Cannondale Moterra Neo 3 review

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Hannah takes the Cannondale Moterra Neo 3 through the winter slop. Or is it the Moterra that’s taking her out into it?

Three things I liked

  • Bosch Kiox display – clear, easy to read, actually has the time on it.
  • Handling – agile, fun, confident. All the things you want in a mountain bike, in an eMTB.
  • It just works – a no quirks package (once you’ve swapped the tyres) that lets you get on with having fun.

Three things I’d change

  • Bosch Kiox controller – too many lights and buttons. Something simpler and glove friendlier would be better.
  • The weight – such a beast to handle when not actually riding it.
  • The tyres – a Rekon has no place on an eMTB in my opinion.

Stop right there. Do not pass Go, do not leave the shop. Remove that Rekon from the back wheel and replace it with something sensible and knobby. Sell the Rekon, give it to your XC friend, put it on your turbo trainer. Whatever, just take it off this bike. The Maxxis Rekon has no place on an e-bike, unless it’s an e-gravel monster crosser. Whoever specced the Rekon needs a sharp talking to. This is an e-MTB, with a hulking great big motor and battery. Give it a proper tyre with knobs and puncture protection, like it deserves.

The Maxxis Rekon rear tyre is a disastrous low point in an otherwise great bike. There are sensible mounts in sensible places. Everything works just fine. 29inch WTB ST i30 TCS rims, a bunch of Cannondale finishing kit plus Fabric Fun Guy grips… I even got a WTB saddle, which was a welcome alternative to the Fabric Scoop listed on the spec sheet (which does not suit my behind at all).

The SRAM DB8 brakes might be there to meet a price point, but I don’t care because they actually work (although note that on the spec sheet it lists Shimano MT420 4-piston hydraulic discs). They don’t quite have the sharp bite of some brakes, but they’re fine, and they manage to stop this beast of a bike.

I can’t remember the last time I rode a bike with a Rockshox Yari fork on it, but again I’m not complaining – it works. The Shimano XT/Deore mix drive train works too, unsurprisingly. The Bosch Performance CX motor with Kiox 300 with LED remote display and 750Wh PowerTube battery adds power to the package. By the way, the new style Bosch charger is a big improvement on the old one. Much less flimsy and fiddly.

At £5,750, the Cannondale Moterra Neo 3 is in the mid range of the e-bike market. It’s got an alloy frame – although you can get a carbon model if you prefer – and some of the components are perhaps a little lower-end than us bike journos are used to being sent.

At this price and 150/150mm travel, potential purchasers are likely to be comparing it to bikes like the Giant Trance X E+ (Alloy), Trek Rail 9.5 (Carbon), Specialized Turbo Levo (Alloy). There are deals to be had on all these bikes, including the Cannondale Neo. It’s a bit swings and roundabouts between them all on component specifications, and on paper the Moterra Neo 3 is perhaps fractionally poorer value (especially when you account for that tyre swap). But it does come with the excellent Bosch motor – and, great handling. 

The Cannondale promotional blurb says ‘What makes the Moterra Neo really shine is how it handles. With our Proportional Response size-specific design, each frame size gets its own unique suspension layout, geometry, and frame construction, so it handles like it was built just for you. Because it was.’ I like to treat such marketing copy with a good deal of scepticism, but I have to concede that this might not be hyperbole. It’s flipping brilliant fun to ride. It’s probably the most fun I’ve had on a full fat e-bike yet. 

The Ride

The Bosch Cx motor works exactly as you’d expect it to, but this was the first time I’d used it with the Knox 300 display. This thing displays more information than I have any interest in knowing, but it does – Glory Be! – have a clock on it. Being able to ride along and easily see what time it is is brilliant. There seems to have been a lot of effort in the bike world going into getting rid of display screens, as if there is some sort of need to be stealthy, or hide that you’re on an e-bike. Phooey to all that. Give me a great big screen that tells me how much battery I’ve got left, what assist mode I’m in, and what time it is. Please and thank you.

Less brilliant in my opinion is the controller, which lights up like some kind of fruit machine and has about as many buttons. I have little to no interest in cycling through various bits of data and information about my ride, but I am interested in being able to operate the buttons while wearing moderately thick winter gloves. Especially on an e-bike, where I’m less likely to be generating a ton of heat. And especially on a mountain bike, where I’m not going to be pairing my phone up with it and mounting it to my bars. I can see that this functionality (and especially the navigation) might be handy to have in an urban or touring setting, but not here. Scrap all the diddly little buttons, give me an on/up/down/walk set of buttons, and that would do nicely. Please.

For those of you that like to turn your bike upside down at the end of a ride in order to dismantle your bike and squeeze it into your hatchback, the controller and display screen will likely be a hinderance. I put up with the controller and loved the screen. Ooh, there’s still time to squeeze in another hill. Let’s go!

I eyed the Yari up with a little suspicion, but in fact it is absolutely fine. If you’re a heavier rider that likes to huck off stuff a lot, you may prefer the added support of a burlier fork, but I think for most people it will be enough. I’ve hammered this bike along rocky descents and the repeated hits of local packhorse trails, and it’s given me a much easier ride than I’ve had on plenty of higher specced bikes. Setting it up was easy enough, though I followed the manufacturer’s recommended settings rather than sag. Going by sag I found I ended up with my fork way too firm and never got near using all the travel.

