Words by Drew Rohde | Photos by Drew Rohde
Video by Brian Niles/Treeline Cinematics
Cannondale has two Neo bikes in their mountain bike lineup, both of which are pedal assist Class 1 eMTBs. The Cannondale Habit Neo is the brand’s do-it-all trail ebike whereas the Moterra Neo is billed as the highly-capable all mountain eMTB. Both bikes share many of the same features like Cannondale’s BallisTec carbon fiber construction, a size-specific suspension concept and a Bosch Performance CX drive unit. From there however, the bikes part ways and seek to deliver different experiences for their ideal consumer. Seeing as our favorite things about ebiking are the ability to explore, ride natural and raw terrain and shuttle ourselves to the top of our favorite descents, we opted to take the 160mm Moterra for our science experiment.
Available in four different builds, Cannondale offers the Moterra to riders looking to spend anywhere from $6,000 to $9,000 on their next eMTB. All of the bikes retain the same geo and travel, with the exception of the Cannondale Moterra SE model, which comes spec’d with a Rock Shox Boxxer, sporting 180mm of front wheel travel and a burly Rock Shox Super Deluxe Select rear shock. For our upcoming long-term review and this feature we’ve been riding the Moterra 2.
Retailing for $7,000, the Moterra Neo 2 is built around a Bosch Performance CX drive unit with 250W of support and a 625Wh battery. The Bosch Purion display is mounted on the left side of the bars and offers easy access to mode adjustments but doesn’t offer much else in the way of data. After some initial rides we were blown away by the power of what is already our favorite eMTB drive unit and reached out to Cannondale engineers asking if they worked with Bosch on a custom tune as the Moterra seemed to just pull away from everything else in our fleet. We learned a bit about heat management and motor placement, which you can read about in our Q&A interview below. We did notice however that if we started a ride on a battery that wasn’t charged fully, the power wasn’t the same as when we’d top it off.
Bolted to the Bosch drive unit are 160mm FSA crankarms that we can’t stop raving about. The short crank arms allow us to pedal through and over terrain that had us coasting, or stubbing toes, on other bikes. Shifting and managing the power on the Moterra 2 is a SRAM NX 12-speed shifter and GX Eagle derailleur and Magura MT5 four-piston brakes.
We recently did a deep-dive look at the Magura brakes and measured stopping distance with two different brake pad compounds which you can see here.
GEOMETRY AND TECHNICAL FEATURES
Designed to be a capable all-around bike, the Cannondale Moterra isn’t leading the way in terms of progressive geometry. Instead it relies on a safer, middle ground geometry that will keep it fun and lively on a majority of trails for a majority of riders. The downside is that new-school DH-biased shredders will not be comfortable on the steepest descents with quick transitioning corners because of the 66.5-degree head tube angle and 51mm offset. Then again that’s probably less than 5% of the riding demographic looking at the Moterra.
When asked about Cannondale’s reasoning to go with a 51mm offset they replied, “We tested the 51mm offset against shorter offsets back to back. At the time, we found with the geometry of the bike, that this offset strikes the best compromise out of really good climbing ability and descending stability, especially at high speeds.”
There is no denying that the Cannondale Moterra climbs very well for a 160mm eMTB, and the steering is precise and snappy. Riders who live for the downhills will likely notice the same feelings we did when the going get steep and turns come in quick succession. Once again though, what we experienced on the bike is likely something that a great majority of riders will not notice, or if they do, it won’t be as a negative characteristic, but instead will make them love how snappy and effortless the bike is to navigate around tighter terrain.
Cannondale also employs their Proportional Response Suspension Technology, which focuses on delivering riders of varying heights and weight the best ride possible. For example, the size small, which comes with 27.5” wheels has different suspension kinematics thanks to modified pivot locations compared to each of the larger 29”-wheel equipped frames.
Also carrying over from Cannondale’s tech labs is their Ai, or Asymmetric Integration. By offsetting the rear hub and drivetrain 6mm to the right, Cannondale is able to offer short (450mm) chainstays that are stiff and work with a stiffer rear wheel. The offset allows for equal spoke tension to be used on both sides of the wheel for a stiffer, longer-lasting wheel build. We certainly found this to be true in our first few weeks of riding this bike as we have been intentionally testing the bike’s stiffness by slamming the rear end into corners.
After our quick introduction to the Cannondale Moterra on our local trails during the last few weeks, we reached out to Cannondale with some more questions.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE MAIN OBJECTIVES WHEN CREATING THE MOTERRA?
We wanted to create a bike, that rides as well down the mountain and as it does up. Focusing on performance attributes like braking and traction. The Geo should be useable to a wide variety of riders and not be overly aggressive, as we see a lot of rider travel up from Trail bikes or hardtails to longer travel ebikes. Also we wanted to work with Bosch on the bike with their latest drive unit and battery, as the power delivery, range and service are best in class.
WHO DO YOU ENVISION AS THE IDEAL RIDER FOR THIS BIKE?
The Moterra should be ideal for a wide range of riders – from new to MTB to hardcore shredders, those who are done with suffering up climbs to Josh Bryceland. What they will have in common is that they want to ride further and faster up and down. It’s a great bike for a long day out in the mountains riding single trails or quick rips after work.
HOW DIFFERENT ARE THE PARAMETERS FOR DESIGNING AN EMTB COMPARED TO A TRADITIONAL MOUNTAIN BIKE? DO YOU HAVE LESS OF A CONCERN ON PEDALING EFFICIENCY AND SEEK TO IMPROVE SUPPLENESS OR DO MOST OF THE SAME PRINCIPLES CARRY OVER?
We surely focus most on traction and braking performance and how we can make this the best. You have two things to consider. One is the higher bike weight and stopping that on the trail and the other one is the climbing capability, which is pretty crazy. So, traction and braking performance are top priority. This means we won’t put a high focus on pedaling efficiency compared to non-ebikes.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT DESIGNING AN EMTB COMPARED TO A MOUNTAIN BIKE?
Fitting it all together. The most complicated thing is that you don’t just have a shock and a water bottle to fit around your perfect kinematic and geometry, but now have to add a big battery, additional cables and a motor, while keeping water bottle compatibility and enough space for a shock and low stand over. This takes a lot of trial and error ‘til it finally works.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE MOTERRA IN THE FUTURE AS EMTB TECHNOLOGY IMPROVES, WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR FUTURE MOTERRAS?
We generally see a lot of appetite 150-170mm range of travel and want to deliver more ride experiences and price points around that. One of the things, that we are working on is to reach more riders with our bikes, while still also looking into improvements around motor, battery and connectivity to offer riders additional experiences.
Since filming this video, conducting our interview and for the next several months we will be hard at work beating on the Moterra in preparation for our final verdict. We’ll continue passing the bike around to our testers, riding different types of terrain and taking notes on product durability, and performance, so stay tuned for a long term review, but it’s safe to say that as of now we are pretty happy with Cannondale’s Moterra and while we believe it may not be ideal for the most extreme of slacked-out gravity fiends, it is a crowd-pleaser with tons of power and a very snappy geometry that will make tons of trails a lot of fun to ride.