Mountain bike geometry has changed dramatically over the last couple of years. Advances in suspension design, shocks and forks have allowed faster and more aggressive riding, meaning that geometry has had to adapt to keep up with rider demands. Top tubes and wheelbases are longer, bottom brackets are lower, and head angles are getting slacker.
Merida are clearly aware of the direction that MTB geometry is heading. The One-Forty B’s 67-degree head angle would have suited a freeride bike five years ago, the 1,190mm wheelbase of the large (19-inch) test bike wouldn’t be out of place on a DH rig and, at 326mm high, the bottom bracket could be considered "slammed".
The bike has a very understated look with minimal graphics and colour. The colour matching extending to the base of the saddle is a nice touch.
At first glance, it is obvious that the One-Forty is a long bike. The frame is made of 6066 high-strength aluminum, with triple butted walls. The 3D look of the tubes are made possible through a delicate, hydraulic forced forming process giving it a swooping top and down tube and a very modern look, somewhat similar to those made by Yeti or Specialized. Attention to detail includes a rear brake that is attached to a post mount and internal cabling (excluding the rear brake cable), plus routing for a stealth dropper seatpost. The head tube is tapered and the rear wheel is attached via a 12x142mm thru axle.
The rear suspension design is Merida's own Virtual Pivot Kinetics (VPK) which they claim offers outstanding sensitivity in combination with optimum drivetrain and braking neutrality. It was debuted last year and is a completely different setup to the previous single-pivot design. The VPK design utilizes a twin-link system in a similar vein to Giant, Niner, Pivot and others.
My only gripe with the frame is tyre clearance at the top of the seat stays and mud build-up in the BB / lower link region. I find it strange that manufactures limit consumer options by building bikes so tightly.
For pure trail riding and the odd enduro or two, the type of riding you'd expect this bike to be used for, there are some component choices that seem a bit off the mark.
Fork: The Fox 32 battles for stiffness at 150mm travel and I have never felt the need to use the Talas function. Thanks to the seat tube angle, the bike climbs well enough and with the correct body position the front end remains planted without having to drop the fork. Overall, the performance was not up to the standard you'd expect from Fox.
Tyres: This bike would be improved with a Hans Dampf up front. Nobby Nics are great all rounders for general trail riding, but when pushed hard they battle to offer sufficient grip to maintain the speeds the frame can handle.
Crank: I can't remember the last time I rode a bicycle with a triple crank - even more so on a longer travel bike! I would have selected a double crank as it offers a generous enough spread to get you up and down the hills with ease.
Other than the issues highlighted above, with only the fork impacting on performance, the specification is spot on. Credit has to be given to Merida for speccing wide bars, short stem and a dropper post as standard. Shimano's XT drivetrain and brakes are faultless. It shows that Merida is in tune with consumer needs on this one.
Dropper seatpost: On a bike like this a dropper seatpost is essential and I was glad to see the Merida came with a Reverb Stealth dropper with a left hand remote. During my test period the Reverb was faultless in operation. The left hand remote meant that I could fit it under the handlebar. Making it is easier to quickly push with your thumb, an action that requires less movement of your wrist.
To mount it at the bottom on the left hand side you need a right hand remote and vice versa if you want to mount it on the right at the bottom of the bar. 1X drivetrains make it a lot easier to mount a remote and I battled a bit to get it in a comfortable position that wouldn't need thought to push out on the trail. This is not an issue specific to Merida, but worth keeping in mind when setting up your bike or when buying a dropper seatpost.
On the Trail
At 13.85kg (3,250g for frame and shock) the bike is in line with today's standards, but out on trail it rides lighter than the scale would suggest. The VPK suspension arrangement not only allows for better performance under braking and pedaling than the old single-pivot system, but enables the rear to handle bigger hits. The setup does lead to some chain tug when climbing in the smaller chainring, but it's not a problem and is a trait common to most bikes with a pronounced rearward axle path. Using the rear shock’s CTD lever to minimize the suspension movement, and in turn chain growth, helps. It does however mean that you have to remember to flick the switch.
The large I rode had the perfect fit and reach, combining a long top tube with a 60mm stem and 740mm bar. The 67-degree head angle, low bottom bracket and front end is the kind of confidence inspiring geometry I like. It’s stable at both high and low speeds, yet it’s very responsive to rider input. The long top tube also means one can run an even shorter stem without running out of breathing space on longer rides.
The Merida loved fast, flowy trails and is happy for the rider to get off the brakes and enjoy the ride. With the seat out of the way, one can focus on letting the suspension do it's work.
The bike tends to run out of grunt when the trail gets too rough and battles with front end grip in the loose stuff. This was solved by running a 2.35 Hans Dampf up front and swapping out the OE Fox for a RockShox Pike.
Compared with the Pike up front, the Fox shock needed a lot of fine tuning to match performance and capability up front, but I still managed to get a balanced feel. The uber capable Pike does highlight some of the shocks shortcomings though and to balance the on the trail feel, one has to flip the shock into climb mode when pedaling uphill. It is not a major issue, as I'd prefer a shock to have good trail manners and handling, even if that means that I have to use the shock's pedaling platform more often than I'm accustomed to.
The One-Forty 1-B carves fast single track and berms with ease and blasts through rock gardens with utter confidence. The long wheelbase, in part thanks to the long chain stays, means that it is not the most agile bike around slow steep switchbacks. But if you get your body position right and force the front end into the switchback, it will reward you with momentum on the other side.
The chainstay length's other victim is manuals. It's not impossible to get the front end up, but you certainly have to work for it.
It is a great achievement for a mass producer to deliver a bike that will give many boutique brands a run for their money where it matters most - on the trails. The One-Forty 1-B was a pleasant surprise and I have no doubt that Merida will do well with this range in our country - especially if it can represent the same value for money Merida is known for. The 2015 models look to build on the existing strengths of the frame and suspension design.
Let's hope we can convince Merida SA to send a couple our way - the market and demand for a bike like this certainly is there.
SpecificationsFrame Sizes15.5", 17", 19", 21" (19" Tested)ColoursSilk Black / Grey / YellowForkFox 32 Talas Performance 650B CTD FIT, 15QRDerailleur FrontShimano Deore XT HD triple Derailleur RearShimano Deore XT Shadow+ShiftersShimano Deore XT i-SpecBrakesShimano Deore XT-Fin; 180 mm Ice Disc CrankShimano Deore XT 40-30-22CassetteShimano CS-HG81-10 11-36ChainKMC X10 10sStemFSA Afterburner 6° 60mmHandlebarFSA Afterburner Riser 740mm, 15mm riseHeadsetBig Conoid A-Bearing Neck Seat PostRock Shox Reverb Stealth 31.6 mm, 125mm dropRimSunRinglé Charger ExpertTiresSchwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35 Evo foldedSaddleProLogo Scratch X14 STNClaimed weight13.85 kg