Merida’s new One-Twenty is a short travel 29er trail bike with a keen focus on price that’s built to be durable, practical and fun. Here's our first ride review of the top spec 700 model.
First ride review
As a trail all-rounder that targets simplicity and affordability, Merida’s latest One-Twenty model isn’t directly competing with the best downcountry bikes that we’ve tested, like the Scott Spark, Yeti SB-120 or Transition Spur. That’s because, while those bikes tend to be lighter and cost way more cash the One-Twenty has a broader remit targeting a wider range of terrain and user groups.
This new version only (currently) comes with an aluminium frame across a range topping out at £3,100 for the top spec 700 model featured here with RockShox suspension and SRAM NX drivetrain.
Two other One-Twenty versions offered include a 600 model at £2,500 with a Marzocchi Z2 fork and Deore drivetrain and a 300 model with a Suntour fork XCR fork and Shimano Cues drivetrain for the bargain price of £1,900.
Need to know
- New 130/130mm short-travel aluminium trail bike
- 29in wheels f/r only
- Five frame sizes grow in reach and wheelbase, rather than height
- Size specific dropper seat post, rather than infinitely adjustable to save weight and cost
- Steeper 78.5° effective seat angle and 66° head angle
The One-Twenty is something of a bridge between Merida’s pure XC bikes and the new-school One-Forty/One-Sixty models launched last year that target aggressive trail and full-on enduro riding.
The all-new frame also forms the basis of a Ninety-Six Lite model, which replaces the outgoing 120 RC and is a more XC-focussed machine with reduced travel of 110mm at both ends. This Ninety-Six plugs a gap in the market Merida has identified for a more affordable XC/marathon bike across two variants; the XT version with a RockShox SID SL and the 400 model, which has a Suntour fork and Shimano Deore drivetrain.
While we’re talking about travel, it’s worth pointing out that despite the name, the new One-Twenty actually has 130mm at both ends. An extra 10mm might be worth shouting about in terms of capability, but Merida was keen to retain the name of what’s been a very successful bike for the brand and is sticking with the original.
Short travel trail bikes haven’t got as much attention in recent years as enduro bikes, but with the growth of the downcountry segment and a sense many riders are starting to feel over-gunned on 160 or 170mm travel bikes at many spots, the category is definitely getting livelier.
It makes a lot of sense too, as with modern geometry, shorter travel rigs can be plenty capable, especially if local hills don’t justify the extra weight and (potentially) less efficient pedalling and climbing of a longer travel rig. Merida reckons the One-Twenty ascends as well as its XC bikes while combining the confident handling, styling and modern sizing concept from its longer travel trail and enduro bikes. With a slight caveat over weight that I’ll get into later, I’d largely agree. It’s also refreshing (a little like with Specialized’s Status) that the One-Twenty’s focus is more on affordability and simplicity, rather than cramming on all the latest tech, electronics and carbon fibre and ramping up the asking price to unattainable levels.
The One-Twenty frame comes smooth-welded and hydroformed and adopts the longer/lower philosophy from Merida’s bigger travel bikes without diving into fully slacked-out enduro geometry. There’s a welcome 3-degree steeper seat angle than previously to place hips further over the bottom bracket on steeper climbs, and a much lower top tube and seat tower on all sizes to keep it out of the way when riding dynamically.
Merida calls this sizing ‘Agilometer’ geometry, which is tech-speak for frame sizes growing mainly in reach and wheelbase, while seat tube and head tube remain relatively constant. Together with a shorter headtube, having extra length without extra height allows riders to choose size based on length/reach, rather than seat tube height. Smaller riders can therefore run a longer frame and not get penalised, and taller riders can use one of the latest-generation dropper posts with more height range to achieve desired saddle position.
In terms of reach, 465mm in size medium is a whopping 30mm longer than the outgoing One-Twenty, but the head angle has had less of a radical makeover. At 66°, it’s bang in the middle of Merida’s One-Forty and Ninety-Six and erring towards the steeper end of things compared to many modern short travel rigs. Merida wanted to maintain a balance between an agile steering feel and having plenty length in the wheelbase already that should provide a stable enough ride quality.
