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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E – First ride review

The fourth-generation Merida Reacto ups the ante with a frighteningly fast yet compliant take on the aero road bike recipe

What is a hands on review?
2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc
(Image: © Aaron Borrill)

Our Early Verdict

A super-fast aero road bike with predictable handling and segment-leading ride comfort

For

  • Exceptional speed and aerodynamics
  • Agile handling
  • Impressive climbing capability
  • Lightweight (for an aero road bike)

Against

  • Not tubeless out of the box

We first caught wind that an all-new Merida Reacto was in the works at Bahrain McLaren's kit and equipment reveal at McLaren's Technology Centre in December last year where Merida's Director of Products, Jürgen Falke, told us in an exclusive interview that the fourth-generation Reacto would comprise a sub-1,000g frame, hidden cables, better compliance and full integration.

It appears as though the company has indeed used this mantra to carve out its all-new Merida Reacto – an effort that has culminated in a lighter, faster and more comfortable bike than before. 

To validate these claims and separate the facts from the marketing hype, we took the range-topping Merida Reacto Team-E Disc bike for a 412km stress-test-ride across the leg-sapping terrain and topography that makes up the UK's Surrey Hills.

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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Merida’s top-of-the-range Reacto Team-E Disc (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

The frame boasts Bahrain McLaren team graphics (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

The frame lists some of the main features of the new bike (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

The slippery-looking Metron 5D integrated handlebar/stem apparently saves two watts (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Plenty of clearance for wider tyres, should you want or need it (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

The 25c Continental GP5000 tyres leave plenty of room in the forks (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

The stem and headset interface is extremely slick (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

The bladed seat stays ensure that the back end of the bike is as slippery as the front (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Dura-Ace disc brakes and Vision hubs feature on the Reacto Team-E (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Room to spare between the dropped seat stays and the 25c Conti GP5000 tyres (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

A chain stay protector is always a good idea if you want to protect your paintwork (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Like the former model, cooling fins are used for the disc brakes (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

If anyone can catch you, they’ll be able to read that this is the same bike as used by the Bahrain McLaren WorldTour squad (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

The cockpit is extremely neat, with all cables beautifully hidden away (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Merida’s new Reacto Team-E begs to be ridden (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Huge clearance at the seat stays, which will allow for much wider tyres than the 25c Continental GP5000s pictured here (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

Design and aesthetics

Merida has been strategic rather than revolutionary when it comes to the design of the fourth-generation Reacto by adding more muscle and functional definition to help differentiate it from the cookie-cutter design blueprints currently dominating other aero road bikes' designs. These subtle tweaks come as a result of trialling six different test-model variations under five different CFD air-flow angles before benchmarking it in the wind tunnel to identify the most beneficial – read, slippery – physique. 

While there's no denying it still possesses an uncanny resemblance to its predecessor, the changes represent more than just nip and tuck. In fact, Merida's quest for "creating a great performing all-rounder with class-leading aerodynamic performance" was just as important as sating the designers' need for speed. Version four utilises a whole new carbon-fibre recipe that has been strategically laid up to dial in more compliance and stiffness. It's available in two carbon grades: ultra-high-modulus CF5 (an electronic-only option) and CF3, which can accommodate both electronic and mechanical shifting.

It certainly looks fast – no visible cables or hoses here. The  'NACA Fastback' aerofoil profiling is more defined and prominent – more so than the previous version, and you can see this when looking at the two models side by side. The design tweaks comprise a chunkier fork that's now integrated into the frame profile (claimed to save around three watts), a new fully integrated handlebar arrangement compliments of Vision (a two-watt saving), lower attachment points for the seat stays and a thicker seat post. Other alterations include a concealed seat post clamp, hidden front/rear 12mm thru-axles and neatly integrated disc coolers, all of which contribute to minimising the effect of aerodynamic drag. 

The geometry is more or less the same as before and shares the same compact 990mm wheelbase thanks to the use of short 408mm chainstays, but gains a steeper 73.5-degree head angle and 0.5-degree slacker seat tube angle (73.5-degree). Merida has kept things simple this time around by eradicating the S/M and M/L sizing options and going with a solitary medium instead, which takes the sizing total to six: XXS, XS, S, M, L and XL.

