Commencal Meta Power 29 Team Review
Cons: Expensive, heavy, lethargic climber, unimpressive range
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Our Analysis and Test Results
While some consumers in the U.S. may not recognize the name Commencal, it is a mainstay European brand that makes some of the highest performance mountain bikes in the world. Completely redesigned for 2020, the new Commencal Meta Power 29 Team is a great example of the brand's quality and performance, featuring a high-end build spec, attractive styling and the durable Shimano E8000 powertrain with a new integrated, quick swappable battery in the downtube. Combining 29-inch wheels with 160mm rear and 170mm of front suspension travel makes the Meta Power 29 Team one of the most capable downhillers in the test. Despite all these positive features, there are a few things holding the Meta Power 29 Team back, including a rather heavy 52-pound weight that negatively affects handling and battery range. It's also the most expensive in our ebike test, but such is the cost for having components like the SRAM XO Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, SRAM Code brakes and a DT Swiss wheelset. Although its weight holds back the Commencal in some ways, when it comes to pointing straight downhill, the Meta Power 29 Team swallows up trail with aplomb.
The 2020 Meta Power 29 Team is equipped with the durable and reliable Shimano STEPS E8000 powertrain, featuring a handlebar-mounted computer display that's both easy to read and intuitive to control. The power button is prominently located on the frame's downtube, and without pulling your left hand off the handlebar, riders can select and scroll through the color LCD readout settings including current, average and top speed, gear selection, range selection, cadence, current battery life, and remaining battery range. The Shimano system offers three mode assist settings - Eco, Trail, and Boost - and the amount of assist within each setting can be customized through Bluetooth control with the Shimano E-TUBE app. The Shimano system also features a walk mode, however, unlike the Specialized Turbo Levo Comp, engaging walk mode requires pushing the mode assist button numerous times to scroll to Walk mode, then push and hold the button again to get it to engage. Seemingly trivial, but not when competitors have a simple, one-touch Walk button on the handlebar mount.
The Shimano STEPS E8000 drivetrain delivers plenty of uphill grunt on in Trail and Boost mode to climb the steepest trails, however, we found the stock setting of Eco mode to be lacking in power assist, something that can be easily adjusted through Bluetooth on your smartphone by downloading the Shimano E-TUBE app. The power output setting is displayed on the small digital color screen mounted on the handlebar next to the stem. Each output setting has its own corresponding color on the screen, making it easier to tell which mode you are in at a quick glance. This display is more user-friendly and easier to read than the displays found on other models with the same Shimano Steps drive system.
One of the highlights of the redesigned Meta Power 29 Team is the Shimano 504Wh battery that's integrated into the frame's downtube. Not only does it make the Commencal look sleek - almost indistinguishable from a traditional mountain bike - but it can also be easily swapped out with the turn of an allen key; an essential feature for riders who plan to take the Commencal on big backcountry adventures requiring a second battery.
The charge port is located on the non-drive side of the seat tube, a few inches above the bottom bracket. It's a good location that is low and out of the way, but not too low as to attract excess dirt and grime. However, the rubber cover on the charge port can be a pain to put back on once removed because of a tether that doesn't always retract back into the frame as easily as it should.
With 160mm of travel out back through a RockShox Superdeluxe Ultimate and 170mm of cushion up front thanks to a RockShox Lyrik Ultimate RC2, the Meta Power 29 Team has a very impressive suspension package and is an absolute bruiser on the descents. Commencal has made a name for itself on the downhill and freeride circuit over the last 20 years, building incredibly capable bikes that have won numerous Downhill World Championships, and the Meta Power 29 Team benefits from this pedigree. When gravity takes over, the Meta Power 29 Team is one of the best performing e-bikes in our test. Thanks to a slack 65-degree head tube angle, a long 1275mm wheelbase, and its long-travel suspension attached to 29-inch wheels, the Commencal begs for speed and steep, loose descents.
