Testing the 180mm DH eBike, the Turbo Kenevo Expert from Specialized.
Words: Ryan Walsch Photos: Nick Waygood
The Turbo Kenevo Expert is Specialized’s top of two alloy eMTB models packing more travel and more battery than just about anything else available. Boasting 40% more battery capacity than its predecessor, Specialized is correct in stating chairlifts and shuttles are no longer a necessity on a DH bike.
Currently the Turbo Kenevo is pushing into uncharted territory and what I suspect will become far more common than we think. With a motor, I genuinely ask the question why would you want less than 160mm of travel, make it 180mm what is the difference when you have a motor? Last time I bought a motorbike, I didn’t have a short and long travel option, just as food for thought.
Well look at it, it’s impossible to miss the dual crown RockShox Boxxer adorning the helm on the Specialized Turbo Kenevo, this shows that it is clearly not your average eMTB. I still hear things like “I’d consider one if I was old” or “if I was unfit”. Well, Specialized went and slapped their 2.1 motor straight into a 180mm DH/Park/shred bike blowing these excuses out of the water. This thing has been designed to shred. The Turbo Kenevo is burly, overbuilt, houses a huge 700Wh battery in the downtube, yet remains pretty slender looking and had a full kilogram shaved off the frame alone while increasing stiffness in comparison to the original Kenevo. So what’s not to love.
Built around a smaller and lighter magnesium motor, the Sidearm designed frame squeezes out a whopping 180mm of rear wheel travel without any clearance issues and houses a removable 700Wh battery, which really helps Specialized lead the class for battery life. Specialized’s TCU Display sits neatly recessed into the top tube and provides riders with the essentials such as a 10 bar state of charge battery display (much more precise than 5 bars) and which assist mode you’re in. One of the coolest features about Specialized's system is their Mission Control App which gives riders the ability to fine tune the 3 modes, from the amount of support given, peak power and even the responsiveness of the acceleration. There are other neat things such as motor and battery health, or the Smart Control feature which enables you to map out a ride and let the bike provide you with the right amount of assistance to ensure you make the distance.
Setup was easy, the S3 we had on test was equipped with a 500lb spring which was bang on and easily dialled with the air sprung RockShox Boxxer Select up front. The cockpit feels great, familiar and free of wires and clutter often found on eMTBs. The mode toggle switch on the left hand side of the bar is ergonomic and does allow for a under bar dropper post lever. Specialized always nails integration and the simplistic approach to the Kenevo’s cockpit and inner workings are brilliant and built to last.
Is it heavy, well yes when compared to a carbon trail bike or even a DH bike, but wind back the clock with the DH bike and you will find that 24.55kg isn’t far off, not to mention the components are so much better, as is the modern geometry. And the fact there is a motor. It's all about perspective and a self shuttling DH bike that handles pretty close to an “analogue” bike is a pretty unique combination.
My main concern about the Turbo Kenevo on the trail was that I wouldn’t only be riding park. I was interested to know how it would go riding singletrack with technical switchbacks both up and down. With the RockShox Boxxer up front and a quite long 1263mm wheelbase the turning circle on the big rig is big - would it cope or would I cope?
On The Trail
The Kenevo has a forward riding position thanks to a generous reach figure of 470mm (S3) and near vertical 77degree seat tube angle which of course also sports a 160mm dropper. The touch points are Specialized’s own and are very comfortable, the Body Geometry saddle shape is easy to get behind when it's steep and pleasant on long climbs, albeit being over before you know it.
It is no surprise that the Turbo Kenevo hoots along the fireroad climbs sitting comfortably between 18kph and 25kph depending the gradient. The 90Nm of torque is delivered so smoothly and quietly you hardly notice the motor's presence. It is the way the power is delivered and absence of noise that puts Specialized’s 2.1 motor ahead of the game. There are no jerky off the bottom surges of power but a controllable delivery that ensures traction and mechanical empathy to the 11-speed drivetrain.
Turning into the singletrack, I was surprised how agile the bike is even with a RockShox Boxxer up front. I chose to ascend Mt Stromlo via “Cardiac Arrest” which as the name suggests, is very steep, tight and technical being built for the 2009 World Championships. If there is a climb that long bikes or bikes with a low bottom bracket or limited turning circle struggle on, it is this one.
