PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Specialized S-Works Kenevo SL
Words by Matt Beer, photography by Tom Richards
What do you get when you mix Specialized’s popular Enduro and full powered Turbo Kenevo eMTB together? The Kenevo SL - the first long travel, "Super Light" e-bike from the big S. The sub-20 kg system has a smaller motor and is dripping in carbon weave. At first glance, it’s difficult to tell that this is even an eMTB at all. The appearance is nearly identical to the Enduro, with the same 6-bar Horst Link suspension design and round, traditional-sized downtube, which houses the same motor and battery as the shorter travel Levo SL.
The Kenevo SL is a niche bike for a number of reasons. The S-Works model on test has some of the fanciest components on the market; 170 mm of travel front and rear from Fox Factory suspension, Roval Traverse SL carbon handlebars and 29” wheels, Praxis M30 carbon cranks, wireless SRAM XX1 AXS dropper post and shifting, and is finished with a splash of oil slick bits.
Specialized S-Works Kenevo SL
• Travel: 170 mm front / 170 mm rear
• Wheel size: 29”
• Hub spacing: 148 mm
• Head angle: 63.5° (neutral headset cup, low BB)
• Seat tube angle: 76°
• Reach: 485 mm (S4)
• Chainstay length: 447 mm
• Sizes: S2, S3, S4, S5
• Weight: 20.23 kg / 44.62 lb (w/ control tires
& 1.09 kg / 2.41 lb add-on battery)
• Price: $15,000 USD
A jaw-dropping price tag of $15,000 might make it challenging to find riding partners on an equal platform, mind you. I can hear the comments section exploding again, but you do have to appreciate all the innovations Specialized has packaged into the S-Works Kenevo SL. There are two lower price point models that still hover around 10 large, the Expert and Comp for $11,000 and $9,000, respectively. If you’re looking to try and outdo the S-Works build, you can get the frame, motor, battery, cranks, and a Float X2 for a measly $8,500 USD.
When swinging a leg over this bike, you immediately notice the new Mastermind display molded into the top tube and an absence of dangling cables, another reason why it doesn’t feel like a true eMTB. The mode selector buttons do require a bit firmer press than those found on the Shimano controller and are a touch smaller. I did have to add a single band clamp on the new style AXS shifter. Matchmaker clamps minimize bar clutter, but I couldn't position the buttons far enough inboard to clear my thumb when the brake lever was in the perfect position.
Of all the latest and greatest gizmos featured here, it’s sometimes the simple things that make you most happy. Having that tiny SWAT multi-tool at our fingertips was extremely convenient and can be installed on any bike.
Ok, but all of those components are found on non-assist bikes - what about that SL motor and battery? It sure is sleek, and the additional battery can suit two different ride plans, but the impressive weight doesn’t deliver the same power as most other e-bikes. The 240-watt unit uses different internals from its bigger sibling, producing a higher pitch when the motor is activated.
While you’ll have no problem keeping up with other riders on non-assist bikes without breaking a sweat, it won’t stay in touch with the power a regular style e-bike will churn out. However, the distances covered can be on par with those more powerful bikes when the Range Extender battery pack is placed in the water bottle cage and connected on the non-drive side. Adding just over 1 kg, the 160 Wh extender adds 50% battery capacity to the integrated 320 Wh battery.
The Kenevo SL gets updates like an adjustable chainstay length and head angle, allowing for an MX wheel configuration and tons of geometry tweaking. There are no individual travel or kinematic mounts to play with, and that’s not really necessary with that Fox Float X2 rear shock. Between the high and low speed rebound and compression adjustments, plus the air volume and pressures to play with, the possibilities are endless.
Specialized does have a user-friendly geometry guide on tap if you visit their website and plug in your riding style and terrain. They also use their S-sizing, but trim the size spectrum from six to four frame dimensions. That leaves the smallest S2 frame with a 435 mm reach and 510 on the largest S5, fitting riders from 158 cm to 193 in height. The reach of the tested S4 size landed at 485 mm in the neutral head angle position of 63.5º and low BB setting, yielding a 447 mm chainstay length. I did find I needed to slide the seat forward more on the rails to compensate for the 76º seat tube angle than some of the other bikes, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.Climbing
Let’s set things straight again. The Kenevo SL uses a 240 W motor with 35 Nm of torque, which is about half the torque on a typical eMTB, so we know it’s not going to rocket up a road climb or tackle moto-trials uphills in the same manner as its full power siblings. What it will do, is help you get up those savage gravel grinds more easily. You know, the ones that require some Wim Hof breathing and mental fortitude? To put things into perspective, pedalling up a typical service road, I was in Turbo mode on the Kenevo SL sweating in the afternoon sun, while Henry was casually spinning the cranks on the Norco Range VLT set to Eco mode and was able to keep blurting out his comical British phrases.
