Merida puts a lot of emphasis on its long-term involvement with, and the success of, their Multivan co-sponsored World Cup cross-country team. That influence is clear in the Big.Seven XT-Edition, a fast but flinch-prone race machine.
Ride and handling: fast and responsive feel under power, but its rigid ride feel isn't matched by steering precision
Stick to smoother trails and the Merida is a naturally quick bike. While it's not the lightest and doesn't have the slickest tyres, it always felt fast and responsive.
The 650b wheels pick up speed from the first push of the pedals, rather than the couple of cranks it takes to get even a lightweight 29er into its stride. With weight forward over the steep head tube, the Big.Seven turns as quickly as most 26in bikes too, so fans of traditional handling are going to find a friend here.
Add the fork lockout and long-mileage-friendly XT transmission, and if you include a lot of fireroad and doubletrack distance in your riding, the Merida is worth a look.
If you're tempted to dive on to technical downhill singletrack at every opportunity, it definitely isn't for you though. The fork is the first obstacle to confident control, with a basic feeling stroke that soon gets flustered and starts clunking and catching on repetitive hits.
Obvious twist through the open dropouts and quick-release skewer does nothing to help the lack of leverage through the narrow bar either.
Add the plasticky front tyre and a short front centre measurement (the distance from bottom bracket to front axle) that throws rider weight forward, and the Merida is always in danger of tripping up over its front end on steep descents or under heavy braking.
If you want a slightly smoother rolling bike than your current 26in-wheeled cross-country rig but without losing the snappy handling and acceleration – and you aren't planning on going anywhere near any rocks or roots – give the XT-loaded Big.Seven a look. Don't single it out if you're into technical singletrack though.
Frame and equipment: XT parts at a Deore/SLX price but the clunky fork and plasticky tyres undermine confidence
While the Big.Seven's wheel size is bang up to date, the rest of the frame is traditional in terms of features – it's lacking a tapered head tube for one thing. The front end of the frame is barrel-shaped instead, and sucks back in at the bottom to maximise the junction of the head tube and curving down tube.
The bottom bracket is a conventional-diameter screw-in unit, and the brake hoses and gear cables are routed externally. That makes servicing and spare parts easy to come by, and together with the twin bottle cage mounts, emphasises the Merida's marathon racing credentials.
If you plan to take touring – or weekday commuting – gear with you on rides, you'll appreciate the rack mounts. The non-driveside dropout has a long sculpted section that ensures the rack struts clear the post-mounted disc brake. There's less generous clearance for the rear tyre, but you'll be able to squeeze in 2.25in rubber if you want a bit more air between you and the trail.
As you might guess from the name, the obvious sell of the Big.Seven XT-Edition is the amount of Shimano Deore XT kit you get for your money. You'll certainly be hard pressed to walk into a shop (rather than order online) and find another 650b bike with an XT triple crankset, shifters and mechs at a price where just an XT rear mech would normally be a highlight.
The hubs are Shimano too, though only basic M435 models, with CenterLock disc mounts, which creates a hardwearing, mileage-proof transmission that's another tick for the Merida's marathon credentials.
The Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.1in tyres are fast rolling and easy to accelerate, and the carbon-shafted seatpost and composite headset washers help to save a few grams.
Racers and other efficiency fans will appreciate the PopLoc remote lockout on the RockShox XC 30 fork. Its actual suspension performance and the 660mm wide bar it's connected too definitely limit the technical trail capacity of the Big.Seven though.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.