Kestrel Legend SL - Review

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Brand: Kestrel

Model: Legend SL

Groupset: SRAM Red 22

Wheels: Oval Concepts 724 Super-lite

MSRP: $6099

Those who have been interested in cycling technology for a while will remember that Kestrel was the first manufacturer to build and sell an all carbon fiber frame, when they introduced the 4000 way back in 1986! Prior to the 4000's introduction, composite bikes were typically built with carbon tubes attached with alloy lugs. In addition to the significant advancement in materials, it also features aero shaped tubing and internal cable routing. Little did they know that those features, aero-shapes on monocoque construction would dominate the cycling landscape nearly 30 years later. Definitely cutting edge stuff.

A few years later Kestrel was ahead of the curve yet again with the introduction of the first carbon fork in 1989. The point of this little history recap is to show that Kestrel has a relatively long and pretty significant history when it comes to bike design, innovation, and engineering.

Kestrel's latest and greatest carbon bike, the Legend SL, was introduced for the 2013 season. Does its performance match its lofty namesake? Click past the jump to read the full review.

The Legend SL is meant to be Kestrel's all-around bike, focusing on stiffness-to-weight ratio and ride over aerodynamics (similar to Cervelo's R-series of bikes). The frame features all of the usual enhancements: tapered head tube, asymmetrical chain stays, press fit bottom bracket, etc. and comes in at a claimed 780 grams.

A nice engineering touch is that the frames are scaled depending on the size, i.e. larger bikes have larger diameter tubing to maintain consistent ride characteristics across the size range. This idea seems to be catching on with other manufacturers as well: the latest iteration of the Tarmac is reported to have such a feature.

The build spec features not a single dark spot, but instead has many highlights. The carbon bar weighs a svelte 172 grams; 180g for the carbon seatpost; and a carbon railed saddle (also 180g). 

It even comes with a top end tire: Vittoria's Open Corsa Evo CX. Perhaps the brightest star on this list is the wheelset.

What the Oval 724 wheels lack in an inspiring name, they more than make up for in specs. They are wider, deeper, and have more spokes than a Mavic Ksyrium SLS, all while being tubeless compatible and weighing 140 grams less (listed as 1260 grams)! The rear features 2:1 spoke lacing that equalises some of the unbalanced spoke tensions that come from dishing the wheel. Stiffer, more durable wheels are the purported advantages. Pretty good specs for a high end set of clinchers, and outstanding for a stock wheelset. More importantly, their performance matches the spec sheet.

Simply put, the entire build is dedicated to creating a high end bike that provides performance at a tremendous value. My only criticism would be the carbon wrap on the stem, which seems like an unnecessary aesthetic feature.

The SRAM Red 22 group performed flawlessly, as expected. As we discussed in our first impressions article (found here), the shift action is very crisp and direct with satisfying auditory feedback. The only exception to a full Red group was the inclusion of a gold KMC X11SL chain that went unnoticed in terms of performance while adding a nice touch of flourish.

On the actual road, all of these pieces come together to form a bike that is greater than the sum of its (impressive) parts. The geometry is dialed in to put you in an aggressive position. My size 57 had a 570mm top-tube and a 160mm head-tube, which is more long-and-low relative to most bikes on the market today. Once we got my position set and I was on the road, the bike quickly seemed to disappear underneath me. After a few accelerations and hard corners to get a sense of the bike's feel, I didn't have to think about anything. It was like it was an extension of my body.

The ride was buttery without being insulating. I don't know if the smooth ride was the result of the frame, seatpost, or the wheels (probably all three) but the Legend seemed to mute all but the harshest bumps while still allowing the important information through. We even took it over some gravel sections without missing a beat. It handled any terrain with confidence and compliance.

When the road turned upward, the Legend SL shined even brighter. My size has meant that I have never been much of climber, usually one to just sit and grind out long climbs or mash short ones. The Kestrel offered me a unique glimpse into what climbing could feel like. It was so light and responsive that it felt like it was willing me higher. Accelerations were effortless, and the front end was rock solid during out of the saddle pushes. The wheels held strong under my 205 pound frame.

If you can't already tell, we loved this bike!

We came into the Legend test with no expectations. Kestrel is not a flashy brand that you will find under high powered race teams or huge advertising campaigns. They have been fairly quiet over the past few years since they joined the ASI Group, but as the Legend SL proves, don't mistake quiet for complacent. The are doing some great work

What we can tell you is that they have a real winner in the Legend SL. We came away from the test duly impressed. It is by far one of the nicest bikes that we have had the pleasure of riding.

ASI, if you are listening, I would love to do a long term review (grin).

Rating

Comfort

: 3.5/4

Handling

: 3.75/4

Acceleration

: 3.75/4

Total: 18.5/20

Bonus:

Value:

+0.5 Great build for the price.

Final Rating: 9.5/10

Note:

The Ultegra build Legend might be one of the best values this season. Priced at $2499, the build uses a slightly different carbon lay-up that results in a slightly higher weight (hence, the loss of the 'SL' designation) and a near-complete Ultegra drivetrain. The crankset is the exception to the full group spec. It is branded as an Oval crank, but we are told that it is sourced from Praxis Works, a company who were really like and respect for their engineering and top quality products, so we wouldn't rate that as much of a down spec as many other options.