Cannondale Moterra SL

Cannondale Moterra SL

Wheel Size: 29’’ front / 27.5’’ rear

Travel: 150 mm rear / 160 mm front

Geometry Highlights:

  • Sizes offered: S, M, L, XL
  • Headtube angle: 62.5°/ 63.7° (adjustable)
  • Seat tube angle: 77.0°
  • Reach: 470 mm (size Large)
  • Chainstay length: 449 mm to 458 mm (varies by frame size)

Drive System Highlights:

  • Motor: Shimano EP801
  • Torque: 85 Nm
  • Power: 600 Watts
  • Battery: 601 Wh
  • Display: Shimano SC w/ EM800 / EW-SW310 integrated top tube on/off switch

Material: Carbon Fiber

Price: Complete bikes $7,000 to $14,000

Stated Weight: 19.5 kg / 42.99 lb (Size Medium, Lab71 Build)

Simon Stewart reviews the Cannondale Moterra SL for Blister
Cannondale Moterra SL
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Cannondale has a long history of doing wild and innovative stuff with their bike designs. Some of those things worked, some were less well received, but it’d be hard to accuse them of just following the rest of the industry’s lead.

I’m happy to report that the new Moterra SL looks to be quite the return to form in this department — it’s a wildly light full-power eMTB.

The Moterra SL’s (stated) weight is awfully competitive with a lot of lower-powered eMTBs out there (and not that far off some of the chunkier regular bikes we’ve been on). So, how has Cannondale pulled it off, and what kinds of compromises did they make to get there? Let’s take a look:

Simon Stewart reviews the Cannondale Moterra SL for Blister
Cannondale Moterra SL

The Frame

To achieve the low weight that they were looking for in the Moterra SL frame, Cannondale borrowed carbon technology from their XC World Cup Scalpel model. They also claim to have been inspired by Formula One race car suspension, though the details of what they drew from that arena aren’t specified.

Cannondale’s FlexPivot design essentially acts as the Horst pivot in their “true” four-bar suspension system, just with an engineered flex point in the chainstays taking the place of a traditional pivot.

Simon Stewart reviews the Cannondale Moterra SL for Blister
Cannondale Moterra SL

Flex-stays are more common on XC and shorter-travel trail bikes, though there are 160+ mm travel bikes with flex-stay suspension designs. But we have yet to see a flex-stay implementation on a full-power eMTB, so it will be interesting to see how the FlexPivot manages the additional forces from a motor capable of 85 nm of torque and 600 watts of peak power.

Headset cable routing is an option, but credit to Cannondale for also putting cable ports in the frame of the SL1 and SL2 builds so that the decision as to where to route the cables is up to the rider — a welcome touch. Although all three builds appear to have the same Series 1 Carbon frames, the LAB71 frame is unique and does not have cable ports. I have to admit this is a bit baffling since it means an entirely different frame just to eliminate cable ports — we’ve reached out to Cannondale to see if there are other differences apart from the cable ports in the LAB71 frames.

The Moterra SL’s 150 mm of rear-wheel travel follows a consistently progressive leverage curve that flattens out slightly toward the end of the stroke, starting around 3.1:1 and falling off to around 2.4:1. Its anti-squat curve starts at around 105% and falls off to a bit under 50% in a very straight line, and its anti-rise curve is pretty flat, at around 60%. (Cannondale publishes different curves for all four frame sizes, but they don’t vary all that much. The center of gravity height(s) that they’re using to calculate them aren’t stated.)

The Moterra SL frame is prepped to accept an Acros adjustable headset, with drop-in cups and pins that interface with notches in the headtube to set their clocking. Rotating the cups 180° gives the Moterra SL 1.2° of head angle adjustment. Cannondale will also be offering 0° cups that will put the head angle at a fixed 63.1°. Additionally, the frame is equipped with a flip chip for switching between 27.5” and 29” rear wheels, though all the stock builds come with mixed wheel sizes.

There’s also room for a water bottle inside the front triangle on all four sizes. The frame does have a UDH, which it must, since it has builds spec’d with SRAM’s AXS Transmission. Other frame features include chainstay protection and an integrated bash guard to protect the drive unit.

