Taiwanese bike company Merida launched their 2012 range this week on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Head of bicycle design Jurgen Falke took centre stage to unveil their new mountain bikes, including an updated trail bike, a new enduro rig and a headline 29er full-suspension cross-country racer.
Making the most waves was the Big Ninety-Nine 29er, which aims to build on the success of the 26in Ninety-Nine and offer cross-country and marathon racers a big-wheeled alternative. An aluminium prototype was on show at the launch; the bike is rideable and undergoing final tweaks before the final carbon production version, which the Multivan Merida Biking Team are helping to develop, is launched in time for 2013.
Jurgen explained that he believes 120mm of travel is too much for a 29er full-sus, because there's limited wheel and tyre clearance when the suspension is fully compressed, so this design offers a maximum of 106mm, via a 38mm-stroke shock. With the trend towards 2x10 drivetrains, the placement of the Big Ninety-Nine's main pivot is optimised for use with small chainrings (down to a 24-tooth inner ring) but the bike will still accommodate a triple chainset if preferred.
Tube cross-sections have been increased compared to the Ninety-Nine to cope with the extra stress put upon the frame by the larger wheels, but Merida have still managed to omit a seatstay bridge without compromising stiffness. Combined with the curved seat tube, this provides clearance for up to 2.3in rubber. A 12/142mm through-axle helps resist torsion at the rear hub. Spec will be either SRAM 2x10 with RockShox XX suspension or Shimano 3x10 with DT Swiss. Remote lockouts for front and rear suspension will come as standard.
As if to fully test the new machine’s mettle, Mallorca blessed our test ride with heavy snow. The bike instantly felt secure and solid, allowing us to barrel into tricky sections with confidence. The usual 29er traits of improved rolling performance, traction and stability were evident in spades, and the limited travel of the Big Ninety-Nine means it climbs like a hardtail, even without locking out the rear shock. When flowing through corners, it breeds speed, and even accelerating from low speeds is less of a chore than usual due to its light weight and stiff frame.
Struggling to see clearly through the driving snow, our line choice was far from optimal, leading to several moments that might have undone a smaller wheeled machine, but the 29er just absorbed them and let us flick it back on line. Suspension bob was almost non-existent, and there was no trace of toe overlap. The Big Ninety-Nine has the potential to exceed the capabilities of the 26in Ninety-Nine and become a marathon racing benchmark.
At the other end of the scale comes an addition to Merida’s gravity enduro/all-mountain stable, the One Sixty, which builds on the success of the One Twenty and One Forty trail bikes. As the name suggests, it offers 160mm of travel front and rear, from a sub-3kg hydroformed aluminium frame.
Merida are calling the suspension design VPP because it uses a virtual pivot point – despite the fact Santa Cruz Bicycles own a separate design called Virtual Pivot Point or VPP, which they use themselves and license to Intense Cycles. Merida's suspension platform uses a different axle path; it remains to be seen how Santa Cruz will react to this nomenclature.
The One Sixty comes as standard with a RockShox Reverb Stealth adjustable seatpost. The cable from its bar mounted remote is routed internally through the down tube and seat tube so there's no cable loop to get in the way when dropping the seat. In fact, with the Reverb fitted, the only external line is the rear brake hose. Other dropper posts can be fitted by running the cable externally.
Our test route, although tough, had nothing to really push the boundaries of the bike’s performance, but what we found was promising. With most weight and suspension load near the bottom bracket, the One Sixty feels planted and changes direction well, feeling nimble for a bike with 2.4in rubber.
It has a neutral feel when pedalling in the saddle, with almost no bob. We returned with a grin and wanted more, so look forward to a future full test. The One Sixty is now at the pre-production stage and component specifications are being finalised – it'll be offered with three equipment levels.
Other full-suspension bikes
The One Twenty trail bike, the One Sixty's little brother, has had its suspension geometry reworked to maximise usable travel. It continues to be available in both carbon and aluminium, with the latter boasting an impressively light sub-2.5kg frame weight. With numerous specs available, it could be all the bike you'll ever need, whether you're into racing or all-day trail rides.
The Ninety-Six set the bar for cross-country race bikes when it was launched in 2008, and with the development of the Ninety-Nine Merida have raised it again. Optimised for a 2x10 drivetrain, and with 100mm travel of travel, claimed complete bike weight is just 8.9kg (19.6lb) without pedals. Despite this, the Ninety-Nine boasts incredible frame and bottom bracket stiffness. Available in carbon and aluminium framed versions, it should keep Merida competitive.
Not to be forgotten are Merida’s hardtails. The O.Nine carried Jose Hermida to his world championship victory in 2010 and will be the bike of choice for many of the Multivan Merida team in their chase for Olympic success this year. It's stiff and lightweight, with certified frame weights as low as 940g, but has buzz-damping flexible seatstays and a skinny 27.2mm seatpost to keep fatigue at bay. Optimised for a 2x10 drivetrain, and with a BB30 bottom bracket, it remains devastatingly fast.
Given the challenge of creating a 29er with similar performance to the O.Nine, Merida have come up with the Big.Nine. Bottom bracket stiffness is even higher than on the O.Nine and a similarly low racing position has been retained, along with a sub-1,100g frame weight. The 2012 Big.Nine Carbon Team-D will come with a SRAM X0 transmission and DT Swiss fork, and is stunningly agile for a large-wheeled machine.