves the old adage that all good things come to those who wait. It feels like a lifetime ago that I first rode a Fazua-equipped Focus Raven2 hardtail and began to dream about how a similar level of assistance and weight could transform an enduro bike. With the Kenevo SL that fantasy has become a reality – a reality saturated in reverie.
Need to know
- Assisted version of Specialized’s popular and capable Enduro
- Gets the lightweight SL motor pumping out 240W with a 320Wh battery
- Complete bike weighs 18.8kg, splitting the difference between a Kenevo and an Enduro
- 170mm travel with 29in wheels and four frame sizes from S2 to S5
- Two model range starts at £8,750 with a frame-only at £6,500
- Range extender battery fits in the bottle cage and adds 160Wh
What are the ingredients of a perfect enduro bike? Long travel, big wheels and stable geometry for descending? Light weight, efficient pedalling and a comfortable seated position for uphill liaisons and mid-stage sprints? How about a motor for getting you to the top with less effort, so that you can save more energy for the descents? So far, so sign me up. But with powerful motors and large capacity batteries comes more flab, less agility and arguably less versatility – their punchy motors and 25kph speed limit optimised for shorter rides on steeper terrain, where you lap the same zone over and over again. So what if you could have an enduro bike that splits the difference, giving you a helping hand to fall back on up the climbs and none of the excess baggage of a full-fat model, so you could get as loose and creative as you want on the descents? If that sounds like the best of both worlds to you, then Specialized’s new Kenevo SL may just be the bike you’ve been waiting for. I know I have.
Firstly praise has to go to the Specialized engineering team who have done an amazing job packaging the battery and motor into this new Kenevo SL platform. It’s so subtle and seamless that the only real giveaway that this is not just a regular Enduro, is the TCU display on the top tube and the charging port on the seat tube. Other brands, notably Orbea with its lightweight Rise, have also managed this feat, but no one in my opinion has done as good a job as Specialized. If there’s one down side to this digital disguise, it’s that you can’t easily remove the battery out to charge the bike.
So we have an e-bike that, at five paces, looks exactly like its analogue cousin, but what about the weight? Well, our top-of-the-range S-Works model tipped the scales at 18.7kg in size S4, that’s 4.2kg more than the S-Works Enduro, and 5.97kg less than the S4 Turbo Kenevo Expert we tested last year. It also compares favourably with the Lapierre eZesty (18.9kg) and the Turbo Levo SL Expert (18.57kg) we had through the door recently.
If the new Kenevo SL splits the difference between analogue and electric in terms of weight, it occupies a similar middle ground in terms of power too. The Specialized 2.2 motor (made by Brose) found in the new Turbo Levo kicks out 565W max power and 90Nm of torque. Compare that to the 1.1 motor (made by Mahle) in the Kenevo SL and you have less than half the power (240W) and a lot less than half the torque (35Nm). And while it’s easy to throw around numbers, what that means in terms of ride feel will become most noticeable on steeper climbs; technical ascents you can just about clean on the Turbo Levo will overwhelm the Kenevo SL.
With less power being drawn from the motor, and less weight to get moving, the battery on the Kenevo SL can be significantly smaller, and therefore much lighter. We’re talking 320Wh versus the 700Wh found in the full-fat Turbo Levo and Kenevo, which translates into around a 2kg weight saving on its own. In terms of range, during testing half a battery in Trail mode would average out at 20km and 700m of climbing. And by managing the power levels conservatively, I’ve extracted over 80km and 1,800m of climbing from the same motor and battery on a Turbo Levo SL, so no reason why the Kenevo SL shouldn’t get close to that.
If that’s not enough, Specialized also offers its range extender – a thermos-sized battery pack with 160Wh of extra juice that fits in a standard bottle cage and effectively adds another 50 per cent to your ride. While integrated into the top tube is the new MasterMind TCU display that gives you even more control over power management. Not only does it boast an easy-to-read percentage for your battery remaining, you can also tweak the level of assistance in 10 per cent increments by selecting the MicroTune function.
