Wil Dives Into A Battle Of Long Travel e-MTBs
Over the past 12 months, Norco & Merida have been going absolutely full-pelt with their electric mountain bike lineup. For Merida, the big news has been the return of the popular eOne-Sixty – the brand’s flagship full suspension e-MTB. Over in Canada-land, Norco returned fire with the launch of its all-new Sight VLT 29er – a raucous riff on the existing 27.5in version.
I’ve had the opportunity to put some quality saddle time into both bikes, which have impressed in their own unique ways. For the full rundown on each bike, check out the Merida eOne-Sixty 9000 review here, and the Norco Sight VLT C1 29 review here.
Since testing those bikes, we’ve received a tonne of inquiries from Flow readers asking how the two bikes compare directly to each other. And that’s a legit question, since there are a number of similarities between the two. Indeed they’re both 2nd generation e-MTB platforms, they’re both labelled as ‘All Mountain’ e-Bikes, and they both have the same amount of suspension travel front and rear. And because Norco and Merida are sold in Australia through the same distributor (Advance Traders), they’re often available from many of the same bike shops too, so they’re commonly compared.
That being said, they do perform quite differently on the trail. With that in mind, I thought we’d take a closer look at the key similarities and contrasts between the Merida eOne-Sixty and Norco Sight VLT 29er we’ve been testing here at Flow. Here I’ll be going into detail about what each bike does best, what they’re not so good at, and what kind of rider each bike is best suited for.
Firstly, What Do These Bikes Share In Common?
Straight off the bat, both the Merida eOne-Sixty and Norco Sight VLT 29 are built with equal amounts of suspension travel – a 160mm fork up front and 150mm out back. They’re both built around the same Shimano motor, and they can be had in either carbon or alloy variants. The bikes we’ve been testing feature a carbon mainframe with an alloy rear, though the Norco also gets carbon seatstays.
While the suspension design is different (more on that in a bit), the overall shape isn’t too dissimilar, with a seat tube-mounted rocker link driving the rear shock. Both bikes will fit a water bottle inside the mainframe (woohoo!), and they’re also equipped with steering limiters to prevent damage from the bars over-rotating in the event of a crash.
This ‘mullet’ setup allows for shorter chainstays, which on the Merida eOne-Sixty measure in at a very compact 439.5mm.
29in Wheels vs The Mullet
One of the main differences between the two bikes is the wheelsize. The Sight VLT 29 has (big clue in the name here) 29in wheels front and rear. Norco has spec’d burly Maxxis tyres front and rear, with a 2.5in Minion DHF up front and a 2.4in DHR II out back.
In comparison, the eOne-Sixty has a 29er wheel up front that’s paired to a smaller 27.5in rear wheel. This ‘mullet’ setup (or reverse mullet, depending on how you like your parties) allows for shorter chainstays, which on the Merida eOne-Sixty measure in at a very compact 439.5mm. Compare this to the very long 458mm chainstays on the Sight VLT 29. For shorter riders, the smaller rear wheel is also less likely to whack you in the arse on really steep descents when you’ve got your weight back. As for the rubber itself, Merida has spec’d a 2.5in Maxxis Assegai up front and a 2.6in Minion DHR II on the rear.
Compare this to the very long 458mm chainstays on the Sight VLT 29.
Same Engine, Different Batteries
Norco and Merida have both chosen Shimano motors exclusively for their e-Bike range. On the bikes we’ve been testing, you get a STEPS E8000 motor with 70Nm of torque. However, the batteries are different between the two.
Merida has elected to use Shimano’s off-the-shelf E8035 battery, which offers 504Wh of juice and clips directly into the underside of the carbon downtube. The semi-integrated battery is then shielded by a rubber-lined armour plate that covers most of the downtube. Since the battery is easily removable, it means you can charge it on or off the bike – good news for those who might not have a power point handy in the shed. Also, if you’re going to fly with your e-MTB, not only is it easy to remove the Merida’s battery, you’re much more likely to be able to rent a Shimano battery at your destination.
Also, if you’re going to fly with your e-MTB, not only is it easy to remove the Merida’s battery, you’re much more likely to be able to rent a Shimano battery at your destination.
