Mountain biking is an exercise in compromise. If you want to ride down a hill, you have to ride up it. And if you want to ride up a hill, you have to worry about the weight of your bike — and all those body-busting climbs. If you don’t want to worry about that weight and those climbs, you could shuttle, but then you have to knock elbow pads with a dozen other sweaty people in the back of a grimy minivan, and that gets old fast.
A few years ago, bikes with electric motors promised the end of those grimy-van days. But that promise was overblown, because early electric mountain bikes…well, they sucked. They were heavy, the batteries got in the way of pedaling, and they needed special, cruddy wheels. Second-generation e-mountain bikes were a bit better designed, but their bottom brackets had to be dropped to keep all that weight down low — meaning just as things were getting rad, you buried a crank and wound up braking with your face.
Specialized’s new Turbo Kenevo Expert leads the charge of the third generation of E-MTBs — the first ones that don’t suck. It’s designed to rip down hills and climb up them again with equal aplomb. Like a Leatherman, it can do things you probably never will, but it’s cool to think you might.
Now, any bike weighing 53 pounds won’t exactly be deft; it’s going to demand some changes in technique. But the Expert excels when you point it straight down a chute, release the brakes, hit the dropper post lever to lower your seat, swing your backside over the rear wheel and hope for the best. Its specs showcase its intention to conquer the gnarliest of trails: the wide bars, short stem and frame that’s stiffer, lighter and longer than previous editions all contribute to high-speed stability. Thanks to a new design, the rear axle travels backwards as the suspension compresses, helping you deal with big, angular rocks and logs. Ride this bike like a monster truck, and you’ll be blown away with what you can make it over.
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But the Expert’s not just a downhill bomber. The design team rethought the geometry, shifting angles and weight distribution to improve pedaling efficiency and control on steep climbs, so shuttling back up the hill doesn’t suck all the fun out of sending it down. The bike’s three levels of electric assistance (Eco, Sport and Turbo) amplify your power by up to 410 percent, allowing you to tackle lines that would seem ridiculous on just about any other bike. Even better, the power spools out smoothly; it doesn’t lurch forward before seizing, like many e-bikes do. The battery is better, too: Specialized claims a 40 percent improvement in range over previous models, enough to sustain even the longest days of riding.
With the user-friendly Mission Control app, you can monitor the motor and battery, make adjustments and maximize efficiency. For example, you can regulate the pedal-assist level to last the duration of your ride, so you’re not stuck sweating after running out of juice on the final climb of the day. And if you’d prefer to keep your phone in your hip pack, there’s also a handy LED indicator light on the top tube next to the power button, so you can easily monitor your battery charge level.
Speaking of that battery: a common hang-up with e-mountain bikes is that they use a very specific removal key, one that inevitably disappears and leaves you searching for it between the car seats while your friends are cracking post-ride beers. Thankfully, the Expert’s power pack pops out with a simple Allen wrench, helping you get to the cooler more quickly. (And you will need to pop the battery out of the downtube to recharge it, because if the bike isn’t too filthy to bring inside after a day of riding, you’re doing it wrong.)
All of these advancements, of course, do nothing to prevent one of the worst parts of riding an e-bike: other riders accusing you of cutting corners, a critique that often involves the phrase “earn your turns.” But let’s face it — that’s bogus. You earn your turns by riding responsibly and doing trail maintenance, not muscling up hills. And if you have a permanent injury that hampers your riding capability, or if you’re new to cycling, or if you’re getting up in years but still want to rip with the kids, nobody should tell you that you haven’t “earned” the right to do so.
The Turbo Kenevo Expert opens mountain biking up to those who may not have been able to embrace it before, and that should be celebrated. So whether you fall into one of those aforementioned groups — or you love conquering rock gardens and chutes but hate sweaty vans — this exceptional e-bike is worth a long, lingering look.
Frame: M5 premium aluminum
Battery: 700 watt-hours
Travel: 180mm (7.1 inches)
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