Words & Photos: Wil Barrett
Each year, Advance Traders host their annual dealer show up in Queensland to a large audience of shop owners, managers, sales staff and mechanics from their expansive dealer network throughout Australia. Being the Australian importers of Merida, Norco, and Lapierre bikes, this year Advance Traders brought together nearly the entire 2015 lineup from all three brands across their road, mountain, and commuter ranges. Enduro Magazine was kindly invited up to Queensland to partake in the dealer show, as well as being presented with the opportunity to test ride some of the brand new models out on the Hiddenvale singletrack. Given the apocalyptic weather we’d been experiencing down in Melbourne in the week leading up to the dealer show, I was more than happy to board the red-eye flight to get a little bit more sunshine. From the show, where were a couple of key models that stuck out for me during the 2-day event, and so this is my summary of what we think is particularly exciting from the Advance Traders stable for the new season.
Located about an hour and a half inland from Brisbane, Hidden Vale is a beautiful spot found amongst the rolling hills outside of Toowoomba. If you’ve ever ridden or heard about the Flight Centre Epic mountain bike marathon, you’ll know that part of the race goes through the backyard of Spicers Hidden Vale accommodation. Established as a rustic back country retreat, Spicers was to be taken over by the Advance Traders crew for a number of days and filled with eager cyclists ready to see all the new gear.
Living out of a suitcase. #medialyf
Setup tents filled with dozens of test bikes from all three brands.
Each company had various representatives imported from overseas to come and talk through the local dealers about their new product. For Merida, their off-road Product Manager, Reynaldo Ilagan, made the long trip from Stuttgart in Germany to come hang out in Hidden Vale and talk through the latest developments on their mountain bikes. Reynaldo (or ‘Rey’ for short), turned out to be quite the shredder on two wheels, as we shared a morning spin on the new 120mm travel One Twenty trail bike. Rey is relatively new to Merida, but he has already had a big impact on the design of the new bikes, with the 2015 One Twenty being his first real big project. With a heavy background in mountain biking and working with mountain bike media, I also found out that Rey conducted his thesis on finding the true 3D centre of gravity on a mountain bike as part of his Masters of Product Design. I’m not entirely sure what motivates one to think up of such a thing, but it was enough for Rey to independently test 60 different leading mountain bike models on the market to come up with the programming and equipment to accurately measure a bikes true centre of gravity, and therefore, it’s effect on the bikes handling.
Merida has a relatively small head office in Stuttgart with about 10 employees making up the product design and engineering team in Germany. It’s here where they design the new bikes as well as producing rapid prototypes of new ideas and theories, and also carry out in-house load and fatigue testing. However, all of their prototyping and manufacturing occurs in Asia. As a brand, Merida have been around for around 25 years, but as a manufacturer they’ve been around since 1972. They build frames and bikes for a huge number of other companies on the market, with many names you would be well familiar with. This provides them with an enormous amount of engineering and development expertise, where they can learn from the progress and mistakes made by their clients, as well as their own. Prototypes can be turned around far quicker than competing brands, and so according to what Rey told me, the development of the new One Twenty bike took just 12 months.
The One Twenty has been around in the Merida lineup for a while, but for 2015 it receives a major update with a new suspension design, tweaked geometry, and spec updates. As its name suggests, the One Twenty gets 120mm of rear travel, which is paired to a 130mm travel fork on the higher end ‘Lite’ models that feature a tapered head tube, or 120mm of fork travel on the cheaper TFS models that employ a conventional head tube. Merida have pegged the new One Twenty as a versatile trail bike that’s built with an efficient pedalling platform, but with confident geometry that enables it to be more playful and fun on the trail than your average XC bike.
