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Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert enduro e-MTB review: a wild beast with the heart of a road bike

Does fitting an e-road motor to an Enduro beast work? We test the Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert on the steepest and sketchiest trails to find out

Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Our Verdict

DH-level control in a super-smart, geometry-adjustable, lightweight package with surprisingly useful mini-motor assist. Very expensive, though, and potential seatpost fit and tire issues too.

For

  • - Excellent, easily adjustable geometry
  • - Full DH suspension feel
  • - Light weight
  • - Smoothly useable power
  • - Excellent displays and app

Against

  • - High cost
  • - Limited seatpost adjustment
  • - Weedy tires
  • - Stem is too long
  • - Battery is fixed in DIY terms

Specialized’s Turbo Kenevo SL Expert grafts the half-capacity battery and minimal-sized, half-assist motor of the brand’s Creo e-road bike onto a carbon frame based heavily on its chaos-crushing enduro mountain bike chassis. The result is a relatively light and agile e-bike that makes gaining height and covering distance a lot easier but delivers an outstanding DH feel, with widely adjustable geometry when you’re dropping in. This could be a winning formula against the best electric mountain bikes although the fit isn’t glitch-free, and it’s certainly not cheap. 

Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert

Where the magic happens (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Design and geometry

Specialized has always done a great job of hiding the “e” elements of its powered bikes but the Kenevo SL might be its best stealth integration yet. The 320Wh battery-swallowing downtube doesn’t look much bigger than the standard Enduro model so only the slightly more bulbous bottom bracket area and the slim, raised MasterMind TCU OLED under a Gorilla Glass screen on the top tube give the game away. Apart from the lack of internal SWAT storage* in the frame there’s no compromise in features or functions either. You still get an optional reversible top headset bearing so you can adjust head angle from a 63.5-degree default to 62.5- or 64.5-degrees. A twin-position chip on the chainstay pivot lets you take another half-degree if you want while also lowering the ride height.

While Specialized’s signature FSR four-bar linkage controls the wheel path, the long, 62.5mm-stroke piggyback Float X2 Enduro shock is driven by another pair of linkages. These form an “elbow” behind the shock-straddling seat tube, keeping all the suspension weight down low, just above the motor. It also leaves room for a conventional bottle cage mount which can be used to hold a supplementary 160Wh booster battery that plugs straight into the frame.

Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert

The short seat tube section and the fact you can’t adjust the X-Fusion Manic post for height can lead to issues for shorter-legged riders (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

The downside is that the short seat tube section really limits how far you can drop the seatpost down. Unlike some designs, the X-Fusion Manic post specced by Specialized isn’t adjustable for height either. That meant we were slightly over the limit of comfortable saddle height on the S4 at full extension and we know other riders with proportionately shorter legs have struggled too. This is a real pain as otherwise the 485mm reach of the S4 is spot on and there’s plenty of standover clearance in the frame. Using a full carbon frame also adds significant cost compared to the alloy Kenevo ($9,000 / £8,200) for the Expert model. However, with FACT 11m carbon (same as Specialized’s unpowered MTBs), the smaller motor and battery means weights are typically 5kg / 12lb lower for the SL model on a size-for-size basis. 

*While the battery takes up the space used for internal SWAT storage on Specialized’s “leg” bikes, you do get a neat steerer-mounted pop-up Allen key and chain tool set hidden under the headset top cap. If you’re not keen on Specialized’s default spec options you can also buy the frame, motor, battery, headset, crankset and Fox Factory spec shock as a package for $9,000 / £6,850.

Components and build 

In terms of the mid-range Expert model (compared to the $9,000 / £7,400 Comp and $15,000 / £13,200 S-Works) we tested, overall weight was 19.2kg for the S4 size. Spec is generally well matched too, with a fully low- and high-speed, compression-damping, adjustable Fox 38 Performance Elite fork leading the charge. A 220mm front rotor means huge grab from the front Code RS brake. SRAM X01 Eagle gears give pin-sharp shifting and it’s a relief to see a SRAM chainring fitted to the Praxis crankset rather than Specialized’s chain-snagging alternate tooth design. 

