While Merida may not be the first brand that comes to mind for high-performance e-MTBs, the designed in Germany and manufactured in Taiwan bikes, have been leading the evolution of the category.
They were the first brand to launch a bike with Shimano’s EP8 motor and were an early adopter of the previous E8000 drive system too. Merida was also the first to adopt a mullet wheel setup and helped define the winning formula for the category. From the beginning, the brand focused on spec’ing robust parts that can be ridden hard instead of gram-conscious components that act like spaghetti noodles while you gallop down a descent atop a 23kg bike.
Since the eOneSixty was launched back in 2017, it regularly beats out stacked fields of e-MTBs in group tests, and has become one of the most popular platforms on the planet.
As a brand, Merida isn’t as flashy as someone like Specialized, Trek, or Norco, but for that matter, its bikes are also significantly cheaper. We caught up with Team Merida to try and pin down why the eOne Sixty has been such a huge success and get Merida’s take on where e-MTBs are headed.
Why has eOne Sixty been so popular?
When the eOne Sixty was launched back in 2017, it was one of the first (if not THE first) to have geometry resembling a mountain bike. With this more familiar ride feel, it was a hit with folks looking to tackle steep and deep, assisted shred sled riding and those who spent time in more mellow terrain. It also didn’t look like someone had simply bolted a battery and drive unit onto the frame and called it an e-MTB.
Back in the late 2010s, the bike industry hadn’t really decided what the winning formula for an e-MTB was yet, while some were pushing hardtails and 130mm trail bikes with motors. Merida offered each of these, but they also went bigger.
“I think the recipe the eOne Sixty hit really well was, it’s got a motor, so you might as well have quite a bit of travel — 160mm front, 150mm rear. And you might as well have heavy-duty kit, so it had solid DT Swiss rims on most of the specs, a piggyback shock, and a Fox 36, which was the burliest single crown you could buy at the time,” says Jon Woodhouse, a former editor at BikeRadar and Off Road CC who now works for Merida.”That meant that people could actually ride it like a proper mountain bike.”
Locally the first eOne Sixty we saw in the Australian market was the eOne Sixty 900E — lovingly known as the Green Machine.
“I remember the first forecast we put in was for 20 bikes; that was our full-year forecast. At the time, (we had to ask) would someone be prepared to pay upwards of $8,000 for a Merida e-Bike?” says Mark Rycroft, the Merida Brand Manager at Advanced Traders.
“But we took a gamble and ordered 20, and then after a month, we ordered another 20, and another 20. And then another 50, and then another 500, and another 1000. We quickly realised that this model was pretty popular, and value for money, there was really nothing else out there,” he says.
Early on, Merida picked up on what folks were after in an e-MTB. And while they didn’t invent E8000 or EP8, they were on the front of using carbon front triangles, in-tube batteries, and continually rethinking the spec. But the whole time they were also offering broad range builds to hit particular price points.
Don’t fix what ain’t broken, but improve where you can
Merida has never been a brand pushing the longest, slackest, most progressive shreddy bikes in any category. Aesthetically, the current iteration of the eOne Sixty has been cleaned up and better integrated than its predecessors, but the bike itself isn’t a massive departure from the form it was launched.
“We kept the key aspects the same across the models over the years and have only made minor updates. The geometry had changed a little bit, and we don’t just make the big changes like adding 20mm to the reach in each size or other drastic things like that. But we check the seat tube length and made it shorter to accommodate longer dropper posts, or adding the 29er front wheel to have more precise steering, but still good rollover characteristics,’ says Roman Braig, Merida’s Head of Frame Engineering.
For the eOne Sixty, Merida has adopted the evolution, not a revolution, ethos with the platform, and the key illustration is with the rear triangle. Braig tells Flow the chainstay and seat stay tubing are the same that were used in the 2017 model.
This focus on keeping the good stuff and tweaking the not-as-good stuff, is what lead Merida down the mixed wheel size rabbit hole.
“Originally, we started with the 650B+ tyres, and 29in wasn’t really widespread in the e-Bike market at the time. We wanted to keep a short chainstay because, for e-Bike riding, you will always feel a bit more planted because of the weight of the bikes, but we still wanted the bike to feel agile — that’s why we chose 27.5+,” says Braig.