- Hydroformed and butted alloy tubeset
- 120mm rear travel via Floating Link suspension design
- Fox Float CTD Remote Boost Valve rear shock
- Fox 32 Float CTD Remote fork w/130mm travel, QR15 & tapered 1.5″ steerer tube
- Shimano Deore XT 2×10 drivetrain w/Shadow Plus rear derailleur & 38/24t crankset
- Shimano Deore XT hydrualic disc brakes w/180mm Ice Tech centrelock rotors
- Custom DT Swiss 533D wheelset w/Shimano Deore XT centrelock hubs
- Schwalbe Nobby Nic Performance Series 2.25″ tyres
- Sizes: Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- RRP: $3999
The bike we had on test was the excitingly-titled ‘One Twenty 7.900 model. Merida have moved to a new naming system for 2015, as they recognised that their existing bike names were pretty confusing, not just for consumers, but for shop staff too. The simplest way to explain how it works is that the numbers proceeding the bikes model name refers to the wheel size first (7 = 27.5″ wheels) and then the spec level. The higher that last number, the higher the spec. If that number has 3 digits, it uses an alloy frame, and if it uses 4 digits, it has a carbon frame. Currently the new One Twenty 7.900 is the highest end option in the new platform, but Rey gave me a knowing smile when I queried him as to whether we would see a carbon model in the next months. Based on the new numbering system as well, we fully expect to see a 29er version to come out in the future too.
Of course the big deal with the new One Twenty is the ‘Floating Link’ suspension design. Compared to the old model, the rear shock now ‘floats’ between the upper rocker linkage, and a forward extension of the chainstays. This provides more control of the shocks leverage ratio on the One Twenty, with an improved ramp-up towards the end of the travel and an overall 10% progression rate that decreases the chance of harsh bottoming. Merida aren’t the first company to produce a suspension design with a floating shock mount; Commencal, Pivot, Trek, and Focus are all brands that have produced or are still currently producing bikes with a floating shock mount. Is it better than a bike that has the shock fixed to a point on the front triangle? Not necessarily, it just allows the engineers a different degree of control over the bikes suspension behaviour. As a direct comparison to the previous shock rate, the new bike has more progression throughout its travel resulting in a better pedalling bike with a little more ‘pop’ and playfulness to it.
All the mounting points for the rear triangle feature clevis-type pivots that keep the sealed cartridge bearings nice and tight inside the frame. Merida have gone to a double-bearing setup in the dropout pivot for improved stiffness and to reduce a vibration effect that could occur with the old model. A 142x12mm rear thru-axle features on the 7.900 model, and helps to tie the rear hub into the sub frame.
Lots of shapely hydroformed tubing abound on the One Twenty frame. Being such an enormous manufacturer in terms of volume, Merida have access to some pretty cool manufacturing techniques that allow them to squeeze more performance out of an alloy frame in order to close the gap on carbon fibre. Don’t be fooled though, there will be a carbon One Twenty coming in the future, but in the meantime the smooth lines of the alloy frame should be enough to make most riders steal a second look to check just exactly what this bike is made out of.
Rey admitted that the remote lockouts on the One Twenty 7.900 are entirely to suit the European market. Despite being a Euro himself, Rey isn’t a fan of remote activated suspension, and the general consensus amongst the Aussie dealers at the Advance Traders expo was much the same. When you throw in a Reverb dropper post remote into a 2×10 drivetrain with a Fox dual CTD remote, there’s a shit-tonne of cables coming off the front of the bike. There’s no real way to make it clean either, as our test bike clearly shows in the above photo. If the One Twenty were to be in my stable for a longer period of time, I would be ditching the remote-activated suspension, and potentially be swapping in a 1×10 drivetrain to ditch the front shifter entirely. But hey, that’s me, and that’s my personal preference. As it stands in its stock spec, the 7.900 will likely suit Generation Y riders who love nothing but pushing buttons.
The spec all-round on the One Twenty is pretty damn dialled out of the box. Fox Performance Series suspension up front and out back, with the FIT damper found inside the 32 FLOAT fork, and the Boost Valve damper inside the rear shock. It provides the One Twenty with a really well balanced feel front to back, though most riders did find the fork a touch sticky out of the box. With its sealed bladder construction, that echoes my experience with the FIT forks from Fox, which require just a little more break-in time than their competitors before they start feeling really supple. Also note in the above photo the custom built wheels using Shimano Deore XT Centrelock hubs and DT Swiss rims. Conventional steel J-Bend spokes and a dull black finish might not scream out quality, but it’s a super durable and practical set of hoops that will likely outlast more of the gucci wheels with funky spokes found on competitors bikes at a similar pricepoint.
