Since the Cannondale Compact Neo e-bike launched last fall, I was certain I had to review it. I always wanted a Hooligan (how did they not call this the e-Hooligan and where’s the Lefty?!?), their previous compact 20”-wheeled model, and as more e-bikes become available I have grown increasingly curious about trying one out for commuting. The more I looked at Compact Neo, the more I thought that its folding design and utilitarian features might just make it the perfect bike for Portland: fenders, lights, and plenty of mounts for racks. And, it’s not too flashy. After a few months riding the Compact Neo for daily commutes and “car-free” family weekend adventures, this entry level e-bike has unexpectedly re-energized the way I view the commuting and the point-to-point side of cycling.
In reviewing this bike—or any other—I’m always most interested in how the bike feels, the user experience it provides, and how it will (or won’t) influence my lifestyle and riding perspective. Although I dip into the tech, don’t expect a deep dive here on e-bike motors, batteries, or systems. I’m no expert there, and I won’t pretend to be, but I can tell you how this bike made me feel and think.
So, What Is It?
The Cannondale Compact Neo can best be summed up as a Minivelo hub drive e-bike (electric assist, not throttle), designed to save space when not in use thanks to the folding components. In visual comparison to the Hooligan, the frame shape is nearly identical, only a bar swap and non-Lefty fork let you know it’s not a Hooligan. It features a 250w Hyena rear hub motor, along with 8-speed drivetrain via the microSHIFT M26S rear derailleur and thumb tap shifter. The shifting is surprisingly crispy—with the tactile feel of mechanical shifting I’ve been missing—and the small hub motor is surprisingly capable. On the seat tube is a chain catcher for a bit of insurance. All in all we are talking about a 39.7lb complete e-bike. The battery is entirely hidden inside the frame, with only the small charging port on top of the BB area and the obviously larger hub giving away the secret that this thing can move.
Visually, the 20” wheel Minivelo stance is the first thing almost anyone will notice about the Neo. The size of this bike is oddly deceptive; it always looks smaller in photos than it does in real life. Those 20” wheels are small and zippy but also clearly overbuilt with a 32-hole front and 36-hole rear setup. So, if you are a plush life dork this ain’t for you as quality 20” tires are still pretty rare with the most options coming from the BMX world. With that said 2.35″ is still a lot of cushion for rough roads, even with the small wheel diameter.
Somehow at certain angles, this bike can still have a “mean” look. Perhaps it’s the industrial gray paint paired with slight knobs of the Kenda K-Rad 20×2.35” tires. Or, maybe it’s just the stance in general. I can’t really put my finger on it. I will note the tidy wheel size tends to put me back into a kid-like state and I’m goofing around a lot more while on this bike compared to others. The build also has wired front and rear lights. I would definitely put them more in the “lights to be seen by” category, more so than the”lights to see by.” Holding down the power button toggles them on and off. One nitpick I noticed early is that the rear light is steady and doesn’t blink. It might just be me (and maybe this is an opinion based on the placebo effect, or wishful thinking) but a striking blinking light pattern always makes me feel safer. I feel the same way about wired dynamo setups with steady rear lights; I’m not totally sure of the point.
As this bike is a one size fits all frame, we should talk a little about fit. At 6′ on the dot with a 780mm saddle height, I have to extend the seatpost pretty dang close to the max range of the stock setup, which still leaves me with some saddle-to-bar drop, likely on a bike not designed to have any. The effective top tube is 55.5cm and comes with an 80mm stem. For me (and likely anyone at my size or larger), this bike will feel short. None of this really affects the ride or usage of it though. I feel pretty at home on my seven-mile each way commute. It’s easy to see how fit could be an issue though for riders and the extreme ends of the height range. Still, on the opposite end of the spectrum with the seatpost slammed, the bike is a nearly perfect fit for my wife who is 5’3”. This versatility was one of the major draws of this bike for us: it could be used as both my faster, commuting-in-the-rain bike, as well as her everyday family bike. The QR seatpost clamp makes adjusting for our individual heights take just a matter of seconds.
The bike’s e-system is managed by a simple three-button controller near the left grip. Green, Yellow and Red are your options for speed with red being the fastest setting. LED lights on the controller indicate the battery life. For the vast majority of this review, I operated in the green or yellow mode. The red mode only seemed to have noticeably more speed when starting from a stand still. With some light to moderate pedaling action once at speed, all modes maintained about 14-18 mph depending on the angle of our rolling roads. Note: you do still have to do some work for the uphills! The assist seems to kick on with a slight delay after you start turning the pedals. I found that this can lead to some awkward stops and jolts when trying to get the cranks into a good position to start riding again. After a ride or two though you adjust and learn the limits of how much rotation in the cranks is needed before the motor kicks in.
The most noticeable thing about riding the Compact Neo is that the bike’s weight and build act as a sort of self governor. While it can hold a steady speed on flats, it’s incredibly hard to go any faster than 18mph without it feeling like a hard and wasted effort. This caused me to reframe the entire way I commute. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I like to post some of my commuter watts, and I’m also an idiot and will full-sprint hills with a backpack on just for the heck of it. This bike wants nothing to do with any of that. Learning to accept a slightly slower, but more consistent, speed and never trying to push allowed me to find this bikes’ sweet spot.
At first, this was wildly frustrating but then my commutes started to be less stressful and rushed and a hell of a lot more pleasant. I think that might be the key to all bikes like this; prioritizing efficiency over watts. If you are a serious cyclist who likes to mash, this might not be a good fit for you. But if you are willing to flow with the new variables, and use the Neo the way it was meant to be, you might find some unexpected enjoyment on your routine commutes. I noticed houses, buildings, and details of this town that I’ve never seen in the three years I’ve spent doing the same route to work. This could be due to the lack of personal effort or the more relaxed position of the bike, or simply accepting of how to get the most out of the Compact Neo.