Sizing and geometry
When we first tested the current Enduro we described it as “the most impressive long-travel 29er we’ve ridden”. The new Kenevo SL shares the same FACT 11M carbon frame and four-bar suspension design, with additional tension links driving a belly-mounted shock, as that acclaimed bike. Sure, the engineers have had to move things around a little to accommodate the extra height of the motor, but broadly speaking it shares similar end goals: lowering the centre of gravity; reducing side loading on the shock; managing anti-squat, ant-rise, progression and axle path. There is a down side however; because the shock pierces the seat tube, dropper post insertion is stingy. Our S4 test bike comes with a 170mm dropper post, but there was 30mm of fixed post sticking out of the frame when fully inserted. And at maximum extension the seat was too high for me. So if you’re of average height and want to ride an S4, you may need to ask your bike shop nicely to swap for a 150mm dropper.
It’s an issue that undermines Specialized’s democratically configured S size range, particularly if you’re 5ft 9in or shorter. Rather than giving riders the opportunity to up and down size according to riding style and terrain, it restricts you to whatever frame you can run with a decent length dropper post.
While your freedom to drop the saddle may be limited, the scope for adjusting the Kenevo SL’s geometry is generous. First introduced on the Stumpjumper Evo and carried across to the latest Turbo Levo, the new Kenevo SL gets angle adjust headset cups and Horst link flip chips. All told you can set it up in six different configurations, with three different head angles and two bottom bracket heights, while raising and lowering the BB also has an impact on the chainstay length, head angle and reach. And if that’s enough to make your head spin, Specialized should have a handy online geometry tool live by the time you read this that makes sense of it all. The claimed figures are pretty accurate too, as our S4 test bike was almost bang on the geo chart, save for the BB height, which was 12mm lower.
Specialized has rolled out the red carpet with the spec of the Kenevo SL S-Works. It’s dripping in finery, from the Factory-spec Kashima-coated Fox 38 fork and Float X2 shock to the wireless SRAM AXS drivetrain and dropper post. It also boasts carbon wheels, cranks and handlebars, a chunky Deity stem and mushroom grips, comfortable in-house saddle and concealed SWAT multi-tool in the head tube.
In a perfect world, I’d rather see some Maxxis tyres on there for security in the damp, but having said that, the Butcher/Eliminator tyre combo is definitely effective in dry conditions. And if it was my own bike, I’d prefer a slightly narrower 780mm bar, a slightly shorter 40mm stem and I’d probably switch to a 150mm dropper post to get the saddle further out of the way on descents.
How it rides
All good things come to those who wait, but it feels like a lifetime ago that I first dreamt about a lightweight enduro bike with a small, efficient motor. With the Kenevo SL that fantasy has become a reality – a reality saturated in reverie. Every turn, every jump, every drift, every burst of acceleration – and they come thick and fast – seems natural and familiar, yet somehow more intense and satisfying than either a pure analogue bike or a full power e-bike could deliver. It consistently inspired me to make more of an effort, then always gave me more back in return. Every joule of energy I invested turned to profit – more speed, more control, more engagement, more fun. I really don’t want to be this gushing about a push bike that costs twelve and a half sodding grand, but it’s everything I hoped for and more.
The Kenevo SL works its magic in many different ways, but behind the top hat and cape is a superb blend of stability and agility. This is a big bike. A really big bike, with a 1,284mm wheelbase and a 488mm reach, yet it never needs to be put into a headlock to change direction. Quite the opposite in fact; the Kenevo SL might be built like a breeze block, but it’s as malleable as putty.
Partly I put this down to the mass being low and central and partly because it puts you right at the heart of the bike – seated in the belly of the beast so to speak – giving total control over weighting the tyres and tuning the grip levels. Slam into a series of whoops, or a rocky gully, and the Kenevo SL chassis will remain rock-solid and level while the wheels flutter up and down, but push deep into the travel around a berm or rut and it would spring out into the next turn or down the following straight.
There’s a depth and delicacy to the suspension that’s pure five star luxury. Specialized has softened the progression of the spring curve compared to the Enduro – likely as a result of moving the shock to accommodate the motor – but adding in a jounce bumper (effectively a bottom-out bumper) to the Float X2 shock seems to do a great job of cushioning the end stroke. And this translates to a glider-like experience over rough terrain, yet it doesn’t fall like a stone when you want to load it up into a compression, lip or berm.
While the motor won’t win any drag races, and it certainly won’t get Turbo Levo customers giving up their power advantage, if you’re coming from an analogue experience, the SL’s power is transformative. This is an e-bike that blind taste tests like a regular enduro bike while also making you feel like you’ve taken a comprehensive jiffy bag of performance enhancing substances. And hands up, the Kenevo SL has already turned me into a junkie.