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Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+ 2018 Review

Commencal's first foray into the e-bike market was worth the wait with a hard charging ride that utilizes their Meta frame design and Shimano's E8000 motor.
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Price:  $4,999 List
Pros:  nice component spec, digital display, burly suspension, stable confident handling, e-bike controls
Cons:  can't hold water bottle, shortest battery life and distance range, noisier motor, sluggish in technical downhill
Manufacturer:   Commencal
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78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • E-Bike Controls - 10% 8
  • Downhill Performance - 35% 8
  • Climbing Performance - 20% 9
  • Power Output - 15% 8
  • Distance Range - 20% 6

Our Verdict

The Meta Power Race 650B+ is the winner of our Best Buy Award. Commencal took their time entering the growing e-bike market and it shows with their well-designed machine built around their proven Meta frame design and Shimano's E8000 pedal assist motor. Our testers loved the motor system's ease of use, digital display, and consistent power output, which when coupled with the bike's great component spec made it one of the most fun to ride. A crowd-pleasing build, which includes a Rock Shox Reverb dropper seat post, Lyrik fork, and Super Deluxe Coil rear shock, matched with Commencal's Meta frame design helped this machine eat up the trail and an absolute blast to rip downhill. The Meta Power Race 650B+'s hard-charging performance keeps the fun factor pinned at 11 and this e-bike is a joy to ride. For the price, the Meta Power Race has a nicer build than the competition, so we feel that you get more for your money when you buy a Commencal.

The Commencal Meta Power Race is back for 2019. It is quite similar to the model we tested, though it has numerous component upgrades and an increase in price of $500. It is also offered with 29-inch wheels as well as the 650B+ wheel size we tested.


Our Analysis and Test Results

Commencal took their time bringing an e-bike to market, and their patience has paid off with an excellent pedal assisted trail bike that we found to be well suited to more aggressive riders. To power the Meta Power Race 650B+, Commencal integrates the Shimano Steps E8000 pedal assist motor into their Meta frame design. The Shimano system impressed our testers with its best-in-test controls, digital display, and ease of use, but lost ground to its competitors with slightly shorter battery life and distance range. On the trail, the Shimano motor's three output settings transferred power consistently, giving the bike excellent climbing performance with no abrupt power cutoff. The Meta frame design features modern trail bike geometry coupled with the Rock Shox Lyrik up front and Super Deluxe coil in back that made this bike seek the fall-line and excel in the both the flow and the chunk. Testers never used the word nimble to describe the ride, but once up to speed, the Meta Race 650B+ shined in the smooth and fast, or while blasting through rock gardens.

Component Updates For 2019


Fork - The 2019 version uses the new RockShox Lyrik RC2 with a new damper. This fork runs the Charger 2 damper. We don't expect any monumental performance difference as the old Lyrik on our test bike was excellent.

Drivetrain - The new version runs a SRAM X01 Eagle 12-speed drivetrain. Our test had a EX-1 8-speed drivetrain. More gear range? What's not to love?

Wheelset - The 2019 Meta Power Race runs a DT Swiss Spline 1700 wheelset. Our test bike had a Spank wheelset. The DT Swiss wheelset has a higher-end hub that can be upgraded to get better engagement by swapping the star ratchets.

Tires - The updated version runs a 2.6-inch Schwalbe Magic Mary in the front and a 2.6-inch Hans Dampf on the rear. This replaces the 2.6-inch Maxxis rubber on our test bike. The Schwalbe tires tend to run a good bit wider than the Maxxis. Let's call this a wash.

Testing downhill capabilities.
Testing downhill capabilities.

Performance Comparison


E-Bike Controls


The Commencal Meta Race 650B+ took top honors in this rating metric and our testers universally agreed that the e-bike controls and system integration of the Shimano Steps E8000 pedal assist motor was hands down the best in our test selection. What the Shimano system lacks in battery life and distance range, it makes up for in ease of use, quality digital display, and ergonomic shifter style handlebar mounted controls.

