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99Bikes, a leading retailer for Merida, arranged an eBIG TOUR aimed at the, well, larger among us that still want to ride light trails and dirt...
Words and Images by: Tim van Duyl

To me, cycling has primarily been a way to keep fit and occasionally a way to get to a friend’s house without the hassle or worry of parking. I never really viewed it as a way to take in the sights of our beautiful land. I have also always treated it as a solo pursuit, not a shared pastime. But how my eyes have been opened. Having sampled two Merida eBikes with slightly different audiences in mind for a week, I can see the appeal. In fact, I am now a massive proponent of them!

99Bikes, a leading retailer for Merida, arranged an eBIG TOUR aimed at the, well, larger among us that still want to ride light trails and dirt, and an eSPRESSO CITY - a bike designed primarily for paved roads and some light trail work. Both came with an EQ pack, an upgrade that featured bright LED lights, a rear rack for carrying small items and fenders to stop water splashing up on riders.

The eBIG TOUR is capable of handling as much as 140kg between the rider and gear being carried. That is a significant amount and suggests the design is good and the manufacturing solid in the burly looking frame. It features large 29-inch wheels with all-terrain tyres fitted and front suspension that can easily be adjusted or locked-out. Adjusting the seat and post were easy and riding it great until the chain snapped. Yep, a real shame and likely down to a manufacturing fault in the chain, which would have been covered under warranty. In the limited time I had with the eBIG, it felt good. With similar geometry to a traditional mountain bike, it has you in a sporty body position that relies on you leaning forward with weight on the handlebar, so it’s good to be able to report the grips are good and the brakes easy to operate.

Power delivery was smooth and intoxicating. The large wheels made light work of branches and small rocks littered on the tracks we rode. In my limited time my speeds were higher and the distance I travelled noticeably further for less effort — perfect. I would really like to have had the chance to push it on some tough tracks, but that will have to wait.

The eSPRESSO CITY didn’t suffer the same chain breakage issue, so took the  bulk of my time. Although a smaller frame with smaller wheels, it too felt at home off the pavement. With a more upright riding position, it’s not as nimble as the eBIG but then it is also much more relaxing and forgiving on your body than its more off-road focussed counterpart. It’s a comfortable ride and with the step-through frame design, a very easy bike to get on and off. Even the simple kickstand worked well.

You’ll have noticed I have not yet spoken of the technical stuff. That’s because to me a bike has to be comfortable first, give you confidence second and then be reliable. I can honestly say that both tick the box for comfort and confidence, so let’s get into the nuts and bolts — I mean wires and batteries.

Both bikes use top-quality components. From the brakes, gear shifters to the battery and motor, it all comes from the best known name in bike components, Shimano. Shimano are easily the biggest supplier to the bike world with their product found in the alps under Tour de France riders right down to affordable first bikes for kids. Recently they have shifted to eBikes, manufacturing their own battery, engine and management systems.

Both bikes use 504 watt-hour batteries that should give about 50km of moderately supported riding, or a bit less if you ask for full support from the 60 newton metre motor. We used around a third of a charge over a few days casual use, some days as much as two hours riding but others much more like you would use them, a quick jaunt to the shops or a few laps of the holiday park to spy on the neighbours — I mean say hello!

Range anxiety is an issue for some users. No one wants to find themselves on the far side of the lake with a flat battery and a long, slow and hard ride home so the big, easy-to-read LCD screens mounted to the handlebars are a welcome sight. They display the amount of battery left, what assistance level you are set at and your speed. Handy. I’m confident you will quickly get to learn what the state-of-charge means for you, your weight and riding style.

Charging is easy with a decent length lead and rubber-capped plug on the battery easy to find and use. You can remove the battery to charge inside your RV while leaving the bike outside too, a great idea.

So far I am a big fan and I suggest you try any eBike for yourself. I think you’ll agree they really are game changers. However, it’s not all roses. The battery and  motor weigh a significant amount. Merida and Shimano have done their best to mitigate this, firstly by using lightweight alloys for the frames and secondly by designing the bikes from the ground up as eBikes. These are not a cheap, already heavy, steel frame with added on components, like a lot of the eBikes for sale online. They are light for what they offer. But at around 25kg ready to go, you need to consider how to carry them and where you’ll store them. Getting them in and out of a motorhome or caravan will be a bit tiresome, and so will a high-mounted bike rack. I would strongly recommend a hitch mounted rack that can be raised and lowered with the help of a gas-strut. These exist but can be costly.

Speaking of cost, they slot in the higher end of the eBike market at $4,799 for the eBIG and $3,499 eSPRESSO. Do I think they are fairly priced? I do. The use of all Shimano components, the alloy frames and the good support you get from a national dealer network like 99Bikes is a value you shouldn’t overlook.

If you have been considering an eBike, go try one. There is no better advice I can give. If you’re in the market for one from a reputable manufacturer with good dealer support, I suggest talking to 99Bikes and trying the eBIG if you are a burley bloke looking for some trail riding, or an eSPRESSO if you are after a comfortable commuter with a nice bit of electrical boost.

eSPRESSO CITY 300 EQ $3,499 eBIG.TOUR 400 EQ $4,799 More info

Tags: Ebike Bike Cycling Ride Fitness Technology Electric Batteries Brakes Gears Shimano Tours 99Bikes
Category: Features
Written: Fri 01 May 2020
Printed: May, 2020
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