Specialized Kenevo SL Review | A stunning, lightweight, long-travel e-MTB


The not-so-minor details

Product

Specialized Kenevo SL Expert 2022

Contact

Specialized

https://www.specialized.com/

Price

$15,900 AUD

Weight

19.12kg

Positives

- Stunning frame design
- Wickedly sensitive and supportive 6-bar suspension
- Outstanding handling on technical climbs & descents
- Seamless and highly tuneable power delivery
- Mastermind TCU is so slick and user-friendly
- Adjustable geometry

Negatives

- The Fox 38 failed on us
- Limited seatpost insertion depth
- Whining motor noise
- Electrifying performance means electrifying price

Wil reviews the new 2022 Specialized Kenevo SL

No, that ain’t an Enduro with an extra-large SWAT compartment. This folks, is the brand-spanking new Specialized Kenevo SL.

Hot off the heels of the release of the 2022 Levo, the Kenevo SL is an all-new electric mountain bike from Specialized. It takes the existing Kenevo, the Californian brand’s long-travel, gravity-hungry, bike park-smashing e-MTB, and dials things up a few notches with a full carbon frame and a 6-bar suspension platform.

Of course Specialized fans will have been anticipating a high-end carbon Kenevo for a while now, so no surprises there. Where the Kenevo SL veers wildly off-script however, is with its compact SL motor and smaller battery. The combination of which helps to create an e-MTB that is over 5kg lighter than the current alloy Kenevo. That’s a heckuva difference, though it’s not the only reason why the Kenevo SL is such a different beast from its alloy counterpart.

So what’s it like to ride then? How does it compare to the Levo? And who’s this thing actually for? We’ve been testing a new Specialized Kenevo SL Expert for the past couple of weeks to find out.


Watch our video review of the new Specialized Kenevo SL here!


specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
Out of the way folks, the new Specialized Kenevo SL has arrived!

The new Specialized Kenevo SL

Equipped with 29in wheels, aggressive tyres, big brakes, 170mm of suspension travel and raked-out geometry, the Specialized Kenevo SL slots neatly into the e-Enduro category. Well, kind of.

Like its shorter travel sibling the Levo SL, the Kenevo SL is designed around Specialized’s ‘Super Light’ e-MTB concept. It features Specialized’s own SL 1.1 motor, which delivers up to 240 watts of power and 35Nm of torque. This motor is unique to Specialized and is manufactured in partnership with German automotive specialist MAHLE. You’ll also find this motor in the current Levo SL, as well as the Creo e-Road bike, and the Vado SL and Como SL e-Commuter bikes. However, the firmware driving the motor has been updated for the Kenevo SL – more on how that affects performance in a bit.

As well as being lighter and more compact, the low-powered motor also draws less electricity, reducing the need for a huge battery pack. For that reason you’ll find a slimline 320Wh battery stowed inside the downtube.

The result of all that is an impressively low system weight. The Specialized S-Works Kenevo SL is claimed to weigh just 18.8kg.

specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
Using the same SL motor and battery as the Levo SL, the new Kenevo SL combines low weight with long travel.

Less power, less weight

Those specs are quite different to the Specialized Levo – the brand’s current darling in its full suspension e-MTB lineup. Here’s how the two compare;

So why have less power and a smaller battery? Well, it’s all about reducing weight.

Compared to the full-size motor and battery in the regular Levo and Kenevo, the SL system offers a substantial 3kg weight advantage. Furthermore, the carbon frame itself is also lighter, since the downtube and bottom bracket junction can be made considerably smaller overall.

The result of all that is an impressively low system weight. The Specialized S-Works Kenevo SL is claimed to weigh just 18.8kg. To put that number into perspective, it’s barely 4kg heavier than an Enduro.

Why not have a full-size motor and battery?

The weight is impressive, sure, but if you’re going to have all of that travel and capability, why wouldn’t you want a high-powered motor with a huge battery pack? Aren’t these things designed for self-shuttling downhill trails? Aren’t us compliant e-Consumers programmed to constantly crave bigger things and more stuff?

MOAR POWER! MOAR BATTERY! MOAAAAAR!

