Merida’s new hardtail: big on fun, small on budget
The Merida Big Trail 600 is the eerily quiet new hardtail from Merida, with 29in wheels, modern geometry and some delicious little details.
Merida Big Trail 600 need to know
- Reworked hardtail trail bike from Merida, now on 29in wheels rather than 27.5in Plus
- Comes with a 140mm fork, the 600 gets the excellent Marzocchi Z2
- Striking frame design with straight line toptube and downtube, and maximum standover height
- Built for big clearance, you can fit 2.5in tyres with room to spare, and it comes with 2.4in
- Four models in the range, the top end 600 for £1,500 dropping to the 200 at £800
We love a rollicking good hardtail at mbr, at their best they deliver thrills without the big bills or complexity of full suspension bikes. The older incarnation of the Merida Big Trail wasn’t a winner though, with old-school geometry and sizing that had it lagging behind the best in class – the Whyte 905 V2.
What’s changed on the new bike is… well, pretty much everything really. The Big Trail now comes with 29in wheels rather than 27.5in Plus, a la the old version, and now specs modestly chunky 2.4in rubber. Naturally then the frame’s been worked on too and now looks like a high-end bike like the Nukeproof Scout or Kona Mahuna: it draws a satisfying line from the headtube right down to the back end, and the seat tube has lost its irritating bend that looked ugly and stopped you getting a long dropper post in there.
Interestingly, Merida has cut the seatstay off short, right at the end, where it plunges vertically down the cassette to meet the chainstay. This stops the back end getting too long, while still preserving that clean look. There’s a ton of clearance on this bike too, Merida has switched to a wide 55mm chainline which makes space for the rear wheel and up to 2.5in tyres.
The Big Trail also has new internal cable routing, with big entry and exit holes to make things easier. And the front triangle is littered with bottle bosses – two pairs on the downtube and one under the top tube for gear.
The limiting factor with the old 27.5in bike was not its Plus-sized wheels, it was the outdated geometry and sizing. The head angle made it twitchy on steeper stuff, and the reach was titchy in comparison with modern bikes. Merida has addressed this with the new bike, giving it the long, low and slack treatment. Perhaps the biggest improvement comes from the new toptube line, which dramatically lowers the standover height.
The Big Trail range
We tested the Big Trail 600, it’s the best equipped bike in the range with Shimano 12speed drivetrain and Marzocchi Z2 fork, and also the priciest at £1,500. The Big Trail 500 comes next at £1,250 with a RockShox Recon fork and 11-speed Shimano; The 400 cost £1,000 with a Suntour XCR 34 fork and 10speed; while the 200 is just £800 with 10-speed and no dropper post.
Whisper quiet ride
Merida has made one hell of a quiet bike in the Big Trail, but at first glance it’s hard to figure out quite how they’ve done it so effectively. The previous generation of Big Trail used great lengths of rubbery protection that ran all the way along the drive-side chainstay and up the seatstay too, to deaden any chain slap. Not the new Big Trail, there’s just a thin sliver of rubber on the chainstay.
The answer lies in the frame design, there’s less chance of your chain impacting the stays because Merida has cleverly worked in a ton of clearance, for the wheel and drivetrain too. There’s also a simple chain device fitted to the bike, and together with the strength of Shimano’s clutch mech it effectively stopped any slap in the first place. Prevention is indeed better than cure.
That chain device is just one of many smart choices from Merida that will help make the Big Trail a hit. There’s the latest Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain, it’s exceptionally good on a bike this price giving you a huge spread of gears and crisp, reliable shifting. Maxxis Dissector tyres are a great choice too, they roll quickly but carry a decent bite in loose terrain. Merida stocks its own TR Comp dropper post with 150mm travel in size XL, and it worked flawlessly, while the own-brand saddle with its multi-tool stash pocket is both innovative and comfortable.
How does it ride?
It’s the geometry, sizing and technical changes that have made the largest difference to the Merida Big Trail 600. The bike has a super low standover height, and together with a wide bar and short stem makes the bike a pleasure to press through the corners on. The grips belong in the bin, but new ones are cheap so we won’t hold that against it. Meanwhile slack head angle and longer wheelbase makes the whole bike composed at speed, and the excellent Marzocchi fork is supple and predictable – it’s not very supportive, but adding a couple of volume reducing tokens would help enormously with this. I got the adjustable spanner out to check how many were installed inside, and was surprised to see none, meaning there’s plenty of scope for support.
If I’ve got one complaint it’s the brake levers. Not the callipers, they have decent bite and consistency, but the dead-feel blades. They’re too firm and designed for two-finger braking – fine on a cheaper bike in the range, not on the 600 for more experienced riders. Slide them further inboard to line up with your index finger and you can’t reach the shifters or dropper thanks to the Shimano I-Spec coupling of lever and brake. It’s relatively easy to buy new clamps and decouple these two, but the brake lever body you’re stuck with, unless you want to spend £60 upgrading them yourself.
I like the Merida Big Trail 600, it’s trying so hard and it’s got so many things dead right, from the good geometry that’s slack without being crazy, to the sensible and sometimes star-studded spec. I like the way it rides, more confident and speedy than playful but that’s a good aspect in a hardtail, and I think it looks fantastic too. Look out Whyte, Merida is coming for you.