Despite my go-to bikes always being long travel 29ers, I find myself endlessly intrigued by drop-bar bikes. Whether it's reminiscing about my early year's mountain biking, or just enjoying something different, my need for a gravel/cross/road-duro bike seems to continue to the point where I find life hard without one in the garage.Buy Gravel Bikes on
For mountain bikers, a drop bar bike makes sense, it's good for fitness, skills, and with the right one, good for off-road adventures too. I have previously tested Merida’s Silex, which aims to be an all-around adventure machine that really needs a full beard and bar bags to get the most out of it. The Mission CX is less Gravel and firmly in the Cyclocross category, which means it's designed to race and conforms to the various rules from the UCI.
So the Mission is a newly designed off-road-rocket and has taken a few cues from the Silex and modern mountain bikes alike. Moving on from Meridas previous cyclocross bike, the Mission receives a longer top tube, flat mount discs and through axles which brings things up to date.
More than just a weapon for the cyclocross racer, the Mission is a versatile machine, and for the mountain biker who wants to get all 'gravelly', but also wants to race the 'cross season, this is the sort of bike that may fit the bill. This versatility comes in the form of a ton of tyre clearance, and mudguard mounts meaning big tyres can be fitted, and more adventurous riding or even commuting can be accommodated.
The geometry is classic cyclocross, with pretty steep numbers to keep handling sharp and tight. The clean, internal routing gives a very tidy appearance and the sharp colour scheme clearly state that this is a bike that means business
SRAM Force deals with most of the shifting and braking, although a Shimano cassette sneaks in there to give an 11 to 32 tooth spread. Force groupsets mean a one-by drivetrain and hydraulic discs, keeping things thoroughly modern and up to date. DT Swiss wheels are tubeless ready, have a wide profile and the bolt through axles with hidden levers are a nice touch. Now that mountain bike components and solutions have made it to the drop bar world, things look a lot more inviting over on the dark side.
So the race legal 32c tyres might be great for cutting through the wet grass and mud at a race but compared to the comfort and control of a 40c gravel tyre there is no comparison. This is where the Mission really shines, as the ability to accommodate wider tyres opens up the bike for a wide range of duties. Given that I wasn't going to be able to get to a cyclocross race during the test period (I have been known to dabble) I stuck some big tyres on and hit the trails/tracks/road and everything that lay in front of me.
For a mountain biker jumping on a drop bar bike, the speed and efficiency is the first major difference, other than the riding position. Cruising roads is an easy and effortless affair, and linking up roads between trails is no hardship as the Mission glides happily along the smooth stuff.
Being a proper race bike, the gearing is designed for speed rather than comfort and the 11 to 32 tooth cassette isn't tiny, but the 40 tooth chainring gave my knees a wake-up call. This gearing leads to a do-or-die approach to climbs, and attacking hills is the best way to get things done rather than sitting and spinning as you would perhaps on a mountain bike. This is one of the major differences between the Mission and the Silex adventure bike which features a wide range cassette for winching up hideous climbs.
Climbing off road with a steep set of gears means spinning out is rarely an issue, but the steep and highly strung geometry makes technical off-road climbing more challenging. Sure, it's not really designed for technical climbing, but it gives it a good go, especially with some bigger tyres. The exceptionally lightweight means that on the right sort of trail (not too rocky), height can be gained rapidly.
On the right sort of terrain, the Mission is a blast to ride off-road and on smooth winding singletrack, or long gravel roads just feel perfect, where a mountain bike would be too much and a road bike would have a heart attack. The handling when things get properly off-road is sketchy, to say the least, and with such low weight, it's easily deflected by anything in its path. The Mission is only truly happy going fast, very fast and makes up for a lack of technical trail confidence by applying excessive speed.
This is the sort of bike that can just be grabbed and ridden from the door whenever you have a spare hour, no faffing to the trailhead, just get out and find the limits of your fitness and skills.
In terms of kit, it's a real pleasure to use decent brakes and gears on a cyclocross bike, offering both reliability and simplicity. High volume tubeless tyres really help and the whole system is easy to use and maintain, it's the sort of bike that can just sit, ready to ride at the drop of a hat. I would, however, increase the size of the seat tube to incorporate a dropper post. At 27.2 diameter, the choice is limited and I'm yet to find a bike that cannot be improved with a dropper. Elsewhere there was little to complain about on this well-specced bike.
The Mission 8000 fits the bill perfectly for a mountain biker's road bike, with great components derived from the mountain bike world. With big tyre clearance, it can easily be used for adventures but then converted back to cyclocross mode if you want to race in the winter. It's definitely 'speed over comfort', but this is certainly a versatile rocket that will sharpen your skills and fitness over winter.
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This review was in Issue 57 of IMB.For more information visit Merida Bikes
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