When Shimano unveiled its brand new EP8 motor last year, Merida was the first brand to market with a bike built around the Japanese component manufacturer’s latest e-MTB drive unit. And since we already had a load of experience testing the 2020 version, we decided to get our hands on the new 2021 Merida eOne-Sixty 9000 to see what else has changed, and how all those updates play out on the trail.
The Merida eOne-Sixty
If you’ve been in the market for a full suspension e-MTB over the past few years, chances are that you’ll have had the Merida eOne-Sixty on your list. It’s been a hugely popular bike for the brand thanks to its sharp pricing, quality build, smooth suspension performance, and approachable handling.
Designed to be a comfortable and versatile all-rounder, the eOne-Sixty features a 160mm travel fork and 150mm of rear travel. Cheaper models use an all-alloy frame, while pricier models upgrade to a carbon fibre mainframe. All of them roll on a mullet setup, with a 29in front wheel and a 27.5in rear wheel. This allows Merida to keep the back end nice and compact, while also offering generous tyre clearance.
What’s Changed On The New Bike?
The headline change for 2021 is of course the update to the new Shimano EP8 motor. Compared to the now-superseded E8000 drive unit, the EP8 motor is more powerful (85 Nm vs 70 Nm), while also coming in 300g lighter. According to Shimano, there’s less drag and it’s supposedly quieter by two whole decibels. Get the full rundown of all the updates in our Shimano EP8 tech feature.
While the new magnesium motor housing is slightly smaller in its overall volume compared to the E8000 drive unit, the mounting points have miraculously stayed the same. And that’s allowed Merida, and other brands, to incorporate the EP8 system into their existing frame designs. In the case of the eOne-Sixty, there is a touch more clearance between the top of the EP8 drive unit and the frame. Rather than leaving this bare, moto foam is used to fill the gap and provide additional weather sealing.
Along with the new motor, the eOne-Sixty has also bolstered its fuel capacity, with most models featuring the latest 630Wh internal battery pack. Unfortunately due to size constraints though, the XS frames stick to the old 504Wh battery.
Hidden beneath a thick rubberised downtube protector, the battery can be released from the frame via a 4mm hex key. Conveniently, Merida has integrated a 4 & 6mm hex tool into the rear thru-axle lever. This means you can charge the battery separately, or while it’s in the downtube via a charge port located below the bottle cage.
For 2021, Merida has also upgraded the eOne-Sixty with tougher tyres. Instead of the EXO/EXO+ tyres from last year, most models now feature Maxxis DoubleDown casings front and rear. A welcome improvement for an e-MTB as capable as this. Further improving the bike’s descending credentials, the top two models also move to the burly Fox 38 fork, which visually at least, is a great match.
With the bigger fork, DoubleDown tyres and 630Wh battery, you won’t need to be a detective to work out that the eOne-Sixty will have gained a little extra girth.
Confirmed weight for our medium eOne-Sixty 9000 test bike, weighed without pedals and with the tyres setup tubeless, is 22.94kg. That’s exactly 900g heavier than the 2020 model we tested last year. Not a huge concern for a motor-assisted mountain bike, but also not entirely unnoticeable on the trail.
And The Price Has Gone Up Too
The Merida eOne-Sixty 9000 we tested last year came with a rather incredible price tag of $8,999 AUD, which gave you a lot more bike than anything else on the market at that price point. It was also one of the factors to the eOne-Sixty’s victory over the Norco Sight VLT in our head-to-head feature.
With all of the upgrades to the 2021 model however, no surprises that the price has gone up. By 2,000 dollarydoos to be exact. Now retailing for $10,999 AUD, the latest eOne-Sixty 9000 isn’t quite as keenly priced as its predecessors. However, price increases have been common across the board for many brands, no doubt fuelled by the shipping and production complexities created by the bike-buying frenzy brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
And in the context of its competitors, the eOne-Sixty 9000 still sits very favourably alongside the likes of the Trek Rail 9.8, Specialized Levo Expert Carbon, Giant Trance X E+ Pro 29 1, Commencal Meta Power 29 Team, and the Norco Sight VLT C1 29.
