by Mark Alker
February 18, 2014
The Big 7 feels sharp, nimble, more sprightly; very much like a 26in but still with a slightly smoother roll over bumps.
People are fond of talking about the fact that Taiwanese bike makers Merida make some of Specialized’s frames too. All this means in the greater scheme of things is that Merida founder Ike Tseng has been successful in his vision of making the Taiwanese bicycle industry into something that’s highly regarded rather than frowned upon. We really like what we’ve seen of the new Merida range. It still does all the wheel sizes, but 26in has effectively been replaced by 27.5 or 29in in the top quality hardtails. The test bike is unusual in that it has a complete Shimano XT drivetrain at a price that usually sees manufacturers mixing groupsets to trim the budget.
The only obvious budget trim here is the RockShox XC30 Gold fork: there’s nothing wrong with the way it performs but there are loads of bikes with fatter stanchioned and slightly better controlled forks at this price. Still, let’s look at the positive stuff first. The triple butted frame is superbly put together using a variety of state-of-the-art tube forming methods. If you need to know more you can read about Merida’s ‘Technoforming System’ online or in the catalogue. Smooth double pass welds create clean, almost carbon-like, aesthetics and a wide variety of talking point tube shapes appear to achieve a decent balance of strength, stiffness, reasonable weight and likeable ride quality.
The silky black topcoat seems tough. It has way too many graphics for some tastes but others will love it for the same reason. The rear gear cable routing is on the side of the top tube, the front mech and rear brake are on the down tube, with the brake calliper sitting neatly on a long dropout casting between the seat and chain stays. There are two lots of bottle bosses, rack mounts, a quick release seat clamp, masses of standover room and a stubby head tube that keeps the bar low, although there’s a 30mm washer stack for adjustment. Apart from the Selle Italia saddle all the finishing parts are quality Merida branded offerings. The wheels are traditionally 32-spoked with tough eyeleted Alex rims shod with fast Schwalbe Rocket Ron 27.5 x 2.1in treads.
On a personal note, I’ve been riding medium-sized wheels since 650B evangelist Kirk Pacenti built a custom frame for me to test his original Quasi-Moto tyres with Stan’s No Tubes first 650B rims. I now use that frame with a 650B in the back and a 29in wheel up front, because I like to run the biggest wheel/tyre I can fit in a rigid fork. The difference between a typical 26in wheel/tyre combo and a typical 27.5in wheel/tyre combo is actually about 1.25in, compared to a 3in difference between typical 26 and 29in wheels, so inevitably a 27.5 out back means slightly faster initial acceleration. This is a notable difference between the Merida Big 7 and the Specialized Crave. The Crave has a steady, easier lope to its stride, the Big 7 feels sharp, nimble, more sprightly in comparison… very much like a 26in but still with a slightly smoother roll over bumps. Some say its smaller wheels are more fun, others prefer the rock-steady lope of a well sorted 29in. Either way it’s a bike that makes it easy to see why 650B/27.5/whatever you want to call it should probably have been chosen as the regular mountain bike wheel size right back at the beginning.
As irritating as it may seem to some, 27.5in is the new 26in for good reason. The differences in trail feel between 26in and 27.5in are fairly minor, and certainly not enough to make any difference to your enjoyment of a ride, but basic physics (as well as riding the thing) shows that the Merida Big 7 rolls more smoothly over bumps than a similarly equipped bike with 26in wheels, and that’s surely a good thing to most riders. The fork is plusher and slightly better controlled in both compression and rebound than previous RockShox XC30 models and the bar mount lockout is very welcome in that it muffles compression without actually locking it. The Schwalbe treads are great in the dry but we found the compound to be more slippery than the treads of the other two bikes on hard wet surfaces. This was unfortunate as most of our test period was in the wet. But the handling of the Big 7 is otherwise totally predictable, noticeably livelier in steering and acceleration responses than similarly equipped 29in bikes but also a little less comfy over rough ground (a softer saddle would help).
- Frame // Triple Butted 6061 Aluminium
- Fork // RockShox XC 30 Gold. Poplock Lockout. 100mm travel
- Hubs // Shimano
- Rims // Alex Big 7 Pro D
- Tyres // Schwalbe Rocket Ron 27.5 x 2.1in
- Chainset // Shimano XT 40/30/22t
- Front Mech // Shimano XT
- Rear Mech // Shimano XT
- Shifters // Shimano XT 3 x 10
- Brakes // Shimano Hydraulic Disc 180/160mm Rotors
- Stem // Merida Pro
- Bars // Merida Pro Low Rise 660mm
- Grips // Merida Bolt-on
- Seatpost // Merida Pro twin bolt
- Saddle // Selle Italia X1
- Size Tested // 18.5in
- Sizes Available // 17, 18.5, 20, 21.5in
- Weight // 25.8lb without pedals