Many entry level mountain bikes are let down by their forks. The Merida Big.Nine TFS 100-D is no exception to this rule, which is a pity because it promises and delivers with a flourish in pretty much every other sense.
It offers a superbly built frame, an efficient Shimano drivetrain, a good assortment of finishing kit, hydraulic disc brakes and a great ride. While the fork doesn’t suffer from the harsh rebound of standard SR Suntour XCMs, the one on our test bike had other issues during every ride.
Ride & handling: Fork is disappointing but bike handles well
We were really enjoying our first ride of the Merida before the fork seized. In fact, just before compression faltered, we were loving the fact that the rebound was better controlled than on several other entry level bikes we were testing that day. As with all big-wheelers though, stifled fork performance is actually less of an issue than it is on a 26er, because the wheels roll more smoothly over bumpy terrain.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again… In most cases we’d prefer to see bikes like this with rigid forks. It would avoid the frustration of suspension performance being so poor, would make a lighter bike and would allow you to fit a decent suspension fork as and when your budget allows.
Everything else about the handling and feel of the Big.Nine was superb.
Frame & equipment: Nicely made, worthy of better parts when budget allows
The Big.Nine frame is so nicely formed and finished that two riders thought it was built from carbon. It’s a sound basis for parts upgrades as your ride demands grow.
The top tube is long and low and a short head tube and curved down tube (to accommodate fork swing) allow for a low bar position if that’s what you like, avoiding the lanky front end that often afflicts 29ers. But you can flip the stem the other way up or fit a riser bar if you prefer a higher bar position.
The tubes are nicely manipulated to create maximum strength for low weight, the gear cables take the most direct route (under the bottom bracket) and there are rack, mudguard and bottle bosses.
The fork’s lockout and preload knobs worked well enough but what started as a slightly constipated 60mm (2.4in) or so of the listed 100mm (3.9in) travel became 15mm after the first wet section of trail. Internal inspection revealed much wetness, solved temporarily by smearing the seals with silicon grease. But the second time we had to do this we couldn’t get the base assembly nuts tight again.
The Shimano Acera based drivetrain performed flawlessly throughout the entire test period and the Tektro hydraulic disc brakes offer good power and modulation after a short bedding-in ride.
The wheelset is a highlight on a bike at this price, well built (albeit with hubs that we previously knew nothing about) and shod with big-profile fast rolling Maxxis Crossmark 2.1in tyres, which grip well in all but the muddiest conditions despite their minimalist tread pattern. The house-brand handlebars, stem, saddle and seatpost all do the job nicely.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.