Also worth pointing out is that you can still gain entry into an EP8-powered Merida eOne-Sixty for at a starting price of $6,799 AUD. For all the pricing and specs on the full range, check out our 2021 Merida eOne-Sixty range overview here.
Merida eOne-Sixty 9000 Specs
- Frame | CFA Carbon Fibre Mainframe & Alloy Swingarm, 150mm Travel
- Fork | Fox 38, Performance Elite, GRIP2 Damper, eMTB+ Chassis, 51mm Offset, 160mm Travel
- Shock | Fox Float DPX2, EVOL LV, Performance Elite, 205x65mm
- Drive Unit | Shimano EP8, 85Nm
- Battery | Shimano E8036, 630Wh
- Wheels | DT Swiss HX 1501 Spline One, 30mm Inner Rim Width
- Tyres | Maxxis Assegai DD 3C Maxx Grip 29×2.5in Front & Aggressor DD 27.5×2.5in Rear
- Drivetrain | Shimano Deore XT 1×12 w/M900 34t Crankset & 10-51t Cassette
- Brakes | Shimano Deore XT 4-Piston w/203mm Rotors
- Bar | Merida Expert eTR Alloy, 20mm Rise, 780mm Wide
- Stem | Merida Expert eTR Alloy, 40mm Length
- Seatpost | Merida Expert TR Dropper, Travel: 150mm (S/M), 170mm (L/XL)
- Saddle | Merida Expert CC
- Available Sizes | S, M, L, XL
- Confirmed Weight | 22.94kg (Medium size, setup tubeless, without pedals)
- RRP | $10,999 AUD
Testing The eOne-Sixty
Having already had plenty of trail time with the 2020 model, it didn’t take long to get familiar with our 2021 test bike.
The medium frame size, with its 440mm reach, fits my 175cm height well. The riding position is easy and comfortable thanks to the generous stack height and not-super-steep seat tube angle. Merida lists the effective angle at 75.5°, though at my preferred saddle position, I measured it closer to 76°. Those who regularly ride much steeper climbs will want to slam the saddle all the way forward, but I like the neutral and more comfortable riding position for riding across varied and undulating terrain.
The heavier duty tyres offer more stability thanks to the DoubleDown casing, so lower pressures are possible with less risk of pinch-flatting. I settled on 20psi for the 29in front tyre, and 25psi for the smaller diameter Aggressor.
Otherwise I setup the Fox Float DPX2 shock with the same settings – 30% sag and rebound damping a couple of clicks faster than halfway. For the 38, I started with Fox’ recommendations, though ended up lightening up both the compression and rebound damping a touch just to liven up the travel.
How’s The New EP8 Motor?
So far it’s bloody lovely. There’s noticeably more pep and power here compared to the E8000 motor, and pickup is also faster too. Total grunt isn’t quite as obvious as the equivalent motors from Bosch and Brose, but the real beauty about EP8 is that it retains the smooth and intuitive performance that we loved about the old motor. It’s also quieter, and the power delivery is progressive, giving it a more natural feel as a result.
The reworked Trail mode is the one to go for, with a very wide and flexible power band that does well to match what your legs are doing. It’s still generally happier at higher cadences though, so you can occasionally find yourself feeling a little bogged down if you hit a surprise climb in a less than ideal gear. Thankfully the Shimano XT drivetrain is well prepared for your ham-fisted, last-minute down-shifting, with the chain popping and cracking into place quickly even under power. That Hyperglide+ cassette continues to impress.
On technical climbs the power comes on quickly, though it can also disappear quickly when you stop pedalling – say if you pause to avoid clipping a rock, or as you prepare to thrutch the bike up over a bigger feature. This lack of overrun is noticeable alongside the latest Bosch Gen 4 engine, which continues to deliver power for just a moment longer when you stop pedalling, which is usually enough to help in such circumstances. With EP8, on really steep and techy climbs, you’ll need to concentrate more on keeping the pedals turning over to keep the motor driving the rear wheel.