The thing is, the Specialized Kenevo SL isn’t really made for the e-MTB enthusiasts who are already committed to the cause. Those riders, who want nothing less than the Turbo-punch of a full-powered motor and a humongo battery to match, are already served by the current Levo and Kenevo.

Instead, the Kenevo SL is aimed at traditional mountain bikers. The riders who have been tempted to go electric, but have so far been put off by the heavy weight and heavy looks. The riders who don’t want to sacrifice handling on the descents with an overweight e-MTB, and want a pedalling experience that’s closer to a fully muscle-powered mountain bike. Those are the riders the Kenevo SL is designed for.

specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
The Kenevo SL is built around the smaller SL 1.1 motor and a 320Wh battery.

Carbon fibre Tetris

Weight and aesthetics aside, the other driver behind the Kenevo SL’s smaller motor and battery is the 6-bar suspension platform. Seriously, just take a look at that part of the frame for a moment. See how low the shock sits? And the two links that drive it? Oh, and there’s a motor underneath all that too. That’s a lot going on in a very small space.

Once you appreciate the Level 15 game of Tetris that’s been played out to fit it all in, you can appreciate that the only way the Kenevo SL’s form could be realised is with the compact SL 1.1 motor. There’s literally no way that Specialized’s engineers could have built this bike with the full-size 2.2 motor from the Levo. At least, not without significant compromises to the suspension and geometry anyway.

Indeed the SL 1.1 drive unit is key to keeping things compact out back too. The Kenevo SL has a 442mm rear centre length in its shortest position, and that’s with the 29in rear wheel. It’s for this reason that Specialized pursued the full 29in setup on the Kenevo SL, rather than resorting to the mullet setup found on the Levo.

Electrified Enduro

Given the wheelsize and travel, the Specialized Kenevo SL’s picture becomes clearer when you view it not so much as a carbon version of the existing Kenevo, but rather an electrified version of the Enduro.

The concept of the 6-bar suspension design is the same. The chainstays, seatstays and seat tube link form a 4-bar FSR platform, which controls the rear wheel’s axle path. Meanwhile the two tension links drive the shock, taking care of the leverage rate. Where the Kenevo SL differs is in its use of a standard metric shock (the Enduro uses a trunnion mount), and it also skips the small yoke between the lower shock mount and the tension links.

There are still a lot of moving parts though, with no fewer than 16 pivot bearings. But the 6-bar design does allow for greater separation between those key kinematic properties, and according to Specialized, the control links help to reduce side-loading on the rear shock too.

specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
Specialized was able to fit a 29in rear wheel and keep the chainstays short thanks to the compact SL 1.1 motor.

Frame geometry is quite similar to the Enduro, though the Kenevo SL sits slightly higher off the ground to provide more pedal clearance – an important attribute for an e-MTB.

The Kenevo SL also benefits from the clever adjustable geometry found on the latest Stumpjumper EVO and Levo. A swappable upper headset cup provides riders with three different head angle positions, so you can go as slack as 62.5° or as steep as 64.7°.

There’s also a flip chip down at the chainstay pivot. This gives you a high position with a 447mm chainstay length, and a low position with a 442mm chainstay length. All up you have six different configurations available between the flip chip and adjustable headset cups.

specialized kenevo sl geometry
The Specialized Kenevo SL gets six geometry charts. Phew! Bikes will be shipped in the High & Middle position.

Specialized Kenevo SL Price & Specs

Highlighting the fact that the Kenevo SL has a narrower range of appeal compared to the Levo, there will be just two complete bikes coming into Australia this year. Both models are built around exactly the same FACT 11m carbon chassis, SL 1.1 motor and 320Wh battery.

As expected, pricing is bold with the S-Works Kenevo SL listed for $23,700 AUD. The bike we’ve been testing, the Kenevo SL Expert, seems positively budget in comparison with its paltry $15,900 AUD price tag.

If those two build options don’t float your boat, or if they simply sell out before you can get your grubby hands on one (we suspect there’ll be a strong chance of the latter), it’s worth noting that there will also be an S-Works frameset available for $12,900 AUD. Frame only packages aren’t common in the e-MTB world, and indeed it’s a first for Specialized. Excitable bike shop owners who love a jazzy custom build, take note.

