Full Power, Less Weight
Cannondale Moterra SL in Review

Full EMTB power, a battery with 601 Wh and still under 20 kg. The facts on Cannondale’s new Moterra SL sound too good to be true. So we threw the newbie in the car and headed straight for Lake Garda. How much truth is there in the bold marketing claims?

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Between press releases and reality often lies more than just a tire’s width of deviation. And that’s exactly what we suspected when a press release from America landed in our inbox in January 2024. Cannondale is said to have rolled out a Full Power EMTB with a standard battery, but weighing under 20 kilograms.

It’s worth noting that going against the grain is part of Cannondale’s DNA, as matches are to a campfire. Single-arm suspension forks, shocks that you wind up rather than compress, or fully machined bikes that never went into mass production. Cannondale has made all of this a reality in the past. Could it really be that these Americans managed what all other manufacturers have failed to do?

The Cannondale Moterra SL is
The new Cannondale Moterra SL. Full Shimano EP801 power under 20 kilograms. Is it possible?

Finally, a sub-20 kg weight class, previously only achievable with compromise-laden lightweight e-MTBs, is now in play. For perspective, the Santa Cruz Heckler SL outfitted with Fazua’s Ride 60 motor and a 430 watt-hour battery tipped the scales at 19.3 kg. The Focus Jam² SL, also equipped with a Fazua motor but at a substantially more wallet-friendly price point, hits the mark at 19.7 kg. Is it indeed feasible to hit these weight targets with Shimano’s EP801 motor and a sizable 601 Wh battery?

Santa Cruz Heckler SL
The Santa Cruz Heckler SL, equipped with a Fazua motor and 430Wh battery, tips the scales at 19.3 kilograms.
Bulls Sonic Evo AM 3
The Bulls Sonic Evo AM 3 also features Shimano's EP801 motor but hits the trails at a lightweight 20.8 kilograms, despite having only 140 mm of travel.

The scale doesn't buy into marketing hype

Just a few days after the press release, a first test bike also arrived at our headquarters. So: box open, bike out, and straight onto the scales. As the bike gently swings from the hook, the display actually stops below the magical 20-kilogram mark. The bike weighs in at 19.9 kilograms in size L without pedals. Heavier than a lightweight EMTB like the Specialized Turbo Levo SL, but lighter than any other full-power bike.

Cannondale Moterra Weight
Trust no press release. We put the Cannondale Moterra SL 1 on the scales for a real-world weight check.
Weight of the Cannondale Moterra SL 1
19.95 kg. Without pedals in frame size L. A benchmark among all full-power E-MTBs.

A benchmark in its class with 160 mm of travel on the fork, Shimano’s EP 801, and a 601 Wh battery. Yet, Cannondale doesn’t even pull out all the stops when it comes to the wheelset. The DT Swiss Spline 1700 aluminum wheels are high-quality but certainly not the lightest on the market.

A look at the direct competition highlights the exceptional weight even more. Comparable full-power bikes like the Canyon Spectral ON CFR tip the scales at 21.7 kilograms, almost two kilos heavier, despite having the same price point and a 720 Wh battery.

Of course, this raises a pivotal question: Is the new Moterra SL hiding a nasty compromise, or is this bike truly a new star in the E-MTB firmament?

Cannondale Moterra SL Review
Is the Moterra SL just a spec sheet stunner, or can it truly impress us out on the trails?

Facts about the Cannondale Moterra SL

  • Travel: 160/150mm
  • Price: € 7,999 to € 9,999
  • Weight: 19.9 kilograms (SL 1 version in size L without pedals)
  • Engine: Shimano EP801
  • Battery: 601 Wh (Darfon – not removable)
  • Range: 1600 meters of elevation gain without issues, more with an adjusted riding style.
  • Wheelsets: Factory Mullet, conversion to 29 possible

How does Cannondale achieve this weight?

