For 2021 Merida has decided to stick with its current eONE-SIXTY mullet platform. Instead of going back to the drawing board, Merida is relying on the increase in performance from Shimano’s newly updated EP8 motor, which has had a power boost amongst other refinements, and beefing up the spec to maximize performance on the trail.
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Design and geometry
Merida has used the same chassis as last year's eONE-SIXTY, with its huge carbon front end the bike looks ready to take on anything. Thermo Gate venting around the headtube allows cooling air to feed into the equally large downtube, inside which the battery is stored, and there's also space to mount a water bottle. The battery is now a 630Wh (504Wh in size XS frames) unit and is protected by Merida’s Energy Guard, a softer outer layer that protects from impacts and a structural inner cover encasing the battery. The on switch is neatly mounted in the top tube and the charging port sits above the motor next to the bottom shock mount. The significantly sloping top tube kinks above the shock for better standover height and creates a pleasing leading line across the top of the bike and into the seat stays. The short rear end still uses the same aluminum construction that has continued through from the old eONE-SIXTY, one of the original bike's most liked features.
Geometry remains the same with a 65.5-degree head angle and a 75.5-degree seat angle. The bottom bracket is still 17.5mm but the rollover clearance is enhanced thanks to the compact EP8 motor when compared to the older E8000 series unit. When we reviewed the aluminum eONE-SIXTY Limited Edition we tested a medium, for the eONE-SIXTY 9000 we opted for a Large for a little extra room and stretching the reach out to 460mm. If you are between sizes there is a little flexibility to size up or down based on the ride characteristics you prefer.
Brake hoses and gear cabling are routed internally entering the frame through the Thermo Gate vents and the cables for the motor neatly travel within the handlebar before entering through the headset cap. An internal block stops the over-rotation of the fork and potential frame damage. There's a decent amount of rubber armor around the chainstay and the full length of the downtube to protect the frame and make this a very quiet bike to ride.
Components and build
Shimano’s new EP8 motor takes pride of place on the eONE-SIXTY and is paired with a larger 630Wh battery. Mode control of the motor is controlled by a neat thumb shifter and motor data is shown using Shimano SC-EM800 color display for simple quick glance mode checking. These are neat and compact taking up minimal handlebar real estate and limiting the risk of damage in a crash.
It’s not just the motor that has been updated, Merida has beefed up the specs in a couple of key areas. Instead of the Fox 36’s you now get a set of Fox’s stout 38mm stanchioned 38 Elite eMTB+ forks and Maxxis DoubleDown tires. A Fox DPXII shock has been chosen for balanced suspension performance front and back. The drivetrain and four-piston brakes are a full house of Shimano XT and it all performs in the slick and durable manner that XT is well known for. The 11-52t cassette should get you to the top of most climbs and there are 203mm rotors front and rear to bring you screeching to a halt when you come back down.
The finishing kit is a functional selection of Merida's Expert kit. The 780mm handlebar and 40mm stem are 35mm for added stiffness and the Merida grips are comfortable yet grippy lock-on items. The Merida dropper post worked without fault throughout the test period, offers 170mm of travel and is accurately controlled by a Shimano under bar lever.
The DT Swiss Spline HX1501 One 30 Boost 29er front and 27.5in rear wheels have a 30mm inner diameter to give a decent tire shape from the Maxxis Assegai MaxxGrip front and Minion DHR MaxTerra rear 2.5in tires, although arguably the Wide Trail spec Assegai would be better served by a wider rim. In fact, my only complaint of the spec sheet is the integrated Lezyne front light, its angle and low power mean it’s of little use on the trail and is something that just risks getting broken in a crash.
Ride, handling and performance
With the updated Shimano motor being the major change for 2021, it’s unsurprising that the EP8’s enhancements have the most influence over how the bike rides compared to the previous year’s model. Climbing is excellent, not necessarily because of the added power but the controlled manner in which the power is delivered. Gentle pedal strokes are complemented with measured and well-portioned quantities of power from the motor. There is more power at your disposal for those really steep or technical sections but the increased sensitivity of power output really helps maintain perfect weight distribution on extreme gradients and keep the front wheel in check, a worthy feat with such a high front end. The long wheelbase and steering lock do hamper climbing if you require a little traversing to clear an ascent though. There’s also no overrun which would be helpful if your riding resembles rock crawling, instead, the Shimano EP8 motor delivers a very natural and predictable pedaling experience which riders looking for an enhanced version of themselves, rather than an augmented style of riding, will appreciate. There is still a noticeable power shut down when you reach the assistance speed limit but this is more noticeable because of the draggy DoubleDown spec tires than anything else. There is noticeably less resistance from the motor as well, Shimano quotes 36% less drag from the motor when you continue on human power alone. The unit is lighter compared to the previous STEPS E8000, plus its reduced size and quieter operation will have onlookers double-taking as you pedal up monster climbs with ease.
