Rudolf Zuidema spent a couple of weeks on the full carbon Merida Ninety-Six racing machine and was completely blown away.
Since its introduction the previous 99 has never really stood out among the top contenders as a race bike in our local market. This is largely due to the brand’s position in the local market pitching it head to head against the ever-popular Giant Anthem X, despite the fact that it arguably has a much better race pedigree than the Anthem with José Hermida and the Multivan Merida Team taking numerous titles with it. The new 2017 96 model gets a number of upgrades over its predecessor that make it a very attractive package.
Firstly, there is a completely new frame featuring a very neat internal cable routing system called Smart Entry that is of the quietest that we’ve tested, allows for numerous cable & Di2 conﬁgurations and enters the Head Tube at an angle that virtually eliminates any cable rub on the frame. Then there’s the BOOST 148 rear triangle with a chainstay mounted brake caliper to further increase lateral stiffness. The Linkage activated Single Pivot suspension design runs on a combination of bushed and bearings which help keep the weight down but requires a bit more maintenance. Overall ﬁnish on the bike is excellent and the all black suspension components with red accents make for an aggressive looking bike.
Spec and attention to detail is impressive for a RRP of 57k with full Shimano 2 x 11 XT drivetrain & brakes. Included in the spec is integrated clamps for a cleaner handlebar setup. The bonus of buying a bike with a Shimano 2 x 11 setup is that one has the option of bouncing between a 1x or 2x setup without much fuss and Shimano’s Side Swing front derailleur never misses a shift. Suspension duties are taken care of by Rock Shox’s new SID RL in front and Monarch RT3 at the back. The new SID is simply sublime and we were quite amazed when we noticed that it is the standard 100mm Axle version and not the Boost 110 as tracking is spot-on. The RT3 rear shock is also excellent featuring Open, Pedal and Lockout modes. Wheels are Fulcrum Red HP’s shod with Conti’s venerable Race King tires which are great for summer and slightly damp trails, but be sure to swap out for something chunkier when the rains come.
Spec-wise the bike is dialed and impressively light for the price tag, but as always there are sacriﬁces. On the 7000-spec model as tested there are only two in our opinion. Firstly, there is the standard axle version of the SID RL. BOOST models still demanding a premium price so by ﬁtting the standard version dollars are saved on the fork and wheel. Not that you’d notice. Second is the cheap alloy handlebar. We weren’t able to get exact specs, but it gives an extremely harsh ride that detracts from the overall ride of the bike. We’d have preferred a carbon handlebar to the carbon seatpost that comes standard with the bike. Down to the ride. Merida recommends setting the sag to 25% for the rear suspension and we found it to be spot on.
There’s no noticeable pedal bob even with the shock in open mode, in fact we hardly used the lock-out on the rear suspension. Climbing up technical singletrack and most trails were super efﬁcient in the pedal mode. Personally, we’d have preferred a remote lever for the rear shock as opposed to a fork remote lockout, but the lever on the Monarch is large enough that it is easy to switch between the various modes. The bike climbs as well as any other 100mm travel bike of this calibre being light and responsive to input through the pedals, but where it really stood out is on the fast singletrack.
The geometry is superbly balanced and despite the steepish 70-degree head angle the Merida never feels overly twitchy. So much so that we scored three PR’s on our test loop that were set on more trail orientated bikes and it’s no surprise. Tearing down some of the test loop’s singletrack sections felt like Luke Skywalker ﬂying his X-Wing with Obi Wan whispering in his ear to Let Go, feel the Force!
It’s always refreshing testing a bike without any expectations and the Merida might not be on most people’s radar as a serious choice for a race bike or score highly in the bling ratings, but it deﬁnitely should be. Not only does it look super stealth with its matte ﬁnish, it is extremely light and well specced for the price. It performs as well as other popular, more expensive bikes in the category and on top it needs no upgrades to improve the performance.