You can get your peepers on the specs for both models below, then read on for our experience of testing the Kenevo SL Expert.

 

specialized s-works kenevo sl 2022
The S-Works Kenevo SL gets Fox Factory suspension, carbon wheels, carbon cranks, AXS shiftin’ and saddle droppin’.

2021 Specialized S-Works Kenevo SL

specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
The Kenevo SL Expert elects for mechanical SRAM X01 shifting, Code RS brakes, and a Fox 38 GRIP2 fork.

2021 Specialized Kenevo SL Expert

specialized sworks kenevo sl frameset
Fancy doing it your own way? Specialized is releasing an S-Works Kenevo SL frameset for those who have a custom build in mind.

2021 Specialized S-Works Kenevo SL Frameset

specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
Going up!

Testing the Specialized Kenevo SL Expert

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been having quite the experience riding the brand new Specialized Kenevo SL Expert.

Now normally I don’t place that much emphasis on aesthetics, but it has to be said that this is one of the best-looking e-MTBs on the market. It’s certainly one of the stealthiest and most streamlined designs out there thanks to the low-profile motor, low-slung suspension layout and straight tubing. Indeed from the drive-side, it takes a moment to register that this isn’t actually an Enduro. That could explain why nobody ever picked up that I was aboard an unreleased bike over the past few weeks of riding.

Enhancing the Specialized Kenevo SL’s clean layout, a subtly curved downtube means that no steering limiter is required. I can attest to this after having crashed by brains out on the final range test. Despite getting hella crossed up during my on-trail ejection, neither the fork crown or handlebar controls contacted the frame. Phew!

Specialized has taken a practical approach with the rest of the frame too, which of course fits a bottle inside the mainframe. And whereas some other brands are looking towards the Super Boost standard for their big travel bikes, the Kenevo SL sticks with good old Boost 148x12mm hub spacing. At the dropouts you’ll find a SRAM UDH, while the drive-side seatstay and chainstays are generously lathered in protection to silence chain slap.

On the top tube there’s the new MasterMind TCU display, which is protected by a tough Gorilla Glass screen. You can display up to 30 different metrics, which are all customisable via the Mission Control app. With the handlebars free of any clunky displays (*cough* Bosch Purion *cough*), a discreet controller sits next to the left-hand grip, allowing you to scroll through each page of data. It also lets you shift between the Eco, Trail and Turbo assist settings, and a button underneath engages Walk mode for when you’ve finally bitten off more than you can chew.

specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
First shown on the Levo, the Kenevo SL adopts the MasterMind TCU.

Specialized Kenevo SL fit & sizing

At 175cm tall I’ve been riding an S3 size, which has a substantial 465mm reach. The S3 is essentially a Medium, and it’s the same size I’ve ridden in the Enduro, Stumpjumper, Stumpy EVO and Levo.

On the Kenevo SL however, I did run into an issue with the saddle height. While the seat tube lengths are short, the seat tube itself is interrupted by the shock tunnel, which means the seatpost will only insert so far into the frame.

With clip-in pedals, the saddle height is spot-on for me (around 71.5cm from the BB to the top of the saddle). With flat pedals however, I couldn’t get the saddle down low enough. That means I’d either have to book in for a shin transplant, or consider down-sizing to S2. Personally I wouldn’t bother with the latter, as the 437mm reach on the S2 would be too short for me.

…but it is something that stubby-legged riders may want to take note of when looking over the geometry chart.

I’ll point out that this problem is exacerbated by the X-Fusion Manic dropper post, which is quite long for its given travel. The RockShox Reverb AXS that comes on the S-Works Kenevo SL has a shorter insertion depth for the same travel, so I wouldn’t have encountered the same issue there.

Anyway, it hasn’t affected my ability to test the Kenevo SL, but it is something that stubby-legged riders may want to take note of when looking over the geometry chart.

specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
Seatpost insertion is limited due to the interrupted seat tube, which flares out to form a tunnel around the rear shock.
specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
The Kenevo SL comes shipped in the Middle & High geometry setting, which is where we left it.

