Late last year, Commencal re-entered the South African market with the launch of their direct-to-consumer website. Through this model, Commencal promises high-quality bikes at reasonable prices. Offline, the South African representative is based in Stellenbosch, Western Cape.
Commencal made a decision in 2012 to favour aluminium in the construction of most of their mountain bike frames. Today, you're still not going to find a carbon frame in their line up and the Meta Power is no different. The Meta Power is designed around a 140mm linkage driven single-pivot rear suspension paired with a 150mm fork. Commencal has partially hidden the shock in the top tube in a neat fashion. The frame supports boost hub spacing and the cables are routed internally through the front triangle.
The geometry is contemporary with a 66-degree head angle, 458 mm reach (size large), and 75-degree seat tube angle, and a long wheelbase. E-bikes tend to have longer chainstay lengths than their unassisted counterparts, largely due to less space being available in the bottom bracket area, but the Meta Power 29 is on par with its eMTB competitors at 453mm. Short chainstays are associated with more agile manoeuvrability but longer stays come with great stability, especially at high speeds.
The aluminium frame is adapted to allow the fitment of Shimano's E8000 STEPS e-bike system. Shimano's system boasts a 2.8-kilogram motor with a max torque output of 70 Nm. The bike is fitted with Shimano's downtube mounted E8010 battery with 500 watt-hour. Shimano promises up to 100 kilometres of riding on a single charge. That said, meters climbed is probably a more accurate measure of an eMTB's efficiency. The whole system connects very neatly to a sharp and clear display mounted on the handlebars.
The E8000 system operates at three levels of assist: Eco, Trail, and Boost. The rider changes between the modes using the e-MTB Switch Unit, which might sound foreign, but it is styled after the XT Di2 shifter and is simple to use.
The system can communicate with your smartphone through Shimano's E-Tube App. Here you can change settings, customise the power delivery in each mode, and update the firmware.
Commencal makes an effort to equip the best suspension they can at each price point, and with the range-topping Signature model, they have spared no expense speccing Fox's finest, a Float X2 Factory shock and 36 Factory fork. Both components are the e-MTB adapted versions. This means that the damper has been specifically tuned for dynamic weight transfer, a seated riding technique, steeper climbing, and faster uphill speeds that are typical in e-MTB.
The DT Swiss wheels are also an e-MTB specific item. The H 1700 Spline 30 wheelset is said to cope with the added speed and weight of throwing an eMTB down a trail. Commencal elected for Schwalbe tyres on the Signature and Race models. A Magic Mary for the front and Hans Dampf on the back. Both tyres measure 2.35" wide with the front wheel featuring Schwalbe's soft compound and the speed grip compound on the rear tyre.
The drivetrain is a mix and match. Being a Shimano motor, Shimano cranks are required and in this case, it is the super reliable XT model. The rest of the gearing is mix and match from SRAM's 12-speed Eagle groupsets, an X01 derailleur, GX shifters and chain, with an NX (e-bike approved) cassette. With the pedal assist, I found little need for the bigger cogs on the cassette but I suppose they are there to bail you out should the battery die. The brakes are Shimano XT with the front brake using the more powerful four-piston caliper.
The handlebar and stem are produced by Commencal's in-house brand Ride Alpha measuring 780mm wide and 50mm long. A KS Lev Integra seatpost lowers and raises a WTB SL8 Race saddle.
The range-topping Meta Power 29 Signature, as reviewed, will hit your cart for R105,999. There are three further models in the 29-inch line-up ranging from R95,999 to R68,999.
