So I've finally done it. After long last I have finally acquired my own e-bike. Maybe it's a sign of me getting older, or perhaps it's the effect of having an adult job which impacts my overall fitness and time to ride that influenced my decision. Or maybe it's just because they are so much fun that made it to hard to resist.
Truthfully I've had access to an e-bike for a number of years now. I purchased an e-bike for Kerry back in 2018, which was the only reason I managed to get her to enjoy mountain bike riding. A previous attempt to get Kerry out on an analogue bike previously did not end well - much swearing was involved.
But in my garage there was previously a Merida eOne-Twenty 500 which was then replaced by a Merida eOne-Sixty 500SE. But Kerry's bike is a medium while I ride a large so having to constantly change her set up every time I took it out for a ride was a little inconvenient. The real lynch pin though was that Kerry would complain about me damaging her bike all the time.
Which is a fair point. I do have a reputation for breaking mountain bikes. On the first ride out I managed to pinch flat the rear wheel. It was very gentle pinch flat though, so I don't think I damaged the rim. Oh, and in case you're wondering about the tree, it's hanging there so I could get the rear wheel off without damaging the e-bike's computer - which is one of the new disadvantages of the 500 series eOne-Sixtys I discovered. And that leads me to my next point - my choice of e-bike.
The Merida eOne-Sixty 500 is the entry level bike of the range, the lowest spec e-mountain bike available with Shimano's latest and greatest motor, the EP8. It may not look like it, but the only bike that sits underneath it in the six model line up it the eOne-Sixty 300 which uses the older and lower powered 7000 series motor.
Historically, I've always found the 500 series of Merida's line up amazing value. I certainly have never had any issues enjoying Kerry's e-bikes. Sure, the wheels might flex when I'm cornering hard, the shifter might not be as crisp or have as many gear changes available as a Shimano XT or SRAM GX specced drive train - but in my world these are "wear and tear" items that I'm likely to break and replace over time anyway.
So I thought it would be fun to actually treat this bike as an upgrade project, something that I will work on over time so all of you out there might observe the illogical process of upgrading a base specification mountain bike to one with more capable and probably shinier components. On top of that, while bike magazines and reviewers often review the high end models of a line up, it can be hard to find a write up on a brand's entry level bike. And yet, for the masses, even the entry level bike can be a stretch for our wallets, especially in this day and age of rising mountain bike prices. So this is also an opportunity to do a few reviews on how an entry level bike performs with someone who can be a bit heavy handed on the trails.
Rather than talk about my how the first ride went in this post, I might just discuss my first impressions upon receiving my eOne-Sixty 500... which I'm just going to refer to as the 500 from this point forward... because combining letters and numbers in my typing gets confusing to my fingers.
There were a number of very specific reasons I chose the 500 for my first e-bike, the main reason actually being the number of gears it had.
11. Not 12, just 11. Because seriously - it has a motor! Why on earth e-bikes are specified with 12 speed drive trains is really beyond me. More gears means a narrower chain. That's just physics you can't get away from. And for someone that breaks things on a regular basis, a 12 speed drive train represents a weak point that is a real problem in durability. Even my analogue bike is now an 11 speed (5 is the number of 12 speed derailleurs I've broken on my Norco Sight within a 2 year period).
So from a durability perspective, less gears in my world is much better. Sure, a 12 speed XT drive train is much cooler in mountain bike speak, but Shimano's Deore drive train is a proven workhorse that does the job pretty well these days. Interestingly, the casette that comes equipped on the 500 is the wide spread 11-51 version (ie easy to pedal up steep hills version). It's replaced the 11-46 version which I'd always found a little bit of an after thought - the jump from the second to the easiest gear always seemed unnatural so I did have a concern about that with this even wider ratio set. But I'll talk about that in my next blog post when I do the first ride impressions review.
The age old debate of carbon vs alloy was another major consideration when choosing the 500. Choosing carbon over alloy generally means at least an extra $1K. I say at least because generally speaking, there is no such thing as a base spec carbon mountain bike. Which means you're paying more for both carbon and potentially components that you don't want, like a 12 speed drive train.
Historically carbon is chosen because it provides a weight advantage. It also can also be fabricated into unique shapes and optimised for extra strength in certain areas of the bike. But modern metallurgy has come a long way and even the alloy mountain bikes come in pretty sleek shapes these days. And let's face it. When you're on a 20+ kg mountain bike, does saving 1 kg really make that much difference to your riding. Perhaps it does to the discerning rider, but I'm pretty sure that for many other people a thousand dollars spent elsewhere will make even more of a difference in their lives.
There are also very good reasons for choosing an alloy frame, especially on an e-bike. Metal is a much better conductor of heat, especially when compared to carbon which is an insulator and more prone to retaining heat within a structure. Lithium batteries don't like getting too hot and an alloy frame allows for better thermal transfer to the surrounding environment. And there's the impact resistance of a metal frame as well. A rock slamming into a metal frame and creating a dent is far less of an issue than one impacting a carbon frame that causes a crack, leading to stress fractures and rapid failure. That actually doesn't happen very often, but given that it's me riding - well, nothing's unbreakable in my world.
