Merida isn't a brand that tells you what to think about their bikes. Having undergone a transformation over the past few years, they have quietly released some exceptional bikes into the mountain bike world. Not shy of trying something new, the traditionally Lycra focussed brand now have class-leading ebikes, enduro bikes and even a hardcore hardtail. This meant I wasn't hugely surprised when they suggested I test a road bike, but I did take some convincing.Buy XC Bikes on
A road bike for mountain bikers, a gravel bike, an adventure bike. The list goes on, but what sold me on this was a photo I was shown of a quirky build of the Silex with 650b wheels, large volume tyres and a dropper post. Apparently, this was a bike you could build into anything you liked. With the rise of the drop bar bike, I wanted to get hold of this and see if I could take it mountain biking, and whether it or I, would survive.
So first up this is a carbon drop bar bike with many mountain bike characteristics. Bolt through axles, 1x drivetrain and disc brakes to name a few, along with a 30.9 seat post to easily fit a dropper. Clearance also allows big volume tyres up to 44mm on 700c and 2.2" on 650b, which gives plenty of choices. The geometry is pretty radical, with a tall headtube for a more upright position, stiffness and better off-road handling. The reach has been extended far beyond normal, and the stem is short for this type of bike.
Component choice is a fine collection of SRAM Force and Rival, which give an 11-speed drivetrain and hydraulic discs. All very mountain bike like. Merida deals with a lot of the contact points, with their own brand stem, bars, seat post, and wheels are Fulcrum Gravel wheels with 12mm bolt through axles.
Fenders, luggage, multiple wheel sizes, the Silex is the Swiss Army Knife of bikes Merida claims, capable of being many different things. Build it up how you like and go have some fun, from commuting to off-roading and back again.
It's a funky looking bike, bound to split opinion especially that tall head tube, but it's fresh and looks keen to get off-road. Merida say there is no real definition for this bike, and it's up to the rider, so I figured we should see what happens when we took it mountain biking!
The Silex comes with slick tyres, or to be more precise, semi-slick. These are neither use nor ornament off-road, so they quickly were replaced. It's a shame it doesn't come with some proper off-road worthy tyres, but then you could buy this bike as a comfy road bike.
Sticking with 700c wheels, a set of 45mm WTB Riddlers were duly installed to take advantage of the clearance available. Further to that, the carbon seat post was slid out and replaced with a Brand X 125mm external dropper. It's not usual to swap parts out from a test bike so early, but given the versatility and my aims, it felt highly appropriate and perfectly in keeping with the scope of the bike.
The beauty of the Silex is the efficiency and speed, which means you can ride from the door more easily. The first obvious bit of feedback is that it is very fast on the road. Stiff and responsive, the pedals can be hammered and incredible speeds achieved while you slowly die of boredom, but I didn't get this bike to shave my legs and spin around the roads.
Off road is the test, and the Silex took me rapidly and comfortably to my local trails and beyond, getting weird looks as I went. As soon as I got off-road, it was clear this was more comfortable and capable than just a cyclocross bike. The tyres made a huge difference and coupled with the big wheels roll over terrain easily.
Climbing is obviously efficient, but the stable geometry allows for more technical climbs to be attempted. The gearing is a little high for super steep climbs if they last too long, but this helps keep traction and makes you work hard. Unless the trail gets choked with boulders, the Silex keeps on trucking but gets hard work through technical ground. Spinning up fire roads and singletrack is as close to an ebike experience as you can get without strapping a battery on.
The handling on more flowing terrain was very impressive, as I had assumed it would feel like riding an ironing board. It was, however, pretty well planted, if a bit skittish and with the dropper post engaged, I could use my legs and some body language to smooth out the rough. Again, when cobbles and boulders appear, or a spider web of roots, things got sketchy, but cornering and pumping on moderate trails was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
The approach to descending has to be one of accuracy and precision as you can't just 'press send' and hope. This is a capable off-road speed machine, but it can't 'huck-to-flat'. Speeds have to be moderated, but this breathes fresh life into trails you've ridden a million times. Yes, you can get the bike off the ground, and floating over rough ground works pretty well, but if it goes wrong, it happens very quick, with very little margin for error.
The high handlebar height, especially on the XL size is comfortable, but perhaps at times a little too high. Very steep climbing or fast descending I felt that an inch lower might have felt a little more stable and planted on the ground. Keeping the pressure on the front wheel would perhaps have been easier.
The cockpit certainly helps keep things stable, the longer reach and shorter stem work well (but we know this from mountain bikes). I would have preferred some flared drops, as these allow a wider position and wrists are compromised by the upper portion of the bars.
It seems strange to say it, but at times the bike also felt almost too light. The carbon frame and lightweight kit are robust, certainly, but when rattling down rough paths, I did wonder if a more compliant and slightly heavier machine might have given a more reassuring experience. Once back on something smooth, however, the effortless speed had me forget about such nonsense, you can't have everything.
Once adjusted to shifting, the brakes and gears felt familiar and easy to use, making the transition from a standard mountain bike straightforward. The dropper post helped, although fitting one can be difficult on these styles of bikes as they can place the seat too high and you need to check for your size.
The best experiences to be had on the Silex were either long days covering more ground than would ever be feasible on a big bike or with a group of friends, pulling skids and touring the cafes.
With a few modifications, the Silex is transformed into a full adventure bike with off-road capabilities. It truly is a highly versatile bike capable of far more than I would have given it credit for and can be converted into a myriad of different bikes. Most importantly it is a very fun bike to ride, and if your trails are flowing and smooth, then it gives a rewarding and exciting ride.
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This review was in Issue 52 of IMB.For more information visit Merida Bikes
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