We sent Ben down to Exmoor to ride Merida’s eONE-FORTY. The bike was being launched to the UK press at an event called, The Ex enduro.
It’s a 3 day enduro race featuring over 20 stages of blind enduro racing through some of the UK’s best natural, nestled in the beautiful Exmoor countryside.
Words by Ben / Photos thanks to Paul Box and THE EX Enduro
It was a sunny Thursday afternoon when I arrived at The Ex Enduro to sign on for the race and get my test bike set up.
The eONE-FORTY is the little brother to the longer travel eONE-SIXTY. Both bikes share the same frame but the ONE-FORTY has 133mm of rear travel mated to a 140mm DT Swiss fork.
Build kit for the top end ONE-FORTY 9000 model includes a full Shimano XT 12 speed drivetrain, excellent 4-pot brakes and the well proven Shimano Steps E8000 motor. There are also DT Swiss Spline HX1501 wheels with Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR tyres in EXO casing. Finishing kit was a mostly Merida’s own including their 150mm drop seatpost.
Suspension was taken care of by a Fox Float Performance Elite rear shock paired with a DT Swiss F535 ONE fork which I will come to in a minute.
Oh…. and did I mention that this is a mullet bike? 29” Front wheel and 27.5” rear. Bang on-trend.
Before racing kicked off I wanted to get the bike set up and feeling comfortable, at least on the playing field where The Ex is based for the weekend. Starting with the cockpit, tweaking the controls it was cool to see how integrated the E-Bike components were.
The Merida bar is 780mm wide and features a couple of small cutaways to run the cables internally between the display and the small buttons that control the power modes. The shifters were mounted to the brake levers and the dropper post was controlled via a Shimano lever that fit perfectly amongst all the other controls. The whole setup is clean, tidy and very functional.
Next on the list is saddle height for three long days in the hills. Whilst the Merida dropper seems like a quality unit and performed well for the whole test, the compact frame, and low standover meant that it could have easily accommodated a 170mm post instead of the 150mm drop post that was supplied.
I then turned my attention to the tyres that would be critical to racing well and enjoying the event. The bike came with EXO casing rubber, chose I’m told as Merida are marketing this bike towards ‘trail’ riding and an uphill focussed crowd who value weight saving.
As a serial wheel killer and destroyer of EXO casing tyres and having seen some of the terrain we would be riding, I procured a Maxxis Minion DHF in EXO+ casing for the front which I set up tubeless with a Rimpact tyre insert (review coming soon). I couldn’t get my hands on a new rear tyre so had to run the 2.6 Minion DHR EXO but added a Cushcore insert and a tonne of Stan’s Race Sealant.
Finally, it was time to faff about with the suspension to get it feeling about right before hitting the trails.
The rear shock was straight forward to set up and felt pretty decent right from the start. I started running about 25% sag and gradually increased to 30% by the end of the weekend as I got to know the bike. The fork was a little more involved as it is quite unique in how you access the adjustments and also in its feel.
The first thing you notice with the DT F535 ONE is the smooth, clean lines and slightly futuristic looks that compliment the Merida eONE-FORTY nicely. To access the air spring valve you have to remove a plastic cover secured by a T10 bolt. As you may not own a T10 tool there is one stashed in the lever on the front axle. Simply yank the lever out, unscrew the tool and use it to remove the cover. This tool is also required to adjust the rebound and low-speed compression damping – no knobs here!
The F535 fork is a little unique in that it has a coil spring at the start of the travel before moving into an air spring as you get deeper.
The idea is that you get low initial stiction and a supple fork around the sag point that is then very progressive as you go faster and harder into the travel.
I set it to 110 psi as the setup guide suggested for my weight and it felt pretty smooth in the carpark test. I ran the low speed compression wide open and I prefer a fast fork so only ran a couple of clicks of rebound damping.
Race day was finally here and we set off on shuttle buses to the drop off point, high on the moors with beautiful panoramic views. It would be a baptism of fire with us dropping straight in to a flat out, wide open, rock infested bike-killer of a trail. What it lacked in corners it made up for in speed.
As I sprinted down the first straight the motor kicked in and I was quickly way above the 25km/hr max speed that eBikes are limited to. My first impressions over the high-frequency bumps were actually very good. The Merida was quiet, planted and pretty smooth, the suspension performing well and assisted somewhat by the tyre inserts front and rear.
Unsurprisingly about 2/3 of the way down that first stage was the familiar hiss of a rear puncture and I could feel the bike move around beneath me as it lost pressure. The hole was a bit too big and wouldn’t seal but the line was in sight and I was confident that Cushcore would save my rim. Luckily it did, and after a quick pitstop, the tyre was plugged and I was on my way to stage 2.