Before putting the new Moterra SL to the test in the trails, we want to look into how the Americans have managed to achieve such a featherweight. The low weight of the EMTB is achieved not through some groundbreaking innovation, but through rigorous weight reduction efforts across the board:
Instead of a four-bar linkage, Cannondale opted for a single pivot with Flex Pivot rear triangle on its latest e-bike. The particularly flat designed chainstay is reminiscent of the rear triangle of the Scalpel race-ready full-suspension bike and replaces a Horst-Link bearing at this point. This saves weight.

Cannondale Moterra SL Rear Suspension
The rear suspension is a core component in achieving the low weight.
Cannondale Flex Stay
With ultra-flat chainstays, Cannondale eliminates the need for a bearing point in the chainstay.

In addition, the battery is securely integrated into the frame. The frame without a quick-release system for the battery and without a large opening for removal allows for a slightly lighter construction. To charge the battery, Cannondale has implemented a really practical and well-protected charging port in the bottom bracket area. By the way, a range extender is not available for this concept at the moment.

Battery Removal for Cannondale Moterra SL
The battery in the Cannondale Moterra SL is fully integrated and is non-removable.

The 601 Wh battery saves a significant amount of weight

Instead of a 750 Wh battery, the battery is a bit smaller at 601 Wh than in the Moterra models with Bosch motor or many competitors. It can be roughly estimated that one watt-hour brings about 6 grams of battery weight. This is a very rough benchmark. With this calculation, one can ballpark that Cannondale saves about 800 – 900 grams compared to a 750 Wh battery.

However, it must also be said: There are many bikes on the market with a 630 Wh battery that don’t even come close to the weight that the Moterra SL 1 claims. The Dragon battery is specifically manufactured for Cannondale, is not removable, and does not offer an option for a range extender. In that sense, Cannondale’s battery strategy is “take it or leave it”. But ultimately, it is precisely this steadfast approach that makes such a lightweight bike possible.

Cannondale Moterra
How many trails can you conquer around Lake Garda with a 600Wh battery?

Range: How far can you go with the 601 watt-hour battery?

Range is a topic unto itself. Because depending on who pedals the bike and how they do it, the results of a range test will differ. What we can confirm though is that during our testing at Lake Garda, we racked up nearly 1700 vertical meters on the battery and still had one bar left on the battery indicator.

The ride-ready 75 kg of the test rider undoubtedly favored this result. In exchange, the bike was ridden mostly in Turbo mode and the nippy 6-degree Celsius ambient temperature likely compensated for the tester’s low weight. We think, in any case: this is a range that doesn’t make you worry about the battery giving out the moment you saddle up.

With the customization options the Shimano motor offers, you can definitely set up a Fuel-Save mode, which will surely squeeze even more vertical meters out of the battery.

With the full motor power of the EP801 motor, the Moterra SL is a worthy shuttle alternative for the trailhead.
Range Extender
The charging port is not designed to disconnect a range extender.

Shimano's EP8 801 Motor – New Strengths, Old Weaknesses

The motor not only has a significant punch when taking off but really pushes powerfully up to the support limit. The motor designation EP 801 might suggest only slight changes compared to the EP8, but at emtb-test.com, we’ve already tested several bikes with this motor and a clear difference from its predecessor is emerging.

The EP801 doesn’t just offer finer gradation of support levels, but also actually delivers noticeably more punch than its predecessor. The motor now competes in practice with the power delivery of the Bosch CX, but still remains about 300 grams lighter. And that fits into the concept of the Moterra SL like a glove.

Shimano EP801 Motor
Though the EP801 may look nearly identical to the EP8, it has become significantly more powerful than its predecessor.

Compared to the Bosch motor, the Shimano unit requires a bit more cadence at the cranks to deliver its power. However, above the 75 rpm threshold, the Japanese motor provides its juice super reliably. Unfortunately, the sound has remained almost unchanged from its predecessor. In Boost mode, the motor is clearly audible. Other manufacturers like Fazua or especially TQ have proven that it can be different. And the notorious drivetrain rattle during descents hasn’t been eliminated in the new EP801 either. When the going gets rough on the trails, the motor makes itself known with an occasional “clunk”.

