Cannondale’s take on electric road bikes is far removed from the ebikemotion-equipped minimal-assist designs of the Wilier Cento1 Hybrid and Orbea Gain M20, or Bianchi’s road-biased Impulso E-Road. Instead it’s opted to equip the Synapse NEO with 650b wheels, fat tyres and Bosch’s latest Active Line Plus.
This drive unit, which replaces the bottom bracket, weighs in at 3.2kg (plus battery) so you can’t think of the NEO SE as a traditional road machine – not when my complete test bike weighs 18.6kg.
But don’t be too quick to consign the NEO SE to the hefty bike bin for slow, non-sporty commuters. It packs a serious punch and offers huge amounts of fun into the bargain.
Turn it on and the LCD Purion display reveals an expected range of 88 miles in ECO mode. As you shift up from ECO through TOUR, SPORT and TURBO that range drops to 28 miles, which is all very promising.
This drive unit, which replaces the bottom bracket, weighs in at 3.2kg (plus battery) Robert Smith
Even in the minimal-assist ECO mode, the torque-y, powerful Bosch system dumps very generous amounts of assistance in your path. The assistance is also generous when it comes to the (legally prescribed) cut-off, which should be around 15.5mph, but was closer to 17mph on my test bike.
The on/off switch is on the top of the Purion head unit. You can move up or down through the modes using the plus and minus buttons, and on the underside you’ll find a WALK+ function, so if you’re clambering up a slope, the bike assists by driving itself. I rarely used it, but it’s a neat function.
The NEO SE is equipped with decent kit. The 650b WTB wheelset and matching massive 47c WTB Byway tyres are solid choices. The Byways offer a decent balance of on-road roll and off-road grip and, despite putting the wheelset through some pretty testing terrain, it stayed true and the hubs roll smooth.
The SRAM Apex gearing works well, and the single-ring, wide range is perfect for off-road duties. The Apex rear mech can get a little sluggish when it’s caked in mud, though, and I can’t help feeling a little short-changed with Apex on a £3k/$4k bike, even with the top-notch power plant that’s built into the SE.
Turn it on and the LCD Purion display reveals an expected range of 88 miles in ECO mode Robert Smith
The contact points are spot on, the compact drop bars are well suited to the Synapse’s geometry and I always welcome a Fabric Scoop saddle at the back.
My first outing on the SE was in the midst of a storm and its maiden ride was predominantly off-road – around 85 percent of the total ride was on dirt.
The NEO SE reached an impressive 58.12 miles / 93.5km before the head unit warned me of the battery’s imminent demise and the system reverted to ECO mode – although I still managed to ride another three miles home, giving an impressive 61.5 miles / 98.97km total, and that’s with 1,182.5m / 3,879.6ft of ascent and an average speed of 15.7mph.
While on numbers alone the NEO SE’s range doesn’t look as impressive when compared to the Wilier or Orbea, which were also on test, it’s worth noting that as you tend to ride slower off-road, it spends more time in the parameters of assistance.
A super-wide 47c tyre isn’t ever going to be as quick on road either. On further rides, mixing road and byway, I eked out the range to between 101km / 62.7miles and 103km / 64 miles.
It packs a serious punch and offers huge amounts of fun into the bargain Robert Smith
The NEO SE’s off-road performance is a revelation. Yes, it’s weighty but the weight distribution (low and central) means it feels much more agile off road than an 18kg bike has any right to be.
That weight combined with plenty of torque means the NEO SE holds its line brilliantly in low-grip situations, such as the chalk and mud on my test ride that can be treacherous in the wet. The SE sailed through with no stalls or wheel spins thanks to the power of that Bosch drive unit.
On sections that in the past have had me running alongside my similarly battleship grey Cannondale Slate the NEO SE just kept on going. It’s like Cannondale’s designers have combined a very capable gravel bike, a powerful e-bike and a monster truck. It’s a very different experience to the low-level assistance afforded by Fazua and ebikemotion systems.
E-gravel isn’t yet a thing, but this fun-filled machine is seriously addictive.
Cannondale Synapse NEO SE geometry (L)
Seat angle: 73.5 degrees
Head angle: 71 degrees
Seat tube: 53.5cm
Top tube: 57.6
Head tube: 19.1cm
Fork offset: 5.5cm
Bottom bracket drop: 6.7cm