When we reviewed the original eOne Sixty, we noted that the wide 2.8in rubber offered oodles of grip and damping, but the steering characteristics were soft and imprecise, and we actually downsized the rubber as a remedy.
“Quite soon, we recognised that because of the low pressures, the steering is really spongy. At our office, we put a 29in wheel with a 2.5in tyre in the front — because the forks are the same length — and the riding feeling was a big improvement,” says Braig.
The 27.5+ tyres also presented another problem with the heavy-duty casings required for the conditions the bike was designed to excel.
“It was really tough to get a plus-sized tyre that also had a heavy-duty casing. The plus tyres were already weighty in an EXO casing, and when you bumped that up to a Double Down, you were talking about 2kg tyres — nobody wanted to make them,” says Woodhouse.
“With a 2.5in/2.6in tyre, you still get a lot of the benefit of the bigger volume tyre, but you’re getting something a lot tougher that isn’t going to get shredded on your first rocky descent,” Braig continues.
Keeping up with expectations
The way folks are riding mountain bikes has changed drastically, and riders are pushing into steeper, more technical terrain and then wanting to pedal back out. When it comes to e-MTBs, consumers want all of that but also don’t want to always have broken parts and buckled wheels.
“We had a good start with a well performing e-MTB, but the riding conditions are getting hard. People are riding full enduro trails and even downhill trails on e-Bikes, so it’s really important to have things like Double Down casings, hybrid wheelsets, and the big (rear) shocks are really important on an e-Bike,” says Braig.
When e-MTBs were first launched, there was a misconception that they were only for old folks, and young fit people had to justify their reason for riding one, but we are in the midst of a cultural shift.
“There were a few gravity riders who caught on and realised ‘this is a downhill bike that shuttles itself.’ So that broadened the field into all these naysayers who were originally like, ‘I’ll never touch one until I’m 75 and arthritic,’ are certainly warming up to the idea of e-MTBs,” says Woodhouse.
We all have that mate who is an early adopter. They bought the first iPhone the day it came out, they’re already onto their third smart home assistant, and they invested in Bitcoin in 2011. Now everybody has a smartphone, knows all the easter eggs hidden in the programming of Siri, Alexa and Google, and has seen the rise and rapid fall of the Crypto-bro.
It takes some time for kinks to get worked out of new technology, and with e-MTBs, we’ve hit that shift from early adopters to mainstream.
“e-MTBs have matured a lot. Even at the beginning, an e-MTB was a bigger investment than a comparably spec’d full suspension mountain bike, so not everybody jumped in straight away. But e-MTBs are a proven quantity at this point, and they are here to stay,” says Michael Wilkens, Merida Europe’s PR manager.
The beauty of e-MTB’s is that they level the playing field to a degree, and ride among a group of mates a more achievable proposition, regardless of whether they’re out everyday training or have a mess of kids, and can only ride on Saturday morning.
“So nowadays, no matter what your level of fitness, you can rock up to a group ride and nobody gets dropped. It’s brought along a lot of that group ride mentality, and the enjoyment of sharing a ride out with your mates,” says Rycroft.
Are bigger batteries the answer?
At Eurobike a few years ago, Benjamin Diemer, Merida’s Head of Product Management, watched an older lady walk up to the brand’s German sales boss and ask him to tell her more about the range of e-MTBs.
“So he took her to a bike and started explaining, ‘ok, this has a 500Wh battery and our mid-range motor. And the grandma said, ‘yeah, but what about that bike over there with the big battery and the more powerful motor.’ Our sales boss looked at her and said, ‘for how you’re riding, you probably don’t need all of that, and it’s more expensive.’
She looked at him, touched his arm, and said, “you know, but I want it,” Diemer laughed.
This little anecdote is the perfect encapsulation of the e-MTB market. According to Rycroft, they see that folks want longer battery life and more power in the local market.
“As a minimum, now people expect a 630Wh battery. Probably three- years ago, we sold the eOne Sixty with two 503Wh batteries and a specially designed backpack to carry the second one. That ticked the box for a lot of people, but when you could move to a larger battery capacity, that did away with the need to carry the second one,” says Rycroft. If I were to offer people the option of the 504Wh battery or the 630Wh, people would choose the bigger battery every time.”
