Is 2021 the year of the all-rounder? Road bikes have become increasingly specialised in recent years, with lightweight, aero and endurance the three dominant categories, but this summer’s launches have pointed towards a trend for race bikes that can do a bit of everything – and that includes the 2021 Merida Reacto Team-E.
I’ve generally been a fan of Merida’s Reacto bikes since the original version was launched in 2011. Aero road bikes tend to suit my style of riding.
From the many iterations of Cervélo’s S-series bikes, to Specialized’s now sadly-cancelled Venge, and the more-comfortable-than-it-has-any-right-to-be Trek Madone, I’ve always loved aero machines.
Yes, they may weigh a little more than they should (and so do I…) but they carry and hold speed like no other drop-bar bikes.
Taking the edge off
The elastomer insert in the S-Flex seatpost now integrates this neat rear light. Warren Rossiter / Immediate Media
With the previous-generation Reacto, Merida brought some comfort into the equation with the S-Flex seatpost. It wasn’t Madone IsoSpeed comfortable, but it took the edge off rough surfaces really well.
The new bike attempts to improve comfort further with its reshaped frame and re-configured carbon layup, but vitally Merida has dropped weight too.
The last high-grade Reacto I rode weighed upwards of half-a-kilo more than this model (and that one didn’t have 55mm-deep wheels).
I’ll bring you a full review of the new Reacto in due course but, after an initial 78-mile / 125km ride with 1,088m / 3,570ft of ascent, I can offer my first impressions – and I am impressed.
Almost every other next-generation bike emerging from this year’s launches, from Cannondale’s SuperSix EVO (our current Bike of the Year) to Trek’s new Emonda, BMC’s new Teammachine and Specialized’s latest Tarmac SL7, has seen a lightweight ‘GC’ bike (the bike the brands expect the majority of their pro team riders to choose) become more aero.
Merida has flipped that on its head and taken its most aerodynamic race bike and made it lighter and more comfortable. The question remains, however, has it succeeded? Well, quite simply, yes.
The Reacto’s geometry is pretty slammed, with a 592mm reach on my XL test bike (you can find the full geometry table in our launch story) and a long 402mm reach. The head angle (74 degrees) and seat angle (73 degrees) are also both on the steep side, imbuing the bike with a real urgency in its handling.
This Reacto is absolutely at its best on flat-out fast roads and rolling terrain – it’s hard to explain just how good it feels going fast. It’s a bike that feels arrow-like. Slim and narrow, cutting through the wind with relative ease, and handling head and crosswinds without drama.
The flagship Reacto comes equipped with Vision’s latest Metron 55 SL tubeless-ready carbon wheels. Warren Rossiter / Immediate Media
The same can be said for the Vision Metron 55 SL TLR wheels. TLR refers to these being tubeless-compatible wheels and, while I’d like to have tried the bike set up that way, they come with non-tubeless Continental Grand Prix 5000 tyres in a 25mm size, so that’s what I’ve ridden so far.
Still, if you’re not going tubeless then Conti’s GP 5000s are arguably the next best thing when it comes to road bike tyres.
The GP5000s are the main challenger to my current favourite tyre, the Vittoria Corsa G+, and catching up fast (I have loads more miles under my belt on the Vittorias, which swings the balance in their favour).
The Merida Reacto Team-E rides as fast as it looks. Warren Rossiter / Immediate Media
Climbing is usually the downfall of a full-on aero bike, when it comes to weight, but early impressions are good here and stiffness through the bottom bracket is impressive on the Reacto. At 7.9kg it’s not the lightest out there, but that is for a XL aero bike with mid-section wheels.
Because the Shimano Di2 groupset that’s fitted comes complete with a Dura-Ace power meter chainset, I found myself taking advantage of the data on my Garmin head unit to ride to power on climbs.
And yes, I know £9,000 is clearly a lot of money for the Reacto Team-E, but not many of Merida’s rivals can offer the same equipment levels for the same amount. On Specialized’s new Tarmac, for instance, you’re looking at £10,500 for an equivalent spec.
I also appreciate that Merida has set up the buttons on top of the Dura-Ace shifters to enable upshifts (right hand) and downshifts (left hand) when riding on the hoods.
Prologo’s Scratch M5 saddle has five ‘zones’ that differentiate padding and flex. Warren Rossiter / Immediate Media
The gearing setup of a 52/36t chainset and 11-30t cassette is about as racy as standard bike builds come nowadays, which says a lot about gearing trends in recent years, and I found it to be plenty no matter how the road turned on my ride.
As for the rest of the bike, the Vision Metron 5D cockpit, with its angled aero-bladed shape, has lots of good handholds and the semi-compact drop saw me spend far more time down in a flat-out race position than I normally do (which had a positive effect on my average speed).
At the rear, the premium, carbon-railed Prologo saddle is firm but I found it very comfortable. As ever, saddles are such a personal thing that it’s hard to recommend one to everyone.
Merida Reacto Team-E first impressions
I’m hugely impressed with the new Reacto after this first ride, and maybe, just maybe, Merida making an aero bike more versatile – rather than opting to make a lightweight GC bike more aero – could be the right approach.