The Merida eOne-Sixty has sat atop the wish list for riders since it launched. And the updated models for 2021 are no exception.
Photographer: Nick Waygood
Tester: Ryan Walsch
Merida are an undisputed class leader in the world of electric mountain bikes in Australia, having forged huge inroads with their class-leading and category defining eOne-Sixty 900e, way back in 2017. The eOne-Sixty hit the trails with an aggressive stance, a rock solid parts spec with Fox Factory suspension and Shimano XT Di2, DT Swiss eMTB specific wheels and a very attractive price point. A lot has changed in the eMTB space since then, as the pedal-assist market is growing faster than every other segment. This is a boon for riders, as eMTBs are becoming far more refined than even just a few years ago – with better geometry, lower weight, longer battery life and more components that are built for the increased demands of an eMTB.
While Merida launched a new eOne-Sixty for 2020, with a new frame geometry, mixed wheel sizes, internal batteries and options in carbon and aluminium, the big change for 2021 is the adoption of Shimano's new EP8 system. While it bumps up the torque to 85Nm, the motor itself is also about 300g lighter, a bit smaller, and far more efficient. Pair that with a 630Wh battery (in all but the XS frame size) plus a lot more tuning options via the E-tube app, and Merida's class-leading eMTB should be atop many rider's wish lists.
We've got the 9000 model on test, and it comes with a burly Fox 38 fork and DPX2 shock (with a platform tuning) plus a full Shimano Deore XT M8100 group set. Shimano class all their 12-speed group sets as rated for eMTB use. Given the extra load that an eMTB puts on every shift and pedal stroke, I'm keen to see how the group set fares over the 8-speed highly durable and lust worthy E specific group set like the SRAM EX1.
There are six bikes in the eOne-Sixty range, and selling for $10999 the 9000 model is one rung down from the top 10k model, which ironically sells for $14k. The top 5 models have Shimano's EP8 power plant, and the top 3 models share the same carbon main frame, with the group sets, suspension and wheels being the key parts upgraded as you lay out more money. Given Merida is such a huge player in all bikes, not just eMTBs, they really offer a lot of bike for the money. With the updated Shimano EP8 system, the eOne-Sixty goes head to head with bikes like the Specialized Levo, Bosch-equipped Trek Rail, THOK Mig-R, Sunn Kern EL... and just about any mid to long travel eMTB out there.
The Merida E160’s construction is solid, without being utilitarian and actually utilises its predecessors all alloy chain stay and seat stay ensemble. The top tube drops low providing plenty of stand over clearance, allowing for bigger dropper posts (170mm on our Large test bike) and lines up perfectly with the chain stay which is very aesthetically pleasing. The huge “cooling fins” or Thermo Gate on the head tube do exactly that, removing hot air out of the down tube and away from the battery, in our climate down-under this will be hugely beneficial shifting air out of the chimney containing the huge 630Wh battery.
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Merida keeps wiring very neat and discrete by routing Di2 cables and front light cables through the bar and to the display at the stem via the eTR11 ported bar system, it is very neat and keeps those highly important Di2 cables safely out of harms way.
That huge battery is easily accessible under the sturdy down tube cover and uses the rear axles discrete 6mm/5mm tool to unlock the battery from its carrier. The frame's internal finish is very impressive, as neat as it is outside which is a pleasant surprise.
Two sets of varying positioned bidon mounts are located on the top of the down tube, giving riders plenty of room to run a large bottle or a 500ml to 650ml bottle and spares caddy underneath which is very handy. There is an included multitool stowed under the rear of the saddle for trailside adjustments and repairs too.
Our size large E160 9000 tipped the scales at 23.15kgs, which is respectable given the huge Fox 38 on the front. I will be interested to see how much dust, water and debris will enter the frame through the Thermo Gate while out on the trails and in the wash bay, it’s a sizable port and it may be a place of entry for grime.
On The Trail:
The e160 with updated EP8 motor is a very easy eMTB to feel comfortable on and more importantly ride. The geometry is bang on with a 65.5 degree head angle and steep seat tube angle of 75.5 degrees which has the rider sitting forward in a great position for long climbs and tackling technical sections. The mainframe's low standover and large 170mm drop post was a welcomed addition, getting the seat out of the way on an eMTB makes for a great range of movement and aids in the maneuvering of what is without question a heavier bike than what most of us are used to coming from an analogue bike.
While the Merida’s faux bar linkage delivers 150mm of travel. It isn't the most complex or ground breaking suspension platform, it is tried, tested and when used in conjunction the Fox DPX2, a mullet wheel setup and a spring curve that is progressive towards its end the overall performance of the suspension is very balanced. The addition of Fox’s 38 160mm fork up front transforms the bike's tracking abilities in the rough offering a noticeable increase in stiffness especially under brakes. And you will be doing a lot of braking on a capable eMTB as you are always coming in hot!