There are a number of Merida branded components on the 500 that are pretty much identical to the previous 500 series bikes I've owned. The rims are standard Merida Comp fare, decent enough with an internal width of 29mm allowing for wide tyres to be used. The rims themselves are decent performers although historically I've known them to flex when cornerning at high speeds, as well as dent pretty easily when hit by rocks. The rear hub is an entry level Shimano hub that actually has decent engagement, meaning you don't have to struggle to much to ratchet in technical terrain.
The Merida Comp CC saddle is actually one that I've found that offers a decent level of comfort, and I say that as someone that doesn't ride with any padding. And the Merida dropper post while perhaps not the lightest one on the market, is sturdy, reliable and the one on my 500 actually has very little, actually almost zero play - although we'll see if it stays that way over time.
The cockpit is the other place where Merida uses its own branded items. The grips feel pretty... well, grippy, while the handlebars, stem and headset all look very.... functional. Actually they do have some hidden features that are quite neat, some that I was aware of, some of which have been improved. The handlebars, for example, have strategically placed holes that allow you to thread fragile control wires into them and hide them from exposure to the trails. The headset has also been modified so as to minimise exposure to the control wires. And invisible to the eye is some sort of block within the headset that prevents the handlebars from spinning all the way around. While the fork doesn't look like it's in danger of striking the frame, it's nice to have a feature that minimises the chances of the handlebars stabbing you in the stomach.
Suspension duties are performed by Rock Shox. The Rock Shox Gold 35 is a fork that while on the surface is probably seen as a basic budget fork, does utilise technlogy that a few years ago was only found on the higher model forks. Riders may lament the thinner stanchions, being 35mm instead of 36 but as someone that's been riding around on an e-bike equipped with 35mm Suntour forks without issue, I think you'd have to be a pretty capable rider to notice any chassis twist. That said, I've not had any experience with these forks or the Deluxe Select+ rear shock so you'll have to wait for my first ride review before I can give you an opinion on these.
As I mentioned before the 500 is the cheapest of the eOne-Sixties that is powered by Shimano's EP8. While on paper it's on par with the other major motor manufacturers, I've always enjoyed the tuning of Shimano's motors - they seem to feel more natural to me than some of the motors manufactured by others. If you read the reviews you might have heard about the clacking noise that is audible when you're not actually pedalling. I won't get into what I've experienced just yet other than to say that I noticed there is actually what looks like foam in the motor housing which I assume is to help dampen the noise of the clacking that might be heard. Either way, whether you're getting the budget 500 series or the 10K model (which is actually a fair bit more than $10K), you're still getting the same motor and performance.
Onto some gripes and quibbles about the 500 which I hadn't expected to encounter when picking up the bike. Firstly, while the 500 still comes with 4 pot disc brakes and 203mm rotors which should make for an effective stopping combination, the Deore levers have now become longer which really annoyed me. Modern hydraulic brakes are incredibly powerful so I'm not really sure why manufacturers design brakes with the longer levers that might encourage 2 finger braking which is completely unnecessary. It's actually a pretty minor gripe - just something that surprised me.
The tyres are my next gripe, although I'll say I've not ridden with Kendras so this is just me being biased towards a tyre package I'm confident with. While most of the bikes in the eOne-Sixty line up come with a 2.5 inch wide tyre, the 500 comes with a 2.4 on the front with a very rounded profile, meaning it's probably not going to be the best for cornering aggressively. The rear comes with a 2.6 inch wide tyre which is in keeping with the other models in the range, although it too has a fairly rounded profile. I'll give the tyres a chance to prove themselves but it will be interesting to compare their performance against the Maxxis Minnions I normally ride with.
The third major gripe is the choice of computer and power selector that comes with this year's 500 series bike. Whereas previously, even on the 500SE, the model below the 500, the computer that came with the bike was the discrete SC-E7000 series computer mounted centrally on the handle bars, this year the 500 is accompanied by the SC-E5003 unit, with a much bigger display and integrated power controls. That basically means you have to mount it onto the left side of the handlebars.
This might seem okay in principle and is not dissimilar to some of the Bosch control units. For me though who occasionally has a bike cartwheeling down trails, having something so big mounted on the ends of the handlebars that controls the bike's power is just a disaster waiting to happen. And if I'm being honest, after riding with the SC-E7000 for a few years I did initially find the new computer a bit on the ugly side. I won't go into my riding experience with it just yet. But I will say that on the trails when getting a flat, I couldn't actually flip the bike upsidedown without risking damaging the computer - hence why there's a photo of the 500 hanging from a tree.
Had I known about the computer, believe it or not I may have actually chosen a higher spec bike. But it's here and I actually really like the colour which amongst other things, happens to go with my logo. So in the end I decided to give the computer and the bike as a whole a go. But I will end this post on a positive.
And that is about the inclusion of a built in headlight. There are so many times when I've been riding just that little bit too long and have found myself coming back on the edge of twilight, squinting to see what's ahead of me in the trail. While it's not the most powerful light out there being only about 290 lumens, it's certainly enough to keep you out of trouble.
So there you have it - my first official e-bike. Stay tuned - I'll have ride updates as well as a post about the first changes I made as soon as I had it in my garage coming soon. And a huge shoutout to Marcus and the team at 99 Bikes in Burleigh Heads for organising the bike for me so quickly (two months is a really short waiting time for e-bike right now!). As great as all of the bike shops are on the Gold Coast, it's the guys at 99 Bikes at Burleigh that have continued to support my mountain bike journey for a long time now.