With a larger battery and more efficient motor, you should expect to take on longer days compared to the older STEPS E8000 bikes. It’s tough to accurately compare rides but I found the range was about the same although this is purely circumstantial. It must be noted that the previous STEPS E8000 motor I tested in summer on fast dry trails whereas the EP8 has slugged it out in cold, wet and windy weather which undoubtedly puts a higher strain on the battery. On one of the few dry days of testing, I was able to rack up over 1,600m of fire road uplift in the Tweed Valley. This was all carried out in the Eco mode which is very usable for a lot of riding and a mode I would often prefer for less serious or hurried riding. When terrain became more involved, Trail mode would take over giving the variable power output I mentioned above. As Trail mode is so good, Boost mode has been somewhat redundant and unused.
Beyond the updated motor, the spec on the 2021 models will please riders who are ready to drop into the toughest trails. The move from a 36 to a 38 fork demonstrates that the eONE-SIXTY means business. My initial setup left the front end handling feeling a little numb, but with a little more tuning of compression, I found a much better setup and quickly felt the benefits of the super stiff front end. Combined with the 29er front wheel, the Fox 38 gives an extremely direct point and shoot feeling allowing you to lead the charge from the front through rough sections. The Fox DPX II has less adjustment compared to the fork but was easy to set up and felt controlled whether it was chattery terrain or hucking gaps with little extra tweaking.
The move to Double Down tires is a smart one, lower pressures with less risk of punctures mean more grip and control whether it's climbing or descending. The heavily damped tires are draggy on hardpack but this is less of an issue on a bike that powers itself, unless you run out of battery that is.
The negative impact of these upgrades is the weight, compared to last years model the 9000 version has put on an extra kilo of bulk. The bike's mass is still surprisingly manageable and even though we sized up, the eONE-SIXTY can still be playful on the trail if you work the momentum to your advantage. Because of the extra weight that’s associated with an e-MTB, they suit a more dynamic rider who is able to use their body weight to maneuver the bike. That’s not to say the eONE-SIXTY isn’t nimble, I found with a little extra exaggerated hip movement I could happily whip it around trees and dive through tight berms. The extra weight does make it feel extremely planted come sections where you can let off the brakes enjoy the momentum.
I have ridden a few mullet setups and while they certainly liven up handling making a bike more playful and agile, it’s not all positives. The eONE-SIXTY with its super stiff front end is a bike that likes to charge hard and fast over everything, so some sections which I would usually carefully consider line choices were just straight-lined on the eONE-SIXTY. The tall front end gives a commanding position as you drop into features and the Fox 38 makes sense of the chaos going on at trail level. The 29er wheel with the mega grippy Assegai is in its element in these situations helping shrink obstacles in front of you but it can, on occasion, make promises that the 27.5in rear can’t keep. Smashing through chunder you do have to be ready to catch the rear in case it deflects and chooses to take an alternative line, same on the climbs where the rear can become railroaded in greasy ruts and cause a break in momentum, traction and direction. For most riders, including myself, this is a compromise that’s worth the added agility on tighter trails.
Merida knows it has a good thing going with the eONE-SIXTY platform, by simply updating a few components the eONE-SIXTY’s positive characteristics that we enjoyed from our 2020 test bike have been further enhanced. Some of the geometry numbers might be conservative on paper but they don’t ever feel like a sticking point when riding hard and definitely make it feel more lively and fun on less extreme trails as well.
Shimano’s EP8 motor, Fox’s 38 and the addition of Maxxis Double Down tires plump up the capability. If you are looking for an e-assisted uplift at your favorite trails then the eONE-SIXTY will see you to the top for more runs per day and back to the bottom faster and in more control than the previous model.
Tech Specs: Merida eONE-SIXTY 9000
- Discipline: Trail / Enduro
- Price: £7,300
- Head angle: 65.5 degrees
- Seat angle: 75.5 degrees
- Frame material: CF2 carbon
- Size: Large
- Wheel size: 29in front, 27.5in rear
- Suspension (front/rear): Fox 38 Elite 160mm travel/RockShox DPX2 Elite 160mm travel
- Components: Shimano XT M8100 series rear mech, SLX M8100 10-51T 12-speed cassette and shifter. Shimano EP8 chainset. Shimano XT brakes with 203mm rotors. Maxxis Assegai 3C MaxGrip 29 x 2.5in front tire, Maxxis Agressor 3C MaxGrip 27.5 x 2.5in rear tire on DT Swiss Spline HX1501 One 30 Boost wheels. Merida Expert eTR bar and Expert eTRII stem, Merida Expert TR dropper post, Merida Expert CC saddle