Updated: 30th May 2017
If there's one brand you can count on to consistently think outside the box with their bikes, it's Cannondale. Proud makers of the Lefty fork, masters of Aluminium and pioneers of 'Asymmetric Integration' frame designs. Cannondale now have the Moterra electric mountain bike to add to their list of accolades, and while not the best looking bike they've ever made, there's a profound method to their madness.
The Moterra is Cannondale's first electric mountain bike, and having left it a long time to throw their name into the pool of eMTB manufacturers, you might argue that the east-coast American brand had some catching up to do. In reality, this couldn't be much further from the truth.
As with all their bikes, Cannondale's heart and soul are ever present in the frame of the Moterra eMTB. Every bike in the Moterra range gets a C1 aluminium alloy frame, with a bespoke 'Torsion Box' downtube, designed specifically for this bike. Rather than just opening up the underside of the downtube for the battery and simply using thicker walls for strength, the 'Torsion Box' downtube maintains a fully enclosed down tube, with the battery compartment as a separate structure.
The result is a front triangle which is lighter, stiffer and stronger than an open box design. The battery and motor placement are both very low and central, which keeps the centre of gravity close to your feet for fantastic balance and a low moment of inertia. Beneath the battery, Cannondale have fitted a chunky rubber belt to protect it from trail debris. There's even room for a bottle cage and 600ml bottle to be mounted inside the front triangle.
Cannondale mounted the Bosch motor at an unorthodox angle, allowing them to keep the chainstays short. This gives the bike impressively agile handling, despite the added weight.
There are two travel options: The 'regular' Moterra 1,2 & 3 models with 130mm, or the Moterra LT 1 & 2 with 160mm.
Although Cannondale purists may lament the lack of a Lefty fork available on any version of the Moterra, the RockShox & Fox components they've chosen are tried, tested and perfectly suited to this bike. The suspension design is an uncomplicated linkage-driven single pivot layout. It works well, and reduces the impact the chain tension has on the suspension.
The entry level Moterra 3 comes with a basic but capable Rockshox Sektor Silver fork and Monarch RT Debonair rear shock. The Moterra 2 sees the fork upgraded to a Rockshox Yari RC, and the Moterra 1 gets a Kashima coated Fox 34 Float Factory, with a matching Float Factory rear shock. The long travel Moterra LT 2 is treated to the 160mm RockShox Yari RC with a Monarch shock, and the top-spec Moterra LT1 gets a Fox 36 Float Factory, with a matching Float Factory shock.
Every version of the Cannondale Moterra gets a top-of-the-range Bosch Performance Line CX motor, which boasts a burly 75Nm or torque on-demand when you pedal. They also get a full-fat 500Wh battery pack too, giving you the maximum range available between charges.
The shorter travel Moterra 1, 2 & 3 are connected up to a Bosch Intuvia heads up display, which features a large central screen and a separate remote control on the handle. The Moterra LT1 and LT2 both get the new Purion display, which is more compact and sits on the left-hand side of the handlebar. Both computers feature 5 modes, (off/eco/tour/sport/turbo) and have a walk-assist function built in.
The Bosch pedal assist motor delivers an almighty boost, getting you to the top of the trail in a fraction of the time.
Cannondale have elected to use Shimano gears and brakes across the board with the Moterra electric mountain bike range. Shimano's groupsets are tried, tested, and among the most recognisable components in the mountain biking world, and the simplicity of sticking with a single component brand throughout the range makes it easy to identify where each model sits in the hierarchy.
At the lower end of the range, the Cannondale Moterra 3 makes use of Shimano Deore 10 speed drivetrain. The mid-range Moterra 2 and Moterra LT 2 both feature Shimano's SLX M7000 11 speed gears, and both get matching Shimano SLX hydraulic disc brakes complete with Ice-Tech rotors. The top-spec Moterra 1 and Moterra LT1 are equipped with Shimano's much lauded XT M8000 components, with 11 speed gearing and matching disc brakes. Both top spec models also get Shimano's super-cool RT86 Ice-Tech rotors which help prevent heat fade. You can find more details on specific parts & components on the individual product pages.
Depending on the model, the Cannondale Moterra is available with two slightly different wheel options. The Moterra 1, 2 & 3 have a wide 2.8 inch 27.5+ tyre, with Schwalbe Nobby Nic rubber. The Moterra LT2 and LT1 use a Schwalbe Magic Mary/Hans Dampf combination measuring in at 2.35 inches wide.
Both tyre options offer masses of grip, with the plus tyres having extra float over rough ground which helps bolster the shorter suspension travel. Mind you, the regular 650b tyres on the LT models aren’t exactly slippery, delivering superb sidewall traction around tight corners.
The 27.5 plus tyres on the shorter travel models inspire huge amounts of confidence. They float over rough ground and hug the ground in the corners
The Moterra could be considered something of a game changer when it comes to electric mountain bikes. Cannondale have opted to build a bike with the best possible performance, rather than trying to disguise the fact that it has a battery & motor. Their efforts have paid off massively.
For riders who want to spend more time shredding the descents and less time slogging their way up to the top, the Moterra is one of the best no-compromise downhill-performing electric mountain bikes available today.
We were given the opportunity to spend a weekend test riding two of the bikes in the Cannondale Moterra range – the £5,499.99 Moterra LT1 and the £5,199.99 Moterra 1 27.5+.
There’s an engineered elegance to how the Moterra looks. No matter how hard you try to disguise the motor and battery, a proper electric mountain bike will always look like an electric mountain bike, so why hide it? Cannondale have gone to great lengths to make the Moterra just as much fun to descend on as any other full suspension mountain bike, regardless of how it looks.
Singletrack & fire road climbs become very different challenges on the Cannondale Moterra. With their well-placed centre of gravity, both bikes show off their agility and playful nature, encouraging you to turn rocks and obstacles into jumps and playthings while you climb. The shorter travel and 2.8 inch wide plus tyres on the Moterra 1 make it particularly lively on the way up the mountain.
There’s no other way to describe it – descending on the Moterra is an absolute joy. The low moment of inertia lets you twist and turn the bike with ease, and it’s easy to forget that you’ve got an extra 10-15kg between your feet. There are times when the Moterra's extra weight & low center of gravity make it very forgiving if you position yourself clumsily on the bike, smoothing out the trails and floating the bike over the jumps.
The 2.8in tyres of the Moterra 1 make light work of rock gardens and rutted berms, giving you incredible grip & confidence through the turns, albeit at the expense of some rolling resistance on high-speed sections. The Moterra LT 1 may have comparatively narrow 2.35in tyres, but the Schwalbe rubber still provides fantastic grip and traction. The longer 160mm travel gives you creative license to choose more technical routes down the mountain which, when coupled with the Bosch motor, makes the bike feel capable of riding over anything, anywhere.
If we had to level any criticism at the Cannondale Moterra, it would be the Bosch motor. Compared to the pedal assist motors of some of its contemporaries, the Bosch unit, with its noise and lack of direct drive, feels somewhat agricultural and clunky. Once you surpass the 15.5mph cutoff, the resistance from the motor is noticeable. That said, the Performance Line CX motor & 500Wh battery combo use energy efficiently, and proved capable of lasting a full 8-hour day of riding between charges (just don’t leave it permanently in Turbo mode), and the quick response to pedal inputs gives the bike a sense of urgency when you want to put the power down hard.