According to the spec sheet, the new bike is indeed lighter than before – 965g (medium) for the frame and 457g (medium) for the fork. The Reacto Team-E tips the scales at 7.41kg (actual), which makes it one of the lightest dedicated aero road bikes in the segment. Swapping out the wheels for Metron 55 SL tubular versions will drop the weight by a further 300g to 7.1kg.

While this colour palette may not appeal to everyone, it turned many heads during my initial test rides, with some riders going as far as to trail me to ask more about it. As an out-and-out race bike, it's hard to dispute the presence that the Bahrain McLaren livery adds to the package. The predominantly black, three-tone frame harks back somewhat to the team's previous colour scheme, but gains a racy, McLaren-inspired papaya-orange front end and fade-to-red top tube graphic with complementing flecks of cyan on the inner fork. The maker's name on the downtube, Continental sponsor garnishings on the chainstays and Bahrain McLaren moniker on the top tube validate its credentials.

Components and build

The Reacto Team-E Disc pictured here is nearly identical to what Bahrain McLaren will ride this year, with the only difference being the lack of 140mm rear rotors and tubular wheels/tyres – a lighter and more popular set-up in the pro rungs. As the Team-E name alludes to, this bike features a full electronic build – in this case, a Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 Di2 hydraulic groupset, complete with FC-R9100-P Dura-Ace power meter chainset. It's a tried-and-tested set-up that supplies lightning-quick shifting and precise and modular braking feel.

In late 2019, Bahrain Merida partnered with Vision, a company known for its super-light components. This alliance – particularly ditching the Fulcrum Speed wheels for Vision Metron tubular wheels – proved to shave a considerable amount of weight off its Scultura and Reacto platforms when the decision was made to go down the disc-only route at the end of last year.

Unlike the WorldTour version, the production-ready Reacto Team-E rolls on a set of Vision Metron 55 TLR disc wheels shod with Continental GP5000 25c clincher tyres. The Vision theme continues at the front where a Metron 5D bar/stem, out-front computer mount and orange bar tape rounds off the cockpit. The balance of the build comprises Merida's proven S-Flex seat post with integrated rear light and a Prologo Scratch M5 carbon saddle.

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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Our Merida Reacto Team-E got admiring looks for its Bahrain McLaren team paint-job (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 neatly takes care of shifting, rear... (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

... and front (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Prologo's Scratch M5 carbon saddle keeps you sitting comfortably (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

The flattened Metron 5D integrated handlebar/stem serves to help the bike cut through the air (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Vision Metron 55 TL Disc wheels work in tandem with the new frame for a fast ride (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

It features a beefy bottom bracket to keep things stiff (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

The seatpost clamp is a wedge shape with a hidden bolt (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

The Dura-Ace FC-R9100-P power meter chainset comes as standard with this top-of-the-range model (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

The integrated rear light helps keep you seen, day or night (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

The minimal front end profile has been hones in the wind tunnel (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Dura-Ace Di2 levers combine with the integrated handlebar/stem from Vision (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Shimano Dura-Ace RT900 Centerlock 160mm rotors take care of stopping, should you want to (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

The Vision Metron 55 TL Disc wheels work well with the 25c Continental GP5000s (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Another look at the Vision Metron 5D integrated bar and stem (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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2021 Merida Reacto Team-E Disc

Bahrain McLaren team sponsor Continental’s logo adorns the chainstays (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

Ride and handling

Out of the box, the all-new Merida Reacto has an unrelenting propensity for attacking the horizon line. It's a veritable rocket ship. The stiff bottom bracket area, coupled with its lighter kerb weight means it's able to accelerate with little fuss, and carry momentum with ease thanks to its slippery wind-tunnel-honed figure. The term 'free speed' is bandied about a lot these days, but it applies very much to what Merida has created here. 