In comparison, Norco has fitted a much larger 630Wh battery inside the Sight VLT’s downtube. This larger battery offers up to 25% more range than the Merida. It isn’t designed to be easily removable though – that battery is bolted securely in place and encapsulated inside the downtube. This design approach offers benefits from a frame engineering perspective, since the downtube doesn’t have a huge hole moulded into its underside. However, it does mean that you can only charge the battery while it’s inside the frame. It’s also worth noting that the ‘In-Tube’ battery is not a Shimano item, so you’ll have to go through a Norco dealer if you have any issues.
Juice Me Up!
If you’re looking for more range, Norco does offer the option of fitting an additional piggyback battery. The Range Extender battery pack sells for an additional $699 AUD, weighs 2.3kg, and adds an extra 360Wh of fuel to bring the total up to a mammoth 990Wh. If big all-day adventures with loads of climbing are on the list, the Norco is more than up for it.
In comparison, the Merida cannot take a piggyback battery. Of course you could carry an additional battery in your backpack if you wanted. A Shimano E8035 battery is a touch heavier at 2.8kg, and it sells for $999 AUD. Alternatively, the most expensive eOne-Sixty model actually comes with a spare battery and an Ergon backpack to carry it in.
Otherwise both bikes have a Di2 display up at the bars, and the very neat and low profile E7000 control switch that sits just next to the left-hand grip. However, the electrics are packaged more neatly on the Merida, which uses internal routing for the Di2 wires through its handlebar and stem. The speed sensor is also discreetly integrated into the non-drive side dropout, while the corresponding magnet is then tucked into one of the alloy spokes on the Shimano XT disc rotor where it’s barely visible. Compare this to the chainstay-mounted speed sensor and spoke magnet used on the Norco, which looks a little cheap.
However, the electrics are packaged more neatly on the Merida. The speed sensor is also discreetly integrated into the non-drive side dropout, while the corresponding magnet is then tucked into one of the alloy spokes on the Shimano XT disc rotor where it’s barely visible
Geometry & Riding Position
Those details aside, it’s the difference in fit and geometry that you’ll notice straight away when swinging a leg over both of these bikes. While I wouldn’t consider the eOne-Sixty to be conservative per se, its geometry is notably more reserved compared to that of the radical Sight VLT 29.
Here are the key geometry figures on the Merida eOne-Sixty;
- 65.5° head angle
- 51mm fork offset
- 75.5° seat tube angle
- 440mm reach (Medium)
- 439.5mm chainstay
- 1212mm wheelbase
And here are the same numbers on the Norco Sight VLT 29;
- 64° head angle
- 42mm fork offset
- 78.3° seat tube angle
- 455mm reach (Medium)
- 458mm chainstay
- 1246mm wheelbase
As you can see, the Norco is much longer in both its front-centre and rear-centre. Its head angle is also 2.5° slacker, and it comes spec’d with a reduced offset fork. That sees it biased significantly towards high-speed descending stability, with a very steady and calm feel to the front wheel. It does climb bloody well though, and that’s because of a very steep 78.3° seat angle that puts you into a fantastic climbing position with your hips further over the cranks.
Those numbers don’t tell the whole story though. One measurement not listed in the above list is the effective top tube (ETT) measurement, the figure we all used to use before ‘reach’ got trendy. With the saddle at full height, the cockpit on the Merida is actually longer, with an ETT of 605mm vs 581mm on the Norco. This is partly due to the slacker seat tube angle, which doesn’t cramp up the cockpit as much when you have the saddle at full mast. In my experience, the steep seat angle on the Norco pushes more weight onto my hands and shoulders while pedalling along flatter trails. As such, I found the Merida more comfortable overall, particularly on longer rides on rolling terrain, and when commuting to and from the trailhead.
Looking at the build of each bike reveals further clues as to where their individual priorities lie.
Both bikes roll on Maxxis tyres, but whereas the Merida is spec’d with EXO+ casings front and rear, Norco equips the Sight VLT 29 with hardcore DoubleDown casings. The thicker 2-ply casings are significantly heavier – there’s nearly 400g of extra rubber on the Norco – but they do provide greater durability and pinch-flat protection.
There’s nearly 400g of extra rubber on the Norco.
And although you’ll see DT Swiss wheels on each bike, the Merida gets the higher-end HX 1501 wheelset (2,017g) compared to the cheaper and heavier E 1700 wheelset on the Norco (2,227g).