Another benefit to the redesigned, integrated battery is that the battery weight is better distributed into the down tube, providing improved balance and added stability at high speeds. In the corners, the Commencal performs adequately, however its 52-pound weight lets its presence be known. While the added weight provides ample grip in slow arcing high-speed corners, when the corners get tighter and slower, the Commencal is a bit more lethargic on the exit. We have the long 1275mm wheelbase to thank for this bike's stability, and also for its unwieldiness at slower speeds; this bike wants you to smash the fall line at speed.
Coming to an abrupt halt on the Commencal is no problem thanks to the SRAM Code RSC four-piston caliper brakes with 200mm rotors front and rear. Braking performance on the Commencal is outstanding, the best in the test, however, it does come at a premium price. With this premium price comes a rather capable DT Swiss H 1700 SPLINE wheelset sporting Schwalbe Magic Mary 2.35-inch wide tires. Despite the weight of the bike, the DT Swiss wheels had no signs of flex or weakness, and the big meaty knobs of the Schwalbe tires gave the Commencal solid grip and confidence on even the loosest of trails. While we found the tires to work well, we feel a wider set of tires could enhance this bike's comfort, traction, and overall performance on the descents. The Commencal may be expensive, but a similarly equipped Specialized Turbo Levo would dent your wallet by at least an extra thousand dollars. Speaking of dents, the Commencal also features a significant bash plate underneath the Shimano motor for outstanding protection when the riding gets extra rowdy.
Once the trail points upwards, the Commencal begins to show some weakness. It isn't a bad climber, but when compared to some of its peers, the Meta Power 29 Team has a hard time keeping up. Although Commencal redesigned the frame for 2020, incorporating a more upright 77-degree seat tube angle for a better climbing position, when the climbing gets steep, the bike wants to wander and lift the front tire, forcing the rider to sit at the very nose of the saddle to keep the front end planted. This wandering is a result of a combination of the slack 65-degree head tube angle along with the super long wheelbase of this bike. Commencal made a conscious decision when designing the Meta Power 29 Team to prioritize its downhill performance, and this rears its head on super steep climbs. Other bikes like the Turbo Levo Comp have a similar head tube angle and are much more planted on the uphill. As a result, those in search of a well-balanced e-bike that can climb as well as it descends may be better suited to bikes like the Turbo Levo Comp or the Bulls E-Stream EVO.
Once again the component spec of the Commencal comes into play, and thanks to the SRAM Eagle 12-speed drivetrain with a mix of XO and GX components, the Meta Power 29 Team had more than ample gearing range to help it claw uphill. The RockShox Superdeluxe Ultimate rear shock was kept open during the test and was adept at keep maximum traction to the rear wheel in loose, rocky uphill terrain. The 2.35" Schwalbe Magic Mary tires work pretty well, but our testers did feel that this bike could gain even more traction with a higher volume set of rubber.
The Shimano STEPS E8000 system has become the industry standard for many bike manufacturers who don't have the resources or money like Specialized to design and build their own drivetrain system. Along with the Ghost Hybride SL AMR and the YT Decoy CF PRO the Shimano drivetrain on the Commencal Meta Power 29 Team gives it ample grunt, featuring maximum output of 70Nm (250W) along with smooth, stable reliable power delivery. Although the motor is not as quiet as the nearly silent Brose unit on the Turbo Levo Comp, the Shimano motor on the Commencal is not loud by any means.
Like every bike equipped with the Shimano E8000 system, power delivery is smooth and consistent without any hiccups or missed pedal strokes. Boost mode is quite powerful and has the unique characteristic of adding a half stroke of pedal power after the rider stops pedaling. It takes a few minutes to get accustomed to, but once adjusted, the added kick of Boost power can be the difference between clearing an obstacle and getting hung up.
The Shimano system on the Commencal came from the factory with a very light assist setting in Eco mode that was noticeably less powerful than other bikes in the test. Of course, this parameter is adjustable in the downloadable E-TUBE app, but for those who are averse to tinkering with settings, we'd like to see the bike come from the factory with all three assist modes set in the middle part of their power assist range.
Another benefit to the redesign of the Meta Power 29 Team is the integrated speed sensor that's set into the rear wheel dropout and paired with a magnet that's mounted on the rear brake rotor. This is a well thought out design that's low profile, adding to the attractiveness of the Commencal.