On the note of the birds nest on the front of the One Twenty 7.900, at least most of the cables route internally through the downtube, and there is a neat cable port system down at the bottom bracket shell that spits them back out again. Merida have gone to great lengths to secure those loose cables to ensure they don’t rub against the frame or rattle out on the trail. I don’t think it’s the cleanest solution I’ve seen, but then with 7 cables on the front of the bike, it’s always going to be a hard task trying to manage them. Of note is that the rear brake hose and the rear shock lockout cable route externally. The frame also comes ready for Stealth dropper post routing.
There’s no getting around the fact that in Australia, Merida is perceived as a budget bike brand. That’s not a perception that’s exclusive to Australia, but it’s one that potentially sees consumers dismiss the brand in their search for a new mountain bike. Of course a lot of that reputation comes with Merida having been a manufacturer first, and a brand second – much in the same way as with Giant Bicycles. However, as with their Taiwanese competitor, there is no doubt that Merida do pump out some very well built and high quality mountain bikes that are tough, durable, and great value. In terms of suspension quality and frame handling though, the One Twenty is a massive step in the right direction for the German design team.
The One Twenty runs the new-school geometry ethos that pairs a longer top tube with a shorter stem that provides lively handling that generally suits being ridden at a intermediate speed. A 68-degree head angle hits the spot for stable trail bike handling, and thankfully Merida have gone with decently wide 730mm wide bars and a 70mm long stem on the Medium frame. With its 27.5″ wheels and pert suspension platform, the bike isn’t just easy to throw around, it encourages you to throw it around. I found this to be the case on the loose rocky descents that we were riding around the back of Hidden Vale, where the One Twenty was quite happy being popped off of the larger rocks leading into a rock garden, and that the high volume Schwalbe tyres and progressive rear suspension design allowed you to get away with a rougher than anticipated landing. Despite the 142x12mm thru-axle, the rear end isn’t super stiff, and while I didn’t have enough time to accurately track it down, I would assume that most of the back-end flex is coming from that two-piece rocker link. However, the rear wheels ability to skip around is actually part of the reason that you can get away with riding the One Twenty on rougher trails than you’d first anticipate a 120mm travel bike would be capable of. Some would call it ‘flex’, and others would call it ‘compliance’. Whatever you call it, I don’t think it’s a bad thing with the One Twenty, it just makes it feel lively. At higher speeds on flat out descents, the bike does begin to feel like it sits more towards the XC camp, but some wider tyres with thicker sidewalls than the paper-thin Schwalbes would do wonders to the bikes momentum in those kinds of scenarios.
In terms of pedal efficiency, the new Floating Link design does very well despite its simple design, and combined with the Boost Valve equipped Fox CTD shock, it left little need for the handlebar remote aside from when riding sections of bitumen. The suspension kinematics have been designed specifically around a 2x drivetrain system, and to provide better pedalling performance in the smaller 24t chainring. However, on technical climbs, I found sitting in the larger chainring (despite being a little squishier under pedalling inputs) left the suspension a little more ‘open’ along rockier sections, and better from a traction perspective. The One Twenty has that familiar single-pivot ‘snap’ when popping out of bermed corners, and overall it’s a bike that likes you to stand up and hammer.
As for the rider who would suit the One Twenty? I think your average XC rider and weekend warrior would take to the One Twenty well. It would make for a comfortable bike to ride the odd marathon event on, but it’s more biased towards trail good times than Garmin-watching. High speed riders looking for a super stable ride may want to hold out for the 29er version in the future, but if you value nimbleness, this could be your ticket. It’s also a lot of bike for $4k, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like a $4k bike. The model below, the $2999 One Twenty 7.700, in my opinion looks dramatically better, and I had to do a double take to work out which one was the higher spec of the two. However, colours are all personal preference, and at least Merida played it safe without necessarily going flat-out-fluoro. Of course we’ll need to get some more saddle time on the One Twenty for a proper durability thrash-test, and I’m thinking some fatter tyres a bit of a rework of the cable situation could be on the cards to see how hard this little trail bike can be pushed. As it stands though, there’s a lot to like about the One Twenty, and I think it represents a very good sign of where things will be heading with Merida.
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