Continuing Merida's overhaul of their full suspension range, the 120 is the latest model to be brought up to speed. Sharing the style and layout of the bigger 160 and 140 models, the 120 aims to be everything the modern trail rider wants from a bike. Merida claim this new bike is the best balance of 'trail oriented riding on one side and demanding long distance rides with big climbs on the other'.Buy Trail Bikes on
The demands of the trail rider have changed dramatically over the past few years, and new trail bikes are sporting more aggressive angles than ever while maintaining their agility and playful riding style. The 120 gets in line with these new trends and sports a 67-degree head angle and a 75.5-degree seat angle. Sizing is modern but not progressive with a reach of 455mm on the large, and a 40mm bottom bracket drop aims to keep it all stable.
The 120mm of travel out back is managed with a RockShox Deluxe shock and is matched with a 130mm Revelation up front. The drivetrain utilises SRAMs Eagle GX while Shimano cover the brakes and Merida use their own wheels to make the whole thing roll. Notably, the tyres are a good spec for the modern trail rider with a 2.4 Minion Wide trail on the front and a fast rolling Forecaster on the back.
The frames for the 120 are either Aluminium, Carbon, or in the case of the 6000 model, both. The top models feature a full carbon frame while the 6000 gets an aluminium rear, and the models below are fully metal. The 6000 has internal routing through the front and external at the rear and features neat clamping cable guides to keep everything secure and quiet. Also of note is that small and medium sizes come in either 650b or 29er wheels and larger sizes only in 29er. Compared to the previous 120, this is a far more capable bike on paper, and it’s lighter and faster than ever.
Trail bikes need to hit the sweet spot between efficiency and confidence with riders demanding speed and comfort but these days also want to ride some seriously demanding terrain. This makes designing trail bikes a challenging job. The 120 feels instantly like it's on the money, with a great pedalling feel and urgency to get some miles under the belt. The ride position is comfortable, but a touch shorter than many modern trail bikes, and sports a longer stem (55mm) to keep the position correct.
This position on the bike is comfortable for all-day epics and I'm sure would suit those interested in multiday endurance races. It has that calm efficiency which gives you the confidence to do 'one more lap'. On the climbs, it's certainly in its element, but the rear tyre lacks a bit of bite on rough, muddy or loose surfaces. Tyre choice on this bike can transform it, and with a couple of enduro tyres fitted, it felt much more capable, but this obviously comes at the detriment of speed and rolling resistance. This simple swap of tyres starts to show just how versatile a bike the 120 is, and with a few tweaks can be transformed into very different machines.
The seat angle, although claimed at 75.5 feels much less with the seat up high on an XL frame. This puts rider weight too far back on seated climbs, and the front wheel can start to lift. For those super fit riders who attack the climbs out of the saddle, this is no issue, but for the sit and grind technical climbs, it hinders performance.
Descending on a short travel bike is always a lively affair, and with the modern trend for slacker angles, they have never been so competent. With a front end that is slacker, you can push the front into the trail and use every inch of travel available. That travel on the 120 always feels taught, and ready to spring from one corner to another, primed and ready to help hop over terrain rather than plough through it. Now and again I was reminded that it is still quite steep at 67 degrees, and offering the front wheel up to super steep corners and switchbacks can give the feeling that the bike will fold over itself. There is always a limit.
Merida's float link system is a really good back end, and I've enjoyed it on previous models. With only 120mm of travel it has to be done well, and although the travel doesn't feel 'bottomless', there is no harsh bottom out or any feeling of abruptly running out of travel. The proven Revelation up front is great, and the back end does a great job of keeping traction and taking out as much harshness as possible. When overwhelmed, the rear still tries hard, and although not hugely forgiving, it does feel like it's trying hard to please and keep you on track.
The 120 may be energetic and happy to leap over whatever is in front of it. That said, even a miss timed hop isn't the end of the world, and the suspension does an excellent job of gobbling up the trail, but a downhill bike this is not. Get the right blend of flowing singletrack, with a mix of gravity and pedal fed speed, and the magic starts to happen. On these trails, there seems to be no limit to its capabilities and speed is always on tap. Experiments with a lighter wheelset and a bigger rear tyre worked wonders with opening up capabilities without adding much weight.
In terms of kit on the 6000 model, the wheels are the main let-down, a snazzier set of wheels really opened up the 120 into the true trail machine that it is. Coming in at £3,300 the 6000 is still pretty good value and provides a great base for upgrading if needed. Overall the bike is well specced with little to complain about. The KS post had a minor issue and seemed to lose pressure, but topping it up has sorted that and no more issues have presented themselves.
Bikes like the 120 are setting the new standard for short travel trail bikes. Managing to hit the sweet spot between efficiency and confidence, there are very few compromises present here. Unless you want an XC whippet or an enduro bruiser, this is a bike that will satisfy your needs and occupies the flexible, middle ground without becoming dull and lifeless. Competitive pricing, modern angles and an eye for speed, the 120 is an excellent addition to the Merida line-up.
This review was in Issue 56 of IMB.For more information visit Merida Bikes
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By Ewen TurnerEwen Turner is a self-confessed bike geek from Kendal in the Lake District of England. He runs a coaching and guiding business up there and has a plethora of knowledge about bikes with an analytical approach to testing. His passion for bicycles is infectious, and he’s a ripper on the trails who prefers to fit his working life around his time on the bike.
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Dan, Joe and Edgar