New Merida Ninety-Six XC race bike gets the long, slack and low downcountry treatment

Long-standing cross-country race bike is happy on aggressive trail rides

Pack shot of a full suspension mountain bike from Merida's 2021 Ninety Six range

Cross-country mountain bikes are rapidly morphing to fit the discipline’s increasingly technical race courses and the hammering riders give them, and Merida’s new Ninety-Six is no exception.

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The German brand’s longstanding XC World Cup-proven frame has been given what it says is probably its biggest overhaul since the model was first introduced in 2008.

Looking at the new Ninety-Six you easily notice a difference to its predecessor: the geometry appears more relaxed and apparently true to Merida’s labelling of the bike as an XC, marathon, stage race or trail riding do-it-all bike.

This is good news for normal riders (i.e. not full-time XC pros) wanting to go and thrash up hills, around singletrack and down technical descents at speed. As Merida puts it, the Ninety-Six is a “fun-packed, fast and trail loving short travel full suspension machine.”

2021 Merida Ninety-Six XC bike
The bike has been totally updated to better-suit modern XC courses.
Merida

Merida says the changing face of the XC scene and customers’ expectations that bikes are more capable on the downhills are the driving forces behind the Ninety-Six’s new look. In fact, it says due to the whole new category of ‘downcountry’ short-travel bikes that sprint uphill and glide back down, there are even two breeds of this bike: the Ninety-Six with a 120mm-travel fork and more powerful front brake, and the Ninety-Six RC with a 100mm fork made for racing.

Merida says the Ninety-Six’s development needed to include a range of factors; it should climb well, descend with confidence, have space for two water bottles, plenty of tyre clearance for wider modern tyres and be lightweight.

A higher leverage ratio at the beginning of the suspension travel and increased progressivity should mean small bump sensitivity with good mid-travel support. Pretty much what everyone is looking for in a modern bike.

Merida does away with a pivot at the junction between the seatstay and chainstay and instead relies on material flex in this area

The Ninety-Six’s geometry gets an overhaul in-line with modern preferences, too. That means a slacker head angle (1.5 degrees slacker than the previous bike at 67/68.5 degrees on for the standard/RC versions), steeper seat angle (minimum 1.5 degrees steeper depending on the frame size), longer reach (a size M is now longer in reach than the old size L), lower bottom bracket height and increased standover for better control and manoeuvrability.

Following a trend seen among several recent bike launches, Merida does away with a pivot at the junction between the seatstay and chainstay (near the rear axle) and instead relies on material flex in this area, reducing overall weight and limiting the number of moving parts to maintain.

Talking of chainstays, Merida says it has increased tyre clearance by .75in but refrained from going any further to avoid affecting Q-factor, which is not something it believed racers would appreciate.

Internal cable routing runs through a dedicated headset with an opening in the headset cap to allow all cables except the lockout to enter the frame from this point. Furthermore, there is no longer any cable routing under the bottom bracket, meaning a cleaner aesthetic that is less prone to rock-based cable destruction.

With its better downhill performance, the Ninety-Six’s bigger-than-before bearings make sense, as does its chain guide and increased dropper post insertion. And a nice detail is that all pivot bolts tighten from the same side using only one Torx 30 key.

Merida Ninety-Six and Ninety-Six RC

All 2021 Merida Ninety-Six models feature a dropper seatpost and dual-lockout suspension. The RC models feature 100mm front suspension travel and are aimed at racing; the non-RC model is for all your 120mm-forked downcountry needs and dreams.

2021 Merida Ninety-Six RC 9000

2021 Merida Ninety-Six RC 9000
The top tier 9000 has a lighter frame construction that saves around 150g.
Merida

The RC 9000 model has a lighter CF5 frame construction and top-drawer components for all-out XC racing.

  • Frame: Merida Ninety-Six CF5, 100mm suspension travel
  • Drivetrain: Shimano XTR 1×12 with Race Face carbon cranks
  • Brakes: Shimano XTR
  • Fork: Fox Factory 32 SC, 100mm travel
  • Shock: Fox Factory Float
  • Lockout: SRAM Twistlock
  • Dropper seatpost: Fox Factory
  • Wheelset: DT Swiss XRC 1501 carbon
  • Tyres: 29 x 2.25in Maxxis Recon Race TR EXO
  • Price: £7,300

2021 Merida Ninety-Six RC XT

2021 Merida Ninety-Six RC XT
The RC models, such as this Ninety Six RC XT, are XC race-ready.
Merida

The RC XT is a well-equipped XC bike at a lower price point than the 9000.

  • Frame: Merida Ninety-Six, 100mm suspension travel
  • Drivetrain: Shimano XT 1×12
  • Brakes: Shimano XT
  • Fork: Fox Performance 32 Float SC, 100mm travel
  • Shock: Fox Performance Elite Float
  • Lockout: SRAM Twistlock
  • Dropper seatpost: Merida Expert TR Light
  • Tyres: 29 x 2.25in Maxxis Recon Race TR EXO
  • Price: £4,200

2021 Merida Ninety-Six RC 5000

2021 Merida Ninety-Six RC 5000
Merida’s Ninety Six 5000 RC is the entry-level XC bike.
Merida

For XC riders and amateur racers the RC5000 has light and dependable components.

  • Frame: Merida Ninety-Six, 100mm suspension travel
  • Drivetrain: Shimano Deore/XT 1×12
  • Brakes: Shimano SLX
  • Fork: RockShox, 100mm travel
  • Shock: RockShox SIDLuxe
  • Lockout: SRAM Twistlock
  • Dropper seatpost: Merida Expert TR Light
  • Tyres: 29 x 2.25in Maxxis Recon Race TR EXO
  • Price: £4,000

2021 Merida Ninety-Six 8000

2021 Merida Ninety-Six 8000
The Ninety Six 8000 features a 120mm fork and is aimed at trail riding.
Merida

The Ninety-Six 8000 is the downcountry or trail version with 120mm front suspension travel and a burlier four-piston front brake.

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  • Frame: Merida Ninety-Six, 100mm suspension travel
  • Drivetrain: SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 with carbon cranks
  • Brakes: Shimano XT (four-piston front brake)
  • Fork: RockShox SID, 120mm travel
  • Shock: RockShox SIDLuxe
  • Lockout: SRAM Twistlock
  • Dropper seatpost: Merida Expert TR
  • Wheelset: Reynolds TR 309 carbon
  • Tyres: 29 x 2.3in Maxxis Minion DHR TR EXO 3C MaxxTerra
  • Price: £6,200