The first big transition gave me a chance to get a proper feel for the bike’s climbing manners. Given that Merida are selling this as a bike for people who don’t just want to go down hills it had better climb well.
The good news it that is really does have a great climbing position with the 76.5 degree seat angle, 440mm chain stays and short 450mm reach helping to keep the front end planted and the rear tyre digging in when you lay down the watts.
You feel quite upright on the bike which I like and the whole affair is very comfortable and civilised. Despite having a climb switch on the rear shock I never felt the need to use it as the shock was supportive enough and I never felt it bobbing.
Stage 2 would give me a chance to see how the eONE-FORTY would corner and handle some more movement on the bike. Dropping in to a root strewn gulley, the DT Swiss F535 ONE fork felt remarkably composed, staying nicely in the middle of its travel and smoothing things out nicely for me. It let me pick my lines, setting up wide for the turns and doing my best to carry speed as we were all racing blind and without practice.
The small and compact nature of the frame makes it quite easy to lean the Merida over. It certainly feels small beneath you and despite the low mass of the motor and battery you could flick the bike quickly between turns. The long chainstays in relation to the front centre means that there is naturally a lot of weight on the front tyre and the bike feels balanced in flat turns and under braking.
The next few stages would progress in a similar fashion as I learnt how to get the most out of the eONE-FORTY. Many of the tracks had flatter, more fiddly sections that were well suited to a shorter, steeper bike like the Merida that could flick around turns and carry speed well through the trees. As eBikes go, it felt pretty ‘poppy’.
In faster situations, the weight of an eBike gives you more stability than the geometry numbers suggest, but I still felt like the bike was very small for a large and that I didn’t have much room to move forwards and back to make fine adjustments to weight the tyres.
Generally day one was going pretty well despite a couple of excursions into the bushes caused by pilot error. That was until the familiar hiss of sealant on stage 6 and again riding the last corners with my back end all over the place and smashing the Cushcore through the roots and loam to the finish line. Another repair and back on the road.
By the end of day one, I was sitting second in the eBike category despite 2 punctures, a wrong turn and some big mistakes so was pretty stoked with how things were going. I managed to blag a Minion DHR in EXO+ casing for the rear but still fitted the CushCore to be safe.
Day two would get a bit more technical, including some quite punchy and steep sections that would claim quite a few victims throughout the afternoon. I picked up where I left off and quickly found my flow on the fun and challenging trails that crisscrossed the woods.
Hitting steep, loose turns you could really feel the conservative geometry working against you as the front of the bike just wanted to tuck on the exit unless your technique was perfect. The 66.5-degree head angle and relatively low front end make it tricky to change direction when gravity truly takes over. It is still capable of riding some pretty steep stuff, but it really limits how committed you can be compared to a longer and slacker bike.
Day two also had some bigger hits and more chunky sections of trail that would really push the suspension to its limits. I found myself regularly using all the travel at the rear which remained composed throughout and never bottomed harshly.
The DT Swiss fork did struggle with the big hits where it’s just not as capable or refined as the options from Rock Shox or Fox. Also the integrated mud guard hits the battery cover on the downtube at full travel making a horrible noise. I feel like that would eventually break if you bottom out enough.
Throughout the whole 3 days the Merida was super quiet and nothing rattled loose or broke. The Shimano brakes were predictable and powerful and I really like the lever shape. The new Shimano 12 speed drivetrain lived up the the hype and was super-slick even under the power of my sprint plus 250W of electric assistance.
As we rolled into the woods on Sunday afternoon to round off day three, I was thinking about how to sum up the Merida and my short but intense experience of it.
In some ways, I had enjoyed its small stature and the way it moves around on flatter woodland trails, but on the whole, I was left a little frustrated as this bike could be so much more.
I think there is a place for shorter travel eBikes, especially as the tech improves and they get lighter and more efficient, but whilst the modern trail and even XC bikes have evolved to become more capable and confidence-inspiring, the eONE-FORTY just felt a bit conservative.
I understand that the UK market is quite unique and that many customers want a bike for all-day XC epics and cross country missions, but that doesn’t mean you have to de-tune its downhill capabilities. The two things don’t have to be exclusive.
If you are into the idea of a short travel eBike for trail riding then the Merida has many merits, but to get the most out of the quality frame and build kit you are going to need to go up a size, spend some cash on tougher tyres and possibly an angle set to reduce the head angle and bring this bike to life in truly technical terrain.
We’re looking forward to trying Merida’s latest version of the longer-travel eONE-SIXTY in the next few weeks to see if this offers a bit more bite on those steep, gnarly trails we love riding.