Mounted on the left side of the handlebar in the space formerly occupied by a front derailleur shifter, the Shimano motor controls closely resemble those forgotten relics. There are two paddles used to shift through the motor's three power output settings, and using them is comfortable and intuitive. The only drawback that we could find is that the shifter sits in the place we would most like to have our dropper post remote, but Commencal spec'd a piston style Reverb remote that nestles in nicely alongside the shifter to solve that problem. There are numerous shifters in a tight area on the left side of the bar, and it takes a little getting used to, but using them becomes second nature in no time. We did find that the cable that comes out of the motor shifter would occasionally rattle itself loose, resulting in warning code "w013" on the digital display. Whenever this warning code would come on the drive unit would not function properly, leaving you pedaling a 50 lb bike around unassisted. Simply pushing the cable back into the correct position on the shifter and turning the power to the drive unit off and back on seemed to remedy this issue. It seems like a piece of tape to hold the cable in place could be a decent solution to this occasional annoyance.

The Meta excels on open steep terrain
The Meta excels on open steep terrain

The Shimano Steps digital display also impressed our testers and was easy to read with colored lights to differentiate between power output settings. Each power output setting has a unique color associated with it to quickly and easily verify which mode you are in, and the display also provided valuable information on speed and remaining battery life. This small screen was tucked neatly on the handlebar next to the stem in a spot that didn't conflict with your knees while pedaling and was less susceptible to damage in the event of a crash. The HaiBike XDURO AllMtn 8.0 had a similar display, but it was less streamlined and harder to read, while the Trek and Bulls bikes both had display/shifter units that are located on the handlebar by the left grip.

The best-in-class digital display was easy to read and tucks neatly alongside the stem on the Meta Power Race.
The best-in-class digital display was easy to read and tucks neatly alongside the stem on the Meta Power Race.

Charging the battery on the Commencal was again the best in our test selection. The charging port on the battery is located in a convenient location on the side of the battery about halfway up the body, and it was easy to plug in and remove the cord due to the shape and size of the plug interface. The included charging cord was quite long so you could use a plug located a good distance away from the bike. We never did a timed test of charging time, but according to Shimano, it takes 2.5 hours to charge the battery 80%, while charging a fully depleted battery from 0 to 100% takes 5 hours.

Downhill Performance


Overall, we found the downhill performance of the Meta Power race 650B+ to be somewhat one-dimensional. It begged to ridden fast and we found it to be most at home while carrying speed either on smooth and flowy trails or smashing through rock gardens. In these situations, it had a comfortable and confidence-inspiring demeanor that we found to be unflinching and stable. Unlike the Specialized Turbo Levo, the Commencal was far from nimble, and testers found it to be sluggish in tighter turns or slower technical riding. E-bikes are heavy, all of the models we tested range between 48-55lbs, so it can take a bit more muscle and body English than usual to move them around, something we found with the Commencal at lower speeds. That being said, if you like riding fast and your trails don't feature lots of slow technical descending, then this bike can handle just about anything you throw at it.

The Meta Power Race has great numbers and its' performance on the trail reflects that.
The Meta Power Race has great numbers and its' performance on the trail reflects that.

The Meta Power Race 650B+ is intended for high-speed fun. It has a modern trail bike geometry, with our measurements showing a slack 65.5-degree head tube angle and a steep 76.1-degree seat tube angle. It also features a longer reach, with the size medium we tested at 446mm, 19mm longer than the HaiBike XDURO AllMtn, and 11mm longer than the Specialized Turbo Levo or the Bulls. This longer reach, combined with a 1204mm wheelbase certainly add to this bike's stability at speed. It preferred to stay planted, and getting this thing in the air was a little bit of a chore, mostly due to the weight, but also due to the supple coil shock in the rear that sank into its travel when we pushed into it.

The Commencal likes to go fast and it's quite good at it too.
The Commencal likes to go fast and it's quite good at it too.

The Shimano Steps E8000 motor has been nicely integrated into the frame, with the majority of it sitting in front of the bottom bracket. This allows Commencal to maintain a shorter chainstay length than the competition, keeping the rear end of the bike as short as their normal non-e-bike models. The battery is also situated as low on the down tube as they can get it, although it would be nice if it was lower, keeping the weight and center of gravity as low as possible, but not quite as low as the Turbo Levo.