As a result of those differences along with the bigger 630Wh battery, the Norco is notably heavier at 23.35kg, compared to 22.09kg for the Merida eOne-Sixty 9000. That’s our confirmed weight for each bike, weighed without pedals and setup tubeless.
While 1.3kg doesn’t sound like a big difference, particularly on a bike that has a motor, much of that extra weight is found in the wheelset and tyres. Factor in the very sticky 3C MaxxGrip rear tyre on the Norco, and it adds up to a bike that requires noticeably more effort to pedal once you push past the 25 km/h motor cutoff point.
The Merida gets the higher-end DT Swiss HX 1501 wheelset (2,017g) compared to the cheaper and heavier E 1700 wheelset on the Norco (2,227g).
Comparing these two models together specifically, the Merida eOne-Sixty 9000 is equipped with a Fox suspension package that includes a Factory Series 36 Float GRIP2 fork and a Float DPX2 piggyback shock. The chassis is built around a single-pivot suspension platform, with a 65mm stroke rear shock delivering a fairly low 2.3:1 average leverage ratio.
The Norco Sight VLT C1 29 specs a RockShox Lyrik Ultimate RC2 fork and a Super Deluxe Ultimate shock (that name doesn’t sound any less silly than when it first came out). While the platform looks similar, the Norco uses a four-bar layout with a Horst link pivot on the rear of the chainstays. The shock is twisted 90° to provide clearance for a water bottle inside the frame, and it has a 55mm stroke that results in a higher 2.7:1 average leverage ratio.
In my experience, both are very smooth performers with exceptional traction on tap, and certainly the suspension is more effective on both of these bikes compared to their non-motorised counterparts. This is a result of the additional weight on the frame from the battery and motor, which improves the sprung-to-unsprung weight ratio.
The Float DPX2 makes great use of the available travel, providing a supple and active feel, with usable support all the way through to the end.
Riding both bikes back-to-back on a local test loop, I did find the Merida’s rear suspension to offer better small-bump sensitivity. It also has significantly better progression than the Norco, which gives it more pop and liveliness – a trait that is echoed by the tight chainstays and smaller 27.5in rear wheel. The Float DPX2 makes great use of the available travel, providing a supple and active feel, with usable support all the way through to the end.
Whereas I never once bottomed out the Merida, I found it was a relatively frequent occurrence with the Norco. The Super Deluxe shock comes with two Bottomless Tokens inside, and even though I added a third, I was still able to hit full travel on every ride. As I noted in the review, this may be a concern for jumpier and heavier riders. Then again, the Sight VLT 29 is generally happier steamrolling descents and keeping you glued to the ground. Providing you’re not hitting huge jumps and flat landings, it is very calm and steady at higher velocities, and its four-bar linkage offers slightly better tracking through the chop when you’re really hammering along.
As for the forks, both the 36 and Lyrik are superb performers – there are no complaints there. The air springs are plenty tuneable, and their premium dampers exude control. The Lyrik is a touch more sensitive, but it also does sit deeper in its travel – something that was made even more apparent when I tested the bike with a 2021 Lyrik and the new DebonAir spring.
Then again, the Sight VLT 29 is generally happier steamrolling descents and keeping you glued to the ground.
In my experience, I found that terrain and gradient has a big effect on how well each bike was able to climb relative to the other.
The Merida is a terrifically comfortable bike to ride, and its lighter wheels and lower overall weight makes a noticeable difference while heading uphill. Traction is fantastic thanks to the supple suspension and plump 2.6in Minion DHR II on the back, and the short back end makes it easy to negotiate your way around obstacles and tight switchback turns. The Shimano 1×12 drivetrain is also impeccable under load, firing off shifts with very little hesitation when you need to drop a gear or two as the gradient kicks up a notch. However, you do notice that shorter back end when the trail gets really steep. In these instances, I had to more consciously weight the grips to stop the front wheel from lifting and wandering.
In comparison, the longer back end on the Norco keeps it stuck to the ground more assertively. It also has better positioning thanks to that much steeper seat tube angle, which really comes into its own once the gradient lifts beyond 10%. Though the wheelbase is enormous and the head angle is very slack, the central riding position helps to weight the front tyre to keep it surprisingly planted. I also really like the Ergon saddle, which has a kick-tail profile to better support seated climbing. Providing you embrace the upright riding position, it’s a very comfortable perch. On less steep climbs, you do notice the Norco’s extra mass and stickier rear tyre, which encourage a more steady pace. The steeper and more technical the climb though, the better the Norco gets.