The Reacto punches holes through the air just as easily as it responds to pedal inputs, and this sensation never seems to abate really – even when the terrain starts to become lumpy. Over the past 400km, I've tried to purposely unsettle the new Reacto in an attempt to show up any glaring flaws, but there aren't any. Not only have I recorded faster segments on the flats and descents, but I've also gone quicker up many of the climbs that make up my training loops, including Box Hill – a climb that many will remember from the 2012 London Olympics road race course. 

There's more to the Reacto, however, than its air-bending speed. The design team spent just as much time crafting it for compliance as it did making it fast(er). Improvements in the lay-up of the carbon have not only reduced mass, but it's also made the bike more comfortable to ride and live with every day. The dropped seat stays, together with the voluminous headtube and extra space around the fork and rear stays for the inclusion of wider tyre options (it can accommodate widths of up to 30mm), have all helped reduce road chatter and harsh vibrations. The ride quality is better than many of its rivals, and this is something you can further improve by opting for tubeless tyres – something Merida is looking at rolling out in the professional ranks.

Falke told us last year that it's undoubtedly the way forward, but weight is still a big concern.

"There's no doubt that tubeless tyres are faster and provide better comfort. If you look at Paris-Roubaix, the benefits far outweigh what could go wrong, but it will  come down to personal taste and what weighs the least – especially with the pro riders," he said.  

I experimented using both the stock inner-tube-equipped Continental GP5000 25c tyres and tubeless Pirelli TLR Race 28c rubber. The Contis do a decent job and offer impressive all-round performance, but you can only go so low before pinch flatting becomes a reality. I went as 'soft' as 70psi before swapping them out for the Pirelli P Zero Race TLR tyres – a tweak that added just five grams per wheel. The difference was chalk and cheese, with the latter option removing most of the high-frequency bumps and road corrugations. 

Of course, there's more to tubeless tyres than just the pliancy benefits. Set them up correctly in accordance with your weight, and the grip threshold will naturally increase, allowing you to tap into and experience the full breadth of the bike's talents. As a 61kg rider, I went as low as 45psi/50psi front/rear, which proved ideal for the choppy and often moist Surrey road surfaces and added more predictability to handling.  Why Merida doesn't sell its bikes set up this way is somewhat perplexing, really, especially as a proponent of tubeless technology.

Early verdict

On first impressions, the all-new Merida Reacto Team-E Disc is a supremely fast, agile and smooth-riding aero road bike. By refining the frame design and carbon lay-up to bolster compliance, Merida has produced a game-changer here with no compromise when it comes to speed or performance. I love how it handles, its turn of speed on the flats and how unexpectedly resolute it is as a climber thanks to its impressively light 7.41kg weight.

The range-topping Reacto Team-E is a genuine superbike that is as capable as some of the segment's purported best options. While some may squawk at the £9,000 / €10,299 sticker price, it's far from the most expensive bike at this spec level and, before writing it off as a viable option, it's worth looking at what the bike offers in terms of specification compared to its rivals, as well as the attributes you can't see – like the ride quality and communicative, feedback-rich riding experience.

Are there any downsides? Well, it's a pity Merida doesn't spec the Reacto with tubeless tyres out of the box given the company's firm stance on its performance benefits. The stock inner-tube set-up does nothing but blight the bike's true brilliance. Other than that, it's appreciably hard to fault.

Logbook: 2021 Merida Reacto Team-E

  • Temperature: 17-28 degrees
  • Weather: Sunny
  • Road surface: Dry, mixed surfaces
  • Route: Tarmac, B roads, rolling topography
  • Rides: 6 
  • Mileage: 412km

Tech spec: 2021 Merida Reacto Team-E

  • RRP: £9,000 / €10,299
  • Frame: Merida CF5 carbon
  • Size: Medium, 54cm
  • Weight: 7.41kg (medium, actual)
  • Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 Di2
  • Crankset: Shimano Dura-Ace FC-R9100-P power meter chainset, 52/36T
  • Wheels: Vision Metron 55 TL Disc
  • Tyres: Continental GP5000 25c 
  • Brakes: Shimano Dura-Ace RT900 Centerlock 160mm rotors front/rear
  • Bar/stem: Vision Metron 5D integrated
  • Seatpost: Merida S-Flex
  • Saddle: Prologo Scratch M5 carbon

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.