Cannondale Synapse Neo 1 - Newbie's 200 Mile Review

angryrice_esq

New Member
Region
USA
City
Glendale
I don't see too much discussion out there for the Cannondale Synapse Neo 1, so I thought I'd throw in my two cents. There is a a first look overview by user @carsonjones (his review, here) whose thoughts helped me feel more secure about my impulse-purchase of this ebike in April 2021.

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A bit of background: I'm an obese formerly-sedentary individual whose poor life choices led to my squishy body shape and career path as a blood-sucking lawyer. I live on the side of a mountain in Los Angeles, where half the streets are steep climbs. The last time I "seriously" cycled was in college, when I rode a second-hand Specialized Allez to get around. I decided to get into cycling to exercise and get out of the house (working from home has made me sick of staring at my bedroom walls). I wanted an ebike to help me climb the steep streets of my neighborhood. Initially, I had a rear hub motor ebike, which was competent, but I later learned that mid-drive bikes are better for hills (or so I read somewhere).

Let me start of by saying that because of my Cannondale Synapse Neo 1, all I ever want to do now is ride trails. In a month, I've logged over 200 miles.

The Ride: The Synapse Neo 1 performs well and is a joy to ride. With 2 cogs up front and 11 in the back, I have plenty of gears to tackle hills. However, I personally found that this spread of gears is largely unnecessary, even for the hills I climb. This is especially true if you have pedal assist on. Even on the steepest climb I have been on in Griffith Park, I did not need the lowest gear. That said, even with pedal assist on max (turbo), it was quite an effort to get up that hill. I would not characterize my effort as particularly strenuous with the pedal assist on max, but I did feel like I personally earned that hill--a hill I definitely would not have made on my own power in my current shape.

While I appreciated the assist from the motor, I do feel that the Bosch Active Line Plus motor is overkill. Only on the steepest of hills, when I'm dead tired, do I turn up the assist to max (turbo). If I want to catch up with my (much fitter) friend, I will briefly set the assist to "sport" (3rd of 4 levels). Most of the time, I have the assist turned off completely. If I'm facing a slight incline or headwind, I will set the assist to "eco" (1st of 4 levels). If the incline is steeper or the headwind very strong (or I when I want to put in very little effort), I will set the assist to "tour" (2nd of 4 levels).

Battery life? I don't think I've ever seen my battery meter fall below 3 out of 5 bars. Although I spend most of my time with the assist off or in "eco," it takes about 40 miles of riding before I see the battery meter drop one segment. I charge the battery maybe once or twice a week, with nearly daily riding.

The Bosch motor is very nice. Most of the time, I can hardly feel or hear that it is working. The motor is very quiet, and the activation/deactivation is very smooth and nearly seamless. When you do notice the motor kicking in/out, there is about a half-second delay--but nothing that would spoil the ride. When riding fast and at a good cadence, it's very hard to tell the motor is on at all. I only noticed lurching if I had the gearing low and was starting from a dead stop. I would say that on "eco," the assist feels like it's giving me just enough help to overcome road "resistance." It feels like I am doing most of the work, and gives me a sense of accomplishment. On "tour," you can definitely feel the motor helping you, and this is the setting that really makes you feel bionic. I would characterize "sport" as the motor doing most of the work on flat ground, and making most hills feel like they're just a slight incline. As the Synapse Neo 1 is a Class 1 ebike, limited to 20mph in the U.S., "turbo" feels neutered and useless. I only use "turbo" when the hills are particularly steep. This is why I feel the Bosch motor is completely overkill for this bike. Be forewarned that it does feel like a huge downer when you turn the assist off completely.

As an unpowered road bike, the Synapse Neo 1 feels very quick despite its weight. Most of the time, I am able to keep up with my friend on my own power. It turns beautifully, and feels very responsive and nimble. Apart from a heavy start from a dead stop, in all other respects, the Neo 1 feels like a normal road bike. I would say that on the Neo 1, I felt like I was "one with the road" more than with any other bike I've owned--with or without the pedal assist.

The Cannondale app works fine. It does a decent job tracking stats in a relatively clear way. It does have a strange habit of updating your distance travelled well after you've ended your ride and synced the trip.

Cons: Quality control needs work. I ran into the same problem as @carsonjones regarding the rear wheel and spokes coming loose. Apparently, my local REI tech was also very aware of this problem--so it appears to be fairly common. After about 20 miles, I noticed what felt like lurching to one side or the other. I discovered that my rear wheel spokes were very loose. Thankfully, my REI tech fixed this issue by overtightening the spokes. 200 miles in, and the problem has yet to resurface. However, this does not inspire me with confidence, and makes me personally wary to purchase another Cannondale. I am constantly checking my rear spokes out of pure paranoia. I also experienced a puncture just over 100 miles. While I can hardly fault Cannondale or WTB for this (the native "gravel" of Los Angeles appears to be broken glass and bent nails), it was not a pleasant experience. Just after a week of ownership, I spent $140 replacing my tires with Continentals. I also noticed creaking from the handlebars, but I have yet to notice any real issues as a result from this.