The mullet setup, with a 29” front wheel and 27.5” rear, suits eMTBs perfectly, offering a fast obstacle eating lead wheel and a stronger and more “flickable” wheel out back it does help compensate for the extra weight you need to shift when changing directions. In addition to this maneuverability, being able to run up to a 2.6” tyre in the rear provides a large footprint for braking and accelerating traction, and is basically what all motorcycles do so we all know it works. Merida have kindly specced appropriate tyres on the e160, with Maxxis Double Down casing on Assegai and Aggressor treads, keeping the alloy rims protected and giving you a more supported ride despite the additional weight.
The new Shimano EP8 motor is brilliant, the additional 10Nm of torque transforms the ride of the e160, and this is most noticeable in how it behaves on climbs. I did not like the way the old motor provided assistance, it was super punchy off the bottom rendering it unmanageable on slippery tech climbs and an absolute destroyer of drivetrains with audible bangs and groans when changing gears. It required a higher than my normal cadence and if you stomped on the pedals for a big effort, it would dial back its assistance which was the exact opposite of what you needed when committing to a steep climb! The EP8 on the other hand is completely different, huge torque is delivered right through the “rev” range making it easier to keep momentum going with unstoppable amounts of traction. As you can sit in a slightly higher gear, riders will find it is easier to maintain control, traction and good line without trying to spin through everything just to keep the motor (and assistance) turning.
The length of which the motor sustains assistance after you stop pedaling or ratchet you cranks back on a climb to get over an obstacle is more intuitive and feels extended in Trail Mode and Boost mode making maneuvers over obstacles much easier. I found that Trail Mode was where I spent almost all my time, much like E-MTB mode on the Bosch platform.
Tester: Ryan Walsch
Riding Experience: Riding, breaking and fixing bikes since forever.
Generally Rides: Forbidden Druid
Bike Test Track: The ACT's finest trails.
While I would much prefer to see eMTBs utilise e-bike specific group sets like SRAM’s EX1 8 speed system, the Shimano XT 12 speed shifts are brilliant, especially under load, thanks to the Hyperglide Plus shift ramps and chain. Combine the EP8 revised power delivery algorithms, the smooth shifts and a very quiet motor and you end up with a very well-mannered bike.
As you would expect from a 150mm/160mm travel eMTB with a high torque motor and 630Wh battery slung underneath it, there isn't really terrain that the Merdia e160 can't handle. That added weight keeps it stuck to the ground nicely with traction aplenty making holding a line easy and uneventful. Jumping is a surprisingly easy task too, as the weight is central and the smaller 27.5 inch rear wheel out back lets you press the e160 into the face of a jump and let it rip. I did find I ran slightly faster rebound on the Fox DPX2 than I would normally on an analogue bike, giving the bike a bit more pop. This made it a more playful feel rather than that of a plow, and my QUARQ ShockWiz approved of this too.
There is one thing that cannot be overlooked when riding the Merida e160 and it’s the rattling noise when coasting. Not a reflection of what Merida have built but rather the internal workings of the EP8 itself.
In the industries never ending quest for “no drag” when coasting on an e-bike, most manufacturers are using a variety of clutches to disengage the electric motor from the cranks. And some of them make more noise than others. While information around the clutch type was not available, I have encountered this noise before. Specialized’s 1.1 SL motor and Bosch’s new Performance CX Gen 4 motor all make a very similar clacking when coasting or more importantly power is no longer being driven through the cranks. This rattle is present in clutches in motorsport too, particularly slipper clutches used in powerful 4 stroke motorcycle engines to “slip” under decceleration and create less drag. They rattle quite a bit but can't be heard that much as the motor is much louder. My guess is Shimano along with other brands mentioned are using a slipper style clutch, the problem is the electric motors are so quiet and overall the bike is so absent of noise that all you can hear is that darn rattle, and once you hear it it can never be unheard!
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During my time on board the Merida eOne-Sixty 9000, I had no issue to report other than needing to use a few plugs in the rear tyre which is more rider error than anything, this bike was smooth sailing right out of the box. The Thermo Gate wasn't even the potential inlet for grime that I thought it might be!
The Merida eOne-Sixty 9000 is a well though out and extremely good value for money eMTB that handles anything the modern mountain bike can throw at it. Merida have always been hard to beat for value, and there are no short cuts with this bike to get it to where it is. While the 10k model does have a very fancy spec, the performance on the 9000 didn't leave me feeling like I was missing out on any of those upgrades.
Whether you have an original eOne-Sixty, or a bike with a Shimano STEPS E8000 system, and you're wondering whether the upgrade is worth it, I would suggest that it is. The EP8 system is a clear step above the previous generation system in terms of power delivery, efficiency and range, and likewise for the eOne-Sixty platform. When Merida updated the frame design for 2020 they did a great job, and marrying that frame to the EP8 system has created an eMTB that should be even more popular than the original.
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