Like the other e-bikes in our test  the Commencal wasn't easy to get off the ground  it preferred to stay planted and charge down the hill.
Like the other e-bikes in our test, the Commencal wasn't easy to get off the ground, it preferred to stay planted and charge down the hill.

The component spec also lends itself well to pointing this machine downhill. The 160mm Rock Shox Lyrik fork provides a very supple yet stout front end that can take some big hits. The front suspension is balanced nicely with a Rock Shox Super Deluxe Coil shock in the rear, giving it excellent small bump compliance and a progressive feel. The Rock Show Reverb Stealth dutifully handles the job of dropping your saddle out of the way to maximize the downhill fun, and Commencal spec'd powerful SRAM Code R brakes with 200mm rotors front and back to handle stopping this heavyweight rig. The cockpit is also dialed in with a 780mm wide handlebar and a stout 50mm stem, both by Ride Alpha which is Commencal's house component brand.

The Meta Power Race 650B+ comes stock with a wide Spank OOZY Trail 395+ wheelset featuring a 35mm inner rim width to mesh well with modern wide tire designs. The Commencal makes contact with the dirt on a set of 27.5 x 2.6 Maxis High Roller II 3C/TR Maxx Terra tires, Exo casing in the front and super beefy DD(double down) casing in the rear. While these tires do offer excellent traction, our testers agreed that they would have preferred a somewhat beefier tire in the front like a Maxxis Minion DHF.

The Meta Power Race was the top performing bike on the climbs.
The Meta Power Race was the top performing bike on the climbs.

Climbing Performance


For as much of a beast as the Meta Power Race 650B+ was on the downhill, it came as a surprise to most of us that it was a great performer on the uphill. Obviously, the addition of the pedal assist motor makes climbing on these heavy bikes a breeze in general, but the Shimano E8000 system proved to be one of our favorite pedal assist motors when climbing. The primary reason for this is because of the of the consistent power output and the fact that the motor doesn't shut off abruptly the moment you stop pedaling. The Specialized had a more noticeable cutoff of power when the pedals stop turning, and the HaiBike and the Bulls offered a little extra push, but not as much as the Commencal. This extended power band is noticeable, especially when playfully ripping berms while going uphill or tackling technical sections of climbing. Having a little extension of the power band at those moments made all the difference in the world as the bike was less prone to bogging down from its own weight the second the pedals stopped turning.

You gotta get up to get down  and e-bikes make it easier  much easier.
You gotta get up to get down, and e-bikes make it easier, much easier.

Climbing position on the Commencal was found to be comfortable, with the steep seat tube lining you up above the bottom bracket and the longer reach keeping you in a comfortable position. We also found that the ability to carry serious amounts of speed uphill kept us in more defensive climbing position, keeping our fingers on the brake levers and our eyes focused on the trail ahead. Despite having a slack head tube angle, the front end didn't seem to want to wander, instead, it stayed planted and responded well to our input and the obstacles on the trail.

The Rock Shox Super Deluxe Coil rear shock does have a dampening switch to make the suspension less active when climbing or riding on flats, but all of our testers agreed that it wasn't necessary with the pedal assist motor. We also found the SRAM EX-1 e-bike specific 8-speed drivetrain, with a 34 tooth front ring and an 11-48 cassette, to offer plenty of range and we never ran out of gears on either end of the spectrum.

The Meta Power Race and its' Shimano Steps E8000 motor and battery.
The Meta Power Race and its' Shimano Steps E8000 motor and battery.

Power Output


We found Shimano's E8000 system to be pretty dialed when it comes to power output. It offered very predictable output with a consistency that impressed all of our testers, although it lost a little ground in the rating metric to the HaiBike XDURO AllMtn and the Bulls E-Stream EVO due to their slightly more powerful motors. The Shimano system offers three settings of pedal assistance, Eco, Trail, and Boost. Each setting delivers a different amount of power, with Boost offering the most, and Eco providing the least. Of course, the different output settings use different amounts of battery power, the more pedal assistance you use the faster the battery drains and vice versa.

The Shimano Steps E8000 drive unit and battery on the Commencal Meta Power Race.
The Shimano Steps E8000 drive unit and battery on the Commencal Meta Power Race.

