Out of the box
I’m an all rounder, I love Enduro type riding but I don’t live in an area rich in big hills or abound with technical trails. I love big days out and short blasts equally, bikepacking is also a great joy to me when I just need to get away for a bit. Challenging myself to make the train in a one day onslaught across the Trans Cambrian Way is the kind a Type 2 fun that appeals. Even the odd XC race if I’m feeling particularly sadistic.Buy Trail Bikes on
When I heard the Merida was on it’s way my first thought was that it might well be a bike that could handle much of my day to day riding but would it perform with aplomb or be just too much of a compromise. Only one way to find out.
When I pulled the Merida Ninety - Six RC XT from the box it struck me straight away that we were going to have fun together.
Firstly, it’s lush, the paint job is to die for, a deep red that hints at a race car heritage.
Secondly, it’s light... exceptionally light. Merida claims a 11.7KG weight for the medium Merida Ninety - Six RC XT and that is plumb what it came in at on my scales, apparently the top of the range one is a whole KG lighter too.
Thirdly, it just looks fast!
Let’s talk about the frame.
Merida has made some major structural changes and some pretty dramatic geometry changes too.
Most notably is P Flex aka the chain stay/seat stay pivot point has gone, flex has been engineered into the seat stay which makes for a very taut feel and a generally snappier response to pedal stamping.
Geometry wise things have followed the trend, slacker HTA by 1.5 degrees, steeper STA by 1.5 degrees, a touch more BB drop, longer wheelbase, nice short seat tube length, 44mm offset fork and of course, the obligatory longer reach.
Whether these changes detract from the winning XC formula in the name of versatility would be interesting to find out.
Here’s some geometry numbers for the size medium tested;
EFF TT 59.6CM
BB Drop 4.5CM
Kit wise the suspension is pretty basic Fox Performance, which in the shorter travel versions performs reasonably well. The forks are the lightweight SC 32s and a Performance Elite Float does a job out back. Both are cabled to a Rock Shox grip shift on the left grip that locks and and unlocks both units simultaneously. Performance was adequate rather than inspiring.
Drivetrain is Shimano 12sp with a whooping great 10-51 cassette matched to a 32t chainring. They shifted flawlessly throughout and offered enough range to fly along at breakneck speed as well as the ability to claw myself up near sheer rock faces.
Worth noting here is that the Merida Ninety - Six RC XT has a 73mm threaded BB. There is also a minimalist chain guide present.
Brakes are also Shimano XT, the 2 pots are plenty fierce enough though the 180/160 discs did little to help.
Cockpit wise it is fair to say I was left scratching my head a little.
Yes, with the twist grip lockout it gets busy up there but what on earth the mechanic that put it together was thinking I don’t know, I’d be pretty upset if my new bike turned up so poorly cabled. With time and some care the cabling could be made reasonably tidy though I’m not sold on the Wire Port Headset.
Stem length sees Merida unable to move away from the bikes XC roots, a -12 degree, 70mm long stem is focused on getting you long and low. 740mm flat bars complete the head down elbows in feel.
Merida have given the Ninety - Six RC XT a nice short seat tube length at 440mm and there is also a pretty healthy insertion depth. It is a bit of a shame that they have specced a dropper with only 100mm of drop. This has a racy yet not uncomfortable Merida saddle bolted to it.
Wheels are a mix of Shimano SLX hubs laced to Merida rims, these have a pretty narrow 22.8mm internal width.
Maxxis Reckon Race 29 x 2.25 tyres are certainly fast rolling and actually impressed as part of the overall package when it came to comfort.
Out on the trail
Getting the Ninety - Six RC XT set up was a pretty simple affair, a benefit of base line suspension units.
One thing I did realise as I ran my pre ride checks was that all the frame bolts are tightened from one side with one size Torx, turns out this is a deliberate thing and one I personally liked.
Another thing I like was the fact there are two bottle mounts that can take proper size bottles and even better than that there is a set of mounts on the under side of the top tube for mounting a tool bag etc, plus, yes... there’s more, there is a multi tool attached under the saddle. All much appreciated.
So how does it ride?
I could end the review there but you’ve come for more than that I imagine.
So why is it fast, Merida have hit a sweet spot with regards to weight, responsiveness and control.
Not only does the bike weigh very little, it pedals light too. A squirt on the pedals and off it goes like a scalded cat, spinning up very quickly out of corners, carrying speed across level ground and it is an actual joy to motor up hills.
All this is great but if the thing is as twitchy as a twitchy thing then it will feel nervous and that is not conducive to going fast.
This is where the new geometry comes in, I would use the word agile rather than twitchy. It is so easy to make the Merida motor and the changes make it great fun to ping off roots, rocks etc and it is a joy to literally pick it up off lips and launchers. I am not talking about hucking the thing off 6 foot drops and attacking rock gardens. I’m talking about those 1 and 2 foot lumps and bumps , those little root beds as you twist and turn your way through the woods.
It is a head down, bum up kind of bike for sure but it has a touch more about it. Sure it made me just keep hitting the after burners because well, I just had to but once burning along I couldn’t resist having a bit of fun too.
Having ridden the Merida Ninety - Six RC XT on gravel, local woodland single track, giant one dayers, an overnighter and even some pretty lively Welsh trail centres I would say it has a far reaching scope... Has the race heritage been compromised out, absolutely not, this is still a damn fast bike and if you are racing then it’ll be you and not the bike if you under achieve. It just has a little more up it sleeve now and some busy cabling aside I absolutely love it... Hell, it even makes me look fast!Buy Trail Bikes on
This review was in Issue 67 of IMB.For more information visit Merida Bikes
By Jarno HooglandJarno's life has revolved around two wheels ever since he swung a leg over his first BMX at age 4. After a BMX and DH racing career, he moved on to work for bike shops, distributors and brands before ending up in the editors seat at IMB. Based in the ultimate testing ground in the Swiss mountains, he runs his guiding operation and makes sure every IMB issue is filled with top notch content.