Motor Mount
The motor mount makes one thing crystal clear: every gram has been meticulously shaved off the frame.
Control Unit
The discreet control unit on the handlebar is a nice touch.

On the Singletrack: A Lazy Compromise or Full Riding Bliss?

Trails at Lake Garda take no prisoners. They’re rough. They’re steep. They’re slippery. If you want to make it down safely through a deluge of pebble-sized rocks, you need more than guts and skills—you need reliable gear.

The slack 63-degree head angle actually gives the bike, and thus the rider, massive confidence when the terrain gets steep or fast. The smaller 27.5-inch rear wheel not only shaves off weight but also counteracts the slack head angle when it comes to handling. This keeps the bike nimble and especially responsive on tight trail sections. Even the well-worn Skull Trail above Torbole delivers a fun ride.

Cannondale Moterra SE Review
How much riding enjoyment is packed into the new Cannondale Moterra SL?

The tires, with a 2.4-inch width at the back and a 2.5-inch width at the front, are on the narrower side for an EMTB in this category. With this tire width, you can ride the trails with superb precision. While wider 2.6 or even 2.8-inch tires offer more comfort and puncture protection, they also tend to introduce a bit of squishy and undefined handling. Here, the Moterra SL scores with razor-sharp handling.

The Fox fork up front not only confidently absorbs bumps but also maintains excellent directional stability on the rough terrain of the Lago Trails. With 150 mm of travel in the rear, there’s slightly less suspension travel than up front. And when you push the bike to its limits, you can feel that the rear suspension has slightly less reserve than the fork. However, this is really only noticeable when hitting the absolute limit. Other than that, the new Moterra SL performs exceptionally well.

Cannondale Moterra SL Review
The slack 63-degree head angle and the nimble 27.5-inch rear wheel complement each other perfectly.
Skull Trail
Disciples of Lake Garda recognize this gate. It's the entry portal to the infamous Skull Trail.

To enhance puncture protection, Cannondale installed a tire insert in the rear wheel of our testbike. But unluckily this service is an ad on that is not provided from factory. Magura’s MT7 brake is an absolute stopper that’s reliable at all times. Pure riding pleasure is guaranteed here. Compromises in performance are nowhere to be found.

Magura Brake
Full commitment to braking performance: At the rear, only a beefy 200mm rotor can be mounted. Anything smaller is a no-go.

Geometry Highlights and 29er Option

By the way, for those not into the mullet setup, you can slot a 29er wheel into the rear triangle as well. Cannondale approves the bike for this configuration, but from the factory, it only ships with the mullet setup. Good to know for taller riders who might not fancy a smaller rear wheel.

Another plus: true to Cannondale form, the chainstays lengthen with each frame size. This ensures a balanced load distribution between the front and rear wheels, even in sizes L and XL. When chainstay lengths remain constant, the rear wheel pressure significantly increases for taller riders compared to shorter ones, leading to the front wheel losing traction more easily. However, with the Moterra SL, that’s not an issue to worry about.

The stock mullet setup can also be converted to a 29er rear wheel.

Cannondale Moterra models with Bosch motors are here to stay

The new Moterra SL doesn’t replace the existing Moterra platforms with Bosch motors, but rather introduces an additional option in Cannondale shops, mainly distinguished by its lightweight construction and the Shimano motor from the well-known Moterra models.
For our test, we threw a leg over the top-tier Moterra SL 1. If you want the full package, you need to have €10,000 ready to spend. Those who can make do with a bit less luxury might consider the Moterra SL 2 model for €7,999.

E-MTB Aesthetics
The aesthetics of the new Moterra SL are clean as hell. The bulbous downtube makes no secret of the motor beneath the bottom bracket.

Conclusion on the New Cannondale Moterra SL

Cannondale is raising the bar in the Full Power E-MTB sector with the new Moterra SL, diligently shaving weight off every component. Cannondale compellingly demonstrates that choosing a powerful motor doesn’t have to mean compromising on a lightweight E-MTB, challenging the rationale behind Light-E-MTBs – a real game-changer in the industry.

About the author

Wolfgang

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