Commencal Meta Power 29 Signature Specification
- Frame2019 META POWER, 29 140 mm travel
- MotorShimano E8000
- BatteryShimano E8010, 500 Wh
- DisplayShimano SC-E8000
- Max Speed with Assist25 km/h
- Rear ShockFOX Float X2 Factory, 210mm x 55mm
- ForkFOX 36 Factory, 150mm, 15mm axle, boost, e-bike specific
- HeadsetAcros alloy ZS44/ZS56, sealed bearings
- HandlebarRide Alpha, alloy 7075, double butted, 20mm rise, 780mm width, 31.8mm diameter
- StemRide Alpha, aluminium 2014, 50mm length, 31.8mm diameter, 0° angle
- GripsRide Alpha DH, ultra soft compound, single clamp
- BrakesShimano XT, 4 pistons front / 2 pistons rear, Ice-Tech rotors, 200mm front / 200mm rear
- ShiftersSRAM GX Eagle, E-Click, 12-speed
- Rear DerailleurSRAM X01 Eagle, 12-speed
- CranksShimano XT E8050, 165mm, Hollowtech
- ChainringsSRAM X-SYNC Eagle, 34 tooth
- ChainSRAM GX Eagle, 12-speed
- CassetteSRAM PG-1230, 11-50 tooth, 12-speed
- WheelsetDT Swiss H 1700 Spline 30, tubeless ready, 30mm inner width
- Tyre FrontSchwalbe Magic Mary, 29 x 2.35, TLE Apex, ADDIX soft
- Tyre RearSchwalbe Hans Dampf, 29 x 2.35, Super Gravity, ADDIX speed grip
- SaddleWTB SL8 Race, 142mm width, chromoly rails
- SeatpostKS LEV Integra, KS-SL alloy lever, 100mm (S), 125mm (M), 150mm (L), 175mm (XL)
From the first ride to the last, the simplicity of the Meta Power and the Shimano E8000 Steps system impressed me. Easy operation goes a long way to improve the 'normal bike' feel of an eMTB. The Meta Power is straightforward to ride: simply press the on/off button and then change modes with the familiar Shimano Di2-like shifters, and pedal. The crisp display gives you the vital stats, speed, motor intensity and remaining battery life. You can rotate through deeper metrics by pushing a button on the display. Interacting with the system through the shifters and display is familiar and intuitive.
The Shimano E8000 pedal assist system is amongst the best in terms of power delivery and riding feel. The motor detects the intensity of each pedal stroke to determine how the power can be delivered in the most natural way. This means that the bike will react differently to your riding style, even in the same mode. For this reason, it was fairly common for me to leave the bike in Trail mode for an entire ride as the motor adapted to the varying trail conditions.
In Trail mode, the power delivery is impressively smooth, even when smashing on the pedals. Not once did I spin out or surge ahead in an uncontrolled manner. In Boost mode, power delivery is somewhat wilder but not dangerously so. The ECO mode is noticeably harder work, with the motor providing just enough power to overcome the weight of the bike and a little extra if the rider put in a good effort. Throughout testing the Shimano motor delivered a predictable experience that felt surprisingly like riding a mountain bike (with a bit more power).
The main premise for the Meta Power is to get riders to the trailheads faster and fresher. For this purpose, the Shimano system is excellent on the climbs. Trail Mode was the most versatile with enough power to make climbing technical trails fast and even fun. The power delivery adapts to the riders input creating a surprisingly smooth and almost natural feeling power delivery. You can choose to go bat-out-of-hell or simply spin to the top, the motor will adjust to either style. At no time was there a surprising jolt and the front wheel remained under control even in Boost mode. The seated climbing position is comfortable and your body will easily outlast a battery or two in this position.
Downshift into the ECO mode, if you want a real workout. In this setting, the bike does just enough to cancel the weight with the smallest hint of additional boost. This mode was most useful to stay in touch with non-assisted riders on the climbs and to save some charge.
The Meta Power was fairly nimble on the climbs only showing some weakness on the tighter, slower corners where the power assist was less useful to push the heavy bike and front wheel around the bend. The eMTB tuned Fox 36 soaked up the uphill hits well without bogging down. This might sound like an unnecessary consideration but as the Meta Power can climb tricky uphill trails at 20 - 25 km/h, it is a worthy consideration.
The Meta Power is impressively planted and composed on the downhills. Commencal has managed to make the bike feel more capable than might be expected from the 140 mm suspension. The big wheels, weighty bottom bracket, and top-notch suspension certainly had a part to play.