When the motor does cutoff though, it is very smooth. There’s minimal drag as the motor decouples from the cranks, and there’s a nice taper to power delivery around the 25-26 km/h speed limit.
The Rattle Is Pretty Annoying
However, that decoupling function does result in a rather annoying metallic rattle from the motor. I first encountered this noise in the workshop, when I lifted up the rear wheel and dropped it back to the floor. At first I thought something was loose around inside the downtube – it sounds a bit like a pebble rattling around inside a wooden box.
It’s possible to notice this noise every time the motor picks up or cuts off, though it’s fairly discreet. It’s a different story when you’re freewheeling down the trail however, where the ratchet rattles about at a higher volume. It’s even apparent when coasting along a slightly uneven road surface – anything that causes the chain to move will cause that rattle, and it can be really irritating.
To Shimano’s defence, it does at least drown out the noise of the rattly brake pads. And as many Bosch owners will know, the Gen 4 motor does exhibit a similar sound, albeit with a slightly deeper tone. The good news is that it’s a noise that isn’t associated with an actual problem, and I’ve spoken with other riders who, after some time with their new bike, are no longer bothered by the noise as a result.
The rattle seems to be the tradeoff of using a one-way clutch for the motor’s engagement, which otherwise achieves the reduced drag, lower weight, smaller size and quieter performance that Shimano was aiming for. And certainly while pedalling on the flats or on the climbs, the new motor is quieter and smoother than its predecessor, with less whining and more humming. In fact, I’d say this is the quietest full-power motor on the market.
You Can Tune The Power Delivery
Another big improvement with the EP8 system is the additional tuning that’s on offer. With each of the three modes (Eco, Trail & Boost), you have the option to adjust three unique parameters;
- Assistance Character – 10 levels of adjustment, from Eco to Powerful
- Maximum Torque – 10 levels of adjustment from 20 Nm to 85 Nm
- Assistance Start – 5 levels of adjustment from Mild to Quick
This is the first time we’ve seen any motor brand get close to the tuning potential that Specialized offers via its Mission Control app. Shimano’s E-TUBE app is still kinda clunky, and there are a few do-nots that you’ll need to be aware of when attempting to pair your smartphone with the bike. But the option to adjust those parameters is still very welcome.
For me being on the lighter side, I’ve found Merida’s default Trail mode to feel a little too perky during the initial pickup and at the upper end of the power band. I’ve since dropped both the Assistance Character and Assistance Start settings down a notch, which made a noticeable difference. As well as feeling more natural for my pedalling inputs, in theory, the reduced motor strain should result in better overall range from the battery too. There appears to be a wide scope for the tuning range, so I’m keen to spend more time messing around with these settings, and see how I can further improve both the on-trail performance and total mileage.
Brilliant Suspension, Easy Handling
As for the rest of the bike? Thankfully Merida hasn’t messed around with its successful formula, with the latest eOne-Sixty continuing to impress on the trail with its smooth and active suspension performance. The back end is beautifully well-tuned, with good small-bump sensitivity that generates plenty of traction. It’s suitably floaty, and combined with the robust 2.5in rubber it absorbs a wide range of hits comfortably. There’s still a steady progression to the spring curve though, with the shock ramping up effectively to avoid harsh bottoming.
The Fox 38 is also a fantastic match for bigger travel e-MTBs, and here it’s well balanced with the eOne-Sixty’s rear suspension. I wouldn’t say it feels any more sensitive than the 36, but the bigger 38mm fork chassis does give a more substantial feel to the front end of the bike. There’s less flex under braking and when dumping the front wheel into repeated off-camber impacts, resulting in a more sure-footed demeanour on rougher trails. Along with the aggressive Assegai with its sticky 3C Maxx Grip rubber, the eOne-Sixty encourages you to charge with a more commanding approach.
There is less grip out back from the firmer and lower profile Aggressor, and the smaller 27.5in wheel is more likely to get caught up on the bigger edges that the front end sails over. The flip-side is that you do get noticeably more arse clearance when you’re off the back of the bike on a really steep descent. And the lower BB and shorter rear end also allow you to rip into corners with ease, giving the eOne-Sixty a very agile and playful ride quality for what is a heavy e-MTB.
