Just before the Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling team was set for their first showing at the Tour de France, we had a chance to check out another first from Merida – the new disc equipped Reacto aero road bike. Of course, our visit was about more than just disc brakes as the Reacto is probably more likely to appear in its rim brake form out on the tour. Unfortunately for Team Bahrain Merida, their Tour got off to an unlucky start after losing Ion Izaguirre to a terrible crash during the opening time trial. Fortunately, in spite of suffering an unstable lumbar fracture of two vertebrae, Ion took to Twitter as he was leaving the hospital from a successful surgery to show that he was standing and recovering well.
Even though Mother Nature did her best to discourage us, our first rides on the Reacto were far less dramatic. After two days on various versions of the Reacto, it seems that Merida really has done their homework when it comes to the next generation of aero road design…
Reacto 9000-E Disc
Upon our arrival in Apeldoorn, we learned that the Netherlands had been experiencing unusually dry and hot weather for the past few weeks. But the weather forecast indicated that big changes were on the way. With the threat of heavy rains ahead, I decided to set up one of the new Reacto 9000-E disc brake equipped bikes just in case the skies opened up. That turned out to be a smart move as torrential rains greeted us for the start of the first ride – a meandering 65k through the Dutch countryside. Mostly flat, we did find ourselves at one of the highest points in the Netherlands with a legit descent in the pouring rain. At one point it was raining so hard that breathing would have been easier if I had a snorkel.
Feeling confident in my decision to run discs, the bike was fitted with the SRAM eTap HRD drivetrain with standard 6 bolt 160mm Centerline rotors front and rear. During the wettest parts of the ride, the brakes made themselves apparent with audible squeaking, but during the drier parts of the ride it was the rim brake equipped bikes making the most noise as their carbon fiber specific brake pads worked to get a grip. In terms of braking, the 9000-E was excellent though the rides did lack the high speed sustained downhills that would prove a better test – especially for the Disc Cooler equipped Reactos.
One thing that was quickly apparent however, was the fact that concerns over riders with different braking systems are completely unfounded. Riding in a large group of cyclists of various skill levels, most of which had never ridden with each other, and on completely new-to-them bikes, in a different country, and in terrible weather conditions, somehow riders on both disc and rim brakes managed to ride together without incident. Granted, you can be a bit more carefree over your braking points on the disc model, but overall there wasn’t a huge discrepancy in brake performance between the two categories. The biggest advantage the disc bikes seemed to have was a faster initial bite in the wet conditions – and better pad life after grimy rides.
The disc bikes also utilize a R.A.T. thru axle system instead of quick releases which did seem to contribute to more ‘solid’ ride feel. Licensed from Focus, the R.A.T. axles are very easy to use and are probably faster to use than a standard quick release skewer when taking lawyer tabs into consideration. Open the lever, give it a quarter turn, and pull. That’s it.
If you’ve never ridden SRAM eTap before, the shifting can take a bit of getting used to, but after a few miles it’s second nature. An individual press on the right or left shift paddle moves the rear derailleur up or down. In order to shift the front you have to press both shift paddles at the same time. Using its brain to compensate for chainline, there’s no need for trim shifts, and the system proved thoroughly waterproof as we rode through temporary lakes and streams on the streets and paths. The 9000-E is fitted with a semi-compact 52/36t chainring set up which tends to be my go-to set up for most rides. Combined with an 11-26 or 11-28 cassette, the gearing offers plenty of low end for climbing whatever wall you find in front of you, while still offering a stout 52 x 11 for high speed motoring.
When it comes to the seat post, Merida gets high marks for both comfort and for adjustability. Aero road bikes aren’t known for their pillowy ride qualities, but the Reacto does a lot to challenge that preconception. I won’t go as far as saying that the Reacto is as comfortable as non-aero bikes, but it does seem to be a big improvement for a stiff carbon bike with large tube sections and deep dish wheels. According to Merida, that’s due largely to the new S-Flex seatpost which uses a thinner profile and a larger cut out window in the carbon at the top which is filled with an elastomer insert. The resulting design maintains its aerodynamics, but seems to deliver on the promise of improved comfort.
Just as important in my book is that while proprietary to the bike, it maintains a high degree of adjustability and is easy to adjust. The stock seat post is available in 15 or 25mm offsets, but the CF4 frame is also compatible with the seatpost from the CF2 frame which has a flippable head that results in a 0-15° offset. Saddle angle adjustments are easily made through the two side facing allen bolts, and the post is held into the frame with a wedge system that appeared to be easy to adjust without binding or slipping. It is important to note that due to the seatpost design there is a minimum seat height that can be attained before you run out of clamp-able post.
