Merida 2018 Reacto Team-E review: faster, lighter, comfier, still demanding

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After a stretch of five years, Merida has updated the Reacto, the company’s aero road platform, by carving away a significant amount of weight while creating a sleeker and more comfortable chassis. The overhaul also includes the creation of a disc-brake version, however the company has yet to abandon rim brakes. Indeed, the number of rim-brake-equipped Reactos outnumbers those with disc brakes in the 2018 catalogue.

In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a look at the Team-E version of the new Reacto with rim brakes. Fashioned after the bikes supplied to Team Bahrain Merida, the Team-E is a high-end offering designed to compete with other aero superbikes on the market.

The Reacto has been a part of Merida’s road catalogue since 2011. The original version featured a stout profile with thick frame members, but it wasn’t until the second generation (2013) that the company sought to improve the aerodynamics of the Reacto family. Team Lampre-Merida immediately put the new bike to work, and the combination of a stiff, responsive chassis with low aerodynamic drag served its riders well.

According to Merida, when it came time to re-visit the design of the Reacto, its goals were both clear and simple: lose weight, reduce drag, and add comfort. And in every instance, the company says it was able to achieve its goals, starting with a weight loss of 17% compared to the second-generation chassis.

240g was lopped off the weight of the frame, the fork was slimmed by 38g, and the seatpost is 65g lighter. Some of those gains were achieved by reducing the size of the frame members while changes in the layup helped elsewhere.

Those slimmer frame members also helped the aerodynamics of the new bike along with some re-shaping for the seatstays and the addition of an integrated bar/stem. The net result, according to Merida, was a 5% improvement, or as much as 8W in power savings for the rider.

As for the comfort of the new bike, a change to the seatpost employing Merida’s S-Flex concept delivered an increase of ~10% in compliance. The company simply removed a larger chunk from the rear of the post to encourage more flex under load. A silicon rubber insert continues to be incorporated to damp vibrations as well.

With its goals for the new bike satisfied, Merida unveiled the Reacto III ahead of the Tour de France last year as Team Bahrain Merida prepared for its debut in the event. Now, the bike is available to riders around the world (except, most notably, the U.S.A.) with a choice of seven distinct models with rim brakes plus a handful of disc-brake versions.

For this review, I was given the opportunity to spend a few weeks aboard the Team-E version of the new Reacto with rim brakes, a cost-be-damned kind of build that honours Team Bahrain Merida’s WorldTour bikes.

Before the ride

At face value, the Reacto III may be lighter and a little more aerodynamic, but the bike still closely resembles the previous iteration that I reviewed in 2015. Both bikes share the same “NACA fastback” tube shapes, oversized down tube, flattened top tube, and lowered seatstays. The Reacto III also continues to make use of direct-mount rim callipers with the rear brake still positioned underneath the chainstays on the new bike.

Upon closer inspection, the differences start to appear, starting with slimmer seatstays and softer lines for the front end of the bike. Gone, too, are the harshly sculpted and pragmatic lines that defined the previous iteration, and in its place is a bike that looks a whole lot sleeker, and yes, faster. The new integrated cockpit certainly adds to this effect, as does the way the rake of the fork lines up perfectly with the leading edge of the head tube.

Cable-routing has been tidied up for the new bike, too. Now all the cables enter the down tube at the same point, whereas they were previously split between the top and down tubes. The only thing that spoils this effect is Shimano’s clunky in-line quick-release device for the rear brake, a necessity for easing rear wheel changes.

Merida continues to offer the Reacto with a BB386EVO bottom bracket, a versatile fitting that will allow owners to use a wide variety of cranksets. However, this won’t extend to all power meters (e.g. Stages and Verve Cycling’s InfoCranks) since there is very little clearance between left crank arm and the brake calliper under the chainstays.

Merida created two sets of geometry for the new Reacto, dubbed CF4 and CF2, to better accommodate a wider range of riders. CF4 geometry provides an aggressive and race-oriented fit while CF2 is more forgiving due to a taller head tube and extra stack.

