Kavenz provided me with a semi-custom frame with a 480mm reach, 450mm seat tube and the taller 125mm head tube; which was fitted with a Fox DHX2 coil. It was up to me to build it up into a full bike, giving me an opportunity to use it as a test rig for a number of components I was given on test, as well as spec’ing it with some of my favorite components.
Build Selected | An Ohlins RFX38 was trusted to lead the way, which I fitted with a 180mm air spring to maximize the hard charging capabilities. Initially I ran the Fox rear shock, but shortly after commencing the test I swapped it out for an Ohlins TTX22 coil to match the fork. I picked up a Shimano SLX shifter and Deore 12spd derailleur, intrigued to see how the budget combo would stand up to some punishment. DMR provided me with some 165mm AXE cranks in a suitably matching raw/silver colorway; and I ran the trusty OneUp Composite bar and a Race Face Aeffect R stem. The brakes were Hope’s excellent Tech 4 V4 with 203mm rotors on both ends. I alternated between a OneUp 240mm V2 dropper, or the 210mm V2 dropper with an Aenomaly Constructs Switchgrade; topped with an SQ Lab 611 saddle which is my butts favorite. I experimented with a few different wheelsets, from the Nukeproof Horizon V2 alloy, through the SILT Carbon AM, to some Crankbrothers Synthesis Carbon E11, giving me a good feel for the stiffness of the frame, and settled on the Nukeproof up front and SILT in the rear. These were shod in a WTB Verdict TCS Light and Judge TCS Tough High Grip tire pairing, which proved to be excellent. All in all this purposeful and suitably burly spec tipped the scales at 35.5lbs (16.1kg) – a fairly typical weight for a modern enduro bike spec’d properly.
Climbing | Fitting the Kavenz with a 180mm fork skewed the geometry slightly, but even so the seat tube angle proved to be sufficiently steep to give a nicely centered seating position. The extension of the rear end at sag put to rest any major concerns with the short chainstay length on paper, with a much more balanced figure when seated, which only grows as the terrain gets steeper and you sit further into the rear travel. Thanks to this, in combination with a healthy amount of Anti Squat, the uphill capabilities of the VHP16 are very good. You can still produce some pedal bob when pedaling in squares, but some slightly smoother pedaling strokes receive a nicely balanced level of support. The VHP16 has an impressive ability to maintain momentum and traction when climbing over roots and rock ledges, feeling to hang up notably less than many competitor bikes, likely thanks to that rearward axle path and the lower pedal kickback than lower pivot point bikes. In terms of resistance from the idler, I’d say it’s lost in the noise when it comes to muddy drivetrains, only adding a little roughness when it gets particularly gritty and otherwise doing little to slow you down. That said, the Kavenz is not a featherweight bike, and there’s no mistaking that you’re on a relatively burly enduro machine with sticky rubber when you’re earning your turns.
Descending | I’m at risk of sounding like a fanboy but the Kavenz is awesome in just about every way. The geometry balance is dialed and the way that the “short” rear end on paper grows thanks to the high pivot as you go deep into the travel means the harder you push it, the more stable it becomes. As you initiate a turn, you’re given a shorter wheelbase that makes it tip in faster, then the harder you push the bike the more stable it gets. That said, it’s not extreme and doesn’t require you to fully “learn” the handling, with an intuitive response that just seems to know what you need when you need it.
I found that with a fairly quick rebound setting to increase the level of pop, and fairly high levels of compression damping, I was able to obtain plenty of platform to push off and stability in harder compressions without receiving any harsh sensations. Ever. Hucks to minimal landing and hard g-outs highlighted the impressive composure of the rear end, with both the Fox and Ohlins shocks. The braking characteristic prevents any excessive firming of the rear end when decelerating too, albeit producing the need to offset a slight forward pitch of the chassis by sitting into the rear of the bike a tad. It’s still a fairly long travel, bump eating enduro bike, so it’s not going to win a pumptrack race or slopestyle event, but it does feel to ride less challenging terrain impressively well given its gnar-taming abilities. The chassis has a sturdy feeling without being harsh, allowing a stiff wheel like the SILT Carbon AM to be fitted to make hard cornering a pleasure, or a softer alloy wheel to get the most compliance and traction.
In terms of durability, all the frame hardware stayed tight and the pivots ran smooth throughout the 3 month testing period. The idler wheel is still spinning without a hitch, I didn’t drop a single chain, and the chain slap is close to non-existent so the Kavenz runs beautifully quiet and smooth.
The Wolf’s Last Word
All in all, I’ve been very impressed by this small German company’s first bike offering – so much so, that I persuaded my house mate to buy one! The Kavenz VHP16 is a great example of a well engineered enduro bike, blending some phenomenal descending performance with pleasant climbing manners, and a bike that I can highly recommend.
Price: From €2,645 (Frame only, raw)
Weight as Tested: 35.5lbs (16.1kg)