I would have liked to be able to rearrange the cockpit just a little more to give me easier one finger rather than two finger braking, but the dropper/motor-control/brakes combo had me settling for brakes set just a little closer to the ends of the bars than I’d have liked. Not really a deal breaker, and probably something you could fix with some alternative match making attachments were it your own bike and this bothered you.

Aluminium frame, relatively bargain fork, budget brakes… surely a recipe for ending up at the bottom of any descent with jelly arms? But no, not at all. It all works, and it works well. As soon as you stand up, you’re placed naturally balanced with your nipples over your bars, or thereabouts.

My arms feel relaxed and in control, I can steer the bike by leaning it rather than turning the bars, it’s agile and confident and there’s no hanging off the back, dragging the brakes and rattling your fillings. It’s fun. Lots of fun.

It feels like riding a mountain bike – a fun one. Not a boundary pushing technology advancing it’s-different-but-I-think-it’s-better one, just a well balanced ride that lets you play around on the trail and forgives you the occasional mistake. Which is, I think, what most of us are looking for in a mountain bike.

This agility on the bike was at odds with the handling off the bike. At 25.99kg (weighed with our test tyres on, and the pedals off) it’s a muckle beastie, and even just lifting it to manoeuvre it into my garage felt like quite a weightlifting feat. There is absolutely no way I would be contemplating any cheeky trails with stiles or some such on this.

Most of my riding is from home, so the occasions for me to need to load the bike into a car are minimal. If you need to drive this bike to your local trails, I think you should factor the weight into the equation: will your bike rack take it, and will you even be able to lift it onto the bike rack? For sure, there are plenty of other ebikes that are of a similar weight, but I did find this one particularly awkward to get a grip on. Perhaps it’s the sloping top tube and shock orientation that creates a lack of easy hand holds?

Another faff factor here is the front axle – it needs an Allen key to undo it, so if you need to remove it to fit it in the back of your car, be sure to keep one in your boot. Don’t get to the trails and realise you left it at home!

Given that the components are not some high end über-bling, I have to assume that the fun handling is indeed down to the interplay between the ‘Proportional Response’ suspension kinematics and the geometry.

At 5ft 9.5 inches, I’m right at the upper end of the suggested height for the medium I’ve been riding. Would I go larger and longer? I don’t think so – this bike feels comfortable and balanced to me. If I was keen to steepen up the pedalling angle by slamming the saddle forward, a larger bike would give me more room to do so (on this medium a neutral saddle position felt right, and moving it forward had me missing the back of the saddle when sitting down), but I find my knees are happier to tolerate a slacker seat tube angle when there’s e-assist.

It’s not the easiest bike to get off the ground, but it’s no snowplough either. The handling is responsive, and lets you pick a line and wriggle your way along the trail, rather than just straight lining through everything in a neutralising fashion. Ground clearance is good too, and the only time I’ve caught the underside of the motor was when getting completely off line and rolling a step which should have been a drop.

All in all, the Cannondale Moterra Neo 3 rides like a mountain bike, albeit a heavy one. It was a wholly less woman vs bike wrestling experience than I’ve had on some other full fat eMTBs.

One point of note about the suspension design is that it does have quite a lot going on in it, which makes for a difficult to clean set of nooks and crannies. Prepare to deploy patience and small brushes.

With all the winter slop (and a journo quantity of tyres in the workshop), I actually ended up swapping both the front Maxxis Minion DHF and Maxxis Rekon rear tyres. That’s probably going further than absolutely necessary, but grip is good, right? With that Rekon removed, traction was great at all times, and I didn’t have to make any unusual body position accommodations in order to keep things moving forward.

The four-level motor assist of Eco-Tour-eMTB-Turbo also helps keep things balanced between being in control and keeping moving. If you want to adjust the base tune of this using the app, you can do so.

I tended to use eMTB mode for much of my rides, as it provides enough assist to make everything pretty effortless, without having the running away from you feeling of Turbo on technical climbs. This does drain the battery a little quicker, but with a little more judicious use of Eco and Tour modes I think you’ll find you can achieve 40km of hilly terrain without too much anxiety.

As I live half way up a steep hill, I do tend to err on the side of caution – I have no desire to be pedalling this beast up a 15% gradient without any assist. I also have no desire to be pushing it home – an unfortunate valve core removal moment had me sweating the 200m back up the hill to home. I should just have pedalled home in the first place instead of using the hand pump so near to home! It’s easy enough to remove the battery cover and battery, and if your garage is especially cold you might want to do this. I couldn’t get the battery to charge to 100% overnight in the coldest of winter weather.

Overall

Once you’ve swapped out that Rekon, the Cannondale Moterra Neo 3 is just fun to ride. With all the extra assist and range that comes of a big battery, you can just head out the door and ride laps. If you don’t get out there, it’s your head that stopping you. Having made the leap from sofa to saddle, the fun handling will have you adding in those extra miles time and time again. It doesn’t feel like it’s pushing any envelopes or starting any revolutions, but instead it’s delivering an uncompromised ride with all the assist you could want.


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