I remember when I was shopping around for a new bike, the brand Merida was in a lot of the shops I went into to drool over the shiny new bikes. As some of you might know, Merida is one of the big boys in the world of mountain bikes. So it is easy to assume that they will have some awesome bike options in all the prices ranges.
The Big Nine 500 is Merida’s entry into the busy $1000 bike niche. This category may be filled with over a dozen very similar looking and similarly spec’d bikes but the devil is in the details and a quick look into them will reveal that the Big Nine is actually in its own little category within a category. Its geometry, weight, and component build all point to the Merida excelling as a cross country bike.
This identity is something that sets it apart from many other bikes in this bracket which has features and components that don’t quite add to a specific strength or are intentionally built to be a jack of all trades and master of none. Merida is a master of cross country and here is why.
The Big Nine 500 has a solid component set that is on par with many other bikes in its price bracket. Up front, an air-sprung Manitou Markhor Comp. This fork is a perfect choice for the Big Nine. Markhor’s trade-off for lightweight over stiffness complements the purpose of the Big Nine well. Although, I do wish that they opted for the 15mm thru-axle over the 9mm QR version because the thru-axle improves stiffness immensely with a minimal increase in weight and a stiffer fork is never a bad thing, especially on a 29’er.
The bike is driven by a Shimano Deore drivetrain which does a fantastic job compared to the competition in the price bracket. It comes in a dual front ring and wide range cassette configuration which trades the security of single ring setups for a huge range. But expect the Big Nine to have a 1×12 drivetrain option in the future as Shimano is set to finally embrace the trend of wide range cassettes. The only weak component of the Deore build is the crank set, which I’ve found to not be as solid as other budget crank sets. The metal is surprisingly soft making them easy to bend in a crash. This also makes it easy to strip the pedal threads due to a lack of threaded inserts.
Stopping duties are also handled by Shimano with their M315 Hydraulic disc brakes from the Altus groupset. These just plain work without fuss, which is exactly what you want out of brakes. Heavier riders will also appreciate the 7” rotor up front.
The wheels are Shimano hubs laced to in-house Merida rims wrapped in Maxxis Ikon 2.2” tires. The tires are excellent tires for what this bike was built for, cross country trails and hard packed fire roads. They are light and roll wonderfully but I would stay around from deeper loose dirt and mud. Merida does not mention any tubeless-ready features on the Comp CC rim, but for XC purposes it’s not too risky converting the wheelset to tubeless with tire sealants and rim tape. Just be sure to keep the tire pressure above 25PSI and use some extra sealant upon conversion to seal all micro holes in the tires. The conversion is not guaranteed to work but if it does (the likely outcome), you can enjoy some great rotational weight savings.
The Shimano hubs they roll on are great for riders who respect service intervals of their gear, especially after wet rides. They tend to last longer when serviced but they are more prone to poor performance when moisture and dust get through the seals.
|Fork||Manitou Markhor Comp 4”, Air Sprung, Tapered||Good|
|Rear Derailleur||Shimano Deore Shadow||Excellent|
|Front Derailleur||Shimano Deore||Excellent|
|Cassette||Shimano CS-HG500, 10 speed, 11-42 teeth||Good|
|Brakes||Shimano M315 Hydro, 7” Front Rotor, 6” Rear Rotor||Good|
|Rims||Merida Big Nine Comp CC||Ok|
|Hubs||Shimano Centerlock Quick Release||Good|
|Tires||Maxxis Ikon 29 2.2” Folding||Excellent|
The Big Nine has a solid frame design with a sleek seat tube brace and beefy dropouts. A quick tap on the tubing confirms that the bike’s light weight was in part due to a lighter weight frame. This is perfectly fine, structurally, but I would be careful when mounting your bike on pickup truck tailgates and leaning the top tube on hard surfaces. The bike does have a quality finish but comes off as average and doesn’t quite stand out on the display rack with all the other bikes. I would avoid the especially generic looking green variant
This bike is a rocket! The XC-oriented geometry with the stiff, lightweight frame and the fast rolling tires make it great at exactly what it was designed for, pedalling. It gets up to speed and keeps moving so easily that it feels more like a glider than a mountain bike. I found the tires especially good on the hardpacked and asphalt roads compared to my usual tires. The lower profile not only rolls better but is actually more predictable on hard surfaces than the taller knobbed tires I usually run. The front end of the bike worked surprisingly well given the very steep 70-degree head angle and the fork that only seemed to show its flexiness on parking lot twist tests. Extended climbs were a breeze. The light weight and cross country geometry worked very well together to keep fatigue down and made long distances much easier to overcome.