Drive System

The Moterra SL comes equipped with the Shimano EP801 drive system. At a claimed weight of 19.5 kg / 42.99 lb (Lab71 build, size Medium), Cannondale says that the Moterra SL is the lightest full-power eMTB available. We don’t have any reason to dispute that since we can’t think of any currently available full-power eMTBs that are lighter.

Since the weight of the EP801 motor is a fixed 2.7 kg / 5.95 lb, much of the Moterra SL’s weight savings have come from the battery. Unlike Bosch, Shimano open sources its battery technology, which allows brands to design and build their own. I say “build” loosely, since many brands opt to use third-party battery companies to manufacture their batteries. The Moterra SL’s custom 601 Wh battery weighs a claimed 3.1 kg, or about 6.8 lbs. Battery density is a measurement of capacity in watt-hours per weight, and 3.1 kg (claimed) for 601 Wh equates to one of the highest-density batteries we have seen to date. For reference, Bosch states their 625 Wh PowerTube battery weighs approximately 3.65 kg. Additionally, Cannondale includes the wiring harness in their claimed weight for the battery, which makes it even more impressive.

Simon Stewart reviews the Cannondale Moterra SL for Blister
Cannondale Moterra SL — Battery

With 85 Nm of torque and 600 watts of peak power, the Shimano EP801 drive system is a competitive option in the full-power drive system category. We spent time on the prior-generation Shimano EP8 motor while testing the Pivot Shuttle LT and the new EP801 on the Canyon Torque:ON, and got along with both versions quite well. The updated EP801 drive system claims to deliver peak torque throughout a wider cadence range while also bumping power output from 500 watts up to 600 watts. Other upgrades over the previous EP8 motor include a reported improvement in heat management, compatibility with Shimano’s FREE SHIFT and AUTO SHIFT technologies, as well as CAN and ACC ports for increased connectivity to external devices.

All three Moterra SL build levels will come with the handlebar-mounted Shimano SC-EM800 display and the EW-SW310 integrated top tube controller, which houses the on/off switch, battery level display, and an assist mode controller. For a tidier cockpit, the handlebar-mounted display can be removed.

Simon Stewart reviews the Cannondale Moterra SL for Blister
Cannondale Moterra SL — EP801 Motor
Cannondale provides custom-designed assist modes unique to the Moterra SL, but as with other Shimano drive systems, further customization is possible through Shimano’s excellent E-Tube Cyclist App.

Fit & Geometry

The Moterra SL is available in four sizes: Small, Medium, Large, and Extra Large. The reach starts at 420 mm for the size Small, then grows 25 mm from size Small to Medium and again from Medium to Large (445 and 470 mm, respectively), with a 35 mm jump between size Large and Extra Large, to 505 mm. Cannondale describes the Moterra SL as having the long reach of a modern Trail bike, but those numbers are a little on the conservative side these days.

I’ve gone on record stating how I prefer a higher stack height on eMTBs, and the Moterrra SL does not disappoint, at 648 mm in size Large. And with the size Large having a reach of 470 mm (definitely on the shorter side), the higher stack height will also help keep that short-ish reach from shrinking since fewer spacers will most likely be needed under the stem.

Probably the most noteworthy geometry number is the incredibly slack 62.5° head angle. Just a few months ago, I was writing about how the Devinci E-Troy’s 63.5° head angle was category-pushing, but now it has been out-slacked by the Moterra SL. However, should 62.5° be a bit too slack for you, rotating the Acros adjustable headset cups will steepen it to 63.7°.

Simon Stewart reviews the Cannondale Moterra SL for Blister
Cannondale Moterra SL Geometry (click to expand)

The chainstays range from 449 mm to 458 mm, which is on the long side for a mixed-wheel size bike in particular. But the Moterra SL has flip chips enabling it to run a 29” rear wheel, making the longer chainstays more in line with the rest of the market. Cannondale states the flip chips will keep the Moterra SL’s geometry in the 29er configuration very close to the mullet’s numbers.

Lastly, combining long chainstays and a very slack head angle inevitably will result in a correspondingly long wheelbase. The Moterra SL’s 1283 mm wheelbase (size Large, mixed-wheel size) will be the longest of any of the eMTBs I’ve been on to date. It will be interesting to see how all the Moterra SL’s geometry numbers will play out on the trail.

