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E-MTB

First Ride: Specialized Kenevo SL

An e-bike that's as much about your power as it is about its own.

Basics

-Lightweight-style ebike designed to ride more like a traditional non-powered bike
-170mm front and rear travel
-29-inch wheels
-42 pounds


Pros

-Very light for what it is
-Handles much like a normal bike
-Smooth power delivery

Cons

-Really expensive
-Loud motor


When many of us hear the words “Specialized Kenevo” we think about one of the biggest, burliest ebikes there is. We think of a dual-crown fork, a coil shock and lots and lots of travel. A heavy-ass monstrosity of a thing. A fun, heavy monstrosity of a thing, but you know—still quite big and bulky and a very lot of bike.

That’s why I was a bit confused when Specialized said they’d be releasing an SL version of the Kenevo, just like they’d already done with the Levo, an e-bike based on the venerable Stumpjumper trail-bike platform. The Levo SL was among the first of an emerging category of lower-power, lighter-weight e-bikes designed to bridge the gap between the full-power e-experience and unassisted riding. It made sense for the Stumpy platform, but would a lightweight big bike be appealing? Before I rode the Kenevo SL, I would have edged toward no. Big bikes deserve big power, I thought. What would a lightweight Kenevo even look like? 

It turns out that it looks exactly like an Enduro, and rides like one, too. And it also turns out that my assumptions were completely wrong. A lightweight big bike can be astonishingly fun. Especially one designed around an already astonishingly fun analog bike. I mean, just take a look at this thing and try convincing yourself, honestly, that it doesn’t look like a bucket full of smiles. It’s literally an Enduro with some help. Help that will have you climbing a full-on 170mm-travel 29er faster than some spindly, harsh little XC whip, and then give you the power to devour descents like the bike it’s designed around. That holy grail of bikes—the one that climbs like a little bike but descends like a big one—this could be the closest thing the bike industry has come to it.

Because—although it is very much an e-bike—when it comes down to it, the Kenevo SL behaves more like an Enduro than a Levo. It’s almost 10 pounds lighter than the Levo, after all, and it only has 240 watts of power and 35nm torque compared to Levo’s 565 watts and 90nm of torque. While the Levo will essentially tow you up very steep climbs if you want it to, the Kenevo SL will not. You have to try harder than you would on a full-power ebike, but there’s still more than enough power to motivate riders to attack climbs they’d typically avoid.

And, while I say in the video at the top of this post that I’d like to see slightly more power, that might just be impractical, and more importantly, missing the point. More power means more energy consumption, which means the need for more battery capacity, which means more weight. The Kenevo SL as-is, is a pretty amazing blend of low weight, usable power and range. That must be a tricky balance to strike, and I think the bike has landed in a great spot. More power output is probably a pipe dream for now.

The Kenevo SL is made to appeal to e-curious riders, or those who are drawn to the idea of extending the ride while preserving as much of the acoustic experience as possible. I was skeptical of the Kenevo SL at first, but after some getting-to-know-you time, I’m pretty smitten. It forces me to try harder on the climbs, but still provides plenty of boost for big, extended rides. I’m just over 200 pounds and I’ve been able to get several thousand feet of climbing in on a single charge. Add the range extender (it comes with the S-Works version) and I can stay out all day and get a killer workout along the way. But it won’t come without a pretty steep cost—the Kenevo SL S-Works we rode retails for $15,000, although for a little more than half of that ($8,500) you can buy a frameset, a fairly rare offering still in the e-bike world. There’s also an Expert model for $11,000, which is equipped with a SRAM X01 drivetrain, instead of the XX1 AXS on the S-Works version and Fox Performance suspension instead of Factory, as well as an aluminum handlebar and rims.

For a lot more info, the rest of my impressions, and footage of the Kenevo SL in action, check out the video above. And for all the other details hit up Specialized’s website, where you can find all the info on the Kenevo SL, along with a really clever geometry calculator that provides perspective on the bike’s hugely adjustable geometry.

 

Video: Satchel Cronk
Photos: Anthony Smith