This is perhaps the department where the Commencal struggles most. Although it is equipped with a 504Wh Shimano battery - standard for any Shimano E8000 powered system - the Meta Power 29 just doesn't burn through its battery life as efficiently as the competition. When put in Boost mode and ridden from a full charge to empty on our standardized test hill, the Commencal lasted only 16 miles and 3,350 vertical feet, which paled in comparison to our top performer, the 2020 Specialized Turbo Levo Comp, which delivered nearly double the range at 29.6 miles and 6,140 vertical feet thanks to its 700Wh battery. This isn't an apples to apples comparison, but if you do the math, it works out to 3.2 miles per 100Wh for the Commencal, versus 4.2 miles per 100Wh for the Levo. That is a significant difference in efficiency.
We also put both bikes through a test in Downieville, CA, climbing an incredibly steep singletrack trail not rideable on a traditional mountain bike. Both bikes were in their highest assist mode - Boost for the Commencal and Turbo for the Levo. Each lap was just under six miles in length (up and back down) with 2,200 vertical feet of climbing. The Commencal managed to complete 1.5 laps for a total of 9 miles and 3,300 vertical feet, while the Specialized did three complete laps for a total of 18 miles and 6,600 vertical feet of climbing. Again, the Specialized doesn't have twice the battery but it has the ability to go twice as far.
Although the Commencal is down on range compared to its peers, the upside is that the battery on the Commencal can be easily swapped, and unlike the Specialized battery, the Shimano battery is compact enough to fit in most trail packs. The Shimano E-TUBE App can be used to adjust the power assist settings for better range, but it comes at a sacrifice of assist power.
Along with the YT Decoy, the Meta Power 29 with the Team build has the top component spec in our test. Featuring a Mix of SRAM Eagle 12-speed XO and GX drivetrain components, paired with SRAM Code RSC four-piston brakes, Shimano XT cranks, DT SWISS H 1700 SPLINE wheels with Schwalbe Magic Mary tires, KS Lev Integra 175mm stealth dropper post, RockShox suspension (Lyrik Ultimate RC2 fork and Superdeluxe Ultimate shock) and sharp looking Ride Alpha components with a Fabric Scoop Elite saddle, the Commencal is very well equipped.
All the components come together to make the Commencal shift, brake, roll and feel comfortable and capable. There's plenty of gear range thanks to the Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, and the braking performance is outstanding thanks to the Code four-piston stoppers.
Although the Commencal is the most expensive bike in our e-MTB test, it does come with a very good build spec. Let's put it this way, if the Specialized came with the same components, it would cost more than a thousand dollars more. Considering how much bike you are getting with the Commencal, we consider it a solid overall value.
One item that should be noted with the Commencal is that in the United States, this is a direct-to-consumer brand, meaning there are no physical dealers. Consumers purchase bikes online and they are delivered. So if you have an issue with your bike, it isn't as easy as taking it into your local Commencal dealer shop to have it looked at. Thankfully the Commencal is equipped with a Shimano powertrain, so if there is an issue, most shops that service e-bikes can diagnose any issues with the electrical part of the bike.
The redesigned Commencal Meta Power 29 Team is a bike that's just right for the rider who is willing to sacrifice some climbing prowess and battery range for enduro-style downhill dominance. The bike is set up to descend, and thanks to innovative design and attractive lines, most people won't even realize the Meta Power 29 is electric assist. More at home in the bike park than deep in the backcountry, the Meta Power 29 Team's red/white/black livery looks great and the Shimano E8000 drivetrain is proven to be durable and reliable. The integrated battery in the downtube is easy to swap out, ideal for those who don't mind carrying an extra battery for bigger rides. While not the best balanced bike overall, the Commencal is definitely a standout downhill performer. If the Commencal could shave a few pounds of heft and gain an extra 30 percent range, it would make a worthy contender for Editor's Choice.
— Kurt Gensheimer, Joshua Hutchens, Chris McNamara