The Builds

Cannondale has kept it simple with just three builds offered for the Moterra SL, and I’m going to simplify it even further and call out the mid-range SL1 build as the clear winner. The entry-level SL2 build looks like a solid value at $7,000, and while it is a good price for a well-equipped full-power eMTB, some areas are lacking. For instance, it would be nice to match the Fox Float X Performance Elite shock with the Performance Elite version of the Fox 36, which would then give you the excellent Grip2 damper. Also, 180 mm rotors on a full-powered eMTB are not ideal. Granted, that is a fairly inexpensive upgrade, but it really should come with at least 200 mm rotors from the factory.

The SL1 build, on the other hand, has no black eyes that I can see. $8,750 for a carbon eMTB with a Shimano EP801 drive system, 601 Wh battery, Fox Factory suspension, SRAM XO Transmission, SRAM Code Silver Stealth brakes, and DT Swiss XM 1700 wheels is a bonafide steal.

Another thing worth mentioning is dropper-post travel. All the builds max out at 170 mm of travel for sizes Medium through Extra Large. We would like to see longer-travel dropper posts offered on the larger frames, but judging by the kink in the seat tube, the Moterra SL may be significantly limited in maximum seatpost insertion depth.

Here are the highlights of the three Moterra SL builds:

  • Frame: Series 1 Carbon
  • Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 6100 12spd with Shimano XT derailleur
  • Motor: Shimano EP801
  • Battery: 601 Wh
  • Fork: Fox 36 Performance (160 mm)
  • Shock: Fox Float X Performance Elite
  • Brakes: Shimano Deore 6120 four-piston with 180 mm rotors
  • Wheels: Formula DC 11732H front hub / DT Swiss 370 Hybrid rear hub with Stan’s Arch MK4 rims
  • Dropper Post: Cannondale DownLow Dropper (SM: 150 mm; MD – XL: 170 mm)
  • Frame: Series 1 Carbon
  • Drivetrain: SRAM XO Transmission
  • Motor: Shimano EP801
  • Battery: 601 Wh
  • Fork: Fox 36 Factory Grip2 (160 mm)
  • Shock: Fox Float X Factory
  • Brakes: SRAM Code Silver Stealth with 200 mm rotors
  • Wheels: DT Swiss XM 1700
  • Dropper Post: Cannondale DownLow Dropper (SM: 150 mm; MD – XL: 170 mm)
  • Frame: Series 1 Carbon
  • Drivetrain: SRAM XX Transmission
  • Motor: Shimano EP801
  • Battery: 601 Wh
  • Fork: Fox 36 Factory Grip2 (160 mm)
  • Shock: Fox Float X Factory
  • Brakes: SRAM Code Ultimate Stealth with 200 mm rotors
  • Wheels: DT Swiss XMC 1501
  • Dropper Post: Rockshox Reverb AXS (SM: 150 mm; MD – XL: 170 mm)
The specs listed above are for the North American builds; versions sold elsewhere vary slightly. Check Cannondale’s website for the details in your area.

Some Questions / Things We’re Curious About

(1) The Moterra SL’s geometry numbers are interesting, to say the least. How will they translate to on-trail performance?

(2) How will the FlexPivot suspension compare to more conventional systems with bearing pivots?

(3) Does the sizing feel conservative, given the short-ish reaches on the smaller sizes?

(4) Will the Moterra SL’s low weight be as noticeable on the trail, considering the motor and battery still put a lot of weight in the same location as other full-power eMTBs?

(5) Can we fit a longer than 170 mm post in the larger sizes?

Bottom Line (For Now)

The Cannondale Moterra SL has the potential to be a game-changer. Full power with the weight of lower-powered eMTBs is compelling. If it keeps it together on the trail, I don’t see any reason why the Moterra SL won’t become one of the most talked about new eMTBs on the market. We’re most definitely eager to get on one, and there are lots of questions to be answered — and we’ve got one on the way to start answering them.

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2 comments on “Cannondale Moterra SL”

  1. Fantastic looking bike. I’m too interested in knowing what the dropper insertion is. My current bike is a small Marin Alpine trail, 445mm reach, 390mm straight seat tube 180mm dropper… so I’d probably pick a Medium, but would need to fully insert the 170mm dropper and that’s not looking likely.

    Any thoughts on dropper insertion?

    • We should be getting one in for review pretty soon, so we’ll be able to dig into that detail more. Stay tuned.

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