Like the recently launched Merida One-Sixty FR, the new frame does away with a pivot on rear stays in favour of a lighter, stiffer and less complicated P-flex stay. As the suspension compresses and the rocker link rotates, the One-Twenty’s symmetrical seat stays bend (mostly in a flattened portion above the rear axle) in a way that offers slightly more resistance deeper in the stroke. Any unwanted spring effect from the flex stay loading up and returning too fast is overcome by the brand custom-tuning the rear shock with a ‘progressive’ rebound tune to stop it firing back from deeper in the travel.
The new alloy frame weighs 3.1kg in a size Medium, which is 500g lighter than the aluminium One-Forty and has two water bottle bosses that will fit big bottles in most frame sizes. It is also Cat 4 rated meaning it’s warrantied and approved for enduro riding and racing, proving Merida definitely thinks this is a bike capable of taking a pounding.
Other features carried over from the brand’s newer frame designs include an access port under the threaded BSA BB shell to help with internal routing (through foam sleeves here for quietening), multiple frame protection panels, a ‘trail mount’ tool/tube storage spot under the top tube, a SRAM UDH hanger and a rear mudguard mount. There’s also a nifty 4/6mm Allen key on the rear axle that allows for tightening most of the bike’s pivots that fasten ‘one-sided’ so you don’t need two Allen keys to tighten them.
This top-end 700 model uses RockShox suspension at both ends with a Pike Select fork and Deluxe Select + shock. Both ends deliver 130mm as mentioned and are well-balanced with decent sensitivity and support. The rear end felt marginally more supple to me, but after riding a prototype One-Twenty with a Pike Ultimate fork before switching to the Select version here, I’d argue there’s less performance advantage on current generation RockShox between top and lower tier forks than in previous years.
The rear shock is well tuned with good suppleness and support. Merida has done its homework with the suspension feel and added progression in the leverage curve compared to its longer travel bikes to help absorb bigger impacts with less travel. I didn’t ever notice bottoming the rear end harshly riding aggressive trail/enduro tracks, and, overall, there’s a neutral and supportive feel that’s easy to set up and never feels quirky or does anything unexpected.
For just over £3,000, Merida’s kit list is very respectable. SRAM DB8 4-piston brakes use mineral oil and are much more powerful and solid-feeling than SRAM G2 models. Large, 200mm rotors at fitted at both ends for extra stopping power. SRAM is also on drivetrain duties, with a decent rather than outstanding NX Eagle 12-speed set up that comes with a cassette topping out at 50 teeth (rather than the 52 on higher tier SRAM kit), although this isn’t too much of a real world issue.
Own brand Merida bars, dropper post, stem, grips and rims (Expert flavour rims and Novatec hubs here) are mostly decent and a sensible size and shape with 780mm wide bars and a 40mm reach stem. The harder rubber, funky-shaped, grips won’t be for everyone though and I also found the Proxim WT400 saddle pretty uncomfortable for long days pedalling.
Another feature that won’t please everyone is the Acros ICR headset that plumbs cables inside the headtube through a plastic cover. While it’s very neat and tidy, this set-up seems to really wind some folk up; it does add extra maintenance hassle, but Merida says it doesn’t have to make any structural frame changes for routing and also means there’s no scuffing on paintwork over time.
One piece of kit here critical to the One-Twenty’s ride character are Maxxis 3C EXO Forekaster tyres. These lightweight, fast-rolling numbers are on all models except the cheapest 300 and ensure the One-Twenty comes over more trail than enduro. The shallow pointy tread really zips along with acceptable levels of grip for aggressive riding so you can pedal long distances easier while also gripping pretty well year-round in the UK thanks to an open pattern that cuts into looser surfaces effectively.
