After many years of tweaking conventional mountain bikes to get them setup up ‘just-so’, the process had become rather straightforward – I could pretty much get a bike dialled in perfectly over the course of a few rides. On an e-mountain bike, however, things are a little more complicated. It’s actually been really cool, learning what it takes to get the most out of an entirely new style of mountain bike.
What makes an e-bike trickier to get dialled in?
For starters, the weight. The extra kilos of static mass (and the heavier unsprung weight of the wider wheels) places extra demands on suspension setup, making you to consider your sag, rebound and ramp-up carefully. The weight also changes the way you ride the bike too, seeing you do more ploughing through the rocks than hopping over them, which in turn forces you to think about your tyres and rims, which cop a pounding. And what about your brakes? Slowing down a big bike like this takes some good stoppers! Then you’ve got the practical side of integrating all that extra stuff; how do you neaten up the cockpit and get the ergonomics right with a mode shifter?
It’s been a process, but an enjoyable one so far. Here’s our latest round of tweaks and why we made them.
The assumption that Plus-sized tyres are the best choice for e-mountain bikes is dubious, we feel. Yes, you get a lot of climbing and braking traction with the big rubber, but there are downsides too – their fragile sidewalls get pinched easily, they tend to fold over unless you run higher pressures, and they just feel a bit wallowy sometimes. We’d already made one change to the rubber on our Merida, fitting a set of ultra grippy Continental Der Baron Projekt tyres, but we’ve gone again and bunged on a set of Specialized rubber. The new Blck Dmnd (#consonantssuck) casing from Specialized is just one step down from a full on downhill casing, which makes it ideal for an e-MTB. We opted for a Butcher and the recently released Eliminator tread, both in a 2.5 inch width.
We were instantly impressed by the way these new tyres changed the feel of the bike and the confidence they’ve given us to really pound the Merida without fear of damaging the wheels. There’s more predictability to the handling now too, with the tyres holding their shape, never squirming off the lip of a jump or folding in a hard corner like a less robust tyre might. Plus they just feel faster, and more alive, making an eMTB feel more like a conventional bike once again.
Longer travel fork
We’ve also fitted a longer travel fork to the Merida, pushing the travel out to a substantial 170mm. We happened to have this FOX Factory 36 in the shed (we’ve been riding it on our YT Jeffsy for some time) so we just popped in a longer air shaft and off we go! Obviously most people aren’t going to have a longer travel fork lying around, but the RockShox Lyric RC that comes stock on this bike can be extend too, with an air spring assembly swap.
Our reasons for going longer travel are twofold. Firstly, it slackens out the head angle of this bike, which is steeper than most of its competitors, giving the bike a bit more wheelbase and confidence. Secondly, the longer fork lifts the bottom bracket a few millimetres, which helps offset the drop in height we had in fitting the smaller volume tyres.As we mentioned in our last update, we also reduced the stack height of the bike (through a new headset top assembly), and the balance of the longer fork, slacker head angle and lower bars feels absolutely perfect.
We’ll be riding this bike for a while yet, so expect some more tweaks soon, as we milk all the performance we can out of the Merida.