We were lucky enough to be able to snag a Cannondale Habit Neo 3 for a couple of days in advance of the launch.
As you’ll have seen by now, Cannondale has just announced a major launch of new e-bikes in both its Moterra and new Habit NEO e-bike ranges. The bikes are both brand new and we were lucky enough to be able to snag a Cannondale Habit Neo 3 for a couple of days in advance of the launch. And despite cramming for the next magazine deadline, we’ve managed to clock up 60km on the bike in just a couple of days. Enough to bring you a pretty good first impression of the Cannondale Habit Neo.
On first carpark impressions, the bike – especially in the pearl orange colour that we have – the Habit Neo is a good-looking, striking bike. It helps that we’ve had a few years of looking at the chunkier proportions of e-bikes to help it look ‘normal’ but the bold, straight tubes do a good job of reinforcing the bike’s no-nonsense, but eager looks.
This was the first proper go that I’d had on the new Bosch CX Performance system. An e-bike system that I’d been hearing behind-the-scenes good things about for a couple of years. The system has lost a lot of weight over the previous generation, the cranks have moved to the back of the motor (enabling shorter chainstays and pivots where they should be) and the whole system is a lot more serviceable than the previous ‘return to base’ systems.
The software too has been hugely improved. While there’s still the familiar Eco, Tour and Turbo modes, there’s a new ‘e-MTB’ mode which appears to span the whole range of Eco to Turbo within a single setting. Pedal hard and you’ll get an instant shot of power, but pedal gently and you’ll get the merest whiff of assistance.
The bike we had in is a size Medium, Habit Neo 3, which seemed to fit my 175cm/5ft 9in frame for reach (445mm on a medium) and pedal height just fine. It did take a while to get the brakes and shifters working to my liking, to be honest. The chunky clamps of the Magura MT30 brakes didn’t want to play nicely with the SRAM e-bike Eagle 12 speed shifter. Move the shifter in close and it would foul on the brake lever clamp, so it had to sit more inboard than I’d like. On the other side, the Bosch display cantilevers nicely over the Magura lever, but the push-down lever for the TransX dropper post makes a big obstacle for hands reaching over to get to the Bosch control unit. And once there, the buttons are computer mouse-sensitive, so best pressed on a smooth surface. Riding a bumpy climb and trying to hit a button for a touch more (or less!) power was hit and miss at times.
The spec is decent mid-range stuff, par for the price of the e-bike. One visual thing stood out (apart from the gorgeous orange sparkle paint) was the huge rotors. With a 203mm rotor out back and a mahoosive 220mm up front, there was no missing these bad boys.
Charged up, powered up and ready to ride. The motor thrum is constant, but calm and efficient sounding. It’s not invisible, but it soon gets forgotten or ignored as you take on a day of ‘What’s up this 25% slope?’ and ‘I wonder what’s down that track?’ The controls are simple enough – and with Eco, Tour, e-MTB and Turbo on hand, there’s always a level of assistance available. I must admit that I wasn’t sure about e-MTB mode at first. There’s certainly a lot of power available, and for stamping on the pedals away from the lights, it’s great. For more nuanced riding, like a damp, steppy rocky climb, it can take a lot of mastering. I often ended up in Tour rather than e-MTB just for the limited amount of assistance it offers. However, once you get the hang of e-MTB mode, you can just stick it in one mode and summon whatever power you need to get the job done (up to 26km or so anyway)
As a trail bike, the Habit NEO shares a lot of the good-natured fun of the acoustic Habit. The 29er wheels roll over just about anything and the rear end of the bike in particular is wonderful at sucking down at the ground and keeping traction going. The RockShox 35 Gold RL worked well and kept the bike tracking true, but the fork often felt a little outclassed by the rear suspension, which gave up the travel without ever feeling out of its depth. The 35 fork did seem to run out of class a lot earlier than the rear, giving a choppy feel to the proceedings – and not helped by the ‘Californian Summer’ Maxxis treads fitted. They may be all-cushioning 2.6in jobs, but I’d prefer, say a 2.4 with some decent knobs, especially at the front.
On long, sustained, technical climbs, the Habit Neo works wonders. It keeps the power going through to the ground, without slipping or lacking in torque. Running it in e-MTB mode could mean some edge-of-wheelie moments that could be dealt with by leaning forward, but the pointy Fabric saddle didn’t encourage prolonged nose-sitting. I’d be keener to see a flatter, wider saddle nose as e-bike climbs are often despatched while seated.
On more rolling trails, I found that I was nudging the 25km limiter more often that I expected. The bike certainly barrels along with what feels like the minimum of effort. Throwing it around in corners too is great fun and the bike shares both a stable feel, and a sense of nippiness that the big wheels and hefty weight don’t suggest.
Talking of weight, there’s no mistaking that this is a chunky bike. Our office scales put this a Twix short of 50lbs, which is a lot of bike to move around. It makes you wonder what it might weigh without a carbon front triangle… Once riding, though, that weight virtually disappears, as the Habit powers up climbs again and again, encouraging a bit of sessioning on the local descents, or some backcountry exploration.
In terms of things I didn’t like about the bike, I’d have to pick on the handlebar controls, that just didn’t want to play well together. As a development partner with Bosch (who, in turn are mates with Magura) you’d think that they’d find a better solution to making the various controls play better together.
The Magura MT30 brakes themselves weren’t great, despite being four pot brakes up front (with 220mm rotors) and 200mm two-pots out back. While the power was there, once the pads were bedded in, there was still a lingering, spongy feel at the lever that had me dialling the brakes out way further than I normally do, just to have a decent amount of lever at the bars.
Oh, and the tyres wouldn’t be my first choice for the UK, though they bore up surprisingly well.
The ‘likes’ column, however, is pretty full. The Cannondale Habit Neo 3 looks great in its orange splendour, and the motor and battery integration makes the bike look a million dollars. With 500 or 625W/hr batteries (500w/hr on this model) there’s still enough juice available for most riders on a big day out.
And that’s what this bike encourages. Big days out. The Habit Neo just gets you to ride out to see what’s out there. The suspension is quiet and supple, the motor works to give you just enough power (and a bit more for luck) whatever you’re doing and the gear range is SRAM’s ‘why need any more?’ Eagle.
I reckon the new Habit Neo range of e-bikes deserve to be great hits. This is a bike that is familiar enough to most trail riders that you can just hop on and ride. We have some interesting times ahead…