An upgraded linkage ties the front and rear of the 2008 Merida Am series bikes together much better than before but a poor choice of shock lets down what would otherwise be a great bike.
Ride: great frame let down by poor shock
The bar is a bit narrow for a burly five-inch travel trail bike, but otherwise the geometry is spot-on.
Deliberately shoving it sideways and smearing it down kerbs proved the linkage is definitely stiffer than before. There’s still some flex from the chainstays, but the whole bike feels much more coherent and together when tackling rough stuff.
There’s enough ground clearance to keep pedalling over rocky and off-camber sections, and the more expensive kit afforded by the higher price tag than its rivals is evident in the smoothness of the Recon fork.
However, in juggling the spec Merida has cut costs in the worst place possible.
The Epicon shock is fine on smooth, rolling singletrack, but the minute you begin working it harder it starts complaining. It chatters and clunks over small stuff and spikes badly over bigger, faster impacts.
Playing with the rebound makes matters worse, because each click adds much more compression damping than it does rebound control.
We spent several rides dialling it back and forth and changing pressures to try to sort it out, but basically the shock really is shocking.
Even allowing for the fact that we had a dud example, a Suntour shock is definitely well below par for a bike of this price.
Frame: lighter but stiffer than 2007
The AM800 uses a mechanically – rather than hydraulically – formed tubeset, but there’s still plenty of shaping to talk about at tea stops.
For 2008 there’s a much stiffer ‘U’ section cross-bolted linkage pieces rather than flimsy flat ones, with big cartridge bearings.
The asymmetric chainstay bridge sections still look a bit skinny, but give plenty of mud room and the ‘sunburst’ strutted dropouts are pretty.
Overall frame weight is reduced despite increased stiffness.
Equipment: where the money’s been spent
The LX/XT drivetrain mix and Recon fork wouldn’t look out of place on a bike costing £200 more.
The basic Shimano brakes get a power upgrade via the 180mm rotors with LX hubs adding Centerlock spline connection for convenience.
The Maxxis Mobster tyres work well as aggressive all-rounders and the 24mm X430 rims add a bit more width and stability.
The Merida X Mission kit is all good, too, especially the thumbwheel seatpost adjust and decent ‘fat Flite’ style saddle.
Summary: could have been a contender
Merida could have a great bike on its hands here.
Unfortunately, all the good work with increased stiffness and sorted handling is undone by poor shock choice.
We’ve partly overlooked the fact our sample was a spiking, chattering disaster in our overall scoring.
However, even if the Epicon shock had worked okay, it would still be below the suspension standard we expect at this price.