Setting up

The Kenevo SL otherwise fits well out of the box with the excellent Bridge saddle and cushy Deity grips. I trimmed the bars down to my preferred width of 780mm, and left the geometry adjustments in the stock positions, with the head angle in neutral and the flip chip in high.

I setup the fork as per Fox’ recommendations, though I did set the high and low-speed rebound adjusters on the faster side. I aimed for 30% sag for the rear shock, with 200psi to support my 68kg riding weight.

Whereas the Levo gets fatter 2.6in tyres, Specialized equips the Kenevo SL with 2.3in wide Butchers to improve handling precision and reduce weight. There’s a gooey T9 compound on the front and a firmer T7 compound for the rear. On the 30mm wide rims, these tyres actually measure up wider than claimed at 2.44in. There’s plenty of clearance too, so a 2.5in rear tyre will fit fine, maybe a 2.6in depending on the brand.

I didn’t fit any tyre inserts, which in hindsight was a bad decision. Tyre pressures varied from 20-23psi on the front and 24-27psi on the rear.

Not so Turbo

My first ride on the Specialized Kenevo SL was something of a rude awakening. Having spent a lot of time testing full-powered e-MTBs lately, including the Levo, Polygon Mt Bromo and Canyon Spectral:ON, I was promptly alerted to how unfit I’d become.

Power output is noticeably lower with the SL 1.1 motor, which seems obvious given it has 40% of the peak torque of a Shimano EP8 motor. This means your legs will be putting in considerably more effort, and average climbing speeds will be lower. If you’re riding with friends on full-powered e-MTBs, you’ll be working a lot harder to keep up. Also noticeable, the gearbox design of the SL 1.1 motor spins quite fast, resulting in a higher-pitched whine on the trail that is noisier than the Bosch, Shimano and Brose motors.

…the new firmware addresses the motor’s tendency to cut out during choppy pedalling, particularly at super high cadences when you might rapidly accelerate to get up and over an obstacle on the trail.

Once you adjust to the smaller motor though, it is very impressive how seamless the power delivery is. With Specialized in control of both the hardware and firmware, the motor does a marvellous job of filtering uneven rider input, and outputting a smooth supply of power to the rear wheel.

Part of this is due to the new firmware that Specialized has developed for the SL 1.1 motor, which will be available as an update for existing Levo SL users. With the aim of delivering power more consistently, the new firmware addresses the motor’s tendency to cut out during choppy pedalling, particularly at super high cadences when you might rapidly accelerate to get up and over an obstacle on the trail.

specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
The Kenevo SL ain’t just an electric DH bike. This thing can climb!

It devours technical climbs

And indeed this bike’s technical climbing performance was the biggest surprise I encountered. There’s useful ground clearance thanks to the 350mm BB height and the 165mm crank arms that come on the S2 and S3 sizes (170mm arms on the bigger sizes). Along with the 29in wheels, traction-rich suspension design and intuitive power delivery, there were very few technical climbs on my local test loops that I couldn’t clear on the Kenevo SL.

Of course there wasn’t as much grunt as a full-power motor on super steep off-piste moto trails, though I actually prefer that when riding loose, awkward climbs. And here the lower weight of the Kenevo SL made for a massive difference in being able to negotiate ledgy tech sections. When you pause pedalling to avoid a direct rock-strike, there’s less of the jerky deceleration that you get with a heavier e-MTB.

It’s a comfortable climber too, particularly with that supple rear suspension performance. The 76.5° seat tube angle might not be the steepest, though I was able to get where I wanted by shifting the saddle forwards on the rails. Specialized could have gone steeper, but that has a knock-on effect to seated pedalling comfort and rider weight distribution, and as it stands the Kenevo SL is very well-rounded in that regard.

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The Kenevo SL feels planted, with exceptional grip from the suspension and sticky Butcher T9 front tyre.

Did someone order a freight train?

Of course it’s on the descents where this bike really shines though, with the Specialized Kenevo SL absolutely steamrolling its way down the mountain faster than an avocado turns from rock-hard to overripe.

