At A Glance
Pitchforks and flaming torches at the ready, it's time for an e-bike review, so if you're feeling angry stop reading now and find your nearest forum to vent your rage. Still reading? OK, let's do this. We know Merida has come into 2017 with a fresh look and attitude with their new range of modern, trail focused bikes including the Big Trail we reviewed last year. This incarnation of the Big Trail sees the addition of Shimano's latest and greatest Steps E8000 e-bike system to take this fun trail hardtail and electrify it!Buy Electric Bikes on
The geometry and set up is essentially the same as the non-electric version, meaning it's going to still be a fun ride, with a relatively slack head angle, low bottom bracket and long front centre. As expected with fitting a motor into a frame, the chainstays extend to accommodate, but other than that, numbers remain similar all round.
Components on this 900E build are up there with the best you'll find, including Shimano XT Di2, which electrifies the shifting and runs off the main battery unit, which is all very high tech indeed! Elsewhere we see a boosted Pike up front, a 150mm reverb and XT brakes with huge Ice-Tech rotors to slow the waggon down. The plus tyres are Maxxis Rekons, which is my eyes are still a weak point (specifically sidewalls), especially with the extra weight of the battery and drive unit.
The look is very sleek for an e-bike, with the battery fitting into the frame, and the new Steps system has one of the smallest and lightest drive units available and keeps the bike looking light and fast.
On The Trail
With e-bikes, there is now an initial question asked by those looking to buy, and that is 'what system does it use?' Where in the past, Bosch was the most desirable; Shimano's offering amongst others is starting to open the market up.
From the off, it was clear that Shimano has nailed it with their Steps system, offering intuitive and powerful assistance throughout the gears. Where with the Bosch motor is a powerful surging affair, the Shimano system is less like an excited dog let off the lead and rather aims to make you feel like a superhero with legs of steel? The power comes predictably and most importantly for off-road, has a slight lag time fade on the power, meaning a couple of powerful pedal strokes to raise the front end works well, with no sudden loss of power when you stop pedalling. This was one of the best aspects of the system and allowed for a more intuitive pedalling approach on technical ground.
The handling of the Big Trail was still excellent, even with the extended rear end, but given how fantastic e-bikes are for climbing, and the need to be on the pedals all the time for power, I found the bottom bracket to be slightly low, and pedal strikes were a common issue. This low slung set up, with the added weight of the battery did make for a very stable bike through the corners, and tough to knock off-line.
I feel that to get the most out of e-bikes on technical ground, having rear suspension is a major step forward, even more so than traditional bikes. The stiff rear end of the Big Trail meant that when the back end did step-out or slip on a climb, it did so very, very fast, and with a lot of momentum. Trying to keep traction on ascents while hovering out of the seat ended up being pretty tiring, and descending felt like the back end was very vulnerable to smashing into rocks! Usually, a hardtail can be lifted and floated through the rough, the back wheel controlled and placed precisely, but the additional weight meant this was not the case. Couple this with some thin tyres and the back wheel is in for a very hard life of hard knocks.
For less rocky, techy or rough trails, such as flowing single track and trail centres, the Big Trail is ideal. The efficient pedalling from a stiff rear end combined with the assistance makes climbing a breeze, and on smoother descents, it is great fun and corners exceptionally well with that low slung stance.
Battery life was good, getting around 50km and 1200m climbing from one charge and using plenty of effort, both from the battery and my legs. As usual with e-bikes, I found myself doing my local loops faster, rather than attempting to go for longer epic rides or maxing out the battery. The motivation of knowing I had a boost on the climb meant I would fit in rides on the e-bike when I might have otherwise had a rest day.
The Di2 shifting was exceptionally precise, and any doubts about electronic shifting were forgotten as I received perfect shifting time after time, and running from the same battery just makes sense for e-bikes. The combined display is tucked in neatly by the stem and is a great touch; giving you just the information you need on a small screen. All of the electrics can be connected over Bluetooth if needed.
Once again I was reminded that I'm still not won over on plus size tyres, and although they give plenty of straight line grip on the right surfaces, they don't do much in the mud, and the lack of shoulders knobs on the tyres mean they have little bite in soft conditions. Couple this with the paper-thin sidewalls and a heavy e-bike and the inevitable tyre destruction begins. The new Minions and High Rollers will hopefully put paid to this and seeing Merida spec them on their 160mm e-bike is great.
It's also worth noting the handlebar compatibility of the Di2 and the dropper post is woefully inadequate and puts the dropper lever out of easy reach, which is a shame considering how futuristic and modern the technology is.
The E Big Trail is a fantastic package of high-performance electrical goodness, both in the exceptional Steps system (Shimano have arrived with style!) and the Di2 shifting. It feels like a bike from the future. For trail centres, huge fire roads climbs and other buff and fun trails, the E Big Trail is a winner, but the technical and the rough stuff feels too much for the hardtail set-up.
This review was in Issue 46 of IMB.For more information visit Merida Bikes
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By Ewen TurnerEwen Turner is a self-confessed bike geek from Kendal in the Lake District of England. He runs a coaching and guiding business up there and has a plethora of knowledge about bikes with an analytical approach to testing. His passion for bicycles is infectious, and he’s a ripper on the trails who prefers to fit his working life around his time on the bike.