Much like climbing, the gradient and technicality of the descent really defines your experience when comparing these two e-MTBs.
The same traits that make the Norco a great technical climber translate to the descents, where its long wheelbase, sticky tyres and supple suspension ensure it tracks a very steady and predictable line. And really, the faster you go, the better it gets. While the front wheel does jut out quite far ahead of you, the long rear and the extra mass of the motor and battery help to push more of your weight onto the front tyre, keeping it firmly stuck to the ground. It really is a ludicrously fast bike to smash downhill on. However, it does require a more assertive riding style, and you do need to stay off the brakes – hit those and you’ll find everything straightens up, making it harder to pull the whole bike through the turns.
It really is a ludicrously fast bike to smash downhill on.
On the same flowy machine-built descents that are jam-packed full of berms and switchbacks, the Merida is an easier and more nimble bike to ride. The steering is lighter and more intuitive, making it easier to place. That tight back end and 27.5in rear wheel require less effort to carve corners, and the poppier suspension gives it great attitude when you’re searching for bonus lips and transfers. Compared to the Norco, the Merida is more lively on the descents, though that’s not necessarily a good thing as the trail gets rougher and steeper. The lighter steering, courtesy of a sharper head angle and 51mm fork offset, mean the front wheel is more likely to get yanked off-line. You have to pay more attention on those sorts of descents to keep the bars pointing where you want the bike to go, particularly if you’re walloping through a chunky rock garden where the smaller rear wheel doesn’t roll as smoothly or as fast. That’s the tradeoff for the agility elsewhere though.
The steering is lighter and more intuitive, making it easier to place.
What Kind Of Range Do You Get?
This is easily the most commonly-asked question we get when reviewing e-MTBs. While we try to provide examples of how far we rode and how many metres of elevation we climbed, there are many factors that influence how much range you can get out of the battery. What power assist mode you ride, how heavy you are, how technical your trails are, how steep the climbing is, what tyres you run and what pressure you run them at – these will all affect the efficiency of your e-MTB.
On top of that, it really depends on how lazy you want to be. It’s possible to wang the bike into the most powerful Boost setting and soft pedal, which requires very little effort to access the maximum support from the motor. I did exactly that as part of a range test experiment to see how many laps I could get in at a local DH network based on a worst-case scenario. Here’s what I got out of both bikes;
- Merida: Eight laps, 30.8km of riding & 1497m of climbing
- Norco: Nine laps, 34.8km of riding & 1759m of climbing
So while I did get another lap out of the Norco, I was expecting more given the 25% bigger battery. In theory, I should have gotten two laps more and closer to 38km of riding. Goes to show that a heavier bike and stickier tyres can make quite a difference to fuel economy.
That said, I won’t typically ride an e-MTB on the most powerful setting. As a lighter rider of 68kg, the higher powered settings are overwhelming on steeper terrain, and personally I’d rather put in more effort to ride further anyway. For a secondary range test, I rode a smaller local loop on both bikes with each set to the mid-powered Trail mode, which is what I normally use. This test wasn’t about draining the battery, but seeing what I had left at the end. The 34km loop encompassed a commute to and from the trails, with around 600m of climbing in total. According to the Di2 display, here’s what was left in the tank;
- Merida: Three bars of battery & 23km of range left
- Norco: Three bars of battery & 47km of range left
So there you go, the Norco does provide more range with its bigger 630Wh battery pack, though perhaps not as much as you’d expect. However, more is more, and this is likely to be a deciding factor for some riders, particularly as you also have the option of fitting a piggyback battery. I personally found the 504Wh battery in the Merida to provide enough range for 95% of the rides I took it on, and I suspect that’ll be the case for most riders out there too.
Shimano STEPS E8000 – Here’s Our Take
Both of these bikes are powered by a Shimano STEPS E8000 drive unit, which we’ve become very familiar with having tested the same motor since it was first introduced in 2016. Four years is an eternity in the e-MTB world, but there’s a good reason why the E8000 motor has lasted that long. It’s compact, relatively lightweight, reliable, and it provides intuitive power delivery.