No, the numbers aren’t as boundary-pushing as some other bikes in this space, but I’ve never felt like I’ve been held back by the eOne-Sixty. It could be longer and slacker, and a 44mm fork offset would provide more damping to the steering at higher speeds. But those changes would surely make the steering feel heavier and less involving for the pilot. And the reality is that the overall weight, sticky tyres and supple suspension provide a heap of stability as it is, making the overall package feel well balanced and approachable for a wide-range of riders.
Merida has again done a bang-up job putting together a very desirable spec list for the eOne-Sixty 9000, which includes the excellent DoubleDown tyre combo and the smooth, adjustable Fox suspension. I’ve no complaints from the Shimano XT groupset, and props to Merida for fitting full 203mm rotors front and rear for the 4-piston callipers to clamp onto. Masses of power, great feel and simple to bleed too.
Much of the build on the new eOne-Sixty 9000 does carry over from the 2020 model, including the excellent DT Swiss HX 1501 wheelset. This features e-MTB specific components including thicker-walled alloy rims, bigger hub bearings, tougher axles, steel ratchet plates, and more robust spokes. At 2,004g (confirmed) they’re heavier than the EX 1501 wheels they’re based on, but they’re also equipped for the higher load ratings and added abuse that a big e-MTB can dish out. I’ve found DT’s alloy rims to be plenty durable, and they’re also a lot cheaper to replace than carbon if you do come a cropper.
The Finishing Details Are (Mostly) Excellent
There’s also plenty of refinement to be found elsewhere too. While the EP8’s one-way clutch ruins the serenity, the thick rubber downtube armour and textured chainstay guard help to dampen general trail chatter, while also protecting the frame. Likewise, the hidden steering limiter is totally unnoticeable while riding, but crucially keeps the fork crown from smashing into the oversized and mostly straight downtube.
Merida has updated the headset design to integrate neatly with the stem and headset spacers, and all of the electric wires now route through the upper headset cap. Along with the hidden wire ports through the handlebar, the front end of the eOne-Sixty is remarkably clean for an e-MTB, and it’s even cleaner on the next model up, which gets a wireless AXS dropper and shifter.
The included Lezyne headlight is a curious addition. It wires directly into the main battery, and bolts to the stem’s faceplate, so it’s always handy. Less handy is the fact that there’s no button on the light, so you’ll have to go into the Shimano display unit’s settings menu to turn the light on and off. That aside, the 310 Lumen light is really more for on-road use, particularly with its narrow beam pattern, and you’ll want to make sure your brake lines and cables are trimmed to be out of the way. While it’s more of a commuter type accessory, I was still thankful for the light on one late arvo blow-out, which saw me riding along dark fireroads deep in the bush, for an extra hour of riding that I hadn’t quite anticipated.
Merida already had a fantastic bike in the eOne-Sixty, though it’s turned the performance up a notch for 2021 with the addition of Shimano’s new EP8 motor. With more power on tap, the efficient EP8 drive unit offers improved responsiveness, a wider and more flexible band of performance, while still offering the smooth and natural delivery that we loved with E8000. Add in the bigger battery, Fox 38 and tougher tyres, and the eOne-Sixty ticks off a few more of the boxes on the e-MTB wishlist, alongside its mullet wheels and balanced handling.
I’ll be continuing to ride our eOne-Sixty 9000 test bike over the coming weeks, which will give me the opportunity to dive deeper into the tuning options with the E-TUBE app, while also conducting some range tests to see just how much more riding and elevation the bigger battery offers. We’ve also got our hands on another EP8-powered mullet bike that you’ll hear about shortly, which we’ll be comparing directly with the Merida. Stay tuned for that feature, followed by a longer term review of the Shimano EP8 system.
In the meantime, you can read more about our experience of testing the 2020 Merida eOne-Sixty 9000 here. You can also see how it stacks up alongside the Norco Sight VLT here, and if you’re keen to know more about the new motor, check out our tech feature on Shimano EP8 here.
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