Is this ebike worth it? At nearly $5,000.00 MSRP, this is a significant investment for most people. And way too expensive just to "try out." If you want a competent ebike experience with a rear hub motor, you can do that for 1/5th the cost of the Synapse Neo 1. I had a workout keeping up with someone on a RadRunner 1 with both of us on "eco" assist. For me, I love the purist impression I get from this ebike and its mid-drive motor. While I sometimes do miss having a throttle, especially when I start from a dead stop at a busy intersection with cars, I am satisfied with pure pedal assist. I am gradually building the muscle to spend more and more time on manual power, but I don't think I will go back to pure analogue bikes anytime soon. Having that assist to go up hills (when I want help) and the ability for the motor to give me a break when I get tired is going to be very tough to give up. The mid-drive motor really does make you feel superhuman and will help riders keep up with much fitter cycling partners. I've previously owned two other ebikes (the Lectric XP and Aventon Pace 500), but this is my first keeper.

If you're serious about cycling and want a (ridiculously) powerful motor to help you out, then I would wholeheartedly endorse this bike.

I cannot find another prebuilt ebike with a mid-drive motor that is this solidly built (minus the serious wheel issue mentioned above) and with such great components for this price. As of the time of this writing (and as far as I could search online--correct me if I'm wrong), you would need to spend at least $5,500 for an equivalent or better mid-drive ebike with drop bars. I was able to find this bike on sale at REI for about $4,000.

I like this ebike, but I don't love it. For the reasons I stated earlier, the motor is neutered and overkill. While I currently feel that travelling in excess of 20mph is largely unnecessary, the fact that the motor will not help me catch up to my friend when he's sprinting beyond 20mph is a big bummer. Aesthetically, the Neo 1 looks like a very generic road bike. Up close, the size of the downtube (where the battery is) seems comically large compared to the slim tubes found everywhere else. Because of this, I am eager to get a slicker looking e-road bike that's Class 3. I feel that in owning a bike, there should be an emotional connection with your ride. The Synapse Neo 1 gets me to where I want to go, but I can't think of it as anything more than a machine. Perhaps the only emotional sentiment I have is in the monetary investment I've made. For some people, maybe this is a good thing. You get to admire your route more than what's beneath you. For me, I find myself ogling other peoples' bikes more often than not.

Hope this helps... anyone lol. I'll be happy to answer any questions regarding my experience with this ebike.

P.S. don't buy the bag that goes atop your top tube and behind your handlebar stem. It makes resting over the top tube at a stop very uncomfortable, and it gets in the way of your knees when pedaling.
 

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carsonjones

Member
@angryrice_esq great summary and think it's amazing that you're keen to get out riding a ton. FYI my bike shop determined that the original rear wheel had the wrong size spokes (after thinking that tightening would solve things) and replaced the entire wheel under warranty. They gave me a loaner rear wheel while we waited for the replacement to come in.
 

Deacon Blues

Well-Known Member
I ride a Cannondale Topstone Lefty 3 and use an Arkel seat tube bag, which I can highly recommend. The photo below shows the bag rolled up to its smallest size. When extended out it almost doubles in size. It's amazing how much stuff I can stuff in there.
Not cheap, but a great product.

z6oz0MZ.jpg
 

Alaskan

Well-Known Member
Thanks for the thoughtful review. Please report back once in a while with further impressions on the bike and let us know how riding it transforms your physique over time. Ebikes have radically changed, my attitude, energy level, and weight. It has also resulted in my wife and I consolidating down to one automobile.

I also ride a Topstone Carbon Neo 3 and am loving it. I am retired so I have time to rack up more miles. If you want a class 3 bike that will keep assisting to 28 mph, has a clean look with the same 22 speed 2x11 drive train in carbon fiber with a kingpin rear suspension for a bit of extra comfort, someday you should try to do a test ride on Cannondales Topstone Neo Carbon 2. Although it is a designed gravel bike, its a great bike on the road too. They are another step up in refinement (and cost) that might just give you that extra emotional attachment, beyond just a really nice machine.

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Captain Slow

Well-Known Member
Thanks for writing such a well written and informative review. If you don't mind sharing (understand if you don't want to) but I'm curious as to what physical changes you've had from riding the ebike. I lost weight and I'm in better shape now than I was 10 years ago and the ebike really helped get me out regularly and got the ball rolling.

Deacon, thanks for the picture I'm going to take a look at that bag, looks very cool.