Compared to newer motors from Bosch and Brose, the E8000 motor is less powerful though, with noticeably less low-end torque, and less grunt at the top-end too. If it’s raw power and acceleration you’re chasing, there are certainly stronger performing options out there. Still, I do like the relatively smooth power delivery of the E8000 motor. And as mentioned above, I prefer to ride on a lower power setting anyway, which I find provides a more natural experience that requires your legs to still perform the job they were intended for.
Speaking of power modes, I do like that you’re able to tune the three assist modes. By pairing your smartphone with the Di2 head unit via Shimano’s E-Tube app, you can pick Low/Medium/High settings for each of the Eco, Trail and Boost modes. I generally set Eco and Trail both to Low, which helps to maximise battery range. That said, if you’re starting from a lower fitness level, you could always set these to High, and as your fitness improves over time, reduce the assist level as needed. I don’t use Boost mode very much, so I leave that on High, since it’s quite useful for taking off from traffic lights on my way to the trails.
Otherwise we’ve had few issues with the Shimano STEPS E8000 system. It’s worth noting that while the BB bearings aren’t replaceable (it’s the same with Bosch, Brose and Specialized motors), they are quite a bit larger than a regular BB and have a higher load rating, and they’re supposedly designed to last the life of the motor itself. You also get a 2-year warranty on the drive unit, and being a Shimano product, backup service and support is never far away.
Which Is Better Bang For Buck?
While value is somewhat subjective, it would be very hard not to give the Merida the nod here. With an RRP of $8,999 AUD on the eOne-Sixty 9000 model, it’s nearly two grand cheaper than the $10,799 AUD Norco Sight VLT C1 29. You could buy the Merida and a second battery and still have change left over.
Despite the price difference, the Merida gets higher quality wheels, and it also gets a full Shimano XT groupset. Not only is the XT shifting faster and crisper than the SRAM Eagle drivetrain on the Norco, the XT 4-piston brakes also have a smoother lever feel and a nicer finish compared to the Code R brakes. Both provide excellent power with big 200mm rotors though.
Not only is the XT shifting faster and crisper than the SRAM Eagle drivetrain on the Norco, the XT 4-piston brakes also have a smoother lever feel and a nicer finish compared to the Code R brakes.
Merida does save some cash by spec’ing its own-brand cockpit, grips, saddle and 150mm dropper post, but I can’t say I had an issue with any of those items. They all work exceptionally well. In comparison, the Norco specs an Ergon saddle and grips, along with an e*13 stem and Deity handlebar. It also gets a 175mm Reverb dropper post that offers more drop, though the hydraulic 1X remote lever isn’t quite as smooth or as ergonomic as the cable-activated lever on the Merida.
Still, some riders will simply prefer the longer dropper post, wider bars and the burlier DoubleDown tyres that come stock on the Norco. And again, you may place more value in the bigger battery and Range Extender capability.
So, What Rider Suits Each Bike?
If you’ve read this far, firstly, well done! And secondly, you should have a pretty good idea already.
In my experience, the Merida eOne-Sixty is the better all-rounder of the two. It’s comfortable, easy to ride, and it has a broad performance bandwidth. It may not have the same flat-out stability as the Norco, but it makes up for it with its natural agility and pop. The frame is very well engineered, and Merida has been able to save money with its own in-house components, while putting money where it really counts. All-up, it’s a great value long-travel e-MTB that will suit a broad range of riders and trails.
The Norco Sight VLT C1 29 is equally fun, but it delivers said fun in a more adrenaline-hurling manner. It’s built for higher velocities, and it thrives on steep, hectic trails. Because of this, it’s less suitable for beginner riders and those who might not want to ride at Mach 22. It still climbs well though, and that makes it an excellent choice for more advanced riders who live closer to proper mountains where the gradient is either up or down. It isn’t spec’d quite as well as the Merida, and the electrics could do with some refinement. But it is well equipped for properly aggro riding, and that is no doubt where this hulking e-MTB shines best.
And there you have it – a comparison between two of the most popular e-MTBs we’ve had in for testing. Got any other questions for us about either of these bikes and how they compare? Drop them into the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer them for you. In the meantime, you can check out the full Merida eOne-Sixty review here, and the Norco Sight VLT 29er review here.
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