You get the sticky/slow rebound T9 compound version of the Butcher front tire too, and the nominal 2.3in width actually blows up as wide (61mm) as a 2.5in Maxxis tire on the 30mm rims. The relatively light Grid Trail carcass width means they’re definitely a potential weak link, though, considering the brutal conditions this bike is capable of hitting flat out. While we didn’t have any issues while testing, the 28-spoke Roval wheels are on the light and skimpy side for a 170mm travel e-bike. Given the slack head angle and long reach numbers, we’d like to see a shorter stem than the one-size-fits-all 50mm too, and we’ve already discussed the seatpost length issues.

Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert

It’s a relief to see a SRAM chainring fitted to the Praxis crankset rather than Specialized’s chain-snagging alternate tooth design (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Ride, handling and performance

While some longer-travel e-bikes – or those with smaller batteries – are deliberately given a more tightened-up trail feel, the Kenevo sets up a pure gravity vibe straight away. Even in the default head angle setting, the front wheel is raked a long way out and the reach distance adds instant calm and confidence too. While static height is relatively high (25mm BB drop) it sags easily into its succulent travel and there’s little reaction from the back end when you press the pedals to pull it back up again either. What’s amazing is how it just continues to deliver that ground-hoovering smoothness however hard and fast you start hitting stuff. That meant the first few runs were spent adjusting to the fact that where we expected it to hang up or slow down it would actually accelerate and squeeze even more speed out of the situation.

Traction is excellent with the harder-compound rear tire providing a helpful tail-happy breakout in the rare moments we managed to find the grip limit. While it’s not the most progressive feel-wise as supplied, there’s still decent support when pushing through corners and even when we bottomed out the long-stroke shaft, we only realized when we checked the travel ring. Once we’d re-centered ourselves, that genuine DH-level control and consistency became the hallmark of every descent.

While our other tester, Jim Bland, has the skills and steeze to finish well ahead of me every time, his feedback was similarly superlative to mine. This was despite us only both running a basic “car park check between runs” tuning setup too. There’s definitely plenty of extra tuning potential in both fork and shock for more advanced riders. Alternatively, you can log into Specialized’s tuning app to get initial setup suggestions based on your weight. If you’re really impatient, though, the six-bar linkage and the recent, more open Fox 36 tune will forgive a basic set-sag-and-go approach anyway.

Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert

Even with a sticky tire up front, the 29er setup definitely rolls better than a similar compound pairing on a mullet or 27.5in-wheeled bike (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

So the underlying vibe is definitely gravity domination, but that’s not to say the Kenevo SL is a dumb plow either. Yes, double 29er wheels, a 50mm stem, and glued-down suspension need a bit more lift and leverage to really get the bike moving about, but the 19kg mass isn’t much more than a lot of non-powered long-travel bikes we’ve tested lately. That weight is mostly placed low and centrally too, aiding core stability for carving turns but leaving the bike dynamic in terms of direction change and traction catch. It hops and pops way better than a big travel e-MTB should too, and with no drag from the motor it’s no issue to hustle it way past the 15mph speed limiter.

We were definitely kicking ourselves for forgetting to bring a shorter stem to lighten the steering and make it easier to flick the Kenevo off line, though. While it’s light and low compared to most “full fat” e-MTB bikes, the battery weight can also increase the tendency to high side or push on going into looser, steeper turns. That’s especially true if you forget the front Code is already using an oversize 220mm rotor and grab too much brake. There’s a limit to how low you can drop the pressure in the relatively light tires and still expect them to handle the extra mass and extreme loadings this bike is gagging to put into the trail on more technical or just flat-out sections. That means we’d definitely suck up a nearer 20kg weight and consult our recently refreshed e-bike tires guide to pick out some replacement rubber before you wash out or have to walk home with a torn/split tire. 

Even with a sticky tire upfront, the 29er setup definitely rolls better than a similar compound pairing on a mullet or 27.5in-wheeled bike and there’s easier roll-over on small stutter bumps and rubble spreads too.