The Reacto Team-E, 9000, and 8000 all feature CF4 geometry with a choice of up to five frame sizes, as shown in the table below, though it’s important to note that the Team-E is only offered in three of these sizes (52/54/56cm):

The rest of the models in Merida’s 2018 Reacto III range (i.e. 4000, 5000, 6000, 7000, and DA Ltd) feature CF2 geometry. Compared to CF4, the head tube is 16-25mm taller (depending on the frame size) with a slacker head angle (0.5-1.5°); the seatstay length (408mm), fork rake (45mm), and bottom bracket drop (66-70mm) are identical. The net result is an extra 10-23mm for the stack of the frame and 5-13mm for the wheelbase. In addition, up to two extra frame sizes (XXS/44 and XS/47) are also offered for bikes with CF2 geometry (depending on the model of bike).

There are a variety of finishes on offer for the Reacto III but each one is model-specific. In the case of the Team-E, the frameset sports an opulent high-gloss finish in Team Bahrain Merida’s colours (blue, red, and gold). While it appears the team has substituted the deep blue for black for 2018, the original combination remains eye-catching and very classy. Indeed, the Team-E presents as something of a superbike, which is only helped by the quality of the parts used for the build.

At the core of the build is Shimano’s new Dura-Ace Di2 groupset (52/36T crankset; 11-28T cassette) complete with sprint shifters for the handlebar drops. Vision supplies its Metron 55mm SL carbon clinchers along with the all-carbon Metron integrated bar/stem with a compact shape. Then there is KMC’s costly DLC chain, Prologo’s Zero II saddle with titanium rails, and Continental’s GP4000s 25c tyres. The only high-end touch that seems to be missing is a ceramic bearing upgrade for the bottom bracket.

All of those parts come together to yield a bike that weighs 7.16kg without pedals or bottle cages (size SM/52). That’s a pretty good result for a bike with oversized tubing and high-profile wheels, however dedicated climbers and weight weenies are more likely to be wooed by Merida’s Scultura Team, which is ~800g lighter.

The asking price for the Reacto Team-E is understandably high — AUD$8,499/£8,000/€8,999 — but for Australian buyers, at least, it’s not nearly as high as most would expect. At AUD$8,499, the Reacto Team-E easily trumps every other aero superbike on offer in the local market. In contrast, the Reacto Team-E is one of the more expensive bikes to buy in Europe and the U.K.

For those that end up spending the money, they will also receive a lifetime warranty for the frameset, three years for the Dura-Ace groupset, and two years for the rest of the parts. For more information on the Reacto, visit Merida.

After the ride

I was looking forward to riding the Reacto Team-E from the moment I unboxed it. The build, the finish, and the styling all promised an aggressive race bike, and that’s exactly what I found.

The bike was obviously light, and while it wasn’t a featherweight, there wasn’t much mass holding it back. It was rigid, too, combining well with the low weight to earn all of the usual adjectives — light, stiff, agile and responsive — that anybody would ever hope for a race bike. However, what was more pleasing was the way that the bike lived up to its aggressive, high-revving looks.

I found myself primed to hammer the bike just by rolling it out of the garage. Throwing a leg over it and grabbing hold of the Dura-Ace levers also took my enthusiasm up another notch, and by the time I was running through the gears and leaning into the first corner, I was ready to start pulling on the drops. And the Reacto, it was right there with me, eager to be let off the leash.

Some of that nervous, excitable energy could be attributed to the Reacto’s steering and handling. It was quick, bordering on twitchy, making for a bike that was always willing to change direction, but it demanded a light touch because of the risk of oversteer. This was something that stood out for me while riding the previous iteration of the Reacto, and while it makes for a highly dynamic riding experience, it might surprise (even terrify) some riders.

In re-visiting the design of the Reacto, Merida lowered the bottom bracket a little (5mm), but I still found myself wishing for more stability at high speeds. That’s not to say that the bike was prone to speed wobbles, but I always felt like I was teetering on the Reacto. As a result, it created some indecisiveness, and ultimately, sapped my confidence. I would end up reaching for the brakes rather than leaning hard into the bends.

Crosswinds also proved to be very demanding. Yes, the high-profile wheels were an obvious part of the problem, but the highly responsive steering amplified the issue so that it was out of all proportion to the size of the insult. With that said, light winds were never a problem, but anything stronger demanded considerable effort and concentration to keep the front wheel under control. It was like trying to control a small kite in strong winds, and sudden gusts were particularly startling, especially on open descents at high speeds where there was no way to anticipate what the wind was doing.

