With a taut, lively chassis, the One-Twenty bubbles over with energy
Merida was originally founded by a Taiwanese engineer keen to take the stigma out of the ‘made in Taiwan’ label. Fast-forward 40 years and this small Pacific island is widely regarded as the world leader in bike manufacturing, with Merida itself at the forefront.
Such build quality and sophistication is evident on the One Twenty frame. Triple-butted and part double-pass welded — to give smoother lines — the frame also gets forged rocker links and dropouts for improved strength and stiffness.
The suspension design is essentially a single pivot with a linkage-actuated shock. The twist being that the lower shock mount is attached to an extension of the swingarm and floats between the links, just like Trek’s Full Floater design.
This allows the leverage rate to be manipulated from both ends, and makes for a lighter front triangle, as the tubes don’t have to support shock forces.
All of Merida’s engineering know-how results in a frame that feels punchy and reactive to both sudden direction changes and pedal-induced accelerations.
Making great use of the latest Fox EVOL shock technology, the 120mm-travel rear suspension is a cut above the rest in this test.
The Float damper doesn’t have the expensive gold Kashima coating, but gets a clever air-can design, with a bigger negative spring. This makes the suspension more sensitive off the top, and results in a buttery smooth feel over small bumps.
The sensitivity is matched by the new Dual Piston System, which delivers fantastic damping control even on the biggest hits.
The only real downside to the sublime Fox-clad rear end is how completely it outclasses the 130mm-travel RockShox Sektor Gold fork up front.
While the Sektor has sufficient stability, it can’t get out of the way of bumps as quickly as the shock, which manifests in a real imbalance from front to rear. We’d also prefer it without the unnecessary remote lockout, especially since it locked out when the cable came loose on the very first ride.
The remote fork lockout also adds to the rat’s nest of cables up front. When we removed the remote, we took the opportunity to ditch the stock bar, as it had too much backsweep.
There’s simply no faulting the Shimano XT kit, though. The hollow-forged crank arms are super-solid under foot, and with an extended range 11-40t cassette at the rear and 26t tooth inner ring, the steepest of inclines can be conquered.
So why didn’t Merida save weight and go the whole hog with a 1×11 XT drivetrain? We suspect that it’s simply because our German cousins are still crazy about 22-speed and even 33-speed drivetrains for high Alpine touring.
After a lacklustre first ride, we ditched the in-house bar and stem in favour of a wider, shorter combo and the Merida immediately came alive.
The rear suspension is really impressive, the bike is happy ploughing through nasty rock gardens, and it really ignites when ridden in an aggressive, dynamic style. As such, chucking the One Twenty in and out of turns, and bouncing and popping down the trail, was a total blast.
Merida’s decision to mismatch the travel on the One-Twenty with a longer 130mm fork appears spot-on too, since the shock is so active and perfectly progressive; a shorter-travel fork would feel even more leaden and dull in comparison.
Best of all, there’s no excessive wallow when sprinting hard up climbs, or spinning the cranks on flowing singletrack, despite the smoothness and efficacy of the rear suspension over rough terrain.
In terms of sheer pace, though, even the fact that it’s the lightest bike doesn’t see it eclipse the razor-sharp Habit 4. As such, the Cannondale just edges the One-Twenty for outright speed and dynamism, whatever the terrain.
Given Merida’s long history in XC-racing, and the lockout feature on the RockShox fork, we expected a stifling, uninspiring ride, but the One-Twenty XT-Edition really surprised us. With a taut, lively chassis, it bubbles over with energy. It rewards a playful approach, loves descending, and the impressive rear suspension belies the fact is has just 120mm of travel. It’s lightweight and effective when pedalling, but doesn’t quite deliver that killer turn of speed on mellower trails. Some of the components are exceptional value, but Merida needs to improve the balance of the suspension to create a truly outstanding package