Merida’s e.Big Nine 400 is a capable enough leisure bike that you can throw at some more technical trails, but it doesn’t really feel like it’s designed for that sort of riding, and the other bikes in the range make more sense if you’re not looking for a trail-ready bike. In the end it doesn’t really do anything that well.
Merida has a range of hardtail bikes that are ostensibly similar, but with slightly different builds. All of the 400-level bikes get a Prolite 66 triple butted aluminium frame, 29” wheels, a Shimano STEPS 7000-series motor, and a good-quality 1x drivetrain. The e.Big Tour that we’ve already tested has a slightly dropped frame and a commute/tour friendly build with mudguards and lights; it still keeps the big chamber tyres and it’s happy enough on fire roads and towpaths. The e.Big Nine EQ is essentially this bike, but with mudguards, lights and frame lock. So the e.Big Nine 400 is the most off-road oriented, and it has a “Trail/XC” sticker on the top tube, and the pictures on the Merida website are all of it being ridden off-road, albeit reasonably tame off-road.
So it’s an e-MTB? Well, all the signs point to yes. I took it to Cwmcarn, took off the kickstand (which you definitely don’t want on singletrack) and aimed it at the red and blue trails on a sunny pre-lockdown day. And I made it round okay. I say “okay” - I found the limits of the Maxxis Ardent tyres very early on (the first berm) which left me with a dented shifter and a bit of a hole in my shin. After that I took it a bit easier, and there was nothing on either trail, up or down, that I couldn’t ride.
A red trail centre trail is about the limit of this bike’s powers, and parts of it weren’t all that pleasant. The small (for 2020) 2.35” tyres and the 100mm travel Suntour fork don’t offer much by way of controlled damping and holding your line on rough ground is an all-body workout. You certainly feel like you’ve achieved something when you roll back into the car park. That twin loop, with 30km of riding and about 800m of climbing, was enough to nearly drain the 504Wh battery; that’s about par for an e-MTB, although the Merida sometimes requires a higher assistance level than a full-suspension bike because it’s harder work finding your line on the uphill sections, especially the more technical ones. The gearing range is well-chosen and I found myself using the full range of gears over the ride without ever really feeling that I was missing out at either end.
The 7000-series motor is the second level of Shimano’s range, below the more powerful 8000 series. It’s a very capable unit, and offers good assistance. The middle Trail mode gives you access to the full range of the motor’s power whilst being more sensitive to torque than the Boost mode, so if you back off the motor will too. It’s good for finding your way up technical trails, and the Eco mode is ideal for easier sections – fire road climbs and such – where you just want a bit of extra oomph to keep you rolling without draining the battery too much. The modes are accessed from a remote near the grip, and the display sits inboard of the handlebars where it’s well-protected. You don’t get the colour display of the 8000 motor, but it’s simple and clear. We rode the trails with another e-MTB using the more powerful motor and the difference was certainly noticeable, but both did a good job and the bigger motor (on a heavier bike) had a similar range.
The sticking point for this bike – and it’s a big one – is that if you look at the Merida range, then you’d only choose this bike out of the variants available if you definitely wanted to do mountain biking, as opposed to leisure trail riding, or commuting: those are covered by the e.Big Nine EQ and the e.Big Tour... and that being the case, you have to ask yourself: if I have £3,200 to spend, and I want to go mountain biking, is the e.Big Nine 400 the bike I want to be aboard? And the answer, unfortunately for Merida, is probably no.
This isn’t a bad bike. In its e.Big Tour incarnation – and probably in the EQ build too – it’s a lot of fun, a capable leisure bike that can handle a bit of rougher stuff at a push. But as an out-and-out mountain bike, it’s just not capable enough to be near the top of your list. The £1,600 Decathlon E-ST900 hardtail that I reviewed earlier this year is exactly half the price of this bike, and with its bigger tyres and better fork is more fun on technical trails. So you can have two of them, or if you want to spend all your three grand on one bike you could have something like the 160mm travel Vitus e-Sommet or a more XC-oriented Cube Stereo 120 - both bikes are full suspension and trail-ready with better shocks and bigger tyres than the Merida gets.
So really, the e-Big Nine 400 is neither fish nor fowl. It’s not as useful as an all-purpose leisure bike as the other bikes in Merida’s range that use the same (or similar) frame and build, and it’s not good enough as an all-out e-MTB to be your first choice to drop over £3,000 on. I didn’t hate it, but I don’t really feel like I can recommend it either.