Having also ridden both the Enduro and alloy Kenevo, I have no doubts the Kenevo SL is the best descender out of the three. There is so much stability here, with a very secure and grounded stance thanks to the deep and well-supported suspension. The 6-bar suspension design of the Enduro already produces quite a low centre of mass, but the Kenevo SL takes it to the next level with a motor and battery positioned centrally and low down in the frame. Along with the dual 29in wheel setup, this bike does not need much encouragement to pick up speed, and it does so rapidly.

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With its low centre of mass, the Kenevo SL hooks into turns with confidence.

It surely caused plenty headaches for the engineering team, but I’m glad that Specialized pursued the 6-bar platform. The suspension is outrageously good, with masses of sensitivity and control. The buttery plush performance allows the Kenevo SL to flutter over rock gardens, with the rear wheel moving quickly out of the way when greeting square-edge impacts at speed. Whether that’s to do with the slightly rearward axle path, the custom shock tune or some other kinematic trickery, I don’t really know, nor do I care. It’s just really, really good.

I ended up hitting loads of jumps on this bike that I’ve never once attempted before, purely because I felt so comfortable and confident when riding it.

Because this bike carries so much momentum on the descents, I found myself riding sections a lot faster than usual, occasionally shitting my dacks when I arrived at a rock feature a little sooner than anticipated. It’s almost as if everything is in slow motion around you, though a quick glance down at the speedo on the TCU promptly indicates otherwise. I soon learnt after the first ride that I’d need higher tyre pressures, as I was hitting stuff so much faster and harder than usual. The plush suspension allows you to run those higher tyre pressures without a huge sacrifice in comfort and traction.

Tweak that shock

I did find the suspension to be a little too ground-huggy to begin with. After all, the Float X2 is a big downhill shock, and there’s a lot of travel to get lost in. The remedy was speeding up the shock’s low-speed rebound damping to just five clicks off the fastest setting (13/18 clicks), and I also firmed up the low-speed compression damping to halfway (11/22 clicks). This made a big difference to overall responsiveness, strengthening the platform underneath my feet.

With the suspension dialled in, the Kenevo SL surprises with its overall agility. The extra mass over the Enduro helps to drive more pressure through the front tyre, and that improves grip when you’re riding stuff that isn’t a near-vertical descent. While it still requires a forward-biased riding position, you don’t need to ride it quite so assertively. Sure it thrives on double blacks, but it’ll have loads of fun on the blues and reds too. Green trails? Perhaps a tad overkill.

The lighter battery and short rear end also mean it’s actually not that hard to pick up the front wheel. And with the floaty suspension and its ability to carry plenty of momentum, the Kenevo SL sails into and through the air very easily. I ended up hitting loads of jumps on this bike that I’ve never once attempted before, purely because I felt so comfortable and confident when riding it.

I did notice some clacking from the SL 1.1 motor’s internal mechanism when landing on smoother and quieter transitions, though the noise is nowhere near as prominent as the latest Bosch and Shimano motors.

specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
Once we had the suspension dialled in, the Kenevo SL is a jump-happy performer.

That’s forked mate!

Unfortunately the fork on our Specialized Kenevo SL Expert didn’t fare as well, becoming quite harsh by the end of the first ride. I noticed it was struggling to sit into its travel, while topping out quite hard – usually a sign that something’s up with the negative spring.

After fitting the shock pump and determining the fork had lost around 20psi, I checked the bleeder valves on the back of the fork lowers. The damper side let out a faint ‘pssst‘, while the air side let out a huge ‘whooosh!‘ of air. I’d estimate around 20psi worth.

The 38’s internals are unique in that it uses a separate tube to house the air spring, which sits within the stanchion wall. Like an air-sprung Babushka doll. In speaking with Fox, the suggestion was that one of the quad seals between that tube and the stanchion has developed a leak, which was transferring pressure from within the air spring, into the lowers themselves. So the air was staying inside the fork, just not where it was meant to.

This would be solved by replacing those seals during an air-spring service, which would be carried out under warranty. Still it’s pretty disappointing to experience on a brand new $1,700 fork.

Otherwise the Kenevo SL has been niggle-free throughout testing. I managed to pinch-flat the front tyre, which is the first time I’ve done that in a long time, and I purely blame the bike for making me ride so far beyond my pay grade. Given how hard you can ride the Kenevo SL though, tubeless inserts are a good idea, and hard-chargers may also want to consider upgrading to tougher tyres. For example, Specialized offers the same Butcher T9/T7 tyre combo with a GRID Gravity casing.

specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
Unfortunately the Fox 38 fork let us down during testing.

