Test Ride: Cannondale Synapse NEO, a great equalizer on the road.

At Gears, we’ve been delving into the e-Bike market for several years and we’ve seen the incredible joy and fun they bring to those who “discover” what this technology has to offer. They have become a great equalizer on many fronts, and beyond that, they have brought the adventures of cycling to a new type of customer.

However… given my cycling experience and what I like to do on the bike, the concept of riding an e-Road Bike was one that I never would have entertained in the past. Let’s just say, I’m one of those guys who takes a warped sense of enjoyment out of suffering on a bike. As an old racer, its kind of what we do and its become completely engrained in what we think we need to be doing when riding a bike.

But given I make my living selling bike, all types of bikes; I felt it was very important to experience this new technology first hand.

The opportunity presented itself to me at the recent 2019 Cannondale Launch at Mountain Creek NJ.

One of the criticisms I’ve had about many e-bikes and in particular some of the “road” versions we’ve seen has been that fact that they just don’t look like road bikes. There has been little integration of components, combined with an aesthetic that is not exactly inspiring. Add to this, ride and performance characteristics that feel unbalance and sluggish.

The Synapse NEO is none of the above.

At first glance, this bike looks like a “real” road bike. Yes, the down-tube is oversized and the bottom bracket area is enlarged to house the Bosch Gen 3 drive unit, but for the untrained eye, it actually requires a second look to notice that there is something different about this bike.

SynapaseNEO_Launch

Starting with Cannondale’s SmartForm frame construction, this bike is very nicely put together into a well-integrated and good-looking package. Built and evolved from the tried and true Synapse, the NEO features an Ai Offset Drivetrain, Out-Front Geometry, SAVE Micro-Suspension with a new BallisTec Carbon fork. The frame is also equipped with rack and fender mounts.

Yeah, lots of buzzwords and marketing-speak but how does it ride?

As we noodled around the parking lot waiting for our ride group (which consisted of Cannondale’s Canadian National Sales Rep, the new Ontario Sales Rep and a fellow Cannondale Dealer from Toronto), I quickly noticed that even with the Bosch Gen 3 drive in the off position, the bike did not feel like a typical e-Bike. While the weight was noticeable, the bike did not feel miss-balanced. And given that is was equipped with a full 11 speed Shimano Dura-Ace drivetrain and with no perceivable drag in the Bosch Gen 3 motor, one could actually comfortably pedal the bike.

With the motor drive activated (powered by a 500Wh internal battery), the bike really came alive and suddenly the noticeable weight of the bike completely disappeared.

My fellow riders and I proceeded to head out on the 18k test loop mapped our by Cannondale. Having just done the route earlier in the day on Cannondale’s new SystemSix road bike (an amazing new bike in its own right), I knew this was going to be a good test for the Synapse NEO as the terrain went from smooth country roads to a rather long 5k rolling climb with a couple of sections topping 8% grade… to the very fast decent.

SynapseNEO_Route

What was immediately noticeable was how quiet the Bosch motor was. Silent in fact, as a proper road bikes should be. Power transition was smooth and natural feeling (once one got used to the fact that the bike had a motor). With the Shimano Dura-Ace drivetrain (50/34 with an 11/32 cassette) choosing a comfortable cadence was easy to do.

As we hit the big climb, this is where the beauty of this bike really became evident. The added power was inspiring and I felt like an absolute champion on the climb. I still needed to put effort into the pedals so there was a level of satisfaction that the bike and I were working in sync to make the climb. I certainly could have climbed slower and allowed the bike to do more of the work, but as mentioned earlier, I do like to push hard on the bike.

The descent was a whole lot of fun and despite the fact that it was raining, the bike’s handling was inspiring as we still hit speeds of about 75kph. The big comfy 32c WTB Exposure TCS tires and the hydraulic disc brakes allowed me to corner and descend with absolute confidence. I also believe that the added weight and low center of gravity helped with the handling.

Once at the bottom we headed back to the demo area. It was at this point were something truly interesting happened and it requires a bit of back-history.

My fellow Cannondale dealer, who was on this ride, had required a little bit of convincing for her to join our group. She’s a very strong and accomplished cyclist but unfortunately, she’s been fighting a battle with cancer most of the year. And while she’s winning the fight (yeah, she’s tough), it’s taken a toll on her fitness, endurance and even the desire to want to ride a bike.

Together, we rolled to a stop at what was the only red light on our ride. As I turned back to see how she was doing following our 18k ride, I noticed tears rolling down her face (the rain had finally stopped, these were real tears). Immediately, I was concerned that something horrible may have happed. “No no no…” she quickly explained, “…you don’t understand, these are tears of joy. I never thought I’d be able to ride like this again.”  Wow, that hit me hard, but in a good way. It seems that the capabilities of this bike had allowed her to once again experience the beauty of riding with no fear of getting dropped and no concern about being able to ride anywhere a road bike can travel.

All in all a rather emotional experience and one that I’ll never forget. It’s a solid reminder of what e-Bikes can deliver. They are a great equalizer and they allow anyone to experience the joys of cresting that climb, feeling the freedom that riding brings and exploring the road less travelled by anyone but the ultra-fit.

In closing, the Synapse NEO is ideally focused at the e-Bike rider who is looking a true road experience with the added benefit of pedal-assist to smooth out the climbs and the range to ride all day long (up to 200k in ECO mode).


The 2019 Cannondale Synapse NEO is available in Canada in three models and comes in four sizes; Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large.

The Synapse NEO 1, equipped with a Shimano Dura-Ace drivetrain ($9000 msrp) (this was the model tested).

SynapseNEO1


The Synapse NEO 2, equipped with a Shimano Ultegra drivetrain ($6200 msrp).

SynapseNEO2


The Synapse NEO SE (Gravel), equipped with a SRAM Apex 1×11 drivetrain and gravel crushing, ride anywhere 47mm tires on a 650 WTB wheel-set ($5700 msrp) (this model was my personal favourite).

SynapseNEOSE

 

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