The CF4 frames include a pretty high stack height out of the box with integrated spacers, but ultimately the Reacto CF4 models are performance oriented and are meant to be ridden with aggressive positioning. Citing the one piece cockpit as one of the biggest sources of aero gains, both bikes that I rode had the Vision Metron 5D handlebar/stem combination. I would position the hoods a bit higher personally, but adjustments aside, the bars felt comfortable enough. Compared to a standard bar with tape on the top, it wasn’t quite as natural to ride with your hands here, but then again this is a bike meant for speed – you should probably be on the hoods or drops anyways.
Obviously, this set up will make individual fits a bit more difficult out of the box, but well equipped Merida dealers should be able to get the customer dialed in if there’s an issue. I found myself on the XS frame which had a 47cm seat tube and 52cm top tube and the stock 5D cockpit seemed to fit quite well. At 5’8″ with a 690mm top of saddle to center of BB measurement, I also fit on the S frame with a slightly more upright position. For complete geometry information, check out our first post on the Reacto, here.
Equipped with Vision Metron 55 wheels and Continental Grand Prix 4000 S II tires in 25mm, the wheels offered great control in spite of vicious cross winds in sections of the ride. More importantly, the Conti tires provided loads of confidence in sketchy conditions. The only place the tires really struggled were the ludicrously slick metal grates across the road that didn’t care what kind of tires you were running. Fortunately, we all stayed up over a number of the grates, and painted lines, cobbles, and roundabouts for that matter.
Reacto Team-E Rim
On the second day, the weather forecast had improved and it seemed like a great day to take out the Reacto Team-E for comparison. Equipped with a Shimano R9150 Di2 drivetrain and mechanical rim brakes, this more like what you’ll see in the Tour short of the clincher Speed 55 wheels.
While the weather forecast said the rain would hold off until after we finished the ride, the Dutch clouds were not so kind. In a way, I welcomed the rain as it gave me a chance to ride the same descent with both brake systems in the wet. The discs were marginally better, but the direct mount Dura Ace rim brake calipers with Fulcrum carbon brake pad inserts worked surprisingly well. As usual, it took a split second for the pads to ‘scrub’ the water from the rim before they started to bite, but once they did braking was strong and controlled. I prefer disc brakes for the road, but I’m not steadfast in my need for discs. The direct mount rim brakes have drastically improved rim braking, and the Reacto is no different. If you’re wondering about aerodynamics though, don’t count out discs – Merida says the difference between the two is marginal at best, or less than 1 watt.
It wasn’t quite as windy and wild as the first day, but the Fulcrum Speed 55 wheels also proved to be great ride without being a handful.
The second ride also gave the opportunity to compare SRAM eTap to the newest Shimano Dura Ace Di2 generation (though disc vs. rim). In terms of shifting, Shimano seems to have a slight edge in terms of the shift speed, but the eTap system works extremely well. Overall, it seemed like a toss up as both systems offer precise shifting in any condition with great ergonomics. Compared to previous SRAM HRD hoods, the new hood shape on the eTap HRD shifters is much improved, without that sharp edge on the inside of the hood.
Using the Hotel Het Veluwse Bos as base camp, our rides started and finished a short drive away from the first Merida Experience center. Apeldoorn has also served as the Grande Partenza of the 2016 Giro d’Italia and while mostly flat, it does offer scenic rolling hills and picturesque National Park with excellent riding.
There wasn’t much climbing, but the short, punchy climbs proved that the Reacto can do more than ride quickly in a straight line. You can definitely get lighter than the Reacto, but at 15lbs and change, the Team-E model doesn’t leave a lot to be desired. The 9000-E was almost 1.5lbs heavier with disc brakes and different components, but still less than 17lbs. More importantly, the bikes were easy to shoulder when taking a few scenic detours due to construction (kidding). Overall, the Team-E seemed to ride a bit lighter both in terms of weight (duh), but also in terms of ride quality. Likey due to the difference in construction requirements for disc brakes and the addition of the thru axles, the two bikes ride slightly different but you really have to pay attention to notice.
Throughout the camp, Merida seemed to keep coming back to the idea of why a rider might not want to select an aero road bike. Concerns like rider comfort seemed paramount to the redesign of the Reacto and at first ride, the new bike seems to deliver. It’s still designed with outright speed in mind, but in a way that should make the bike practical on a day to day basis. With the addition of disc brakes, the Reacto gives even fewer reasons not to consider it if you’re looking for the cutting edge in braking performance. I think we still have a while to go before we reach peak aero, but Merida seems to be doing an excellent job of not ignoring other performance aspects in the search of speed.