2014 sees the inevitable – though perfectly welcome – introduction of 650b wheels to Merida’s One Forty range. It comes with an increase in rear travel to 145mm too, from 140mm last year.
Frame: linked in
The rear suspension uses Merida’s own VPK (Virtual Pivot Kinematics) design. It’s a floating pivot idea, where the back end is attached to the front triangle by a pair of linkages. The VPK linkages’ movement combines to create the effect that the rear wheel is pivoting around a different point in space at different points throughout the travel.
This ‘imaginary’ pivot point is relatively high in the frame and has a significant – and intentional – influence on how the suspension functions and feels. Also, in addition to giving the suspension its characteristics, the twin linkages act as an extremely stiff way of attaching a back end to a front triangle. The lower linkage especially is reassuringly beefy.
The 5-B may be cheap, but it enjoys Merida’s complex Virtual Pivot Kinematics (VPK) suspension design
Combine the linkages with the stout 142mm bolt-thru rear dropouts, a big seat tube (31.6mm seatpost) and a nicely executed short and chunky externally butted tapered head tube, and you get an impressively stiff chassis. The front triangle is made from hydroformed 6066 aluminium and bears a fat, hockey stick-shaped down tube and a swoopy braced top tube. The latter creates a good amount of standover.
There’s routing for a stealth dropper seatpost. The internal routing for all but the rear brake hose gives the bike a clean look, but may be annoying when it comes to maintenance/replacement time, while the smoothed-down welding technique similarly contributes to stealthy looks, but with no negative side-effects.
Chunky tapered head tube boosts frame stiffness
We think it’s a good-looking bike. It has a good stance and profile, and looks like a more expensive machine – only the silver fork stanchions and ugly chain give away its keen, entry-level price.
The only slight niggle we can find is the rear tyre clearance; the seatstay bridge is a bit close to the top tread of tyre. Owners will need to be careful when picking new rear tyres.
Equipment: ripe for upgrades
The build kit on this entry-level One Forty 5-B isn’t half bad considering the amazing price. It all works well, too, but inevitably adds up to a complete bike that’s on the portly side at 32lb. It’s entirely acceptable at this price, however – and the upgrade potential of the 5-B is immense.
The RockShox Sektor 27 TK Air 150 Poploc fork is a capable and predictable performer. The RockShox Monarch RT rear shock can get a bit overfaced at times, and is best run with a healthy amount of rebound dialled in, but most of the time we forgot it was there and just got on with hammering along the trail.
The Shimano Deore drivetrain shifted well throughout the test but was rather noisy and clattery over rough terrain at speed – we’d ditch the big ring, fit a bashguard in its place and shorten the chain if it was our bike. The Shimano M615 brakes are great, and it’s good to see Merida speccing them with 180mm rotors at each end.
There are properly-sized Shimano 180mm rotors front and back
The Shimano-hubbed and Alex-rimmed wheels are a solid no-nonsense pairing. The Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35in tyres, on the other hand, are hard and a bit hopeless on pretty much every trail – so we swapped them after a couple of rides for more capable rubber (ditto the light but pinch-happy tubes).
The rest of the finishing kit’s no-frills, low-end and own-brand stuff, which is inoffensive if inevitably a bit heavy. Ironically making upgrading harder, the cockpit is already pretty sorted with a shortish 60mm stem and wide-ish 730mm bars.
Ride and handling: on point
All the fancy suspension gubbins and shiny components in the world wouldn’t make up for a frame with poor geometry, of course, and this has been Merida’s downfall with some of its hard-riding full suspension bikes in the past. But we’ve got no complaints whatsoever with the numbers of the One Forty 5-B.
The 650b-wheeled 5-B can tackle pretty much whatever you care to throw at it
The Merida feels totally dialled for a modern trail bike. The 67-degree head angle works beautifully with the lowish front end and the similarly low bottom bracket. It’s stable at both high and low speeds, yet it’s utterly responsive to rider input too.
The extra BB drop (or how far the crank axle sits below the wheel axles) of 650b wheels is an under-reported bonus of running mid-sized hoops, and it leads to a stance where the rider feels securely ‘inside’ instead of perched on top of the bike. It’s not enough to leave the bike short of pep, either, or make you feel lost in a too-big frame.
The roomy top tube (23.4in on a 17in frame) helps equally with stability and all-day comfort, and the steepish 74-degree seat angle is great for keeping the nose down and the steering sharp during seated climbing. The 17.6in chainstays may not be the shortest in the world, but they strike a strong balance of rough-stuff stability and tight-trail agility.
The lengthy top tube gives breathing room and stability with a short stem
The VPK suspension is biased towards middle and big-ring riding; in other words, the fast stuff. The slightly rearward axle path means this Merida’s great at taking mid- to large-sized hits. The wandering location of the pivot means there’s some pedal kickback in the granny ring, but you just get used to it after a while and realize (shock, horror!) that it just doesn’t matter very much. It’s certainly a price that’s worth paying as you head for the terrain on which this bike really shines.
The One Forty B is a brilliant trail bike. Not just good-for-the-money, but good full stop. The geometry is pretty much spot on and the suspension design is very good at the stuff it needs to be good at, and it has character.
This is a machine for swooping traverses and technical and/or fast descents. Woodland, moorland, hills, mountains, roots, rocks – it does it all.