Since the frame is rated tough enough for enduro, Merida’s own staff were running personal bikes with sticky enduro/DH tyres to race the Ex Enduro event where the One-Twenty was launched (one of the frame’s German R&D engineers even won the open class on the short travel machine). I also got to demo the One-Twenty in this guise for a day and see it from a slightly different perspective.
How it rides
Down in Exmoor there are a shed load of trails on the Somerset/Devon border that are absolutely ideal for a bike like the One-Twenty (and also a fair few that are a little bit too spicy). I spent a few days deep in the woods at the bike’s launch and got to put around a day and a half of riding time into the new bike.
Due to shipping issues, my first day was aboard one of Merida’s initial One-Twenty prototypes. The construction, frame sizing and geometry was identical, but the bike had some higher-tier equipment on board like RockShox Ultimate-level suspension and sticky enduro rubber, rather than the more trail/XC focussed Maxxis Forekaster tyres the 700 model actually comes with.
The unpainted prototype also had the ‘wrong’ damping tune compared to the production version. It was interesting to ride the bike in a more ‘enduro’ guise and get a sense for how capable the One-Twenty can be, but the good news for consumers is I actually preferred the slightly lighter production version with quicker rolling rubber and more versatility.
One major improvement was the RockShox rear suspension being more fluid and better at tracing terrain with the ‘right’ tune; something that reinforced just how critical brand homework and testing is in ensuring shocks work in perfect harmony with the bike’s design.
At 15kg, this isn’t a light machine for its category by any stretch, but it wears the weight well and still makes reasonably light work of getting around the place and climbing up (even steeper) hills, which meant I had no problem clocking up big elevation on an all-day ride. What also helped though is the bike just being very comfortable for a short travel rig with a sorted seated climbing position, and a ride feel that’s solid and stiff but also compliant and dull rather than jarring.
In part, the comfort comes from a soft touch off-the-top with the Select + Deluxe and also how the Select fork moves with almost the same level of performance as the latest Pike Ultimate. There’s marginally less initial grip and sensitivity, but still very smooth support throughout the whole travel and no nasty bottom out or bounce back; even if you really stove it into the ground off a jump or drop. The fork chassis is plenty feels plenty stiff enough too for hard charging. And, despite the flex stay design potentially acting a spring as described earlier, I couldn’t detect anything twangy or weird at all with how the One-Twenty moved through its travel or behaved under braking either.
A key trait of the 700 is coming over as neutral and pretty easy to live with; it’s not a bike that had journos messing about with shock pumps or Allen keys all day like at some launches, and I didn’t touch a thing after initial set up. This bodes well for newbies and less experienced riders looking to get a decent set-up easily from the outset.
I’m not a huge fan of lower-tier SRAM drivetrains like NX that work OK when brand new, but degrade and get a bit sloppy shifting and pedalling once mud and grit get repeatedly added to the equation. A GX Eagle level build would be welcome then on the One-Twenty, but obviously would add extra cost and eat into Merida’s utilitarian philosophy.
Overall, much like the brands’ One-Forty tested last year, this One-Twenty just gets on with it with minimal fuss. Pedalling is efficient (even with the shock fully open) and there’s enough stability to get a shift on downhill, without veering towards super slack geometry and the kind of bike that smashes straight on through terrain, but also misses too many playtime opportunities on trial kinks, dips and rises. It’s also agile and engaging to the extent the steering feels positive without being so sharp it tucks in on steep berms or flat corners when you’re really loading the tyre edge blocks, which is a trait that’s bang on for a trail bike where you don’t want it too floppy and self-correcting.
Merida’s latest One-Twenty is a fun short travel trail bike at a decent price that, in much the same way as the longer travel Merida One-Forty 8K tested last year. It simply gets on with it. Up, down and along are dispatched with minimal fuss, which ensures it ticks a lot of boxes for budget-conscious riders coming into the sport wanting to do a bit more of everything, or even for experienced shredders hitting up longer rides or adding some spice to the local trail menu if it’s too plain for a full-on enduro bike. Details