Cannondale Moterra NEO SL first ride: 19.5kg, 85Nm, 601Wh

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The Cannondale Moterra NEO SL really does deliver on the brand’s aim to build ‘The lightest full-power mountain bike ever’.

Apparently the Cannondale Moterra NEO SL came about after an internal debate about what an eMTB should be.

Should it let you whizz up the hills without range anxiety (or ever having to utter the cursed words ‘I’ve got enough left for one more lap’)?

Should you be able to throw shapes and flick it around the trail like a mountain bike that uses leg power alone?

Does SL stand for Super Light, Slightly Lighter, or Slightly Less Good?

The folks at Cannondale thought they could have their cake and eat it, and set about making a bike that would deliver all the torque and battery capacity of a full fat ebike, but with the handling of traditional full suspension bike. The Moterra Neo SL is the result.

Cannondale Moterra NEO SL in a nutshell

  • 150mm rear travel
  • 160 fork travel
  • Mullet 29/27.5 wheels
  • Two carbon frame options
  • Moterra SL LAB7 – 19.5kg claimed weight (based on size Medium with 180ml of sealant)
  • Moterra SL 1 – 19.7kg claimed weight
  • Moterra SL 2 – 20.6kg claimend weight
  • Moterra SL Lab 71 – £12,500
  • Moterra SL 1 – £8,550
  • Moterra SL 2 – £6,550

All bikes in the range are 150mm rear/160mm front travel bikes, and come with a mullet wheel set up – although a flip chip allows you to run a 29er front and rear if you choose.

Weighing in around 20kg for a whole bike, it’s still up there near the weight of old alloy DH sleds – but that was fun even without a motor, right?

The Moterra Neo SL comes fitted with a Shimano EP801 motor, delivering 85Nm of torque. You get a 601Wh battery which is Cannondale’s own design of battery, complete with dense battery construction that packs more power into each cell, plus a lightweight liner to keep the weight down.

297 U LAB71 Moterra Neo SL EU – BPT

Four modes, three colours

The motor has been tuned to give four modes instead of Shimano’s usual three.

  • 1 (Blue) – to make you feel like your legs are riding a cross country bike on a good day
  • 2 (Green) – designed for riding with friends on half fat MTBs
  • 3 (also Green) – designed for riding with friends on full fat eMTBs
  • 4 (Yellow) – boost, for giving it the beans

You can use the Shimano E-Steps app to adjust the modes, however there is currently no way to change the colour between the modes. This means you’re stuck with two green modes next to one another, and the only thing that shows the difference between them is a tiny number 2 or 3 that I found impossible to decipher on the trail.

When climbing and heading towards a steeper or more technical section, I would have liked it to be clearer whether I was in 2 and could safely shift up an assist level to 3, or if I was in 3 and would be better served by switching into an easier gear rather than having the lack of control that I find comes with Boost. This is a Shimano setting that I (and, perhaps Cannondale) hope they might change in future.

On the top tube there is the power button and LED display to indicate battery charge and assist mode. If you wanted an extra clean stealth look, you could operate the bike without the extra display screen.

Two carbons, one flex

The bike comes in two versions of the frame – the LAB 71 is the tricked out version with fancier lighter weight carbon construction. While the other models share the same slightly heavier carbon frame.

Both versions come equipped with a flex pivot. This is a thin ‘science bendy’ section of carbon which eliminates the need for a bearing. This technology has been used in other Cannondale bikes for some time, and is now brought to the might of the Moterra, which is tested and warrantied right up to E-EDR World Series level.

Both versions of the frame are proportionately sized in an attempt to give the same ride experience across sizes. Cannondale calls this Proprortional Response geometry. This gives a reach of 445mm on a size Medium and 470mm on a Large.

Slack attack

The head angle is 62.5° across all sizes, and while the actual angle varies the effective seat tube angle is 77°. Droppers of 170mm length are fitted in sizes M-XL, although I’m told a 200mm One up dropper will fit.

2024 Cannondale Media Camp

The frame has room for a bottle – just. Like a lot of eMTBs, it’s a little tight to get a full sized bottle in there, and the bike comes with a slightly side loading cage.

2024 Cannondale Media Camp

Build kit

At the press camp, I test rode the Cannondale Moterra NEO SL1 in European spec. This comes with SRAM Eagle XO AXS T-Type drivetrain, Magura MT7 4-piston brakes, Cannondale DownLow dropper post.

It’s a mix of mechanical and electronic that I’m happy with. Having said that, as I’d not ridden the new SRAM pods much previously it did seem to take me a bit to get all the dropper/assist/gears positions straight in my head!

I found the Magura brakes to have a nice decisive feel to them, giving plenty of confidence that they’ll stop you – there’s no sensation of flex or marshmallow squish that you can sometimes get with ebike vs brakes. [NB: the UK and USA spec of the SL1 comes with SRAM Code Silver Stealth brakes – the Maguras are only for the Euro market.]

