The Merida Reacto 300 takes features from Merida's Reacto aero road bike and incorporates them into an aluminium frame, making the bike a whole lot faster than its hefty weight might lead you to expect.
Our Reacto 300, a size large, weighed 9.79kg (21.5lb). As £1,000 road bikes go, that's pretty heavy. That means it's slow, right? Well, no, hold your horses. You'd be mad to write off this bike on the basis of its weight.
Everyone likes a lightweight bike. It feels good when you chuck it around, it accelerates fast, and you can boast about it to your mates. But in the overall scheme of things, light weight really ain't all it's cracked up to be.
Of course, in an ideal world you'd have a bike that was both lightweight and aerodynamically efficient. But if you had to choose between them, aero trumps lightweight. It really does. A lighter bike will accelerate faster and it'll be quicker up steep climbs but, all other things being equal, the rest of the time you'll be quicker on an aero bike.
The Reacto 300 has been getting me around my regular routes very quickly over the past few weeks. I've got a 20-mile route that I do at lunchtimes, with just 300m of climbing, and the Reacto 300 has helped me fly around there lately. I'm lucky enough to ride a lot of very expensive bikes but this £999 model has got me around this particular route quicker than a lot of them.
That's not a scientific test, of course – not even close – and the conditions and variations in my level of fitness obviously play a big part. So why do I mention it? Well, a lot of people seem to think that a bike that's, say, 25% heavier than another is going to be much slower. That's not necessarily the case. Put your power into the Reacto 300 and it's very quick. It gobbles up the miles, especially over flat and rolling terrain. This thing can shift.
The 6066 alloy frame is stiff too, particularly at the front end where the oversized head tube with a 1 1/2in lower bearing holds everything securely in place. The full-carbon aero fork keeps the steering tight and precise so you feel you can slam the bike around the bends.
When it comes to the climbs, the Reacto 300 surprised me with its ability. Okay, when you hit the very steep stuff it can't stay with superlight rivals. The weight can become a burden in those situations and you do feel like you're working harder than you should be. But that's fairly rare. I'm only talking about those climbs where you have to get out of the saddle and jump on the pedals. For more gradual climbs, that weight isn't much of an issue.
More non-scientific data alert. I have an eight percent hill around here that takes me six minutes to climb. I ride it in the saddle for hill repeats, five times up. I did it on the Reacto 300 this week and there was no real difference from normal in my times (I do it on a variety of bikes, whatever I'm reviewing at the time). Again, that proves absolutely nothing, but alarm bells would sound if I was heading up there 20 seconds slower than usual, and that wasn't the case.
That's an end to my worthless anecdotes, promise.
The Reacto 300 doesn't accelerate with quite the same spring in its step as a lighter bike. It's more of an estate car than a sports car when it comes to picking up speed, and you do notice that coming out of tight turns, for example. Plus, if someone decides to jump off the front of the group, your response is delayed just a touch as you build up your speed. Acceleration isn't lethargic but it is fairly pedestrian.
The other low point in the Reacto 300's performance is the braking, or more specifically, braking at the rear.
One of the Reacto's aerodynamic features (I'll explain the others later) is the positioning of the rear brake beneath the chainstays, behind the bottom bracket. That makes a lot of sense from an aero point of view but the cable goes all over the place between the Shimano Tiagra lever and the TRP brake: under the bar tape, looping out the front, into the down tube and out again, then around the bottom bracket. The result is a brake that feels, not to put too fine a point on it, wooden.
You can still brake using just one finger but it's hard work. It's more of a yank than a squeeze and even then the feel is, yeah, wooden. If this was my bike I'd be shortening the cable as much as possible to try to get a more direct connection.
Merida's own dual-pivot front brake, on the other hand, is absolutely fine. Chances are that you use the front brake the vast majority of the time anyway, but having an equally effective rear brake would be very welcome.
The Reacto 300 isn't as comfortable as the Merida Reacto Evo Team that I took for a First Ride last year. That bike had the benefit of Merida's S-Flex seatpost: an aero-shaped carbon-fibre post with a notch cut out of it close to the top. That notch allows the post to flex a little to help smooth out bumps and vibration.
The Reacto 300's seatpost is carbon-fibre but it doesn't have that notch. Like many aero posts, it doesn't flex much and you get quite a firm ride. It's not harsh – this isn't an uncomfortable bike – but it is firm. As ever, the saddle is a matter of taste but I found Merida's Race 1 to be pretty comfy with a narrow-ish nose and a reasonable amount of flex in the shell.
