Merida Ninety-Six 2016 – first ride

A cross-country legend returns

Merida has released a new version of its popular Ninety-Six cross country race bike. First introduced from the brand back in 2007, the Ninety-Six was an out and out racer and, just as the name suggests, featured a frame that offered 96mm of suspension at the rear wheel.

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The two bikes that superseded the Ninety Six were the Ninety Nine and its 29in variant the Big Ninety Nine. Despite embracing drivetrain and wheel size advances in the industry, these bikes were launched in 2011 and 2012 respectively and were really starting to show their age.

Enter the new Ninety-Six, now available in 650b and 29in options. Its full carbon chassis sports a new suspension design, updated geometry and details that allow compatibility with the latest components.

Merida ninety-six:

Riders who require a medium frame will get the choice of either a 650b or 29in wheel – for everyone else, the decision is made for them

Let’s go back to the wheel size thing briefly, because Merida holds quite a distinctive approach in this respect. Wheel sizes in the Ninety-Six range are dictated for the most part by the frame size on offer; in other words, depending on a rider’s height you’ll either get a 650b or 29in wheeled bike.

Anyone who needs a size small will only get the option of 650b wheels while those who need a size large or extra large frame will only be allowed 29in wheels. However, the Ninety-Six is produced with both 650b and 29in wheels in a size medium frame, so riders falling into that group get a choice.

The concept, which Merida calls (wait for it) ‘size specific wheeling’, is also set to be rolled out to other bikes in the company’s range – but with different sizes crossing over for different disciplines.

Another big change is the suspension, which is now a faux-bar arrangement with the shock mounted below the top tube. Along with new and improved kinematics and better shock access, this arrangement allows Merida to produce a bike with a consistent rocker link position across all sizes – something the company has been criticised for not being able to provide with previous models.