Merida is one of the biggest frame and bike building companies in the world, and we’ve been really impressed with the smoothness of its Silex before. Now it offers two motor-assisted versions, which retain a lot of the original’s practical and versatile features, comfortably relaxed ride, and great value, as well as added subtle assistance if you need it.
The 600 would definitely be our choice of the two eSilex bikes, but why does it deserve its spot on our list of the best electric gravel bikes? Read on to find out.
Design and geometry
There are plenty of technological advancements in the triple-butted hydro-formed alloy eSilex frame. The 1.5in head tube leaves space for the gear cable and rear brake hose to slide in under the stem and into the frame. The 252wh dealer-removable battery squeezes into a down tube that doesn’t look any bigger than an analogue bike’s, and the control is kept simple through the single ‘iWoc’ button on the top tube. Because the motor sits in the rear hub, not the frame, you get a conventional bottom bracket and seat tube setup too, with space for three bottle cage mounts and a tool/bag mount under the top tube.
A rubber-covered connector above the bottom bracket lets you plug in a bottle-cage-mounted ‘range extender’ battery, which doubles the overall capacity to just over 500Wh. The chunky chainstays are symmetrical rather than dropped on the drive side, but they still have plenty of room for 650b x 47mm tyres. It’s a bit more cramped with 700c wheels though, with Merida advising no larger than a 40mm.
There are front-and-rear mudguard and rear rack mounts, and there are even hidden fixtures for a kickstand ahead of the offside dropout. The dramatically tapering full-carbon fork is the same as used on the unpowered Silex bikes with similar tyre clearance to the frame, signature turned-back fork tips, and a bottle/cage mount on the upper legs. The geometry is slightly shorter and lower than the standard Silex bike and gives a relatively upright ride, while steering is stabilised with a 70.5-degree head angle.
Components and build
The Mahle X35 is a popular option for road and gravel, and it earned a spot in our roundup of the best e-bike motors. It puts the motor in the rear hub with only the battery, on/off switch and wiring to worry about in the frame. The latest X35 gets a bigger hub flange for shorter, stronger spokes after snapping issues with early versions.
As the motor is in the hub, Merida can fit a conventional chainset rather than motor-mounted cranks, and it has mostly gone for the mid-level 600 series of Shimano GRX, but with an 800 series mech as a highlight. It has a single-ring 11-speed setup for simplicity and neatness, but if you want a 2x system, the eSilex 400 gets GRX 400 for £2,750.00 / €2,699.00.
The rest of the kit is Merida, including the distinctive paired spoke laced Expert CX wheels. On these wheels, the relatively narrow 19mm internal rims pinch the 47mm Continental tyres, so it’s good to see they’re the reinforced ShieldWall carcass version of the Terra Trails (Continental’s best gravel tyres) to cope with the extra hub and battery weight, and we rimmed them out several times without a flat. We’d still definitely recommend converting them to tubeless as soon as you can though, and when you do, set aside plenty of time, because in our experience they are far from the easiest.
The saddle is well padded, and the seatpost is carbon fibre, helping to suck out some of the vibrations from the trail, but together with the 75-degree seat angle, the zero offset saddle clamp does push you forwards and shorten the position.
The 420mm bar can also feel cramped in terms of width when you’re trying to lever the increased e-bike weight into and out of corners, and all sizes of the bike come with the same 80mm stem, rather than being proportionately fitted. However, unlike some internally routed headset systems, the cable and hose enter through a scoop-fronted headset spacer rather than the stem, so you can easily swap to a shorter one if you want to liven or lighten up handling.
Ride, handling and performance
The upright, relatively compact position of the eSilex is what makes the immediate first impression, and it’s a bike that definitely encourages cruising rather than cracking on. That suits the Mahle motor, too, as while it can max out at 40Nm (Bosch and other frame-mounted motors can double that), it’s easy to overpower it with too much of your own torque if you stamp on the pedals hard on climbs or trying to accelerate.
Keep the pedal pressure relatively light though and it quietly helps ease your spin up to speed or puts a gentle tailwind permanently behind you on climbs or flat sections, and the way it comes off and on power around the 25km/h speed limiter is unobtrusively jerk-free, even in full-power mode. The much lighter overall system weight than a ‘full fat’ e-bike also reduces pedalling effort when at speeds above the limiter.
All-round agility and responsiveness are significantly better too, and you’ll really appreciate that 14kg weight if you have to heave it over a locked gate or up steps. Having the motor out back in the hub keeps your feet the normal distance apart (some bike motors add noticeable stance width) and it means no extra gear or chain noise resonating through the frame so it’s a really stealthy, subtle and natural feeling system overall.
While the top tube controller is basic and not as easy to operate as a bar-mounted remote, the Mahle ‘ebikemotion’ app adds a lot of functionality in terms of ride, motor, and battery feedback and motor manipulation. The motor can also connect to most of the best cycling computers, too.
What really surprised us was that the big motor at the back doesn’t massively upset handling or ride feel either. There’s a bit of a clunk on rougher terrain, and you’ll want to take steps, or rocky/rooty sections more gently – especially if you’re still using innertubes – but on back roads and light off-roads, the eSilex scoots along very smoothly.
The tapered front fork, plump saddle, carbon seat post and large-volume tyres also help smooth out the ride over less aggressive terrain, but again they are less happy if you try and get lairy. Bigger hits tend to twang the fork about, and higher cornering/impact loads make the pinched tyres roll and ricochet more than a broader footprint set up. As we’ve said previously, the narrow bars and longish stem don’t have the muscle to add extra control either.
While that’s obviously a downside if you’re after an e-gravel bike for more dynamic riding on more testing terrain, the fact that the whole character of the bike is clearly not up for that sort of use also makes it much less of an issue for us than if it was sending mixed messages. The extensive cargo capacity and extra battery option let you exploit the way the smooth, near-silent and subtly power-assisted ride for long-distance cruising and bikepacking, too.
Merida has taken its excellent Silex gravel bike and somehow fitted a big motor hub at the back without noticeably compromising handling or comfort.
Slim lines hide a lot of practical features too, and the price is comparable with online direct options making it a real bargain with shop assistance included. The Mahle motor only gives a gentle breeze of assistance rather than a serious boost though, and it’s definitely a relaxed cruiser, not an MTB chasing raver when it comes to more aggressive terrain.
Tech Specs: Merida eSilex+ 600
- Model name: Merida eSilex+ 600
- Discipline: Gravel/all-road
- Price: £3,000.00 / €2,899.00
- Head angle: 70.5
- Frame material: 6000 series alloy
- Size: XS, S, M (tested) L, XL
- Weight: 14.14kg
- Wheel size: 650x47mm
- Drive unit: Mahle X35 40Nm motor with 252Wh B1-C battery
- Components: Shimano GRX 600 40T chainset and shifters with Shimano GRX 810 rear mech and M5100 11-42T 11-speed cassette. Shimano GRX 600 brakes with RT66 160mm rotors. Continental Terra Trail Shieldwall 650 x 47mm tyres on Merida Expert CX. Merida Expert GR 420mm bar and Merida Expert 80mm stem and Merida Expert carbon seat post, Merida Comp saddle.