Cannondale Moterra SL First Ride Review



Words by Robert Johnston  |  Photos by Kike Abelleira

When Cannondale sent us the invite to the launch of this bike (plus another that you’ll see in the coming weeks), we had to speculate as to exactly what we’d be testing. We had the clue that it was going to be an eBike, so our instant assumption was that it was going to be in the now well-established SL eMTB category. Though many companies are now offering a bike to fit into this category, it seems as if none of them are in agreement as to exactly what a lightweight electric mountain bike should be. In the case of the Cannondale Moterra SL, the answer to that question takes the form of a Shimano EP801 drive unit with a custom 601Wh battery and a smartly designed frame to minimize weight without sacrificing capability. Read on to learn all about Cannondale’s new and exciting entry to the eBike world, and find out how it performed in the initial couple of rides.


• 150mm Horst Link With FlexPivot Suspension
• Mixed Wheels (29” F / 27.5” R)
• Shimano EP801 Drive Unit
• Custom 601Wh Battery

Frame: Moterra Neo SL, Series 1 Carbon construction, 150mm travel, Proportional Response Tuned Suspension, FlexPivot Chainstay.
Fork: Fox Float Factory 36 Grip2, 160mm
Headset: Acros Adjustable Angle (1.2°)
Shock: Fox Float X Factory, 2 pos adj, EVOL LV

Drive Unit: Shimano EP801, 85Nm, Custom Tuned
Battery: Custom 601Wh battery
Display: Shimano SC-EM800 Cycle Computer
Charger: Custom 4A

Derailleur: SRAM XO Eagle AXS, T-Type
Shifters: SRAM AXS T-Type POD Controller
Chain: SRAM XO Eagle, T-Type, Flattop
Crank: e*thirteen e*spec Plus, 165mm, 34T
Cassette: SRAM XO Eagle, 10-52, T-Type, 12-speed

Brakes: SRAM Code Silver Stealth, 200mm HS2 rotors
Brake Levers: SRAM Code Silver Stealth

Hubs: DT Swiss 350
Rims: DT Swiss XM 1700 Spline, 30mm inner width
Spokes: DT Swiss Competition, straight pull
Front Tire: Maxxis DHF, 29×2.5 “, 3C, EXO+,
Rear Tire: Maxxis Dissector

Handlebar: HollowGram SAVE riser bar
Grips: Cannondale TaperRidge
Stem: Cannondale 1, 7075 Alloy, 1-1/8″, 35mm, 0°
Saddle: Fizik Terra Ridon X3, 145mm
Seatpost: Cannondale DownLow Dropper | 150mm (S), 170mm (M-XL)

Wheel Sensor: Cannondale Wheel Sensor


  • Impressively agile

  • Solid motor power

  • Dialed build spec


  • 62.5 HA may be too slack


When talking about their new lightweight eMTB, Cannondale made it clear that they considered it essential to have a full power eBike drive unit. The “SL” in the name of their new machine is justified by the weight saving measures taken throughout the remainder of the bike, and the result is total bike weights starting from just 19.5 kg/43lbs. With 150mm of rear travel and 160mm fork, it sits firmly in the All Mountain eBike zone.

DRIVE UNIT AND ELECTRONICS | As the lightest full-power eBike motor on the market currently and packing some solid performance, the Shimano EP801 drive unit was selected to power the Cannondale Moterra SL. The EP801 delivers 85Nm torque and 600W peak power in a controlled manner, and tips the scales at 2.7kg.

Rather than equipping a preexisting battery, Cannondale instead developed a custom 601Wh battery featuring 21700 cells and a lightweight casing. This delivers what they claim to be the best energy density out there. That is to say, that 601Wh capacity comes at a low weight relative to the market – 3.1kg if you were wondering. It’s an internal design that requires the motor to be dropped in order to remove it, as we’re beginning to see more frequently.

For this Shimano system, Cannondale opted to go for their latest top tube switch with a EM800 display on the bars. The system comes loaded with four custom-tuned mode presets: ECO; TRAIL1 (mid-power); TRAIL2 (high power) and BOOST. With these four modes, Cannondale hopes to enable riders to get the range they desire without sacrificing maximum power when it’s needed. Riders can further customize these modes and create up to a total of 15 mode settings using the Shimano E-TUBE app.

FRAME AND FEATURES | As standard, the Cannondale Moterra SL is supplied with a mixed wheel setup, using a 29” front wheel and 27.5” wheel out back. Riders can switch out the rear wheel for a 29er if they desire, with a flip chip fitted to preserve the geometry. An adjustable headset cup is fitted to let riders choose their preference of the ultra-slack stock Head Tube Angle or 1.2-degrees steeper.