The bike comes with a carbon bar and fairly chunky Cannondale grips. With the fat grips I found my hands aching pretty rapidly. The fatigue was definitely more in my hands than in my arms or shoulders; a grip swap would be likely to address it.

The Fox 36 Factory fork and Fox Float X Factory shock offered plenty of support, and were it a longer test with time to spend in the workshop I’d experiment with removing volume spacers tokens and trying a slightly softer fork setting. As it was though, I had no trouble with brake dive or fork flex – the Fox 36 feels an appropriate choice for an e-bike.

Rocky riding

Coupled with that slack head angle, I was rolling or dropping steep boulders and steps, without any fear of getting caught up and being spat out. I did catch the underside of the motor on a couple of occasions, but there’s a big bash plate there designed for that very situation.

I do think an even shorter crank than the 165mm that comes fitted would be an advantage on this bike. We were riding rocky terrain which had plenty of opportunities to catch pedals on climbs and descents, but even so, I did feel I had rather a lot of pedal strikes. The 165mm cranks are perhaps the only component that feels a little out of step with the time – many bikes these days come with shorter cranks.

The tyres are a pleasingly sensible Maxxis Minion DHF and Dissector EXO+ rubbers – no need to budget for swapping to something else, well not immedaitely anyway.

Perhaps anticipating some journo bike-abusing, the press camp mechanics had fitted a rear tyre insert on our test bikes. Whether it was this or the tyres that did the trick I couldn’t say, but despite our best efforts on boulder fields and rocky descents, there wasn’t a single puncture on our test ride.

How does 5kg weight saving translate to the trail?

It’s certainly noticeable and gives something approaching the oft-toted ‘natural’ ride feel. Leaning the bike feels comfortable, and hauling on the brakes or tackling some low speed technical terrain is absent of the ‘oil tanker’ sensation you can get with a heavier e-beast.

I found myself being able pick my lines through rock gardens rather than having to steamroller through and hope for the best – much more like the sort of ride I’d be hoping for from an acoustic enduro bike.

2024 Cannondale Media Camp

You’d not be in a hurry to lift it over a fence or stile, but it could be done. It’s light enough that Boost does seem largely redundant and/or reckless luxury – on a road climb it’s easy enough to whizz uphill in chilled fashion in trail mode 3.

Scores on the doors

On our test ride we did 19 miles and 3900 feet of climbing, and I finished with 2 bars of battery still remaining. I did wonder if reducing the battery size might make sense, but then again the weight saving would be negligible for the loss of range.

The bike comes with the same Shimano EP8 whine – or mosquito buzz – that you get elsewhere, but otherwise the bike was pleasingly quiet and free of annoying rattles or clunks.

Overall

I think until I can comfortably lift a ebike over a fence, it’s not quite going to open up the same world as a standard bike. At 20kg (or 19.3kg for the tippy top LAB71 version) it’s still a little beyond what my weedy arms can lift that high. However, for now, the Cannondale Moterra NEO SL does deliver on Cannondale’s aim to build ‘The lightest full-power mountain bike ever’.

Cannondale Moterra NEO SL 1 specification

  • Frame // Series 1 Carbon, 150mm
  • Fork // Fox Float Factory 36 GRIP2, 160mm
  • Shock // Fox Float X Factory, 210 x 55mm
  • Wheels // DT Swiss XM1700
  • Front tyre // Maxxis Minion DHF 29 x 2.5in 3C EXO+
  • Rear tyre // Maxxis Dissector 29 x 2.4in 3C EXO+
  • Chainset // E13 E-Spec Race Carbon Gen 4, 165mm, 34T
  • Drivetrain // SRAM XO Eagle AXS Transmission
  • Brakes // Magura MT7, 203/203mm
  • Stem // Cannondale 1, 35mm
  • Bars // HollowGram SAVE, 780 x 30mm, 35mm,
  • Grips // Cannondale TaperRidge
  • Seatpost // DownLow dropper 170mm
  • Saddle // Fizik Terra Ridon X3
  • Bottom Bracket // SRAM DUB
  • Motor // Shimano EP8, Custom Tuned, 85Nm
  • Battery // Custom 601Wh
  • Size tested // M
  • Sizes available // S, M, L, XL
  • Head angle // 62.5°
  • Effective seat angle // 77.0° (Medium)
  • Seat tube length // 400mm
  • Head tube length // 125mm
  • Effective top tube // 592mm
  • BB height // 30mm BB drop
  • Reach // 445mm
  • Chainstay // 449mm (Medium)
  • Wheelbase // 1,248mm

BTW, the trails we rode were flippin’ excellent fun. Have a look at Mr Bryceland getting his wheels around them.

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