(Pocket-lint) - Electric bikes are enjoying a boom, not just because cycling is growing in popularity, but because the addition of onboard power can open up a range of opportunities and experiences more effortlessly.
Bicycles are terrifically diverse, with many suited to particular types of riding. That's as true of electric bikes as it is conventional bikes.
The Merida eBig Tour 400 EQ, then, fits into a category that's all about touring.
Design and build
With a front-end that's close to a mountain bike and a hardtail that's closer to a city bike, the eBig Tour has been designed to cope with the sort of conditions you'll experience when bike trekking.
It's a category of bike that lends itself to electrification, as with the added weight and potentially long distances to cover on a loaded bike, having some motor assistance can be the difference between a hard slog and an enjoyable ride.
The frame is based on Merida's eBig Nine mountain bike, with the Tour version having a steeper angle on the top tube for more of a step-through design. That means you don't have to think about swinging your leg over a loaded rear panier, which is extra convenient for tired legs, and it's easy to slip out of the saddle at traffic lights in city riding.
This is a big bike, weighing just under 25kg, although the location of the battery in the down tube puts it toward the centre of the bike so the weight distribution is pretty good.
But with a 1204mm wheel base on the large frame and 29-inch wheels, it's long too - so long we found ourselves backing it up like a motorbike at times to turn it around in narrower spaces. For comparison: our large frame road bike has a 1030mm wheel base and smaller wheels.
But there's a feeling of solidity to the eBig Tour. The system weight for the bike is 140kg (that's bike weight, plus rider weight, plus cargo) so for an average weight rider, that gives plenty of scope to carry your overnight gear on the road.
The MIK HD rack on the back - which you can also fit a childseat onto if you wish - is solid with big metal mudguards to reduce spray on both the front and rear wheels. The rear rack will take up to 27kg, with the kickstand on the rear wheel so you stand a better chance of it staying upright when loaded.
Integrated Abus wheel locks and a Lezyne front light and Spanninga rear light mean you don't have to think about mounting lights. These will draw from the bike's battery, too, with control from the Shimano controller on the handlebars.
The frame is aluminium and nicely finished, with internally routed cables to keep things tidy heading to the back wheel.
Shimano Steps power
The Merida eBig Tour 400 EQ is equipped with the Shimano Steps system. This sees the 630Wh battery integrated into the down tube and covered so it's out of sight, with a Shimano EP8 motor integrated into the frame where you'd normally have the bottom bracket.
That makes for a great seamless finish. Some electric bikes look like mules, lugging the unsightly battery like an extra appendage on the frame, but here you get a great finish. The advantage that the Shimano Steps system offers is that you can have a full set of gearing too.
The EP8 motor is Shimano's most powerful, shedding weight and increasing the torque over previous motors, as fitted to this 2021 version of the eBig Tour. It will offer 85Nm maximum torque and will take you up to the limited 15.5mph/25kmh speed (this may differ in some territories).
Once charged and switched on - charging to full will take about 6 hours, but 50 per cent charging takes about 2.5 hours - you can select from four levels of assistance: off, then three steps. Each step impacts on how much power the motor adds to your pedalling and, in turn, that affects the range you'll get.
The range will depend on how much work the motor is doing and that will vary based on the rider weight, the load weight, the terrain, and how much effort you put in with your own legs. That could see you get 80 miles (129km) of assistance on the lowest setting or 30 miles (48km) in the highest setting.
That's going to mean you can realistically commute both ways to work without thinking about charging, and most will get a day of tour riding without having to think about charging the bike.
To control the assistance, the Shimano SC-E5003 display is mounted on the handlebars. This integrates the button for the lights, but also lets you move the assistance up or down. The small display will show the charge, the speed you're travelling at, as well as letting you switch between range, odometer and distance.
This means it's really easy to control the power: you literally just have to tap the button to shift the assistance up or down and this also plays into how you ride the bike. You can ride without any power easily enough, but you'll soon feel the weight of this bike as soon as you get off the flat.
There's no additional connectivity here, all the stats are contained on that screen and there's no option to integrate it into a different bike computer, or have it feed a smartphone app, which some might see as a missed opportunity.
On the road or trail
With those 29-inch wheels and Kenda Booster 2.2-inch tyres the eBig Tour 400 EQ is ready for touring in all conditions. The Suntour XCM34-Boost fork gives up to 100mm of travel, with an easy-to-reach lockout lever so you can make it more rigid, ideal for hitting smooth roads, or giving a little more cushioning on broken surfaces.
Wide handlebars give a comfortable position, with Merida's Expert TK saddle. We're not huge fans of this saddle, but it sits on conventional rails so is easy to switch to whichever saddle fits you best. The riding position is pretty upright, which you'll want for touring and generally everything is nice and comfortable.
We spoke about power before and the gearing setup on the eBig Tour is designed to help you ride up just about anything with a loaded bike. Because of the motor you only get a single chainring, a Shimano CRE70-B with 34 teeth. That's pretty small.
It's a 10-speed system, with the rear offering 11-46 (yes, 46 teeth) which means some pretty big steps - and that huge granny gear looks more like something you'd find on a circular saw. The idea, of course, is that you'll be able to keep pedalling, whatever comes your way.
This is quite a departure for those used to unpowered gearing, but it's fairly typical of electric bikes and doesn't pose any real problems, with the Shimano Deore deraileur happy to shift across this range. On normal road riding, you'll find yourself mostly using the highest gears, but that's no problem, unless you really what to speed downhill - at which point you might find you run out of pedal power.
One of the interesting things about having the Shimano Steps system is that you can be really lazy and not shift gears much, adjusting the motor instead. That means you can stick to a high gear and use motor power to help you get back up to speed after stopping at traffic lights, for example, which does make for an easy ride. The whole thing is really smooth, with near instant delivery of the power as soon as you start pedalling and it's extremely quiet, just a light whirr from the motor - you're more likely to notice the sounds from the mechanical drivetrain than you are the motor.
There are Shimano hydraulic brakes to bring you to a quick halt, but more importantly, to make sure you stop when heading downhill with a loaded bike.
There's no avoiding this bike's weight, but there's a very real feeling that you're getting something that will stand up to the rigours you want to put it through. Don't glance at that front end and think about throwing it down trails at any speed, this is a trekking bike at heart, designed for more sensible riding.
It's expensive, but you're also getting quality components designed for a specific job. For city commuters, you might find it's just a little too big for the job, but for those wanting to cycle the coastline over a series of weekends, this could be just the e-bike for you.
The Merida eBig Tour 400 EG is a big bike, but it's also a fun bike.