The shallower tire attack angle and supple, largely pedal-neutral suspension mean climbing grip is excellent if you’re a more passive rider. Having the assist topping out at double the average rider grunt rather than three times or more reduces the chance of you ripping the tire out of connection too. As a result, we regularly cruised up greasy, rooty climbs on the Kenevo SL that full-power bikes were struggling or spinning on, and the steep seat angle helps here for sure. The downside to all the trail tracking compliance is soft and squishy pedal feel if you’re trying to stomp torque through rather than spin, but at least the shock-stiffening lever on the piggyback damper is relatively easy to reach.

Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert

There’s plenty of extra tuning potential in both fork and shock for more advanced riders (Image credit: Guy Kestevem)

The other interesting factor is that while both Jim and I are lighter and maybe slightly fitter than the pilots of the “full” e-bikes we were riding with, effort levels and battery use level pegged all day. We still had 28 percent battery life after 42km and nearly 1,700m of seriously steep climbing and descending too. So a 50km / 2,000m+ day would definitely be possible without having to add the bottle battery. It’s a really quiet motor too, so it’s unobtrusive audibly as well as in handling terms and speaking to shops it’s one of the most reliable motor options too.

I could write a whole review just around the huge number of MasterMind display options and Mission Control app smarts. The features that stood out for us were being able see heart rate monitor data and wattage feedback if you’re in a training (or rehab) frame of mind. You can also set the bike up to draw power from the extra battery or frame battery first or both together, depending on whether you want to dump the supplementary cell early on a lap session or keep it in reserve in case you or another rider needs it. Super neat bar/frame ergonomics and the ability to adjust power in each mode in 10 percent increments on the fly are other stand-out features when it comes to the usability of the bike

It’s worth noting that the battery can’t easily be removed from the bike for charging, though, and the compromised dropper post insertion does create potential fit issues. While our S4 and S3 test bikes felt well proportioned the S5 and S2 bikes (there’s no S1 option) use the same 447mm long back end so that’s going to affect dynamic balance slightly.

Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert

You get the sticky / slow rebound T9 compound version of the Butcher front tire (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Verdict

Specialized’s Kenevo SL is a great balance of outstandingly controlled, succulently smooth downhill domination with enough pop and agility to stop it from feeling like a dumb plow. The quiet motor and half-size battery keep the “e” aspect unobtrusive cosmetically and dynamically, yet still provide surprisingly useful and long-lasting pedal assist. In classic Specialized style, it manages to be easy-going and forgiving of more basic skills and setup, yet offers a huge amount of geometry and suspension tuning for those who can make the most of it. The neat on-bike interaction and app aspects are some of the most dialed and comprehensive around too, creating an extremely well-polished complete package.

You’re definitely not getting all this for a song, though, and the frame design creates potential seat-height issues. The effectively fixed battery won’t suit everyone either and we’d like to see a shorter stem and tougher tires even though they’d push weight nearer to 20kg and within 10-15 percent of some similar premium “full fat” e-bikes.

Test conditions

  • Temperature: 8-12 degrees
  • Surface: Steep, twisty, droppy, jumpy, loam-and-root natural DH trails with steep, techy climbs

Tech Specs: Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert

  • Model name: Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL Expert
  • Discipline: Enduro
  • Price: $11,000 (US) / £9,250 (UK)
  • Head angle: 63.5-degrees
  • Frame material: FACT 11m full carbon
  • Size: S4 (Large)
  • Weight: 19.1kg
  • Wheel size: 29x2.3in
  • Motor and battery: Specialized SL 1.1 with fully integrated 320Wh battery
  • Suspension (front/rear): FOX FLOAT 38 Performance Elite 29 170mm travel, 44mm offset/FOX FLOAT X2 Performance 170mm travel
  • Drivetrain:  SRAM X01 Eagle 10-52T 12-speed rear mech and shifter
  • Cranks: Praxis M30 custom with SRAM 32T chainset
  • Brakes: SRAM Code RS brakes with 220/200mm rotors
  • Cockpit: Specialized 800mm bar and 50mm stem
  • Wheelset: Roval Traverse wheelset, 30mm rims
  • Tires: Specialized Butcher Trail Grid T9 front and Specialized Eliminator Trail Grid T7 29 x 2.3in rear tires
  • Seatpost: X-Fusion Manic 170mm dropper post
  • Saddle: Specialized Bridge Comp saddle

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg