Merida got off to a slow start in the big wheel mountain bike segment, therefore its debut had to jump over the experimental phase, and right into the core of the matter. Big Ninety-Nine, with its aluminum frame, didn’t stray off this rule, and includes a classical geometry, with the usual degree numbers of the head and seat tubes.
Regarding the frame, Merida claims that it’s one of the stiffest out there, and it isn’t far from the truth since actual riding and lab data proved that only the likes of a Santa Cruz Tallboy can outpass it in this matter. However, we didn’t cut the Big Ninety-Nine any slack, and pushed it along difficult trails, steep descents, and rocky tracks that put on quite a symphony when banging on the rims. Did the bike use this opportunity to show its class?
Frame/On the trail
I’ll start by confessing that the position I had on the Big Ninety-Nine was nothing short of brilliant. On this 17-inch frame my body stood in a compact, but comfortable position, the short stem making steering easy, as well as hopping over obstacles. The 680mm of the handlebar don’t alter the handling due to the fact that the head tube angle numbers 70.5 degrees, but this angle doesn’t let you put enough pressure on the front wheel either, a setback slightly compensated by the negative rise of the stem. Merida also made up for lost ground with the 74 degrees of the seat tube, fit for steep climbs, but not enough to transform the Big Ninety-Nine in a thoroughbred climber. And the 13.5 kilograms of the bike don’t do it justice neither.
Quality of the frame doesn’t let down, having very fine finishes, while the rear shock has a travel of 106mm with a center pivot, and the frame further features a 12mm thru axle. Alas, you’ll be able to mount only one water bottle cage.
The cable routing follows an outer path, this not being something you’d expect from a bicycle from this price range, even more so that the cables are plenty, for the derailleurs, the brake, and responsible for the rear shock lock-out.
If you’ll have to lower too much your saddle, you won’t be able to because of the bent shape of the seat tube, nor do you have a quick release mechanism for rapidly adjusting this parameter, so you’d also want to take this into consideration or even buying a dropper seat post.
And coming down to hard facts, the stiffness is actually average for this category, of 61 Nm/degree, while the STW is 20.1Nm/degree/kg, this implying that persons with a weight above 85 kilograms will have to take the turns more carefully, and will have to expect lower performance when pedalling out of the saddle.
The suspension system found on the Big Ninety-Nine is a mix between a Fox Float CTD Evolution fork (100mm of travel) and DT Swiss M212 shock (106mm). None of them stands as very comfortable, but at least they work nicely, taking in every uneven part the trails lays in front of them, although not in a smooth manner, especially when it comes to the rear side. With a more performant rear shock, the Merida would have scored much better. Also the presence of a lock-out remote would have added some value, despite the fact that this only would have increased the already large cable count.
A mix is also the drivetrain, made out of a Shimano XT rear derailleur, a Shimano SLX front derailleur and also SLX shifters, combined with an Octalink triple crankset that features replaceable chainrings. Together with the 10 sprockest of the cassette, gear ratios are plenty whatever situation you may find yourself into. I must admit, however, that the choise of the Octalink system doesn’t make as much sense as Hollowtech II technology would have, and this would have also helped in terms of weight.
On the other hand, you’ll have no trouble when it comes to braking, thanks to the Shimano M596 brakes, and their 180mm rotors. You may not be so thrilled by the wheels instead, the complete set tipping the scale at 4.89 kilograms, enough to ensure decent acceleration. The Maxxis Cross Mark tires have a good rolling speed, and help the weight figure with their 681 grams/piece, but don’t do as good in terms of grip when cornering, and climbing. More or less a surprise, Merida’s own saddle is rather comfortable.
Despite having a few downsides, like the Octalink crankset or the substantial weight, Big Ninety-Nine can offer lots of moments of fun, especially if you’re heading downhill. Climbing is a bit of a nuisance, but it’s also manageable, even if it will require more energy. Basicly, the bicycle can handle most mountain trails, but I don’t think it will win the hearts of picky riders, as it will do in the case of fun-loving riders.
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