Cannondale was looking for ways to shave weight from the Moterra SL frame wherever possible. They called upon one of their well-established technologies from the shorter travel Scalpel to aid in this – FlexPivot. Instead of the bearings and hardware that would typically facilitate the ~8 degree rotation at the Horst Link of their suspension layout, instead they use a flat and wide section of carbon fiber with tuned flex. This is designed to deliver this rotation in a controlled manner, and saves weight while retaining rigidity.

Series 1 carbon fiber features on all of the Moterra SL frames, letting Cannondale get the frame weight down to 2.3kg in total. There’s room in the front triangle for a water bottle on all frame sizes. A plastic skid plate is fitted to the motor to keep it safe from damage. Cable routing is internal, with riders able to choose between headset routing or using the ports in the headtube.

Cannondale Moterra SL First Ride Review

SUSPENSION | Cannondale continues to use a Horst Link suspension design for their Moterra series, albeit now with the aforementioned FlexPivot on the chainstays. Cannondale goes to great lengths to provide the same ride experience and high performance for riders on every frame size with their Proportional Response design approach. This tweaks suspension kinematics and the geometry of each size to optimize for the average center of gravity of the riders of each bike size, and is great to see.

GEOMETRY | Cannondale’s Proportional Response Geometry sees the Chainstay Length and Actual Seat Tube Angle change for each frame size of the Moterra SL. The Effective Seat Tube Angle remains constant at 77º for each average rider saddle height. The chainstays grow from 449mm on size Small to 458mm on XL, to maintain weight balance.

The Head Tube Angle is an outlier in the industry at an ultra-slack 62.5º as standard. The angle-adjustable headset allows this to be steepened to 63.7º. Reach figures are fairly conservative on the other hand, ranging from 420mm to 505mm. 30mm BB drop gives a slammed 335mm BB height. Stack heights are relatively tall as a result, from 630mm to 657mm.

The size Large tested has a 470mm Reach, 648mm Stack and 453mm Chainstays. Total wheelbase is 1283mm.

Cannondale Moterra SL First Ride Review

BUILD SPECS | Build specs vary slightly depending on the market location, but all major markets see the same range of builds. The most affordable is the Moterra SL 2, which retails for $7,000, and the top-end is the limited edition LAB71 with a very special paint job and whopping $14,000 price tag.

We tested the $8,750 Cannondale Moterra SL 1. It features a selection of high-end components and is likely to keep all but the most particular riders very happy. Cannondale equipped the excellent Fox 36 Factory 160mm fork and Float X Factory rear shock. The drivetrain is SRAM XO AXS T-Type shifting, with e*thirteen e*spec PLUS cranks (the Carbon RACE spec in EU) in 165mm length. A pair of SRAM CODE Silver Stealth brakes with 200mm HS2 rotors will be fitted to production models instead of the Magura MT7’s we rode.

The wheelset is DT Swiss’s XM1700 Spline, with the 350 Ratchet SL 36t hubs. These are wrapped in a Maxxis DHF and Dissector combo with EXO+ casings and MaxxTerra rubber. For our test we had a chunky Vittoria insert fitted into the rear tire to add some rim and tire protection on the rocky Portuguese trails.

Cannondale supplies most of the finishing kit, with their DownLow dropper in 150 or 170mm lengths; and the HollowGram SAVE Carbon bar with an alloy stem. This build weighs in at a claimed 19.7kg for the Medium frame size, certainly a respectable figure considering the build kit.

Cannondale Moterra SL First Ride Review


Cannondale hosted us in Braga, Portugal, for the launch of the Moterra SL. During the launch, we were able to log two rides on the bike in two wildly different conditions. The first was a ride guided by WERIDE in t-shirt weather on the rocks of Terras De Bouro. The second was more of an explore of the local trails to Braga in hilariously heavy rain. This made for an ideal two days of testing, giving a wide spectrum of terrain and conditions to feel out the Moterra SL and make some tweaks to the setup to get it running as well as possible.

SETUP | Setting up the Cannondale Moterra SL was fairly straightforward. I’m well versed in the current generation of Fox suspension, and this bike didn’t require anything funky in order to feel comfortable. The only exception to this was my relative unfamiliarity with such a slack head tube angle, which ended up requiring some slightly different riding technique to get the best performance. The Shimano drive system required no setup or adjustment, with its four custom modes feeling intuitive and leaving me happy to hop on and ride.