The grip and balance in the turns are immense which had me hitting the walled berms at GSpot with renewed enthusiasm. Riding over looser, rockier terrain, the bike is a real bruiser using its weight to hold a line and bash through. The heavy bottom bracket area on an eMTB lessens the risks of toppling over the handles and the Meta Power takes full of advantage. The long-ish wheelbase and chainstays provide confidence and the Meta Power soaks up speed with ease. The Meta Power is a bike that takes some serious effort to reach its' limits.
Despite this burly character, the Meta Power does not feel too out of place on smoother trails with a lesser gradient. The pedal assist allows the bike to remain reasonably spritely on most trails, if you remain in the 25km/h speed limit. Hit the speed limit and the bike starts to feel slightly clumsier with a noticeable drag when pedalling.
I found that the Meta Power lacked slightly in pop and playfulness. It was difficult to encourage the bike to boost and hop off smaller bumps or roots and only the most forceful effort would get it to jump off the flats. But provide the Meta Power with a proper ramp and it took to the air with effortless grace. Like cornering, the balanced weight meant that the bike was a predictable jumper, remaining true through the air.
On the downs, there were two components that stood out. Firstly, the Fox Factory suspension is fantastic and the nerds can really geek out with the adjustability of the shock. Secondly, the Shimano XT brakes coupled with 200 mm rotors are good, really good. The four-piston brake on the front has it all, stopping power, modulation, and lasting power, with the rear brake more than capable of keeping up. It was comforting to see a bike fitted with a rear rotor that sizes up to the 50T Eagle cassette.
The Schwalbe tyres were the only piece of the puzzle that didn't manage to keep up with the Meta Power's abilities. While I found the grip to be decent, the sidewalls often felt a little soft through the rocks with unnerving sidewall roll in the harder corners. I ended up riding them slightly harder than I would have liked, which helped, but I would swap them for something with a stronger sidewall.
You don't really want to get caught too far from home without battery, so knowing how far you can expect to ride with assistance is important. The Shimano system does give you constant updates on battery life, including a kilometre estimation of how much further you can go before the battery is depleted. As mentioned above, battery performance should not be measured on distance covered. An eMTB motor works hardest when climbing while on flatter terrain, it is fairly efficient. The intensity of the activity should also be considered.
With this in mind, I set out to see just how much the Meta Power could handle at full tilt in Trail mode. And I took it to the place that I feel makes the best case for an eMTB, the Jonkershoek valley. I put in a hard effort to complete 1,088 metres of climbing over 28 kilometres in 80 minutes before the battery ran flat. For the Jonkershoek regulars, that's climbing to the top of the Saaltjie trailhead, the Red Phoenix/Plumber trailhead, and up to the Quarry to ride the Fire hut trails. For a fit rider, this route is usually a three-hour weekend excursion. On the Meta Power, it becomes an option before or after work. More of the trails, more of the time! The stoke was strong after this ride.
Moving away from the hard riding and looking to the potential output for riders who prefer something longer. The longest ride I completed on the Meta Power was 43 km with 588 metres of climbing in just under two hours. The average speed of my ride was 24.1 km/h which is around the 25 km/h speed limited where the pedal assistance disengages. I also rode in Eco mode to try to get a sense of how far and long you could probably push the Meta Power. After spending most of the testing in Trail mode, it was good to see that Eco mode noticeably improved the longevity of the battery. I ended up finishing the 43 km ride with half the battery consumed. The estimated distance remaining was reportedly 70 km/h but as I'm not sure how that is calculated, I would not read too much into that figure.
Unfortunately, I did not have enough time with the Meta Power to test all the battery life variables but somewhere between the 80 minutes of power climbing and three to four hours of gentle Eco riding lies the Meta Power's range. For the average ride, put it in Trail mode and with moderate climbing, you will easily be good for a two-hour ride with some emergency juice to spare. If you've got a little less time to spare, then crank it up to enjoy the full power of the Shimano motor.
In the end
The Meta Power blends the impressive E8000 drive system with Commencal's acclaimed trail bike know-how. It climbs smoothly and attacks rough, fast trails like the best of them. If you are itching to get to the top of trails quickly without out compromising on the fun coming down, the Meta Power would be a prime candidate on my shortlist.