This hard-hitting middleweight 130mm travel trail bike has a nicely designed frame that can take a lot of trail punishment. It has a pretty decent Shimano Deore XT/Deore-based drivetrain and good wheels with fast-rolling tyres. However, its poorly-controlled rear shock compromises the ride feel and it’s hard to get more than 100mm travel from the fork.
Merida is known as a maker of bikes for other companies, but it’s recently expanded into longer-travel hard-hitting rigs with five 130mm travel all-mountain bikes, ranging from £700 to £1,850, that are competitive on spec with most other bikes, especially under the £1,000 mark.
One up from the bottom of the range, the AM500 boasts a nice frame design and some good features, but could use better shocks.
Ride & handling: great platform limited by shocks
The AM500’s frame design is worthy of a more costly bike, but the limitations of its fork and shock mean that it ends up feeling average for its price tag.
We tested the next bike up in the range, the £1,200 AM800, a while back and found the Epicon shock really wasn’t good enough for a bike at that price.
The Epicon shock is just about acceptable on a bike at this price (though it’s a different story on the £1,200 AM800 where it really isn’t good enough), but it really doesn’t do justice to the frame. Inevitably, it boosts comfort on the bumps, but the rebound damping dial appears to change the compression damping as well.
However much we adjusted the dial and the air pressure it was impossible to find a setting that didn’t feel too bouncy.
It may seem unfair to focus so much attention on a single aspect of a bike, but it’s the fork and rear shock that dictate how well a bike like this performs.
The overall handling of the AM500 is great on singletrack, it climbs efficiently for a 33lb bike and it descends well as long as you’re happy to hover rather than sit when travelling over the rough stuff. It’s still a pretty good £850 worth.
Chassis: good structure needs better shocks
The ‘TFS’ bit of the frame badge on the 6061 AM500-D refers to the techno-forming process that Merida use to create their tube shapes. This involves the tubes being mechanically manipulated into whatever shape suits the required stiffness and strength function, but without all the extra complexities of differing tube wall thicknesses presented by oil pressure, mold-based hydroforming.
Hydroforming usually results in a lighter frame, while techno-forming results in a stiffer, stronger, heavier frame, which goes some way to explaining the Merida’s 15kg (33.3lb) heft.
We like the fine detail on the frame – reinforcements in the right places, lots of mud room, good crotch clearance, forward-facing seat clamp, ziptie hose guides – and the geometry is spot on for hard and fast big-terrain rides, while a long top tube is great for climbing.
The rear suspension of the AM500-D is designed around a single pivot swing arm, with the SR Suntour Epicon shock activated by a large rocker link.
Sadly, we’ve seen better shocks on £850 bikes. It’s effective on the slow compression, medium-sized bumps but feels challenged on bigger hits and the lockout is dodgy too. We don’t mind the fact that it doesn’t quite lock out, but the loose rebound clunk on every bump really started to grate.
The 120mm travel RockShox Dart fork isn’t bad but really shows its limits when the going gets rough. We never got more than 100mm of travel out of it, either.
Still, the compression lockout is effective and the function is better than the fork on the cheaper Mongoose Teocali.
Equipment: Shimano mix with cross-country slant
The Deore Shimano XT rear mech is the drivetrain highlight, but the Deore up front, Deore shifters and Shimano’s no-group steel ringed cranks all perform well enough. Merida’s commitment to Shimano also carries through to the smoothly powerful hydraulic disc brakes and the hubs.
The wheels are not as heavy duty as those on the Carrera, better suited to a mix of aggressive cross-country trail riding rather than flat-out rocky downhills.
The Merida tyres are big enough to noticeably add comfort and control, grippy enough in most conditions, but still pretty fast-rolling.