Cannondale Moterra SL First Ride Review

ELECTRONICS & INTEGRATION | As Shimano-equipped eBikes go, the Cannondale Moterra SL is a cleanly executed example. The drive unit is cleanly integrated into the lines of the bike thanks to the plastic skid plate. Cannondale says this was “engineered”, and while I’ve got no reason to disagree I’d have loved the engineers to extend it a little further up the downtube for maximum protection.

Though Cannondale has customized the modes available, the system feels very much like a typical Shimano EP8. Trail 1 feels to be a slightly pared-back version of a standard Trail mode; whereas Trail 2 is akin to Bosch’s EMTB mode, which lets you get full power from the motor if you pedal hard enough. It’s a nice setup that really lets you eke the best blend of range and power from the system. The ECO mode should really be reserved for the longest days or for those range anxiety moments, as its assistance is painfully minimal. For its slightly reduced capacity compared with the majority of full-power eBikes, the Moterra SL felt to offer an impressive range, but we’ll have to wait for it to go head-to-head with other bikes to confirm that.

CLIMBING | Cannondale gave the Moterra SL solid climbing geometry that keeps enough weight on the front wheel to keep it under control for the majority of the time. On the steepest pitches of climb the Slack Head Angle did let the front wander sporadically, but it was very manageable. Even so, riders looking for the best tech climbing performance will likely prefer the steeper setting for the headset cups.

The low bottom bracket puts the pedals in the danger zone often, so timely pedal strokes are essential. The 165mm crank spec doesn’t help with this, and I’d likely switch them out for a shorter unit if I was to own the bike in an area with frequent tech climbing.

Cannondale Moterra SL First Ride Review

DESCENDING | The flip side of the low bottom bracket comes on the descents though, where the feeling of integration deep between the wheels adds stability and confidence. The ultra-slack front end puts the front wheel far out in front of the bars too, adding further confidence at speed. Offsetting this stability is a fairly supportive and poppy suspension feel, which when combined with its low weight ensures it isn’t a pure plow-minded machine.

While the Moterra SL is heavier than some of the lightest SL eMTB offerings, it ranks very highly for agility in the full-power eBike space. The frame feels reassuringly stout and precise in feel, but the overall package avoids being overly harsh or abusive. The rear end is on the longer side, but is balanced by a relatively short reach, so you can still get off the back of the bike and lift the front wheel without too much effort.

Cornering the Moterra SL took a little bit of adjustment, but once I had shifted my weight towards the front wheel some more, it proved to be a ripper. The low BB undoubtedly helped in this respect, putting your body weight low to the ground. It left me feeling comfortable to tip it in as hard as ever and let the tires hook up, giving lean angles I don’t think I’ve ever reached before.

The Cannondale Moterra SL’s rear suspension hit a nice blend of characteristics. There was enough support to support hard charging and precise riding, and sufficient bottom out resistance to deal with some big hits. I did find that the fork had some slightly interesting characteristics at times, which I can speculate to be a byproduct of the slack Head Tube Angle and my heavy 98kg (220lbs) mass. There were times where it didn’t feel quite as comfortable and sensitive as I’d perhaps expect, which I’d imagine to be caused by the fork bushings binding slightly. Other times on some square edges, it almost felt like the entire momentum of the bike was “behind” the fork, causing it to blow through its travel and into the bottom out bumper. Without playing with volume reducers it’s hard to eliminate it being a progression issue – it’s entirely possible more progression would have solved both of these issues – so we’ll have to wait for the long term review to address this.

Cannondale Moterra SL First Ride Review

FINISH AND VALUE | The Cannondale Moterra SL frame is clearly of a premium build quality, with well covered details throughout. It ran fairly quietly with only a small notion of chain slap on the hardest hits, and everything stayed tight over the couple of days testing. While it’s nigh on impossible to verify that their Proportional Response works as intended, it’s great to see all the same.

$8,750 is by no means a small amount of money, but I’m left with the impression of surprisingly good value with the Moterra SL 1 build I tested. With components throughout that left me very much satisfied in terms of performance, I’d likely hop on the SL 1 with a longer dropper post and ride until things wore out. The LAB71 build feels to cost an excessive amount more, but may be worth it for its paint job alone – it’s stunning in the flesh.

The Wolf’s Last Word

Over the couple of days of riding the new Cannondale Moterra SL, there was limited cause to complain. Impressively light for a full power bike and packing enough of a punch up and down the hill to put it in contention with the best of them, it’s a very exciting eBike. We’re stoked to get one of these included in the mix for our upcoming 2024 eMTB Shootout to see how it stacks up against the competition.

Price: $8,750 /£8,550 /€9,999 (Moterra SL 1)
Weight: 19.7kg (claimed, size M)


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