Alaskan - when did you get the Topstone? I've lost track of how many electric bikes you have.
 

angryrice_esq

New Member
Region
USA
City
Glendale
Thanks for writing such a well written and informative review. If you don't mind sharing (understand if you don't want to) but I'm curious as to what physical changes you've had from riding the ebike. I lost weight and I'm in better shape now than I was 10 years ago and the ebike really helped get me out regularly and got the ball rolling.

Deacon, thanks for the picture I'm going to take a look at that bag, looks very cool.

Alaskan - when did you get the Topstone? I've lost track of how many electric bikes you have.
I noticed immediate toning and definition in my quadriceps. I think I've noticed slimming down a bit in the mirror, but I'm a long way from my target weight. I actually lost 30lb of the 40lb I gained in law school from calorie restriction alone, eating mostly salmon, and walking a ton in the late evening with my dog.

I've noticed that since I started cycling at least 10 miles per ride, I'm generally much hungrier. I also feel myself getting stronger as I'm using the assist less and less. I'm using the assist now only to help me with climbs and to take a break on the return journey. I try my best to plan mostly flat routes. It really helps to have a friend to keep up with--otherwise I think I'd just cruise at a comfortable pace instead of pushing myself.

I just feel better and healthier overall since I've started cycling, and my Synapse Neo 1 gives me motivation (and no excuse) not to go out and exercise. Although I stated in my review that I'm not in love with the Neo 1 (mostly for aesthetic reasons), no bike or ebike I've previously owned has made me want to get out and ride like the Neo 1.

Rear hub motor ebikes seem like a novelty or diversion to me, now, but I don't dare deny their place in helping people get physically active. I think it's wonderful that ebikes have exploded in popularity in spite of everything that happened in 2020. I'm also glad to see local municipalities wising up about their idiotic ebike regulations (Orange County unanimously reversed their ban on ebikes along the beach, and Santa Monica--which has the strictest and stupidest regulations--is also considering changes).

I'm planning on getting the Specialized Turbo Creo SL Comp Carbon (what a mouthful). It seems to have the appropriate amount of assist and battery life I want from an ebike now that I'm more established as a cyclist. The 10lb weight savings and carbon frame are particularly compelling. The Topstone Carbon Neo that @Alaskan mentioned is also very compelling, and I might get that, too, if I ever decide to take up gravel riding. Had I known about it (or Cannondale) at the time, I might have opted for that...

I feel that the Synapse Neo 1, if you can afford it, is just about the best mid-drive road ebike in its price range today.
 

Bakunin

New Member
Region
USA
My wife (who is the primary rider) and I just impulse-bought one from REI, in no small part due to the reviews posted by @angryrice_esq and @carsonjones , so thanks to you both. Here is how it evolved, since we got it on Sunday:

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I put Compass (now Rene Herse) 38mm Stellacomb tires on it, some racks, and a short adjustable stem because my wife needs a shorter reach, as well as her Brooks saddle and preferred pedals. She rides it to commute to and from work in the Santa Cruz "mountains" which involves quite a bit of climbing steep hills. I rode it home in Tour and Sport mode (13 miles, about 2000 ft of climbing, with some grades approaching 20%). This thing just flies up the hills with little effort. She recently severely damaged her knee, and thought she might never ride again (or even walk much), so this has been a tremendous relief for both of us.

We got it from REI Saratoga. Their assembly quality control was quite poor, but is ok now. The headset and stem were the most worrisome. They had it so loose you could see it wobble back and forth, and the headset wasn't assembled correctly. The expansion bolt also wasn't put in properly, and had come loose. There were five spacers under the stem, yet the stem was flipped down. (That seems to be Cannondale's intention, judging by the stock photos on their website. Seems a strange way to do it, and the steerer tube was cut short enough that the top clamp bolt on the stem was higher up than the cut, so it was squeezing air. I put a different stem on it, and ensured it is clamped properly and has one spacer above the clamp, which I think is a good idea for carbon forks.)

Anyway, apart from that, we are both really happy with the bike, but will keep a close eye on the rear wheel. I think Cannondale specs a weird asymmetric dish (they call it AI on the sticker attached to the chain stay); perhaps that contributes to the unwinding spokes? I noticed they also sell the same frame with 650b wheels, which might make more sense for those who want to run a really wide tire. The front will take a 700c x 55mm tire, but there isn't enough clearance due to the motor for that width in 700c. 650b would probably work great.
 

carsonjones

Member
Congrats! I hope you get a ton of enjoyment out of it. The dish in the wheel is normal (and safe!) for the Cannondale bikes so no worries there. Mine came with the wrong size spokes on the rear wheel and that was the cause of the wobble. My local bike shop submitted a warranty claim and the entire wheel was replaced by Cannondale. I also run two sets of wheels (700c that came with the bike / 650b Shimano GRX wheels purchased afterwards) and use one for general road riding in the summer (700c) and one for early spring and light gravel and trails (650b). Love the 650b set with the WTB Byway tires (47mm). Comfy.
 

