• Mal

Project 500 - 6 Months of Riding, Minor Modifications and Maintenance

After 6 Months of Riding

While I haven't been able to get out as much as I would like, the 500 has still ventured out to Lost World a few times over the last six months.

Just over six months have passed since the Merida eOne Sixty 500 found a home in my garage. In that time, the 500 has managed to gobble up just over 1,000km of riding - which actually isn't too bad considering that most of my weekends are spent coaching rather than actually getting out on the trails. That also means a good chunk of those kilometers is from commuting on the road to the mountain bike park. But by the same token plenty of kilometers have been on the trails - I'd say probably a 50/50 split.

After these last six months I'm going to say that not a whole lot has really changed on my perception of the 500. It's still a great bike to get you out on into the fresh air and onto the trails, and even out on the road. But it's a mountain bike, so how the 500 performs on the road probably isn't too much of interest. Except in the case of how well Shimano's 630KWh battery holds up in the range stakes.

Now, I know there are a number of riders that wack their bike onto the medium power setting, or even the most powerful one and blast out a number of kilometers which eats up their range. I'm not one of them. Generally I'll wander around on Eco, bumping up the power if I want to climb a hill quickly. And if I'm riding with a social group, I'll often turn the power off just so I don't end up being too unsociable.

Despite the impression that this photo may give, the range of Shimano's 630KWh battery, at least for me, is more than adequate.

Combined with the road ride to and from Nerang, this has led to the EC-5003 computer on the 500 to generally tell me that I have about 178km of range on Eco when I leave home on a full charge. Which sounds really cool, but is incredibly misleading. That said, I recently went to go for a ride only to realise I had forgotten to charge the battery. I left home with a 85 kilometers of range (apparently), which seems like a lot. But once you factor in the resistance and hill climbing of riding on the trails, that number tends to come down fairly quickly - like switching to 47 kilometers of range as soon as I completed the 12 kilometer road ride and switched to the dirt.

In the end after just over 47 kilometers and 615 meters of climbing in mostly Eco but with a bit of trail, I managed to get home with exactly 1 kilometer of range left - on Trail, which might equate to about 3 kilometers in Eco.

Ultimately though, if I was spending a full day out on the trails I'm fairly confident I could comfortably squeeze 75 kilometers plus out of one charge. I would admittedly be riding very economically, but it's nice to know that I've got that option if I want it. It also means that I should have a reasonable amount of range, say 40 kilometers or so, if I wanted to blast out a bunch of rapid kilometers. It's not something I do very often, but again, it's nice to know that I could.

With a motor to handle challenging climbs and enduro geometry to negotiate the technical descents, the 500 has made it easy to explore some of challenging destinations, such as the Pitts of Hell.

In terms of riding on the trails, there are just a few things that really stick out in my mind now. Firstly, as much as the quality of the suspension over chattery terrain makes for a bit of a rough ride, the additional 20mm of travel over my Norco Sight soaks up large hits so much better. Hitting large drops really isn't something to be concerned about on this bike, with the exception of being able to get the front wheel up at times. Which segways nicely into my next point.

With the wheels on the ground riding at a sedate pace, you really don't notice the 24 or so odd kg (I really need to get around to properly weighing the 500 sometime) of this large framed, alloy bike. Start trying to punch out of corners without enough assistance or get some extra height to clear a gap jump and I really feel that extra weight if I haven't done everything perfectly. Don't get me wrong, this bike will definitely lift off with the right technique, but if you're feeling lazy you will definitely know about it. And sometimes, with 24kg to lug around, that's exactly what happens. Another thing I've noticed is that trying to pump and flow on flatish trails takes a lot more effort than other Merida e-bikes I've had previously. The 500 is a few kilos heavier and also more slack than the other e-bikes I've had over the years, but attempting to pump and flow through a trail does take a lot more physical effort. Again, that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you want to work on your strength and fitness. But without the assistance of gravity, flowing on a trail isn't what I would call effortless.