I started using this bike during the rainy season, a miserably soggy seven months for a bike commuter here in Portland. If I was in a bad mood and sick of being wet I could shave about four minutes off my commute time by switching to red mode. Sometime—anytime—not in the rain is better. The 20” fenders worked great at keeping me dry(er), too. The 740mm wide moto bars are a super comfortable shape yet still slim enough to boop around cars at stop lights.
As a family, we try to make every weekend a car free weekend. It feels like a privilege to live in PDX in a neighborhood and location we love. I toss both kids on my Ominum Cargo and my wife hops on the Neo. This bike has extended our range as a family by about 10 miles. We are going further and doing more than staying in our amazing, but somewhat limited, neighborhood. We are taking the kids on picnics, to new parks, and restaurants all because of this bike. We are now experiencing more of our community and feel like active participants in it, rather than just driving through it. Living by bike as much as possible was one of my goals moving here. This bike absolutely makes that goal way easier.
When not on, to be blunt, this thing is a boat anchor and if you kill the battery it’s absolutely unenjoyable to ride (remember, it’s nearly 40lbs). I would go as far as to call it miserable. Even for a few blocks, it’s a damn slog. It’s doable but I wouldn’t ever plan on it. This did create some range anxiety for me, luckily the charger is about as big as any 1990s camcorder power cables. It easily pops into your bag just in case.
As mentioned at the start this bike is designed to be space saving, with the target rider being apartment livers or city people. The quick folding pedals and a quick release stem system that turns the bars a full 90º, allows the Neo to reduce its side-to-side measurement down to about 200mm. While this does allow you to slide this bike into tighter spaces, neither the pedals nor stem are what I would call confidence inspiring… The bars always seem to have about a 2mm lateral wobble to them and the pedals are relatively creaky and (even though they never felt insecure while riding) once you fold them, you don’t forget that they can do that. With a normal stem and pedals this is a solid contender for a bike we’d want to own.
While the extra fork mounts and fender mounts are rad, the down tube bottle position only fits a small bottle. On a commuter bike, I think it’s reasonable to bring a small travel coffee cup, but my go-to (and very average-sized) Stanley cup doesn’t fit, and it looks like the position could have been lowered by at least a few centimeters. There’s also a set of bosses on the angled top tube. I can’t imagine what anyone would actually put there?
Flat Fixes, Wear and Quality
Look: this is a $1900 bike and you should keep that in mind before your expectations get too high. By all accounts it’s an entry level bike. I also don’t want to argue about spec here. But for the price, I find it to be a fair build with some added extra style that Cannondale is known for. The Tektro 160/160 hydro brakes were surprisingly good and this thing is fun to skid but does lock up on the easier side of things. Overall, the quality and build are so good that we are likely going to buy this out after the review. The microSHIFT stuff works great, and the system performs as advertised. The rear wheel is a 18mm bolt-on hub (not a standard I’m used to). I’m also not sure if a non bulky 18mm wrench exists on the market. Meaning, one more thing to carry. There is a quick disconnect on the e-system under the drive side chainstay, with some additional cable management you have to deal with. I haven’t had a single flat on this bike, but I can’t imagine it being a terribly difficult experience, as long as you have that wrench and can wrestle some more weight and a bit of a cord. Edit: I did have to pull the wheel to diagnose the noise (more below), it’s not a very difficult experience but it’s for sure not pleasant.
Most of my time on the Neo was super enjoyable and operation was pretty silent besides the hum of the motor. Over the last couple rides it has developed a rotational noise coming from the rear wheel, which turned out to be spoken tension and a mixture of classic black anodized spokes creaking. While it was an easy fix, it still made me wonder how often one might expect to encounter wheel issues just due to the forces at play on e-bikes? There’s one thing that is for sure, I’ll never dig into that hub motor so I’m glad the noise was from the spokes.
As a reviewer, I don’t always know the story of the media bikes that land on my doorstep. During build up there are certain context clues as to how well a bike has been taken care of. Those largely come down to pack jobs, play in BBs, headsets, hubs, cleanliness, etc. When the Cannondale first arrived, it was clean and well kept, but after a couple rides I noticed that the range seemed less than advertised by a large margin. I reached out to see if this sounded correct. With an immediate “no somethings not right” I was advised to download the Hyena app and update the firmware. This changed the bike from a bust to something I truly do love. The range just about doubled from ~14 miles on a single charge in yellow mode, to easily 25 miles riding in yellow the entire way. The app also gives you instant access to accurate battery life, expected range left, and some fine tuning of the power in each mode. I guess it should be obvious but if you plan to be an e-bike owner, apps and firmware are likely a price you have to pay to get the most out of your bike.
This bike wasn’t designed for the super serious cyclists; it’s an entry level bike after all, and going back to lower tier build takes an open mind. But, it doesn’t claim to be some status symbol bike either, it’s a function-forward commuter with efficiency (when in use and not) at its core. It’s not for bragging but it does facilitate living more of your life by bike. The Cannondale Compact Neo is an accessible option for getting around town for new commuters, or for the diehards who just sometimes don’t want to show up to their destination sweaty. It forced me to slow down when riding through the world and that made my city more enjoyable. I find myself pulling out this bike on mornings when I’m tired, or grumpy. It can instantly boost my mood.
- Entry-level price: $1,900
- Folding design makes it easy to store
- Thoughtful commuting features: fenders, lights, mounts
- Quick adjustments for swapping between riders
- Playful 20″ wheel platform
- Facilitates “car-free” living
- Folding bars have some wobble
- Hard to service at home
- Rear light is constant, lights more for being seen than seeing by
- Could pose fit issues for riders on the far ends of the height range