Bakunin

New Member
Region
USA
I also noticed creaking from the handlebars, but I have yet to notice any real issues as a result from this.

I am worried that this might be caused by how the stem is attached to the fork steerer tube. When I took mine apart (which looks exactly like Cannondale's stock photo), this is what I saw:

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The fork steerer tube should come up higher than the stem. The top bolt is above the cut on the steerer tube. For carbon forks, this can be hazardous. (Good thing you are a lawyer).
 

Bakunin

New Member
Region
USA
@angryrice_esq Just to reiterate, creaking from the handlebars is not something you should ignore. This is especially important when the bars are attached (via the stem) to a carbon fork.
 

Catalyzt

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
Great review! Interesting that our neighborhoods are very close, and very similar in terrain, but you tend to prefer flats. My bike is heavier and more underpowered, probably less torque... I'm in the eastern Hollywood Hills, so basically, I've given up on finding a flat route! My rides are usually about 12-18 miles and are between 1000 and 1500 feet of vertical. My range is roughly 40 miles with 4,000 miles of vertical, but I typically exceed that so I'm often only getting 32 miles out of a charge.

The Synapse sounds pretty cool, and the weight is low from my perspective, though not for its class, I realize. Give yourself time to bond with it-- 200 miles is not a lot. I started liking my Motobecane a lot more at about 100 miles, but it wasn't until about 180 that I was really smitten.

The bike buying decision was a difficult one for me, too-- I made what I thought were a lot of compromises, but I'm now very happy with it. My goal was better general fitness and spending more time outdoors-- I have my own health issues, and keeping weight on is more of a problem for me. I could not compromise on price ($2,500 including assembly) or suspension, so I compromised on power. I like the full suspension because Vista del Valle and Mt. Hollywood Drive have so many potholes, and my hands and back aren't great. I also like being able to go off road when I need or want to without worrying about it, and the stability of an EMTB. I've hit nearly 37 MPH going downhill, which is just insane to me, but the bike feels glued to the road.

If you want to meet for a ride, or overlap for part of one, please feel free to PM me-- and absolutely no offense taken if you like to ride solo or with your friend. That's my preference most of the time, too, but I'm getting a little freaked out that I've picked up an isolated sport at a time when I'm isolated due to the pandemic. Might not be that helpful for you, as I do not think you would have trouble keeping up with me-- more like the other way around, unfortunately, your bike is a lot lighter-- except possibly downhill. My average speeds are in the 13 MPH zone, except when I'm riding paved canyon roads when it drops to more like 11 MPH. I am often in Griffith Park on Vista del Valle or Mt. Hollywood Drive. I may be making a run for Brand Park in the late afternoon or evening today, I'm trying to decide if I'm up for it! I might just putter around the back side of Griffith Park.

Also, if you know of good trails within my range limits, please let me know-- and I wouldn't mind some flatter trails, either. This bike and battery should do more like 60 miles or more on more reasonable terrain. I do ride by the L.A. River sometimes, but man, the air seems pretty bad down there, and I'm sure you are familiar with bike and trail issues in Griffith Park! I have two cars, but both of them are sports cars, so I don't have a rack, and all my rides are out-the-front door, I'm in the Bronson Canyon area.
 
Angryrice_esq: Great review! I also have the Cannondale Synapse Neo 1 and this is my second riding season with it. I also had a flat from a sizeable shard of glass at 100 miles, which was a bit disturbing, but haven't had one since. I decided I really liked the tires on the mix of dirt and pavement that I ride, and I put on new ones of the same type this season at 2700 miles. I now have 3600 miles on the bike and I really enjoy it. I usually use Eco or Tour because I ride with my husband who is on his e-trike and goes slower than I can. The range is awesome and I usually don't recharge after every ride. I just recharged it yesterday after a few rides totaling 84 miles and I had 2+ bars left. I do think that all bars on the controller display are not created equal. I get more miles and feet of climb on the first bar than the other bars. In fact, I think the mileage/altitude decreases with every bar, but I don't often take data. I have done one century and had some battery power left over, so I have no range anxiety on my normal rides. I have had no problems with the rear wheel and the spokes seem equally tensioned when I tweak them. Maybe I should check more often, but 3600 miles on what is euphemistically called 'pavement' in New Hampshire bodes well for the future of my wheel. Am attaching a picture of my bike, including the modification to put my pump next to the water bottle on the down tube. And I've added a large water bottle to the seat tube as I like having two water bottles on many of my rides. Good luck in getting used to your new steed and welcome to the forum!
 

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