First Ride Review: Cannondale Moterra SL 2

Riding the Cannondale Moterra SL on Wolverine at the Golfie

It’s quite amazing how far E-Bikes have come in recent years. It wasn’t so long ago that while they were a novelty on the climbs, they simply didn’t descend especially well compared to regular bikes. Very heavy with a high centre of gravity and external batteries they were cumbersome, noisy and tiring to ride in technical terrain. Since then a ferocious arms race has taken place with bikes becoming lighter, more integrated, longer ranged and hugely better balanced. Compared to those early versions, today's E-Bikes are incredibly refined, riding at every bit as well as a regular mountain bike on many trails. 

Perhaps one of the biggest changes of recent years is that with the varying demands of different users, E-Bikes have split into two quite distinct categories. What are commonly termed ‘full power’ bikes use 600W or larger batteries coupled with a high torque motor to maximise the bikes uphill performance. These bikes provide impressive levels of assistance and are able to climb incredibly fast, or cover sizable distances on a single charge but there is a drawback. That issue is simply bike weight, with the majority of full power bikes weighing at least 23 kg and as much as 27 kg for the heavier bikes in the category. 

Cannondale Moterra SL 2 on the Summit of the Golfie, Innerleithen

Alongside these a whole new style of E-Bike has emerged, commonly categorised as ‘SL’. While there is a lot of variety within this type, the various SL bikes are generally built around smaller, more compact motors and lighter batteries. With battery capacities of around 360 - 420W and about ⅔ of the motor power of the heavier bikes, they demand more effort from the rider on the climbs and can’t rival the speed or ranges of the full power options, but crucially they do create a lighter, more nimble bike. With most weighing under 20kg they handle much more like a regular Enduro bike in technical terrain, switching direction, braking and manoeuvring with an agility than a 25kg monster simply can’t match.

The choice between these two competing traits of agility and assistance presents a difficult compromise for many riders, especially those looking to prioritise bike handling, who have until now been forced to sacrifice climbing power in order to have a bike that will ride the way they want on the descents.

Enter the Cannondale Moterra SL... 

While Cannondale might give their new bike the SL moniker, they might in some ways have done it a disservice. With a 600W battery and full 85nm Shimano EP801 motor on board, it’s every bit a full power bike on the climbs. The SL part of the name comes from the fact that despite having the same power output and battery capacity as some 26kg bikes, they have somehow managed to get the weight of the Moterra SL down to under 21kg, barely any heavier than many of the SL options. 

Shimano EP801 Motor on the Cannondale Moterra SL 2

It’s an impressive feat and looks to have completely reset the benchmark for what a lighter weight bike can deliver in terms of motor power and range. For smaller riders, or anyone looking to prioritise bike handling with a minimum of compromise to climbing prowess it’s an incredibly promising looking package, which looks like it might deliver a goldilocks mixture of weight, power and range. 

That eye opening weight has been achieved not by one single trick, but instead by optimising every part of the bike. A full carbon frame provides a light base for the chassis, while the flex stay suspension layout reduces frame weight and complexity even further compared to more complex designs. Inside the bike, a custom high density battery cuts almost a kilo in battery weight compared to older options. 

The only obvious functional compromise made to weight is that the battery can’t be dropped out with the motor in place, as preserving the structure of the downtube saves material,  allowing for a lighter frame to be built. On the bright side, the integrated approach does help keep water out which is generally no bad thing for UK riders. 

Downtube of the Cannondale Moterra SL 2

Built round a 160mm travel fork and 150mm rear end, the Moterra SL seems at first glance like a sensible and balanced normal all rounder, with enough travel to take on a wide variety of riding. The geometry numbers are altogether less moderate however, looking more like something you’d expect to see on a world cup DH race bike. Head angles are adjustable between a cutting edge 62.5’ or more conventionally slack  63.7’, while a BB drop of 30mm and a 1281mm wheelbase (Size Large) all hint at a bike built to be stable, confidence inspiring and controlled no matter how fast or hard it is ridden. 

All models come supplied in MX wheel configuration but a flip chip on the seatstay allows a dual 29’ wheel setup to be fitted for those looking to create an even more stable and faster rolling machine. Tire clearance on the frame is good, and ideally for Scotland there are no pockets or shapes for mud to collect into. We had very sticky conditions for our test day and the bikes were exceptionally easy to clean afterwards.

Cannondale Moterra SL 2 in the Golfie Mud at Innerleithen

Most people are going to pick from one of two builds. The base model is the Fox Performance, Shimano Deore and Magura brake equipped SL 2 that we rode. Functionally it’s rock solid and is great value for a carbon E-bike at just £6550. The Moterra SL 1 that sits above is almost impossible to upgrade, with Fox Factory suspension, SRAM XO T-Type and DT wheels. Considering that, it’s also pretty competitively priced at £8550.