Some Minor Modifications

Unfortunately I haven't gotten around to doing any major modifications to the 500 yet - and by that I mean anything to do with the suspension, brakes, wheels or computer. That's partially to do with cost - some thinking is needed before I settle on certain components. Mostly though it's because I can't get a lot of the parts I want anyway!

But there are a few things that I have done that have made some not so subtle differences to the way the 500 rides. Incidentally I had originally planned to explain in detail what I did to make those modifications but found that it was going to make this blog post blow up exponentially, so I'll cover up the hows of what I've done to date in separate blog posts.

When I changed the tyres over to Maxis Minions, I also took the opportunity to convert the wheels to tubeless, which included adding some (more) colour to the rims.

If you've been following (the very few) Project 500 posts that I've written so far you'll know that I changed over the Kenda Rogolith tyres to Maxxis Minion DHFs. There were a few things I did previously omit, the first being that I did actually convert the 500 to tubeless at the same time.

You'll often hear people tell you that tubeless allows you to run lower pressures because the sealant will fix up any holes that you might get. That's partially true, but I personally don't subscribe to that theory. If a tyre contacts the rim, a puncture that damages a tube will often also cut through a tyre.

Now, sealant in theory should seal the hole. However there has been many a time when the damage to a tyre has been so great that the sealant not only doesn't seal the hole, it actually spits out like a fountain, spraying you with latex (which might be fine if you're into that sort of thing but for me it's hideous to clean off). So I actually run similar pressures, irrespective of whether I have tubes or am tubeless. And incidentally, a tube is way cheaper to replace than a tyre with a cut that won't seal.

So why bother? Mainly because if I do cut a tyre so badly that the sealant won't completely seal it, I do find that it will slow the air leak down substantially (even with the latex fountain effect). Tubes, on the other hand, will immediately deflate, necessitating a rather rapid stop to avoid damaging the rim, or worse, a crash. Tubeless just sometimes makes it possible to escape from a disastrous ride on two wheels instead of on foot.

The other thing I neglected to mention in the last Project 500 post is the fact that on the 500, I'm running to DHFs, which is different to my normal combination of having a DHR II on the rear and a DHF at the front. This is mainly because at the time, I couldn't actually get a DHR II in the size that I was after. So instead, a DHF found itself on the back, which creates a very noticeably different cornering dynamic on the 500.

Historically I would run DHFs on the front and DHR IIs on the rear of my bikes. The 500 has DHFs front and rear instead.

Without going into too much detail, the design of the DHF means that as awesome a cornering tyre as it is once leant over, during the process of leaning the tyre over there can be a point where there's actually not much in the way of grabbing the ground. This is because there's a very noticeable channel in between the centre knobs and the sidewall knobs. I've found in non-aggressive riding, this isn't a big deal. But on the 500, it occasionally gets very entertaining.

Because the 500 is a mullet set up - that is, it has a larger 29 inch diameter front wheel on the front and a smaller 27.5 inch wheel at the rear there are some interesting dynamics that come into play when riding aggressively. Larger diameter wheels not only give better rollover ability, but they also add a greater amount of gyroscopic stability, particularly when combined with the lower centre of gravity that tends to be inherent to e-bikes. In laymans terms, the larger front wheel resists being leant over more. So to get the front tyre onto the turn knobs, you really do have to apply a fair bit of effort to the 500 because it does try and track straight and true, for me anyway.

So in my riding style I've found myself positioning my body weight a lot further forward. This helps get a bit more force engaged in leaning that front wheel over. The consequence of this though is that there obviously isn't as much weight on the smaller, more nimble rear wheel. When cornering using this technique it also feels like there is a very slight lag before the rear wheel leans over, which when equipped with a DHF means that the transition from centre knobs to turning knobs can be very dynamic - the rear likes to whip or slide around the corner.