We rarely found ourselves using the Eco setting, and we found the Trail setting to be the most versatile, but when we wanted to cruise uphill or carry speed in more open terrain we always opted for the Boost setting. We found that on the flats we were able to get the bike up to 19-20 mph with little difficulty before the speed governor would regulate the power output to prevent us from going any faster than that.

The Commencal Meta Power Race was no slouch when it came to laying down the power.
The Commencal Meta Power Race was no slouch when it came to laying down the power.

As mentioned earlier, the power was delivered very consistently in all of its settings, and there was no real jerkiness or fluctuations that were noticeable on the trail. The pedal assistance kicked in quickly, but not too quickly, about a quarter pedal stroke. This was noticeably different than the HaiBike XDURO AllMtn which felt twitchy and kicked in the moment the pedals were weighted, or the super smooth initiation of the Bulls as that coincided directly with the pedals. We loved the fact that the power band of the Shimano Steps E8000 motor continued for a second after we stopped pedaling as well, as opposed to having an abrupt cutoff like the Specialized. This short continuation of power output made this bike a tester favorite for climbing and really made it shine on punchy little climbs in the middle of descents.

Range


Shimano claims a range of 50km/31mi in the Boost setting, 75km/46.5mi in the Trail setting, and 100km/62mi in the Eco setting. While it would be incredible if this were true, the distance range is affected by a number of factors, including elevation gain, riding conditions, rider weight, and temperature, among others.

It may have had the shortest range in the test  but the Commencal Meta Power Race was still a blast to ride.
It may have had the shortest range in the test, but the Commencal Meta Power Race was still a blast to ride.

In our head to head range testing, we found the Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+ to have the shortest range of the three bikes in our test, at 17.1 miles and approximately 3,100 vertical feet. For comparison, the HaiBike XDURO AllMtn was able to go 17.8 miles and approximately 3,200 vertical feet, the Trek Powerfly could travel 18.6 miles and around 3,100 vertical feet, while the Specialized Turbo Levo Comp went 20.6 miles and 3,455 vertical feet.

From this side-by-side testing, it's easy to see that the Commencal has the shortest range of the bunch, not that far behind the HaiBike, only about 4%, but about 17% less than the Specialized. The Bulls bike goes way beyond all of these bikes due to the fact that it has a 650Wh battery and nearly 30% more storage capacity.

The coil shock makes the Meta Power a plush ride. Although heavier riders might need a heavier spring than the stock 350lb.
The coil shock makes the Meta Power a plush ride. Although heavier riders might need a heavier spring than the stock 350lb.

Build


Commencal is known for great component specs and affordable prices, relatively speaking of course, so it comes as no surprise that the Meta Power Race 650B+ has the most impressive build of the models we tested. We've touched on many aspects of the build already and how they play into aspects of the bike's performance, but here we'll lay it all out together. We'll start with the suspension, and Commencal went all in with a 160mm Rock Shox Lyrik RCT3 fork, Super Deluxe Coil RCT rear shock with a 350 lb spring, and a 125mm Reverb Stealth dropper seat post. This suspension package made for a stiff steering but supple front end, and a super plush rear end, although some of our testers felt they were blowing through the travel of the 350 lb spring and would have preferred a beefier one. That said, the different frame sizes come with different weight springs, the small frame comes with 300 lb, medium with 350 lb, large with 400 lb, and XL with 450 lb, and springs are available as an aftermarket purchase.

Testers were impressed with the build of the Meta Power Race  especially the burly Rock Shox Lyrik.
Testers were impressed with the build of the Meta Power Race, especially the burly Rock Shox Lyrik.

Slowing and stopping duties were controlled by SRAM Code R brakes with 200mm rotors front and rear. These powerful stoppers have decent adjustability and modulation, and proved to be powerful enough the handle the heavy weight and high speeds this bike likes to travel. SRAM's e-bike specific EX-1 8-speed drivetrain transfers the power from your legs and the drive unit into forward motion, with plenty of range in the 11-48 tooth cassette and 34 tooth front ring that is mounted to Shimano's E8050 crankset with 170mm cranks.

