Merida Matts J24 Plus is a 24in wheel kids mountain bike aimed at young riders between 129-137cm in height (I won't give you an age range because it is irrelevant)
I can almost sum up the Merida Matts J24 Plus by focusing on just three things: standover, tyre volume and disc brakes. These three things all instantly instill confidence in the child (my son, 135cm). This Matts J24 Plus is definitely one of the best kids mountain bikes out there currently.
Which should come as no surprise to any grown-up mountain biker who’s ever had to deal with a bike with a distractingly high top tube, ropey tyres and dodgy brakes. But for some reason a lot of bike brands still don’t offer any – let alone all – of these vital off-road features in their kid bike offerings.
Besides having this Holy Trinity, the Merida Matts J24 Plus also has other good stuff going for it. The head angle is acceptably stable (my smartphone reckoning hovered around 68° when measuring), the lock-on grips aren’t too fat, and the handlebars are a healthy width (620mm). All good control-enabling stuff.
A word about the drivetrain: kids can do trigger shifters. Please stop saddling them with a tennis-ball size twist-shifter that messes the positioning of grips and brake levers. The 28t chainring isn’t too big as to compromise ground clearance (kerbs, for example) and paired with the 8-speed 11-34t gives an acceptable range of gears.
I still think it would be nice to have even easier gears available but I am aware it’s going to bump up the price a lot to fit a wider cassette or a new chainring (sub-28t chainring necessitates going to a cinch ring design). All in all though, the drivetrain is pretty much as good as Merida can provide, so kudos to them.
Like most bikes, it’s not perfect. There are always niggles to be found but none of them were disastrous.
The low-tread tyres are something of a double-edged sword; great for rolling speed in drier conditions but a liability in the mud. Still, their large 2.4in volume is a good thing and it’s no massive deal to source a set of 24in knobblier tyres for winter time (I swapped in a Schwalbe Hans Dampf up front for wetter conditions).
60mm stems just look wrong/long to me these days and whilst I would prefer to see a shorter (40mm) stem on there, I once again appreciate that it is probably more expensive to spec a 40mm stem over a 60mm one.
Perhaps the main issue we (well, my son) experienced was the uncomfortable saddle. It’s a bit too firm – even with padded shorts – and the hard sides of the saddle can be painful if it hits the rider in a crash or stumbling moment.
Don’t dwell on these niggles though. The overriding experience of this bike was excellent. It was noticeable how much my son didn’t fear – or fight – this bike. He was the pilot, not just a passenger. The bike did what he wanted it to. And did it when he wanted it to. Stop, go, turn, up, down, around, through, whatever. Genuine bike joy.
From a parent’s point of view, the bike was well made and assembled. It didn’t require much, if anything, in the way of maintenance or servicing. The brakes did their thing, the gears did theirs, the rims stayed true, the hubs spun freely, the headset remained smooth. Nothing got unduly bent or scraped during numerous thrills and spills.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention the fork. Yes, there is no suspension. It is a fully rigid fork. This is a good thing. Suspension forks do not work well enough to offset the immense weight penalty when the rider weighs less than 50kgs. The rigid fork makes the front end much more controllable, loft-able, for young riders. The large volume tyres do the job of finding traction and dealing with bumps.
Looking around rival bikes, you can get almost-there bikes for a bit less money (£350 ish) but none of them have everything that the Matts J24 Plus does. The most common loss being the absolutely vital hydraulic disc brakes. In the sub £500 market, this bike has little in the way of competition at all.
The Merida Matts J24 Plus is a great bike that no kid will fail to improve their riding upon. Great brakes, fat tyres and confidence-inspiring low-slung frame geometry all combine to a proper mountain bike experience.