Long Time Coming
Marshall Mullen’s Custom Kenevo
Words & Photos by Chili Dog
How many of you still own a DH bike? If so, how often do you get out to ride it? It seems that every year DH bike owners become fewer and fewer as trail bikes become more capable and versatile. Some have argued that downhill bikes are dead. While we believe nothing replaces the feeling you get on a downhill bike when a worthy trail warrants it, our desire to push a big DH bike up a hill has waned.
It seems more often than not people prefer to include their local DH-bike descent into a bigger ride that may get you twice as many downhills. Even if it is on a slightly slower bike. Will downhill bikes soon be relegated to gravity fiends who live near bike parks or those on a quest to compete in World Cup events? We hope not, but we’re pretty sure bikes like Marshall Mullen’s Specialized Kenevo would have a lot of riders pulling their big bike out of the garage a lot more often.
As a grom, Marshall Mullen raced the local SoCal Fontana DH series and remembers hiking to the top in the summer heat. “I remember dragging myself up that asphalt road and pushing my 50 pound bike to the top to re-ride a section of trail. One practice I heard this 2-stroke motor in the distance and some guy came ripping up the road with this crazy motor thing on the back of his bike. On the way down he’d race with it in a backpack. He was selling them in the parking lot for like $900. We all hated it, but kind of wanted one,” Marshall recalls.
It wasn’t that his idea was bad; it’s just that the execution wasn’t right. Fast forward a few years and now e-bikes have come along. “I thought my Levo was cool. It was my first e-MTB and really opened my eyes to what could be achieved with a little extra help. Even though I rode plenty of gnarly stuff on my Levo, I always dreamt of a full-blown DH rig with a motor,” said Marshall. Thinking back to one of his first rides on the Levo Marshall remembered, “I thought to myself that the ultimate e-bike would be a DH bike. One that you can pedal to the top easily, but keep the handling of a downhill bike on the way down. As soon as I saw the first photo of the new Kenevo, I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to throw a dual crown on there.’ I knew it would hurt some feelings, but I knew this was the bike to make my dream a reality.”
Even as a Specialized ambassador, the build had some hurtles. “I had a lot of people telling me it was a bad idea. They said the fork was too tall and would lift the front end too high. Everyone I talked to claimed it wouldn’t ride right. The new Fox 40 would be an entire inch longer, and have a much greater offset than the stock Lyrik that comes on the bike. I was certain that this was still the best choice.
Even before the fork swap, the BB on the Kenevo was an inch higher than my Levo. The Kenevo comes stock with a BB height of 13.78 inches but with the 40 installed it’s now 14.13 inches. This is substantially higher than the Levo, but I actually prefer it. I am able to run a more appropriate amout of sag in the suspension without constantly bashing pedals when climbing over technical terrain. A big benefit to these bikes is the ability to pedal over anything, and with a really low BB, it becomes an issue. At least for now, I’ve found a sweet spot in BB height.”
Because of the relative newness of e-bikes and the fact that most aren’t targeted towards gravity riders – most wheelsets are Boost 15mm. “My Fox 40 is non-boost 20mm, so my second hurtle popped up,” Marshall continued. “The problem was sorted in the form of a new set of Carbon Roval Traverse 38SL Fatties, laced to a 20mm front hub from an older Roval wheelset. Next he addressed the stack height since the dual crown fork was going to have some side affects. At first a small 35mm DM stem was used. This led to the front end of the bike being too high, because with a direct mount stem at that length, the top crown is forced to the top of the stanchions. The bars can’t clear the stations and steer tube. The second thing I tried was a Deity 50mm stem and Blacklabel 800mm bars with 25mm rise. This little change made all the difference. I was able to lower the top crown to the correct height. The bike instantly felt like a proper DH bike.
“The first ride consisted of a lot of tinkering, but as soon as everything was sorted, it handled just like my Demo,” Marshall explained. While most complain about the weight of an e-bike, in the DH bike category, the penalty is barely 10 pounds. It’s a small price to pay to transform your bike from needing to be pushed or driven up a hill to being able to ride the bike from start to end. “My favorite DH trail used to take me an hour to push up, for a 5 minute descent. I’m now looping that three or four times in the same amount of time. It’s unreal,” says Marshall.
After seeing the final build, it’s easy to see why this was a dream bike. E-bike bashing aside, it’s one bad ass looking machine. The black, gold, and yellow color scheme is pure class, while the bike’s aggressive stance let’s you know it’s not just a pretty face. Marshall excitedly said, “Believe it or not, the Kenevo DH handles like a dream. The geo is spot on for what I wanted. The first ride out, I took it to the steepest climbs around, not only did I make everything, but it actually climbs better than my Levo or StumpJumper on the loose stuff. It’s opened my eyes to what is really going to be possible with these bikes. I am fired up with the amount of potential flowing in.”
As most good mountain bikers do, Marshall planned a quick road trip to break the bike in properly. We tagged along and explored the high deserts of California in an area traditionally reserved for motos and other OHV’s. We packed up in the early morning hours and headed out in search of some big mountain style lines. Nestled in this endless corridor of ravines and ridges is mountain bike gold. Normally it would be incredibly difficult to access this zone, but with an e-bike helping you cover ground, the horizons expand before you. The perfect dirt comes together with just the right terrain to form rideable sculptures of earth.
“It would suck on a normal bike, but on this thing, I can pedal up and send it down all the lines I want to explore and hit. Climbs I couldn’t dream of making on a XC pedal bike, I’m making on a DH bike,” said Marshall. Even in the loose, sandy soil, making it up was no issue. The secret zone we found was littered with terrain that was reminiscent of a miniature Utah. We were able to cover more ground than a traditional bike without needing to pack along a moto to go scout lines. The Kenevo felt right at home tearing into the loose, dusty earth and the bottom line is, we had fun!
Are pedal assist motors going to reignite the DH bike’s popularity? We don’t know for sure but after this trip we definitely feel there will be a strong contingent of riders who will benefit from having a pedalable big bike in their arsenal!
We’d like to thank CJC Off Road for letting us use their bad ass rig for our desert exploration.
Marshall would like to thank Specialized Bicycles, Fox, and Deity Components.