Commencal spec'd Shimano's EX-1 e-bike specific 8-speed drivetrain on the Meta Power Race.
Commencal spec'd Shimano's EX-1 e-bike specific 8-speed drivetrain on the Meta Power Race.

The Meta Power Race rolls on a Spank Oozy 395+ wheelset with a 35mm internal rim width that pairs well with today's modern wide tires, specifically the 27.5" x 2.6" Maxxis High Roller II 3c/Maxx Terra tires (Exo casing in front, Double Down casing in back) that come mounted. These tires are big and beefy and offer boatloads of traction, but our testers agreed that the High Roller II works great in the rear, but it isn't the best option for a front tire, we'd have preferred a Minion DHF or something with some bigger side knobs up front. The build is rounded out with a comfortable cockpit that consists of a Ride Alpha, Commencal's house component brand, 50mm aluminum stem and 780mm alloy handlebar.

A comfortable and not too crowded cockpit rounded out the quality build of the Meta Power Race.
A comfortable and not too crowded cockpit rounded out the quality build of the Meta Power Race.

I suppose if we wanted to complain about something we'd question the use of 31.8mm clamp diameter on the stem and handlebar as opposed to the stiffer 35mm options that are now available, a move that could provide some added stiffness and responsiveness to the bike's steering. That said, none of our testers really complained about a lack of responsiveness in the steering, so we're really just splitting hairs at this point.

Best Applications


We feel the Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+ is best suited to more aggressive downhill riders whose trails don't feature a lot of tight or low-speed technical downhill riding. This bike shines on the climbs and gets you back to the top of your favorite descents quickly. If your trails are fast and flowy, and if you like a balanced and supple ride, then this bike might be the choice for you.

Value


E-bikes aren't cheap, but at $4,999, we feel the Meta Power Race 650B+ is a pretty darn good value. Commencal is known for keeping their bike prices reasonable, and this is no exception. The component spec is spot on, and very nice considering the price, offering beefy suspension, powerful brakes, and e-bike specific drivetrain, and a comfortable and modern cockpit. In our test selection, we feel this is definitely the most bang for your buck.

If you want an e-bike that climbs well and likes to charge the downhill  then the Commencal Meta Power Race might be the right one for you.
If you want an e-bike that climbs well and likes to charge the downhill, then the Commencal Meta Power Race might be the right one for you.

Conclusion


It was a tough battle for supremacy in the OutdoorGearLab e-MTB test, and the Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+ couldn't take top honors this time around. That being said, we feel that it is a great value and is our Best Buy Award winner. It may not have the distance range of the competition, but it has excellent e-bike controls, climbs impressively well, and is a ton of fun to rip downhill. The component spec is impressive and this bike is ready to brawl on all but the most technical of downhill trails. If fast and flowy is your thing, then check out the Commencal Meta Power 650B+.

Other Versions and Accessories


Commencal makes a range of 4 Meta Power models. Each build is slightly different but is built around the same proven Meta frame design. The Meta Power Race 650B+ Fox is available for $5,499 and the additional cost gets the same frame, but with a Fox Factory 36 Float fork, Fox Factory DPX2 rear shock, E13 TRS wheelset, and 2.5" Maxxis tires front and back. If you're a fan of Fox suspension, then this might be the version for you, and we can only assume that the highly tune-able DPX2 air shock may do wonders for this bike's low-speed handling. We wish we had the chance to try the Meta with an air shock in the rear as opposed to the super plush coil shock we had on our test model.

The Meta Power Essential 650B+ retails for $4,499, and the primary difference between it and the Race model tested is the drivetrain. Instead of the SRAM EX1 e-bike specific 8-speed drivetrain, the Essential has a SRAM GX1 11 speed drivetrain. The brakes are also changed from the SRAM Code R to the SRAM Guide RE

The Meta Power Origin 650B+ retails for $3,999 and is Commencal's most wallet-friendly option, but still boasts a shreddable build. The spec includes a Rock Shox Yari RC fork, Rock Shox Super Deluxe R rear shock, Shimano Deore brakes and 1x10 drivetrain, as well as nice wide WTB Scraper i35 wheels.


Jeremy Benson, Joshua Hutchens, Paul Tindal, Chris McNamara