There are just two bikes in Merida’s mid-travel One-Twenty range – this one, and the £2,000, Fox- and XT-equipped One Twenty XT-M. The good news is that both bikes share the same frame, making the cheaper 900-D a sensible option for budget-conscious riders planning to upgrade.
The even better news is that Merida’s product managers have managed to shoehorn a 10-speed transmission and an air-sprung fork into the spec. Does that make the One Twenty 900-D too good to be true?
Ride & handling: Light weight + air suspension = lively
The air fork – which right out of the box allows easy adjustment, whatever your weight or riding style – is the key to making the Merida stand out from the rest of the budget 120mm (4.7in) travel crowd.
It’s a full 130mm (5.1in) of travel too – an ambitious number for a budget fork without a 15mm axle. To be honest it is a bit whippy and, overall, the Merida doesn’t have the solidly planted feel at high speed in the rough that it might do with 15mm front and 12mm rear axles. But it’s rather unfair to criticise a bike at this price for lacking bolt-through wheels and, in reality, the fact that we noticed at all is testament to the bike’s ability to be hurled at speed down rocky trails.
Back in the real world, the fact that the 900-D is air sprung at both ends makes a real difference to the way that it rides. The fork and rear shock feel as though they’re working together, rather than the slightly disjointed feel that you can get with a coil front and air rear. The fork has noticeably better small bump sensitivity than the coil competition and a linear feel through to the middle of its travel, after which point the spring rate is pleasingly progressive up to the 130mm limit.
The suspension performance alone would be enough to propel the Merida to the head of the class, but there’s more. The 10-speed SLX and XT-based transmission is also noticeably slicker than any of the budget alternatives, giving it a classy feel that many bikes at this price lack.
But the icing on the cake is the 900-D’s weight. Or, rather, the lack of weight. A good chunk of that weight saving is in the wheels, which results in a sprightly, lively feel that belies both the travel that’s on offer and the price it’s being sold for.
Frame & equipment: Beyond good value
The Merida’s faux-bar suspension setup – with a single pivot swingarm driving a rocker-activated shock via seatstays pivoted above the rear dropouts – is a proven and simple solution. It doesn’t have fancy virtual pivot paths or variable spring rates, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The air-sprung Suntour shock holding up the rear end is basic but functional, with a rebound damping adjuster and lockout.
The Manitou fork’s distinctive rear-facing brace sets the 900-D’s front end apart, and is unusual at this price point for being air sprung. That translates to lower weight and a wide adjustment range to cater for different rider weights and riding styles. Kudos to Merida for standing apart from the coil sprung crowd.
As you’d expect from a frame that also graces a more expensive model in the line-up, the 900-D’s fit and finish is excellent. Subtly curved, hydroformed top and down tubes plug into a tapered head tube – a good combination for accurate steering and a rigid backbone off which to hang all the other moving parts.
The tubes are triple-butted according to Merida, shaving weight where possible and adding extra material where more strength is needed – primarily near the tube joints.
Merida claim an all-up bare frame weight of under 2.5kg (5.5lb). That’s impressive for a full-susser at this price, and borne out by the complete bike’s relatively low overall heft.
While the own-brand finishing kit won’t set the world alight and Avid’s Elixir 1 hydraulic discs are par for the course, a 10-speed SLX transmission – with XT rear mech – isn’t something we’d expect to see for this money. The closer we look, the more the 900-D’s price looks like a misprint.
The only components we might be tempted to change are the Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres – although they’re light and fast-rolling, they’re easily out-faced in typically muddy winter UK riding conditions, particularly away from trail centres.
Most budget full-sussers feel compromised in some way. To put it simply, this one doesn’t.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.