On the trail, the Kenevo resembled a non-motorized bike in a pleasant way. I was able to lunge up and over steps much easier on this bike with less of a raw power approach. The motor assistance engaged more gently than the Shimano, but didn’t drop the power immediately. Maybe this was due to the lower power assist, but either way, finding the right gear to spin optimally at the recommended 75 RPM and hold traction didn't require the same calculations and wasn’t as jumpy as the full powered beasts.
Similarly to the Range VLT, the wheelbase requires some heads up riding to pick through technical terrain, but to a lesser degree due to lower speeds. There is an interesting spec change from the two smaller sizes to the larger S4 and S5 - the crank length bumps up from 165mm to 170. The 25 mm bottom bracket drop bodes well for descending, but even with that lower torque motor, I found the ability to spin more advantageous than quick, ratcheting moves that would kill any traction on climbs. Constant power and short cranks for the win. That climb switch is in a reasonable position to reach through singletrack, but unless you’re on a surfaced climb, you’ll get the most grip with it open.
Is this the same frame as an Enduro with a tiny motor bolt onto it? Definitely not. Specialized go into detail about how the frame has been tuned to deal with the higher loads and stress points that the motor and hardware create. However, it was hard to pinpoint whether it was the wheels or the rear triangle, but there wasn’t as much forgiveness over off-camber chop or brake bumped corners. Too little flex wasn’t necessarily the culprit. With more time, it would be worth trying a different wheelset to sort out the vibration and feedback.
On the first lap, I was digging the soothing feeling that the motor and battery lent to the handling. The extra weight was so low on the frame, it was easier to tip into corners and kept the bike tracking straight and planted on repetitive square edge impacts.
Unlike some other eMTBs, those successive hits were managed more effectively by the Kenevo’s brilliant leverage curve and also the lighter weight powerplant. I never felt like I was riding a rocking horse. With that 6-bar layout comes a rearward axle path at the start of the travel that reminded me somewhat of the effectiveness of a high pivot system, but with more familiar and exciting character. No wonder it felt so calm on the high speed tracks though; a 1298 mm wheelbase is a lot of real estate between the axles, but that can be changed for quicker handling geometry if your local tracks are less intense. Direction changes and braking zones are still easier to manage than a full powered eMTB. On seriously steep and demanding tracks, I think the Kenevo SL could give some downhill bikes a run for their money.
Inside the 6-bar linkage, the heart of the beast, is the Float X2 shock. The initial shock setup was a breeze and I quickly found a sweet spot at 210 psi. Near the pivot of the tension links, connecting the seat and chainstays, lies the high speed rebound adjuster. Access to this red dial does require a small pick, but once set, I didn't find the need to change it as much as the low speed rebound. The two stock air volume spacers worked well, but a third would have alleviated the definitive end of stroke to something a little more subtle on the worst compressions.
After all of those torturous laps, I was sure something would have rattled loose, but every bit of hardware remained securely in place. A simple rubber strap stretched around the Range Extender and bottle cage added a second level of security to keep things in locked down. I was a little unsure about the weight of the extender flexing the Zee Cage, but it didn't budge or show signs of cracking.
There were a couple things that I didn’t expect from the Kenevo. I quickly learned that descending on technical terrain with the motor assist off is a wise choice. Some mobility in your ankles or unsuspected movement from the cranks can result in a short burst of power when you’re least expecting it.
What I originally thought was a quiet bike on the shakedown lap started to wither away. A perceived clunk from the center of the bike had me chasing non-existent loose bolts and possible play in the linkage or shock mounts with no findings. Further into the testing, this knock persisted and I noticed that it only occurred when the motor wasn't engaged. A quick spin of the crank arm emitted that same sound, similar to the Shimano EP8 motor. After a chat with Specialized, I learned that this is unavoidable due to the engagement of the clutch; something common in all the bike we tested this time around. Huck to Failure
During our "Huck to Flat" that we all love watching the merciless bikes being put through, we did experience a failure from the Praxis Carbon M30 crank. We reached out to Praxis to find out what might have caused the failure.
Where does that leave our thoughts about the Kenevo SL then? It's the production hyper-car of the mountain bike world - not totally perfect, but pushing the industry boundaries. Other SL eMTBs are growing the sub-genre. Cost aside, at what point do you still lean towards a non-assisted bike as these SL versions creep down in weight?
In terms of ride impressions, with the right route planning, you’ll be able to tackle those devastating climbs, and more, just faster - “Monster rides'' as Specialized calls them. The Kenevo SL's huge advantages of low weight and descending capabilities could even win over some traditionalist mountain bikers. The retail figures and bike category certainly won't appeal to everyone out there, but for those that have the cash and particular needs, the Kenevo SL ticks all the right boxes.