We think E-MTBs best suit long-travel designs - and Specialized have shown they do to with the new Specialized Kenevo!
Ask anyone to list the things that are fun with mountain biking and the chances are they will come up with something like the following:
- going downhill
- riding with my mates
- riding new trails
- going fast
Some people might add others, but usually climbing, or waiting for shuttles doesn't make the list of what is the most fun when riding. And that's exactly why with the increase of pedal-assist bikes, or E-MTBs, the growth is happenning in longer travel bikes. You're never going to make a lightweight XC E-MTB, but a 150mm (or more) travel bike that is built for charging descents and helping you get back up to save on waiting for the shuttle? Now that sounds good.
Specialized have had high praise for their Levo Turbo FSR, and in 2018 it's coming in carbon with longer travel forks and a new motor tune. But with 150mm out front and 135mm out the back, some people felt that the updated 2018 model still lacked some beef.
Here comes the Specialized Kenevo
To answer that, Specialized have just released the 180mm travel (front and rear) Kenevo. The alloy-framed behemouth coule be compared to an alloy Specialized Enduro with their new 1.3 motor in it - but the ride experience is all together different thanks to the pedal-assist and low slung central mass.
The bike has similar lines to the Enduro with the main frame, and the suspension kinematics are also similar, however the Kenevo runs on an Ohlin coil shock for a super plush stroke.
The Kenevo is based on Specialized's 6Fattie wheel sizing, coming specced with 27.5" x 2.8" tyres for buckets of grip. Unlike the green machine above the colour we will be seeing in Australia will be matte black with gloss logos.
The Kenevo has been designed like the Levo Turbo was, to ride just like a normal mountain bike within it's designation. Thankfully, Specialized gave us the opportunity to find out.
First ride on the Specialized Kenevo
Throwing a leg over the Kenevo I expected it to feel like putting a leg over a motor bike. I mean, 250W of power on top of what I can produce, plus 180mm travel and slack geometry - what would you expect?
The reality was a bike that rode out of the carpark like a 140-150mm travel bike, with plenty of pop and a lively feeling - even on the flat. I expected something sluggish but that wasn't apparent at all.
Just like the Levo, the pedal-assist is activiated by a switch on the left, so you can move between Eco, Trail and Turbo - plus there is walk assist when it's just too steep to ride up. As it's the same motor, the control is the same via the Mission Control App too - set how you want the motor to react, or bring the power limit down if you want. It's your call - it is highly customisable.
The Kenevo made climbing trails a cinch, and accelerating out of corners was heaps of fun. But anyone suspecting that it's all just electronic boost would be wrong. E-MTBs like the Kenevo are pedal-assist. Put in more and they give you more. So while riding with a crew on Kenevos and Levos we were chasing each other up, down and along the trails, getting ragged breathing and basically having a ton of fun on bikes.
The real fun is the down - as stated in the beginning. The Kenevo is quick to get up to speed, which is the bonus of being pedal assist, then handles as you'd expect. It is planted with the 2.8" rubber finding traction almost anywhere and the not inconsiderable weight making sure it sticks to the ground. That said, it really does handle like a shorter travel bike and popping it off features isn't what you'd expect.
The Kenevo has SRAM NX 11-speed, which has single shift shifting. This is such a good move for pedal-assist bikes as it limits the load you can put on a chain when shifting. Punching through lots of gears with an extra 250W going through the drivetrain doesn't treat chains and cassettes kindly. This alone will help prolong the life of your chain. SRAM have an EX-1 one group set that is 8-speed Eagle 10-50, with a cassette made from tool-grade steel. But Specialized have opted to keep drivetrain clearance with the ground better for a bike like this, and don't feel the wider range is necessary. I certainly agree on both counts.
The only time I found constraints was in longer, flatter rock gardens. The times where you can't easily get a pedal stroke in, but you need to keep moving or change lines. I found as the bike is well over 20kg shifting lines once at low speed was hard (for me anyway) and getting a pedal stroke in to power out was hard too in the rock garden, despiet shorter cranks. I have a feeling this was a pretty specific niggle in some of the near-flat rock gardens in the You Yangs, but it was noticeable on both the Levo and Kenevo.
So why should you look at the Kenevo?
Specialized aren't bringing many of these into Australia. So if you want a hard-hitting bike that doesn't rely on shuttles or the legs and lungs of an elite XCO racer, you should be pretty keen. Most popular trails that have a shuttle service from outfitters also have a pretty big line. That's fine, banter in a shuttle or lift line up is fun. But me, I like riding my bike. If you want to get more riding in, and have more time on your bike, then pedal-assist bikes make sense. And if you want to ride progressive trails and big lines, and aren't doing it somewhere with assistance to get back up the hill - then the Kenevo has your name all over it.
Like I said, these are going to be pretty limited. Get in touch with your local Specialized dealer about pricing, spec and availability. If you're lucky, they might even have one of the hanful of demo bikes available.