I can mitigate this effet by not going as far forward. But sometimes when you're doing aggressive turns that level of finesse just isn't quite there. So coupled with the very short chain stays I can get a very entertaining (fun, snappy, hair raising - there's really lots of ways of describing it!) cornering effect with this tyre set up. It's not a set up that I would necessarily recommend to others unless they're confident with their cornering abilities, but it's certainly one way to make a large, heavy bke snap around a corner.

Cutting down your handle bars is an easy enough job with the right tools, but not one you can afford to make a mistake on.

Moving on from the tyres and into the cockput is the width of the handlebars. Wide handlebars on new mountain bikes is certainly a trend that has come to stay. Mostly that's because if they're too wide, you can make them narrower without have to change to a brand new set. It's harder to do it the other way around, obviously.

The 500 came with 780mm wide handlebars which is normal or perhaps even narrower than what a lot of mountain bikes come with these days. I've ridden a few mountain bikes with handlebars of this width and on those bikes, that sort of width seemed fine. On the 500 though, I started off with a sense that they were pretty wide, and that sensation never really went away.

While having wide handlebars can help keep your bike more stable in a straight line, they can also impact your longitudinal stability - your ability to shift your weight forwards and backwards, essential for optimising wheel lifts, jumps and drops as well as climbing and descending. This is simply because they restrict your arms from being able to push or pull your body because they're set to wide, and this is what I found on the 500. While 20mm, 2cm even, might not sound like a whole lot, cutting my bars down to 760mm made a world of difference in being able to move my body backwards and forwards and shift my weight more effectively for a variety of manoeuvres.

This is the first time I've used Race Face grips but I actually liked them so much that I ended up putting another set on the Norco.

Obviously to cut down a set of handlebars it's necessary to remove the grips. So I figured since I had to take them off anyway, I might as well try out a different set. As I mentioned in my previous post on the 500, the stock Merida grips aren't terrible. They're just not great either, providing just adequate grip in the dry, being a little bit slippery in the wet and not providing a whole lot of vibration absorption.

I ended up opting for these Race Face Grippler 30mm lock on grips, not for any particular reason other than colour and price were right (in case you hadn't noticed I've been breaking up the green with some blue highlights). These particular grips are actually a bit different to what I would normally have on the bike, being double rather than single collared. And I had one issue that I'll go into when I do a full product review on them.

But despite these particular nuances, I have to say I've been pretty impressed with these grips. are significantly stickier than the Merida grips in both wet and dry conditions, irrespective of whether I'm wearing gloves or not (I tend to ride without gloves when I'm coaching). In fact, I liked them so much that a green version of these grips now adorns my analogue bike.

The other thing I changed out on the 500 was the crank arms, for no other reason than I saw them online and I thought it would be something that was easy to do. Generally the benefits to changing the cranks would be to do with reducing weight and increasing the stiffness so you get better power transmission from your body to your bike. But given that we're talking about putting them on a 24kg e-bike, I really wasn't expecting to gain anything from the change, particularly since I chose to use the same length.

And I was right. I've actually not noticed any difference when riding with the new crank arms. But through the process of changing them out I discovered that Shimano's new EP8 motor has some physical differences that I was unaware of that impacts some of the component choices that you need to make. Anyway, the story of the crank arms is not quite over yet so I'll detail that particular saga in a separate post when I've finished that particular exploration.

Maintenance at Six Months

In terms of work that's needed to be done on the 500, after just over 1,000 kilometers of riding, there's actually very little that's needed to be done. Even though half of that riding has been on the road, I would have expected the tyre wear on the rear to be worse given the weight and power it supports. The rear tyre will probably hold up for another three months before I need to worry about changing it out. The suspension is still behaving very much as if it's new and even the brake pads have a lot of meat still left on them even though they're both resin rather than the longer wearing metallic pads. Gear shifting is still crisp, only requiring a little bit of additional tension in the cable and the dropper post remains very responsive.

Because of the additional torque applied by the motor, an e-bike's drivetrain takes a bit more stress than a normal analogue bike.

