Specialized has a new Kenevo, a long-travel electric mountain bike designed for the gnarliest of downhills.
The 180mm travel, 650b wheeled aluminium-only bike has two models: Comp and Expert. The Expert gets a RockShox Boxxer dual crown fork, while the Comp gets a single crown Marzocchi Z1. Both models signal the bike’s somewhat aggressive intent.
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With such a brief, one might have imagined that the Kenevo’s form would mirror that of the new Enduro and Demo. However, this generation Kenevo looks like a mash-up of the current Levo and Stumpjumper Evo, and that’s no bad thing in our book.
The decision to follow the Stumpy’s design was driven by the need to get the shock and motor in the right place, because the new Enduro’s low-slung suspension design would have compromised the kinematic and axle path that Specialized wanted for the bike.
Specialized set its e-MTB experts in Switzerland the task of building the most capable e-MTB ever; one that’s faster in technical terrain, more confident through the rough and has a long range for epic rides.
The key design factor for tackling these challenges is geometry, which has jumped to Specialized’s S-sizing system – this enables riders to pick from as many lengths of bike as possible for a given rider height.
Specialized has also given the structure of the frame an overhaul, dropping chassis weight while adding capability.
The most obvious departure from the previous Kenevo is the use of the Sidearm design, seen on the Stumpy and Levo.
This, Specialized told us, is a more effective use of materials for strength and stiffness, and so translates well to the Kenevo which clearly has aggressive riding at its heart. Frame stiffness has increased from the previous version of the Kenevo.
The other change is the way the battery is held in the bike. As with the Levo, the battery (either 700Wh or 500Wh, model-dependent) is slotted into the down tube, and slides out of the bottom of the tube rather than ‘falling’ out of the underside of the tube.
This keeps the down tube as a cylindrical unit, which is a more efficient structure than an open-bottomed one and allows for thinner walled tubing to be used.
Furthermore, the forged motor mount has been dropped. Now, the motor is held snugly in a bracket that is formed by two pressed aluminium plates that are welded together. This is an easier structure for Specialized to manufacture and it is also lighter. Combining this and the new down tube together saves a claimed kilo of chassis weight.
The actual mechanical guts of the Kenevo – the motor, battery, controller and remote – are the same as the Levo. While the previous Kenevo had its Turbo Connect system on the side of the down tube, this is now on the top of the top tube for easier access, and displays the power mode and battery level.
The bike also comes with a bar-mounted remote for easy mode adjustment, and there is a display available too aftermarket.
As with the rest of Specialized’s e-MTB family, the Kenevo is fully connectable to computers and apps for maximum tuneability. This means tuneability via the Mission Control app and data displays on Garmin devices.
The other neat feature of the Mission Control app is the Smart Control functionality. This enables the user to set the duration or distance of the ride, and lets the app decide the power assistance level.
Kenevo, not Levo
While the aesthetics are similar and the motor the same, there are a number of significant differences from the Levo, most notably the use of the RockShox Boxxer and Marzocchi Z1 forks up front and coil shocks at the back.
These features have given the Kenevo nicely progressive suspension kinematics in order to allow for the use of the coil shocks. However, the changes in geometry are arguably more subtle.
Reach figures are around 40mm longer, the head angle a couple of degrees slacker (64 degrees), and the seat angle around two degrees steeper at 77 degrees.
The use of S-sizing means that a wider number of riders will be able to ride a particular size bike. This is thanks to shorter seat tubes and head tubes, which means that the height of the bike is more independent from the length.
If you like ‘long’ bikes, you should be able to get one with nicely stretched reaches without the seat tube compromising seat height. If you like a shorter bike, you should be able to run a long dropper without reaching the post’s insertion limits.
Specialized has added a geometry adjust chip in the linkage, steepening angles by around half a degree and adding 6 to 8mm of height at the bottom bracket. The bike is shipped in its lowest position.
Specialized has also worked to get the suspension’s leverage curve and axle path to be as close to the new Enduro’s as possible, which is as rearward as possible early in the stroke.
This helps the rear wheel get up and over bumps more smoothly because the wheel isn’t being forced into the face of the obstacle. This, in turn, makes the ride smoother, allowing more momentum to be carried and ultimately a faster ride.
Given the range of conditions the Kenevo might be ridden in, Specialized has given the bike plenty of mud clearance for the rear tyre.