The dated geometry does show itself in the sizing of the bike, though. Compared to bikes of the same year, it’s about one or so size smaller in terms of reach. This is isn’t just a chart labeling issue as smaller sizes tend to get paired with longer seat tubes in the case of Merida’s sizing. An XXL Big Nine has the same reach as a large Giant Fathom, but the Merida has an 80mm longer seat tube length because it’s supposedly designed for taller riders without providing the length that many other manufacturers are now designing for.
This may be a deal breaker for a bike designed for technical trails but, as a cross country bike, a long seat tube hardly impedes on what the bike is built to do. Although the Big Nine lacks versatility, its focus on cross country riding, from its geometry to its components, makes it the perfect bike for someone who wants to ride exactly what it is built for. I wouldn’t compromise any component on the build to get it more trail-friendly. Pump up those tires hard and embrace the bike for what it is or get another bike entirely.
|Overall Value for Money||Good|
The Merida Big Nine 500’s Competition
There are offerings in the ~$1000 hardtail niche from almost every frame manufacturer. Specialized, Rocky Mountain, and Trek all have offerings that fall on the cross country side of this niche and are direct competition to Merida’s Big Nine 500.
Merida Big Nine 500 vs Specialized Rockhopper Expert
Although the Rockhopper carries a more premium finish and the ‘S’ badge, it loses out to the Big Nine in some key categories: it’s heavier and it has worse drivetrain in general. On the other hand, the Rockhopper is more versatile with its trail-ready tires as well as its proper seat tube and reach sizing. The Merida is also more expensive but is probably more likely to go on sale than the Specialized. For someone who knows they want a cross country bike, it’s an easy choice here. Go for the Merida.
Merida Big Nine 500 vs Trek X-Caliber 8
The impulsive buyers have to be careful around this one. The Trek’s sleek design and finish definitely set it apart from others in the competition. I dare say it’s an objectively better-looking bike. Enough to make you forget that its $1150 price tag is barely keeping it in the $1000 bike niche. The higher price gets you a big upgrade to XT on the rear derailleur but, surprisingly, worse brakes. A downgrade to the $960 X-Caliber 7 gets you safely back into the $1000 bike bracket but you also get a massive downgrade on the components – much worse than almost all other bikes in this niche. Despite the matchup, the Merida is still the more cross country focused bike compared to the Trek. Although the good looks of the latter may tempt some, the price may just not be worth it.
Merida Big Nine 500 vs Rocky Mountain Fusion 940
The Rocky Mountain Fusion 940 is the most XC oriented of the Merida’s rivals so far. It actually goes a step further and gets even faster rolling tires which are borderline cyclocross. Although it comes in a little heavier than the Merida, the differences are small enough where a sale or a discount would be enough of a deciding factor to choose one bike over another.
The Merida Big Nine 500 is a strong entry into the $1000 mountain bike niche. It is adamant in its identity as a cross country bike and doesn’t even give a hint at being anything else. The deciding factor on getting this bike is not whether other bikes are marginally better or not, it is whether you want a pure cross country bike or not. If you’re still not sure what you enjoy about mountain biking and expect to see yourself in some steep deep dirt, consider a more versatile bike. But if you know you are going to ride cross country and want a bike that is the right tool for the job, get the Big Nine 500.
Pros vs Cons of the Merida Big Nine 500
|· Light Weight|
· Purpose built for cross country
|· Limited capability for technical trail riding|
· Tall seat tube on larger sizes