The aluminium Reacto 300 borrows many aero features from Merida's carbon Reacto frames. Most importantly, the aluminium Reacto's down tube and the seat tube have exactly the same cross sections as those of its carbon counterpart. These are based on the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) 0028 airfoil, truncated at the rear. In other words, the tailing edge of the tube profile has been chopped off square in such a way as to keep the airflow stable without causing turbulence, according to Merida.
The seat tube is cutaway around the leading edge of the rear wheel in tried and tested time trial/aero road bike fashion, and the seat post that fits in there is shaped for aerodynamics too. It's held in place by a wedge system, the bolt sitting within the top tube profile so that it can't disturb the airflow.
I've mentioned that the rear brake is positioned below the chainstays, behind the bottom bracket, to improve the aerodynamics. That allows Merida to do away with a brake bridge between the seatstays.
The front brake, though, sits in the conventional position at the front of the fork. Merida reckons that there's not much aero benefit in moving the brake behind the fork legs, so they don't bother. The positioning is the same on carbon Reactos.
The seatstays are very slim and they join the seat tube low to reduce the frontal area, but they don't kink out as widely as they do on the carbon Reacto, sitting closer to the rear wheel. There are big differences in the head tube shaping too, so this isn't simply a carbon Reacto made from aluminium, although it is a fairly close approximation.
Merida haven't tested the aluminium Reacto in the wind tunnel but they reckon it won't be too far away from the carbon model in terms of its aero performance.
The Reacto 300 is equipped with Shimano Tiagra shifters and mechs that work exactly as they should. The next generation Tiagra groupset that Shimano announced in March comes with gear cabling that goes underneath your handlebar tape, but ours loops out into the fresh air. The shifters have gear indicator windows that are absent from new Tiagra models. I never actually look at them, but you might find them useful.
Merida spec an FSA Omega chainset with 52-tooth and 36-tooth chainrings. I'm a fan of that combination. Matched up to the 12-28 cassette, it gives you the big gears you want for slicing along the flat along with small options for getting up the climbs. Win-win.
The wheels aren't anything to get too excited about but they've stayed true throughout testing and no water has got inside the sealed bearing hubs. Merida's Aero 30 rims are, as the name suggests, 30mm deep. Something a little deeper – 40-50mm – would be more in keeping with the Reacto's aero character. That would be a good upgrade if you were to buy this bike.
The aluminium bar and stem might not be particularly lightweight but they do keep everything feeling solid when you're sprinting out of the saddle. I really liked the straight section on the handlebar drop just behind the levers and found myself using it a lot when plugging away on the flat.
The Reacto 300 is no lightweight but don't let that put you off. This bike has aerodynamic efficiency on its side and it really is quick. Okay, it's a bit of a lump on the steepest of climbs, but it doesn't hang about over flat and rolling terrain. Write it off at your peril,
It's not light but aerodynamic efficiency makes this bike fast over all but the steepest of climbs
road.cc test report
Make and model: Merida Reacto 300
Size tested: 57
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
FRAME REACTO LITE, 6066 Triple butted and Hydroformed aluminium frame with smooth welding, and internal cable routing. Tapered head tube and integrated seat clamp
FORK Reacto Carbon Race
REAR DERAILLEUR Shimano Tiagra
FRONT DERAILLEUR Shimano Tiagra
SHIFTERS Shimano Tiagra Dual control
BRAKES Merida Road Comp / TRP
CHAINSET FSA Omega 52-36 MegaExo
CHAIN KMC Z10-10s
HUBS Road seal Bearing
RIM Merida AERO 30
FREEWHEEL Shimano CS-4600-10 12-28
TYRES Maxxis Dolemites 23 fold
STEM Merida pro OS -5
HANDLEBAR Merida Anatomic road OS
HEADSET Big Conoid semi neck pro
SEAT POST Reacto Aero carbon Comp
SADDLE Merida Race 1
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Merida says, "Brand new for 2015, an aluminium Reacto, bringing the aero bike to the masses with a Cycle To Work friendly price point. No excuses for being late to work!"
It's an aero road bike, so performance-focused.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is 6066 aluminium, triple butted and hydroformed, with double pass welds.
Merida says, "All Reacto bikes have a full carbon fork, that is steerer and blades, saving weight, reducing road vibration and due to its tapered steerer improving steering precision. Example weight 438g with an uncut steerer."
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Our 56cm bike has a 575mm top tube, 560mm seat tube, and 180mm top tube.
The stack is 570mm and the reach is 400mm.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The reach is longer than most other 56cm bikes out there.
Riding the bike
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes, much more than I expected.
Would you consider buying the bike? I'd consider it. Aerodynamics beats light weight!
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
Aerodynamics beats light weight. That's why this bike is worthy of serious consideration.
About the tester
Age: 43 Height: 190cm Weight: 75kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.