With the rise of 29in wheels in Enduro and DH, we were surprised that the Kenevo has stuck to smaller wheels. The reason, Specialized says, is that the design of the Brose motor requires longer chainstays and higher pivots.
In order to keep the back-end relatively short, Specialized opted for the smaller diameter wheels. It also mentioned that it has been thinking about ‘mullet’ bikes – such as have been seen on a number of recent e-MTBs – but decided against it at this point.
Specialized’s new motor
The new motor (also found on the Turbo Levo) is called the 2.1 and replaces the 1.3. It is 15 per cent smaller than the previous version and 400g lighter too, thanks to a magnesium motor housing.
Specialized has also boosted the motor’s performance, with up to 410 per cent power assistance. (The watts you put in are multiplied to the cranks by up to 410 per cent, up to 560w peak output. It still conforms to the 250w Continual Power Output legal limits, of course). This is an increase on the 380 per cent offered by the 1.3. The motor gives up to 90Nm of torque, which, in use, we feel is a better indicator of how ‘assistive’ a motor can be. 90Nm is certainly higher than most.
Two batteries are offered, with the Expert getting a 700Wh version and the Comp a 500Wh battery. The Comp will take the 700Wh battery should you wish to upgrade.
The top-line Expert level build gets that dual crown RockShox Boxxer fork up front, set to 180mm of travel. While there are a number of e-DH bikes around, the Kenevo is still classed as an Enduro bike, so it was a surprise to see this plugged in up front.
Save for some liveability ‘issues’ (you can’t turn the bars 90 degrees for storage, for example) the fork seems to make sense.
With a chunk of weight behind you, and with the aggressive riding the Kenevo is intended for, a DH spec fork starts to make sense, especially because there is a motor on there to help assist when getting up the hills.
The other spec ‘surprise’ was the use of SRAM’s 11-speed drivetrain. Specialized says it made this spec choice because the NX Eagle cassette (the only 12-speed cassette rated for e-bikes from SRAM) is fairly heavy. While you might not imagine it, the Kenevo is fairly competitively weighted, and Specialized wanted to save weight in areas where this was possible.
In terms of weight, Specialized says that the overall bike weight hasn’t increased, but strength, stiffness and ‘aggro-ness’ has. The Expert will reportedly come in at 24.6kg and the Comp at 23.6kg.
Specialized Kenevo 2020 models
Two models will be offered, though we don’t have full details of their builds yet. The Kenevo Expert will cost £6,999 in the UK and $8,225 in the US, while the Comp will come in at £4,999 / $5,525.
Specialized Kenevo Expert first ride impressions
I rode the Kenevo Expert for around four hours on unfamiliar bike-park trails, so these first ride impressions are relatively brief. I hope to get hold of the bike in the UK for more extensive testing soon.
There’s little doubt in my mind that the new motor from Specialized/Brose is one of the front-runners these days; it’s smooth, quiet, torquey and powerful.
The feed-in of power is predictable and reliable, meaning that there is ample opportunity to tackle technical climbs without occasionally and accidentally lugging a heavy bike up features when the motor cuts out while ratcheting the pedals.
There is still some power delivery after you stop pedalling, which can be a big help on technical sections.
The geometry of the bike suits tech climbs too, with weight nicely centred between the wheels and plenty of room to move around the bike. The steep seat angle is a bonus too, putting your hips nicely over the bottom bracket.
This sense of spaciousness has a similar effect on the descents. It’s a confident bike, as you might expect, with a long reach, slack head angle and (in the conditions I rode them, at least) grippy tyres. While it’s not quite a DH bike, on the steep, loose, rough track I was lapping, the bike certainly was not the object holding me back.
Fitting the Boxxer up front seems to have paid off. The fork is stiff, wonderfully controlled and confidence-inspiring up front. This was particularly noticeable on off-camber sections of trail, where the front wheel tracked perfectly in the direction I pointed it.
Likewise, when things got super rough, the steadfast nature of the fork meant the bike simply didn’t want to get knocked off line. Whether, with limited storage space, I’d really like to live with the Boxxer is another matter, because not being able to turn the fork or bars 90 degrees makes life a hassle.
Out back, as I’ve come to expect, the four-bar suspension simply got on with things.
The coil shock gave the bike plenty of smoothness thanks to low inherent friction, and the linkage itself seemed progressive enough to avoid harsh bottom outs on bigger hits.
There is plenty of control on offer. If you really wanted to ride it without assistance it would likely be a bit of heft to get it around, but that’s far from what it’s designed to do.