How much range does the Specialized Kenevo SL get?

Curious to see how far that little 320Wh battery could take me on a single charge, I conducted two separate range tests on the Kenevo SL.

For the first test I rode in the stock Trail mode, which offers 60% support and 60% peak power output. I pedalled with vigour, and according to the power meter, I was putting out close to double the power of what the motor was giving me.

During this test, I rode 40km with 1,513m of climbing before the battery had dipped below the 10% mark. At this point the motor automatically drops down into emergency eco mode to preserve the remaining battery. I would have kept going, but I was quite dehydrated and hungry, since I wasn’t expecting the Kenevo SL to get me so much runtime. I also didn’t have lights, and after three hours of riding, it was quite dark at that point. Wil: 0, Kenevo SL: 1.

In the stock Trail mode, 40km with 1,513m of climbing before the battery dipped below the 10% mark

For the second test I shuttled up a tarmac road at a local downhill zone to see how many laps I could get in. I rode in the stock Turbo mode (100% support & 100% peak power), and this time pedalled as lazily as possible to get the motor to do as much of the work as possible as a worst-case scenario test.

In the end I managed 24km of riding over 1.5 hours, with 1,053m of climbing in total. On my 6th and final climb up the road, the assistance level automatically dropped to Trail mode once the battery hit 15%, and then again to Eco mode at 10%. At 5% the battery figure starts flashing at you, and at 3% the system switches off completely in order to protect the battery.

At that point you’re on your own and you’ll need to get the battery charged up ASAP. Charge time for the Kenevo SL is 2.5-hours.

specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
Yeah you on your own now.

And how does that compare to a regular e-MTB?

I’ve managed to do that same range test on a number of e-MTBs, so here’s how the Kenevo SL stacks up;

As you can see, I didn’t get as many laps in on the Kenevo SL, and I’ll also note that my average climbing speed was quite a bit lower than the other three bikes. Still, for a bike that isn’t really designed for self-shutting, I actually got quite a few more runs in than I expected.

There are of course a lot of variables as to how much range you can get out of an e-MTB. Rider weight is a big one, and things like tyre pressure, compound and weight can have a big influence on drag, and therefore efficiency. I’ll also note that the bikes listed above aren’t all the current versions – the Merida had the 504Wh battery and Shimano E8000 motor, and the Norco also had an E8000 motor. But that should give you a bit of an idea of how the Kenevo SL compares to some of the full-powered competition out there.

Maximising mileage

Overall, I was still really impressed with those range figures from the Specialized Kenevo SL. I didn’t have the time to conduct a third range test, which I would have liked to have done on the Eco setting. Given the difference in power output between Trail and Eco however, I’d estimate I could get close to 3,000m of climbing out of the Kenevo SL.

Beyond that, it’s also possible to tweak the support and peak power output levels of each assistance mode to better match your riding demands. If you want to know more about that, check out our tech feature; ‘9 Tuning Tips to get the most out of your Specialized Turbo e-MTB‘.

As long as that ratio is under 1.0, you can sleep better at night knowing that you’re always working harder than the motor.

Specialized recommends aiming for a cadence of 75rpm, which will see the motor working as efficiently as possible. Handily, you can put cadence as one of the metrics on the TCU display so it’s right in front of you. I also found that displaying both motor and rider power was useful to see how much my legs were putting in relative to the motor’s output. As long as that ratio is under 1.0, you can sleep better at night knowing that you’re always working harder than the motor.

If you’re still feeling the range anxiety though, it’s worth noting that the Kenevo SL is compatible with Specialized’s existing Range Extender batteries. These are designed to sit in the bottle cage, and they add an extra 160Wh of capacity, bringing the total to 480Wh. Cost is $700 AUD for the battery and an extra $50 for the specific cable.

2021 specialized levo pro mt buller
The new Specialized Levo was only launched earlier this year. So how does it compare to the Kenevo SL?