With more and more bikes coming equipped with a steering lock like Trek’s Knock Block or Canyon’s external system the turning circle on the Kenevo is actually better than some trail bikes. Provided you can keep those pedals turning and stick to a good line, you will make it. I found the 2.1 motor far better suited to technical climbs and features than any other currently available, because of the high torque and smooth delivery you are less likely to stall when ratcheting and less likely to spin the wheel when pedalling again. This is an absolutely brilliant feature and makes the bike much easier to manage than a 180mm rig should be on a trail that’s not what iti s designed for.
Cresting the mountain and reaching the trailhead (yes you will be doing this a lot more than often) there is no real need to take a breather, you can bomb straight down your favourite descent. I split the Kenevo’s use between park laps and more natural technical singletrack which is where I feel the Kenevo really excelled. Challenging technical trails that are too challenging or remote to get a DH bike into are suddenly easily accessible and the Kenevo makes short work of them. The 470mm reach and 64 degree head angle felt balanced and puts the rider weight slightly forward of the middle of the bike making it quick to change direction.
There is no denying that one of the benefits of a long-travel eMTB is getting more descending in within a limited window of time. With 4 or 5 ascents of Stromlo within the hour instead of 2 or 3 you can just punch out more laps! While the legs don’t get as tired the body and mind struggle to keep up, especially when hitting jump lines again and again and again. Riding park I did notice the longer 454mm chainstay when pressing into the lips of jumps or when manualling and I tried a few different things to get the weight more central like dropping the fork legs through the crowns a bit and even fitting a 29er fork and front wheel. This riased the front end getting the headtube angle out one degree. But the finer points of the bike and setup will come down to personal preferences.
The rear suspension kinematics are quite linear when equipped with a coil shock, so ensuring the correct spring is fitted will be essential if riding lots of park. For the majority of riding styles the suspension performs exceptionally well, as you would expect from a modern bike made by Specialized.
Specialized have equipped the Kenevo with a solid mix or parts that will be up the onslaught ride after ride, the SRAM Code R brakes with 200mm rotors performed flawlessly the entire test as did the 11-speed drivetrain. I would even consider a slightly larger chainring as to prolong the chain and chainring life as its spent most of the time toward the hardest end of the cassette - but the gear can’t be faulted.
When comparing the Kenevo to is slightly shorter travel competition it does excel in almost all areas, especially when it comes to the motor and battery. Not only is the power delivery best in class but there is so much less drag when not on the gas. Even when the motor is off, the 2.1 motor doesn’t even feel like it is there. Sure the bike is heavier than normal but I have not ridden anything quite this unobtrusive on an eMTB.
The one quirk is the 454mm chainstay. Yes it's an eMTB and yes it has room for a 27.5 x 3 inch rear tyre but there are other bikes with 15mm to 20mm shorter stays that just pip it in manoeuvrability. But hey, you will be charging faster on the Kenevo anyway so maybe it will not be an issue.
I'm happy to report that the bike ran flawlessly the whole test period, even towing cooked mates up mountains, lugging chainsaws and fuel around on trail build days. The Kenevo barely notices, it is such a torque monster.
The Specialized Turbo Kenevo is what I believe is the start of eMTB normality, a bike with big travel and big range for all-day escapades and handling to enjoy the more mellow singletrack. Choosing the more efficient all day climber is no longer an issue nor is the dread of big bergs and arranging shuttles, the Kenevo hauls. More is more, and the Specialized Turbo Kenevo lets you have all the travel and all the riding fun.
Model: Turbo Kenevo Expert
Available Sizes S2, S3, S4, S5
Frame Material: M5 Premium Aluminium
Fork: RockShox Boxxer Select RC,180mm
Shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Coil Select, 180mm
Shifter: SRAM S700 single click 11sp
Derailleur: SRAM GX long cage 11sp
Crank: Praxis Works 165mm
Battery: M2-700 integrated battery with rock guard, 700Wh
Display: Specialized TCU 10 LED
Chain: KMC X11ET
Cassette: SRAM PG-1130 11/42t
Hubs: DT Swiss 370, 6 bolt, 32h, Boost
Spokes: DT Swiss
Rims: Roval 27.5 Alloy DH 28mm internal, 32 hole
Tyres: Specialized Butcher BLCK DMND Casing 2Bliss Ready 27.5 x 2.6”
Brakes: SRAM CODE R with 200/200mm
Stem: Specialized direct mount DH Stem 45mm
Handlebar: Specialized 7050 Alloy 27mm rise 800mm
Seatpost: Command Post, 160mm drop
Saddle: Body Geometry Henge Comp