With each development cycle, we see bigger batteries and more powerful motors attached to e-MTBs, and some brands are pushing the limit of how many lithium-ion cells will fit inside a downtube. But for the vast majority, they’ll probably never completely drain a 900Wh e-MTB battery in one go. Based on the range testing we’ve done here at Flow, we’d wager many folks still have juice left in the 630Wh Shimano battery when they crack an après beer after their Saturday group ride.
“The development is going in this direction. We have bigger batteries, and the bottom bracket area is looking bulkier again because all the drive units are turned up to make room for these slide-down, big batteries. In our opinion, it’s the wrong direction,” Diemer says.
Before our chat, the Merida team did some back-of-the-bar-napkin math to determine roughly how much Watt-hours weigh. The Shimano 504Wh battery weighs 3.1kg, and the 630Wh is 3.7kg. So for each 126Wh, you’re adding about half a kilo to the bike.
“For each jump in battery power, you’re adding a fair amount of weight, and if it’s in an in-tube battery, you’re adding it all up by the head tube, which affects the handling,” says Woodhouse.
Light support e-MTBs
Most people aren’t doing 3,000m of climbing every time they head out for an e-MTB ride — or even on a big day, for that matter. Deimer thinks that the industry as a whole has blazed past the sweet spot of battery capacity, which has given rise to the SL or light support e-MTBs.
“A lot of brands are trying to go a different way to make the bikes lighter again, and bring the weight down to 18kg or 20kg, especially for the performance rider, to make it more interesting. I think there will be more and more of these light support motors and probably more bikes in this new category,” says Diemer.
But the SL or light support category is still being fleshed out, and these bikes have a loose definition.
“Is it a detuned motor or a smaller motor? Is it a lighter battery? Is it a lighter overall build? There are a lot of ways to skin this cat,” says Woodhouse.
And just like back in the late 2010s, we don’t know what the winning formula is just yet. Without saying whether or not we could expect to see an SL e-MTB from Merida in the near future, Diemer did say he believes they have moved beyond being a niche and will become a strong segment.
“So we see 100mm XC bikes with e-Bike engines, and for sure that is light support and lightweight e-MTBs. In our opinion, we see a proper enduro bike around 17-18kg with the proper spec, for us, that’s light support,” says Diemer.
“Normally, they will use 180mm rotors, lightweight tyres or two-piston brakes to hit that lightweight target. But if you want to make it a proper bike again, you have to add back that 1.5-2kg. And then you’re still light, but you don’t hit that 16-17kg,” he continues.
The folks working behind the scenes are a clever bunch, and even in the past few years, we’ve seen quantum leaps, improving the way bikes ride. The team at Merida couldn’t delve into exactly what they are working on, but they did share a few fundamental problems they are thinking about for the next generation of e-MTBs.
“Battery development and motor development within the current size is probably reaching its optimum form. It’s why mobile phones haven’t gotten any smaller, because the lithium-ion batteries are pretty much at the peak of development, in terms of energy density. So if you want to make the capacity larger, you basically have more batteries, and if you want a more powerful motor, that motor will have to be bigger,” says Woodhouse.
“So how do you cater for the differences that are starting to appear in the e-Bike market, in terms of what people want from their bike and how they want to ride it. How do you do all of those things if those two things (battery size and motor size) are fixed?” says Woodhouse.
Diemer believes that we’ll start to see more categories of e-Bikes and e-MTBs, rather than one platform being adapted to fit into several categories.
“We’ll be doing more dedicated bikes for each category. With the first eOne Sixty, we made adjustments to make it an SUV bike and a big tank bike (extended range). Going forward, there will be a dedicated performance bike, a dedicated SUV bike and a dedicated big tank bike, and also the light support options. In the future, there will be more specific categories,” says Diemer
Woodhouse continues, “Also, e-Bikes can be particularly hard on components. So expecting huge leaps in drive unit technology and battery technology, maybe not. But as for the overall package, I think things will get much, much better, and that’s the kind of passive development of suspension, wheels and tyres — that’s going to be the big next step forward,”