Lightweight with smooth and quiet pedal-assist.
The e-mtb market is rapidly expanding and now Merida, one of the biggest bike companies in the world, has joined the game. For 2017 it launches two new platforms, the eOne-Sixty and eOne-Twenty. And just like Merida’s regular bikes, the model names are indicative of travel.
So the eOne-Twenty we’re testing here is the shorter travel version sporting 120mm suspension. It looks great on paper and Merida has not just paid lip service to the growing motor assist category either, this bike is the real deal.
It’s loosely based on the non-assisted One-Twenty and shares a similar aluminium frame, 120mm travel and modern long, slack geometry. But there are some key differences: namely the 2.8in Plus tyres and a revised suspension layout to accommodate Shimano’s first dedicated mountain bike motor and battery system.
Motor and system
At the heart of the Merida is the brand new Shimano STEPS E8000 system, which produces 70Nm of torque, just shy of the Bosch’s 75Nm. The 500Wh battery pack isn’t integrated into the down tube as cleanly as the Specialized Turbo Levo FS, but does provide easy access to the charge port and power button.
There are three power settings to tap into: Eco, Trail and Boost, plus a Walk mode that is useful for pushing up steep hills. An electronic trigger shifter on the left hand side is used to switch between the three pedal-assist modes, and the compact screen positioned at the centre of the handlebar shows you everything from power, battery life, range, distance, current speed and a selection of other useful metrics. Each power mode helpfully colour coded for easy identification on the move.
There’s also a small button on the bottom of the unit to cycle through the display modes but this could be a bit more pronounced as it’s hard to use when wearing gloves.
Suspension and frame design
As mentioned earlier the eOne-Twenty is loosely based on Merida’s regular bike, the key difference being that the floating shock linkage has been dropped to accommodate the motor. It’s a small change and it does not negatively impact the performance of the 120mm rear end.
Merida has huge expertise with aluminium forming and it shows, this is one fine looking frame with a tapered head tube, internal cable routing and a low slung top tube with generous standover clearance. The rear triangle has a seatstay bridge to increase stiffness and Boost 148x12mm thru-axle dropouts to better accommodate the chunky 2.8in tyres. The rear brake caliper is neatly shielded by the seatstay.
Suspension duties are handled by the new RockShox Deluxe RT shock with a Trunnion mount – allowing Merida to use a longer stroke shock with the same eye-to-eye length. The shock is easy to setup and it works really well, keeping the rear tyre glued to the trail at all times. I found the low-speed compression damping and stability under hard pedalling efforts be more than adequate and as such I was able to leave the shock in the fully open mode at all times.
Up front, the RockShox Pike is plenty stiff enough, the 35mm upper tubes do a great job of keeping the bike travelling in the right direction and cope well even with the high weight of the bike and the speed of impacts.
Merida has combined Shimano’s new STEPS e8000 motor with an XT Di2 11-speed drivetrain, where the motor battery also powers the shifting, so no extra batteries to charge. You get a similar style electronic trigger shifter to the one used for the motor so it’s easy to flick through the gears, where the gear selection is also displayed on the central control panel.
Unlike the Bosch system, the crank is connected to the chainring, which means there’s a 1:1 ratio between the pedals and chainring. Merida has specced a 34t chainring but 38t is also available for blasting down fireroads. To aid chain retention the chainring has a narrow-wide tooth profile, there’s a clutch in the rear mech and, for good measure, a chain device is fitted too. I didn’t drop the chain once during testing, though I did break the chain during one ride. Too much power? Hardly!
Changing gears with the Shimano XT Di2 trigger shifter is easy, intuitive and precise. The two shift levers have a knurled design that provides positive feedback and the rear mech glides across the cassette with minimum fuss. When you reach the end range of the cassette you get an audible alert reminding you you’re out of gears, but the range was sufficient with the 11-46t cassette that no situation found the Merida struggling.
The 2.8in Plus Maxxis Minion DHR and Rekon tyres offer a noticeable advantage over regular tyres on an e-bike, the extra weight actually enhances the performance of the wider tyres, delivering stacks of traction even in the mud. It is possible to overcome the grip from the rear tyre on steeper gradients when employing the Boost power mode, but most of the time I was able to scale steep technical climbs with ease.
The DT Swiss XM1501 Spline wheelset coped with the increased demands of the Merida’s extra weight well, with the wheels still spinning true after a right old bashing on the trail. The 40mm wide rims are a smart choice for the wider tyres and give the carcass a good profile that helps the tyres hold up well during high load corners.
Shimano’s XT disc brakes are well proven anchors and specced with a 200mm front rotor and 180mm rear there’s enough stopping power to rein in the Merida at the higher speeds it’s easily capable of. The external reach adjustment is appreciated for easily getting the brake levers just how you want them.
To complement the modern geometry, Merida has equipped the bike with a 55mm stem and 760mm handlebar and it makes for excellent handling and control. The RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post is the cherry on top of the component cake.
A key design factor of the STEPS E8000 motor is its compact size, smaller than the popular Bosch motor, meaning Merida has been able to keep the chainstays short: 440mm compared to the 460-480mm that is more common on e-bikes. This has allowed Merida to closely mirror the geometry of the regular One-Twenty, so the handling of the eOne-Twenty is a real highlight.
What that means on the trail is that the eOne-Twenty is impressively agile, nimble and fun for an e-bike. The short chainstays give the Merida a lively and engaging characteristic. At 21.3kg it’s also one of the lightest e-mtbs currently available and that shows, it climbs really well and there’s nothing laboured or sluggish about its performance even when the motor is dialled back to Eco mode.
There’s no compromise in the sizing or fit either, and it feels just like a regular bike; lively and reactive. There’s a huge amount of traction from the Plus tyres and thanks to the progressive suspension design, the RockShox suspension keeps everything composed even when the trail gets rowdy.
The Shimano motor is pretty quiet, certainly not as high pitched as the Bosch motor, and feels smoother and more natural in its power delivery. It’s also less sensitive to differences in pedalling speed than the Bosch system. The slim design also means the cranks aren’t that far apart so the Q-factor (distance between the pedals) isn’t far off a non motorised mountain bike and this prevents you feeling too much like John Wayne.
Of the three available power modes, the Trail setting works well in most scenarios and delivers good battery range. There’s quite a power band gap between Trail and Boost but one caveat is that while the motor on this bike was a final production item, the rest of the system is in the final prototype stage, so hopefully that’s something that will be refined before it hits full production.
Merida’s debut e-bike provides a thrilling and intoxicatingly addictive ride. There’s no compromise in the handling department, with great geometry that provides an enthusiastically rapid and flickable personality that shines in all situations, and it’s one of the lightest e-mtbs currently available.