If there's an area on an e-bike that's worth keeping an eye on it's the drivetrain. Because of the assistance provided by the motor, there are more stresses applied to an e-bike's drivetrain when compared to a normal bike. So I would expect that an e-bike's drivetrain would wear out significantly faster than if it were on an equivalent bike without a motor.

The easiest way to figure out whether or not your need to do any drivetrain maintenance is to see if your chain has stretched at all. Once the chain starts stretching significantly it can start wearing away at the teeth on your cassette and chainring - generally greater than one length of a single link (yes, they can actually stretch that far without breaking!) Using a chain checker is the easiest way to check for any chain stretch as per the photo above. I'll talk specifically about handy tools and the process of changing a chain in another post.

At this point I want to point out that the 500 came with an 11 speed drivetrain, while you'll find that a lot of other e-bikes actually may come with a 12 speed drivetrain. The lower the number of gears, the thicker the chain can be made and therefore the longer it's likely to last. It's why I was after an e-bike with less gears - I'd be replacing the chain much more frequently with a 12 speed drivetrain on the 500.

There was a period of time while I was riding when I kept hearing this odd clunking noise. Initially I thought it was the motor, until I realised it was happening while I was pedalling as well (the infamous Shimano EP8 clunk only happens when you're free wheeling). I also noticed that it only seemed to be happening in certain gears, which was really odd. But I ride with headphones stuffed in my ears most of the time and other than the noise, everything seemed to be working perfectly normally so I didn't pay it any notice, at least until my curiosity got the better of me.

After doing checks of various bolts several times I narrowed down the noise to the hub area (random noises can be really hard to track down on the trail!). And so after hoisting the 500 onto the maintenance stand I discovered that the some of the gears on the rear cassette were loose, which you can see in the video above. What had made it really difficult to track down was the fact that it was only some, not all of the gears that seemed to actually be loose. It's certainly not something I would have expected to be a problem, but that's mountain biking for you.

I looked down on my last ride and noticed that a part of the battery cover had broken. I couldn't tell you why though - I hadn't been doing anything overly taxing on that ride.

The other unexpected thing that has happened is the formation of a crack on the battery cover. I'm not sure where it came from or how it happened but on closer inspection of the plastic, it does seem to be noticeably thinner than the other side. I have been aware of some issues with the strength of the battery covers in the carbon framed Merida eOne Sixties so it's perhaps not surprising that there could be an issue with the strength of the battery covers on the alloy bikes as well.

And it's mountain biking so something like the battery cover cracking when I've snapped chain stays, seat stays, handle bars and forks before is not really a big deal. What is frustrating is the fact that I can't get my hands on a replacement cover that helps to keep water out of the electric parts of the e-bike. Apparently it's likely to be a few months before any arrive into the country which is pretty disappointing. But I guess the whole bike industry is suffering from supply chain challenges so it's also not very surprising.

To Sum It Up...

While it's okay for larger hits, the Rockshox 35 Gold struggles to finesse the more technical terrain.

After just over six months of having the 500 I've grown fairly comfortable with the Green Machine's idiosyncracies. It's still an admirably capable mountain bike and with the minor modifications I've made to date I'm a whole lot more comfortable riding the 500 in steeper terrain than when it first arrived. But I will also say that there are times when I just feel like riding a bike that is light and agile which is definitely something that the 500 isn't, and so my Norco Sight still gets its fair share of time on the trails as well.

If there's one area I do feel the 500 is held back in it's in the suspension department. The 500 is perfectly fine hitting large drops on perfectly groomed trails. But on the technical stuff I do find I get bounced around a bit if I try and ride with a modicum of speed. I'm still undecided on exactly what I want to upgrade the 500s suspension with, although I'm leaniing towards DVO componentry, just because I know it works well and it's a little bit different to the main stream. But time will tell whether the suspension bothers me enough to make the rather significant investment to improve the 500s ride. For now, the 500 is just fine for the majority of riding that I'm currently doing.

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