Put together the progressive geometry, mid-travel and exceptionally low overall weight and it’s clear Cannondale have built a real riders bike, one where the pilot is going to feel involved in the ride, but also something that can be ridden as hard and fast as you dare. 

Riding the Moterra SL 2

For our test day, myself and Tom took two of the bikes out for a full day of riding on our local trails. Our test loop comprised New York New York, Wolverine, New Wolf, Wardell Way, and Greg Jollifes, up on the Golfie. Those supply a real mixture of trail types, including faster terrain along with steep sections and some truly tight and awkward turns. 

The Cannondale Moterra SL on Wolverine on the Golfie

At 5.9’ I’m between sizes on many geometry charts and the Moterra SL is another bike where that applies. With the bike having quite a long wheelbase for its size, I chose to round down to a Medium for our test day. Tom is taller at 6 foot, rode the Large and felt it was a good size for him. 

Climbing out of town, the Moterra SL felt immediately comfortable. A modern 77’ seat angle places the rider above the pedals and in a comfortable position to sit and spin, without being so extreme as to feel awkward on the flat. The fairly compact top tube results in a relatively upright seated position and there’s very little pedal bob with the bike feeling well supported. This isn’t one of those bikes where you are going to be constantly flipping lockout levers. 

Climbing the Golfie at Innerleithen on the Cannondale Moterra SL 2

On steeper sections, the slightly longer than average chainstays are a big positive, helping prevent front wheel lift, letting you concentrate on line and power delivery rather than battling to prevent an unwanted wheelie. Traction is optimal, with plenty of rear wheel grip and a good amount of feedback when climbing up through technical sections to help judge power output.

Unlike previous generation Shimano motors, there are now four power modes to choose from. Eco has been detuned to maximise range and feels like it’s simply doing just enough to counteract the extra weight of the motor and battery, while Boost provides the same punch as always. In between those, Trail has now been split into two sub modes, both delivering a solid E-Bike thrust but one tuned for range and the other speed. Those two modes seem to cover most situations and are probably where most riders will spend much of their time. Like all current Shimano bikes, all four modes can be custom tuned via the E-Tube app to suit each individual rider's needs, so if the stock settings aren’t right for you it’s easy to set your open preferences. 

Shimano Head Unit on the Cannondale Moterra SL 2

As someone who doesn’t spend huge amounts of time on full power E-Bikes, some of the heavier ones can take quite a bit of time to adapt to with a very different ride feel to an enduro mountain bike. The slower handling and increased braking distances require quite different timing and while they may not actually be slower than a regular MTB, they often feel it. Impressively the Moterra SL has virtually none of those traits, with the lighter weight apparent right from the off. Very quick to respond to rider input, it changes direction with an eagerness that full power bikes typically lack. Popping the front wheel is noticeably less effort than other full power bikes and in much the same theme, the Cannondale is also more able to scrub speed quickly when braking for a technical section. 

Neil riding Wolverine on the Golfie on the Cannondale Moterra SL 2

The flex pivot suspension was a source of some discussion pre-ride but felt surprisingly invisible in use. The back end of the bike is well supported with both of us riding a regular 30% sag with no issues. Suppleness over smaller bumps from the Fox Float X was good and there was an excellent feeling of platform to drive against in corners or when unweighting the bike. After a full day of riding, neither of us quite hit full bottom out despite both thinking we might have at various points.

Out front, the 62’ stock head angle was immediately noticeable with the bikes feeling immensely confident on faster or steep sections, but a touch light and vague at the front wheel to start with in tighter and flatter corners. We both dropped our stack height early on, which immediately sorted things for Tom, improving grip and leaving him loving the super slack angle. By the end of our riding day my bike was feeling amazing too in many places, with an uncanny ability to accelerate through rough sections and through drops and holes and I was starting to get the hang of the weight balance in the corners but the slight understeer never quite went away on the flattest turns for me. Given a little more time, I’d have been curious to either try the slightly steeper headset setting or a 50mm stem in place of the stock 40mm option and see how they felt. It’s a great thing to have extra tuning options available in any case, as it adds even more flexibility to the bike. 

Riding the Cannondale Moterra SL 2 on the Golfie, Innerleithen

Overall the Moterra SL is incredibly impressive to ride. It’s a bike we both felt comfortable to push for extra speed on from the very first trail, and really lives up to its promise of climbing like a full power bike and descending like an SL. We’d comfortably call it the best handling full power bike we’ve ridden so far. 

Interested to try one yourself? We’ve demo bikes coming soon and sizes in stock now.

☎️ 01896 831429


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