It's not often that a bike comes in that's got all the new things. But we've got our hands on the new Merida e.Big Trail 900e (catchy name), which has. It's got a Shimano STEPS MTB motor. It's got Shimano's electronic XT Di2 gears. It's got plus-sized tyres. It's got the lot! And that's reflected in the £4,700 asking price.
Let's do the motor first. That low-standover alloy frame is sporting the newest of the mountain bike motor systems, Shimano STEPS E8000. It's Shimano's answer to the currently-dominant Bosch Performance Line CX motor and it puts out a similar amount of torque, 70Nm to the CX's 75Nm. Like the Bosch System it's powered by a frame-mounted 500Wh battery.
The display and controller are a bit different though. The small OLED display sits behind the bars on the right, giving speed, battery and mode information that's pretty easy to read. The information changes colour depending on what mode you're in which makes at-a-glance checking pretty simple once you've remembered what means what.
Changing mode is via a shifter that's much more like a mechanical trigger shifter, like you'd use to change gear, than it is a button like the other predominant systems. It's a very clever design and one of the things we liked best about the system when we rode it for the first time.
The electronic Shimano XT Di2 shifters use the same shifter, on the other side of the bars, and because the two systems use the same E-Tube wiring and communication protocol they can talk to one another, meaning that you get a gear indicator on the display. In theory all sorts of auto-shifting cleverness is possible, but that's a way down the line just yet.
The electronic rear mech is internally routed and pulls the chain over a wide-range 11-46T cassette, giving a broad range of gears from the single chainring. You get Shimano XT hydraulic brakes too, with finned Ice Tech rotors for maximum stopping power.
The e.Big Trail is a 27.5+ bike, using the wider Boost axle standard and sporting 40mm DT Swiss rims and Maxxis Rekon+ 2.8” tyres. Tyres and rims are tubeless-compatible so you can run them squidgy without fearing the pinch flats. At the front there's a Rock Shox PIKE RCT3 fork to take the sting out of the trail, and there's a Rock Shox Reverb remote dropper 'post too for when the going gets steep. The frame design, though compact, has plenty of room for a single bottle cage.
We're going to do some back-to-back testing of the Merida against some bikes with other motor systems to see how they compare, and we will of course be putting a full review of the bike on the site when we've put some muddy miles into it. Stay tuned.