You can buy the Carbon Race frame on its own for £900 or you can go for this very nicely spec'd Special Edition bike for twice as much. It weighs just under 26lb and it's the same frame that Gunn-Rita Dahle continues to win World Cup XC races on.
The superb 1.53kg (3.4lb) state-of-the-art carbon composite frame is a monocoque build with a seamless main triangle. Standover height is generous, as is mud clearance, and everything about the finishing detail is incredibly tidy.
The complete bike comes with a sensible drivetrain, well built wheels, a 24in flat bar and Magura discs that are more than adequate for any-weather marathon duties. The Manitou fork has effective rebound damping control and a cableoperated lock out switch on the handlebars. It stuck in lockout mode a few times but after we'd adjusted the cable, proved a welcome feature.
The Special Edition's ride is noticeably more comfortable than the best alu frames out there. Handling is light and lively, with predictably neutral steering, and it accelerates and climbs like a well designed race machine. You'll need to use a little more body language on the Merida than you would on a full susser like the Giant or the Maverick, simply because you need to hover over the saddle more on bumpy terrain. But to many riders that's a price worth paying for the low weight and 'totally in contact with the ground' feel of a hardtail. For £1800, you're not going to find a hardtail that offers a much better value and ride-ability package than this.