Under those conditions, the Reacto really demands an experienced bike rider with the kind of skills and confidence to remain composed when the bike becomes a challenge to handle. I’d normally count myself as one of those riders, but after a couple of weeks of strong winds during the review period, my enthusiasm for the Reacto was starting to decline.

At this point, it is worth stressing that the Reacto under review had CF4 geometry. Had I been aboard a Reacto with CF2 geometry, I expect the steering would have been less responsive and the bike more stable due to a significantly slacker head angle (72.5° versus 73.5°) and longer wheelbase (990mm versus 980mm). Just how much more stable, I can’t say, since I’ve never ridden a Reacto with CF2 geometry, but I’m confident that the demands associated with the handling of the Reacto are limited to those models with CF4 geometry.

The Reacto performed well in the hills where the stiff, light, and responsive chassis delivered exactly as expected. I’ve long approached climbing in a conservative manner, preferring to save my energy for the descent. Nevertheless, the Reacto never needed much prompting whenever I wanted to lift my pace and attack the slope.

Those same traits were just as evident on undulating roads where the bike was arguably at its best. Given the poise, aerodynamics, and aggressiveness of the Reacto, it was always going to be a good candidate for this kind of terrain, and that proved to be the case. Convincingly.

The Reacto was comfortable… for a race bike. In absolute terms, that means there was an obvious edge to the ride quality that was unable to disguise sharp hits or large amounts of vibration. So, while the bike wasn’t plush, it still did an admirable job of smoothing out rough chip-seal and unpaved roads.

I expect the seatpost was responsible for at least some of this effect, though I was never aware of it moving underneath me like some compliant posts can. However, I did find I had to adjust the angle of the saddle to compensate for some tipping towards the rear of the bike once I was on it.

Vision’s Metron bar/stem provides simple internal cable routing and a tidy niche for the Di2 junction box, but there’s no easy way to plug in a charger when the groupset needs it.

At this point, some comment on the aerodynamic performance of the bike is probably warranted, and feeling the weight of some kind of journalistic imperative, I decided to tackle the issue with a simple test in the real world. This kind of testing is far from ideal, of course, so if you decide to read on, remember to bring along some salt (one grain should be enough).

There were two elements to my test: one, a ~20km stretch of undulating road with a tailwind that favours high speeds and finishes with a sprint on a very mild slope; and two, a riding buddy that had been outclassing me for a few months. Would the Reacto make a difference in this setting?

I conducted this test on three occasions in as many weeks. No effort at time-keeping was made, and like any good street-fight, there were no rules. All that was required to decide the outcome of each match-up was a frank acknowledgement from each contestant.

My buddy took line honours on the first occasion, so it was clear the Reacto wasn’t going to have an immediate effect. The second time around, the win was mine, and a week later, the tie-breaker also went my way, but there wasn’t much in it on either occasion.

In the aftermath, the Reacto III may have made all the difference, but I still had to wonder at the reasons for it. Was the bike truly faster, or did it simply encourage me to push myself harder?

A far easier question to answer was how the build performed during the review. In short, it was near-flawless, but that’s normally the case for any high-end build. The seatpost clamp made some noise early on that disappeared with a smear of grease. Shimano’s new Dura-Ace Di2 groupset was just as reliable as its predecessor while offering a little more feedback at the shift buttons. Vision’s Metron bar/stem is one of the few to offer a neat recess for Shimano’s standard Di2 junction box, but there is no easy access to the charging port. And the wheels, they performed well, the quality of braking was very good (in the dry, at least) but there was some pulsing at the rear – often a sign that a localized hot spot will develop on a longer descent.

Summary and final thoughts

The Reacto has steadily evolved since it was first introduced in 2011. In that time, the overall profile of the bike hasn’t changed much, but Merida has been able to improve its performance in all of the key areas. The third-generation benefits the most from a dramatic drop in weight, however the company has also been able to demonstrate small gains in comfort and aerodynamic performance.

The result remains a dedicated race bike, at least for those models featuring Merida’s CF4 geometry. The steering and handling of the Reacto borders on twitchy, which helps the responsiveness of the bike, but it can become demanding to control in crosswinds and at high speeds. For experienced racers, neither should prove too difficult to contend with, but in the hands of a rider with less confidence, the Reacto may be overwhelming.

What do each of the individual ratings criteria mean? And how did we arrive at the final score? Click here to find out. You can also read more about our review process.

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