Specialized Levo vs Kenevo SL

Having recently tested the new Specialized Levo, how does it compare to the Kenevo SL?

The two bikes aren’t radically different in terms of travel, with the Levo featuring a 160mm fork and 150mm of rear travel. However, it does use a mullet setup with a 27.5in rear wheel.

The Levo we tested was the higher-end Pro model, so it has a higher sticker price ($19,800 AUD, *gulp*) along with fancier Factory Series suspension, and lots of carbon bits. As such, its weight isn’t drastically higher at just 22.06kg.

Of course you get a load more power and that huge 700Wh battery with the Levo, so if it’s maximum range and riding speed that you’re after, the Levo is the obvious choice. The belt-driven 2.2 motor is also quieter in operation, and the mullet wheel setup also provides more agile handling. The rear centre length is actually identical between the two bikes, but it’s the 27.5in rear wheel that allows the Levo to lean into corners more naturally, making it an easier bike to place on the trail. On less gnarly trails, it’s arguably more fun to ride.

2021 specialized levo pro mt buller
With the mullet setup, shorter suspension and slightly sharper geometry, the Levo loves to whip in and out of turns.

The slightly shorter suspension and less aggro geometry (the Levo has a shorter reach and a steeper head angle) gives it an approachable demeanour that’ll appeal to a wider variety of riders. And this is echoed by the fact that Specialized offer the Levo in six frame sizes, whereas the Kenevo SL only comes in four.

That said, if it’s plush, rock-swallowing suspension you’re after, the Kenevo SL’s 6-bar platform is simply on another level. The 29in wheels roll faster too, and along with the longer wheelbase and slacker head angle, it allows the whole bike to build speed and maintain outrageous momentum on really rough and technical trails. It also improves the Kenevo SL’s technical climbing abilities, and the lower weight makes crux sections easier to negotiate.

3kg doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but on the trail the difference is noticeable, with the Kenevo SL’s handling offering a sweet spot in between a classic enduro bike and a full-power e-MTB. The SL 1.1 motor also affords less drag, which is particularly noticeable when you’re pedalling beyond the cutoff point. The slightly narrower tyres (2.3in vs 2.6in) also give it a more precise contact patch on the trail, with less vagueness through high-speed, hardpacked berms. All-up, it’s the better bike for more aggressive riders.

As long as that ratio is under 1.0, you can sleep better at night knowing that you're always working harder than the motor.
We didn’t quite get the Kenevo SL when we first heard about it. Then we rode it.

Flow’s Verdict

With its low-slung suspension design, slim downtube and compact motor, the Specialized Kenevo SL is a seriously sharp-looking e-MTB. That said, it took us a while to wrap our heads around the concept. While Specialized has unveiled what it believes to be the perfect answer to the big-travel, low-power conundrum, we can’t say that was a question we were asking in the first place.

Indeed there is nothing else like it on the market. Yes, there are lightweight e-MTBs that already exist, such as the Lapierre eZesty, Orbea Rise, Trek E-Caliber, and Specialized’s own Levo SL. But all of those are decidedly in the XC/Trail camps, where you’d expect them to be.

In comparison, the Specialized Kenevo SL is basically an electrified Enduro, and our initial reaction is that this feels like a pretty small niche. After riding the Kenevo SL for the past few weeks however, I know exactly why Specialized pursued the SL concept for this bike.

The 6-bar suspension design is ridonculously plush, and the adjustable geometry allows you to set it up to ride some pretty wild terrain. The application of the SL motor and battery keeps the weight in a reasonable range that helps to lower the bike’s centre of gravity for improved stability and traction, without adding so much as to detract from its technical handling qualities. It’s a marvellous balance.

If you still don’t see the point of having less power and a smaller battery, then this bike isn’t for you. You’re better off sticking with the Levo and alloy Kenevo. But for those riders who are on the lookout for a new bike, and are currently tossing up between a regular enduro bike and an e-MTB, the Kenevo SL may just be exactly what you’re looking for.

specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
Striking a balance between a traditional enduro bike and a full-power e-MTB, the Kenevo SL hits a smaller niche, but hot damn does it hit it well!
specialized kenevo sl expert 2022
‘Everything the light touches is our kingdom’

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