Tough, affordable, 29er trail hardtail mountain bikes are a super competitive category right now and Merida has made a big play out of consulting with its UK dealers to create the all-new Big.Trail all-rounder. The result is a super versatile frame with some stand out specs. It rides as well as it looks too, but you may want to size up to get an ‘Enduro’ reach.
Design and geometry
Merida is one of the world’s biggest bike builders so it’s no surprise that the Big.Trail is a very tidy chassis with plenty of subtle tube shaping from tapered head tube back to the Boost rear dropouts. What’s surprising is how extensive the features list is on a bike where the cheapest option (Big.Trail 200) is only £800. You get twin bottle mounts on the down tube, a frame bag/tool mount under the top tube, mudguard mounts and even a kickstand mount on the rear. That might cause some sniggering for those more concerned with schralping than shopping but it doesn’t get in the way and means they can use the same dropout elsewhere in their range so you get a cheaper bike. There’s still room for 2.5in tires thanks to a forged ‘stepped’ drive-side chainstay segment behind the 55mm chain line threaded bottom-bracket shell. A crescent gusset adds reinforcement behind the seat tube and the rear axle has a neat pull out 4/6mm Allen key lever. The seat clamp slots are on the side to stop spray seeping in (that’s definitely a UK dealer thing) and the clamp itself is a really nice piece. Dropper post, gear and rear brake cabling are internal through the down tube and while sharp eyes will spot blanking inserts for a front mech cable on our sample they won’t be there on production bikes. There are no ISCG chain guide tabs either but you do get a small chain guide block on a long-armed seat tube mount.
Geometry is mostly really well sorted too with a 65.5-degree head angle, 75.5-degree seat angle and 435mm chainstays. 73mm bottom bracket drop puts the crank axle just 315mm above the ground unsagged too. That makes the short 455mm reach on the large potentially frustrating but Merida has deliberately kept seat tube lengths short too so choosing the XL for the 475mm stretch still leaves plenty of dropper room.
Components and build
You get a Merida Expert TR dropper post with 150mm stroke as standard too, slaved to a neat Shimano lever that feels a whole lot more solid and high class than most bargain levers. You get a full set of the latest 12-speed Shimano Deore too, with the eye-catching angular rear mech and switchable clutch to keep the chain tamed. The Deore brakes aren’t as impressive but you do get 180mm rotors both ends. The chainset is Race Face with a steel chainring for extended life and impact protection. 2.4in ‘Wide Tire’ carcass Maxxis Detonator tires are a great choice for an aggressive trail hardtail without adding soul-crushing drag and the 29mm internal width Merida branded Jalco rims are tubeless compatible. The 780mm bars, 55mm stem and saddle are all Merida branded and the seat gets a mini-tool mounted in a scabbard underneath it. If you’ve got some history in the sport you’ll love Merida’s fork choice too, with a vivid red 140mm travel, 44mm offset Marzocchi Bomber Z2 plugged in and ready to play.
Ride, handling and performance
We already have a full review of the Marzocchi Z2 but in short, this Fox 34 Rhythm based fork is pretty much an ideal choice for a hard-working trail hardtail. The black stanchion, ‘M’ brace chassis is usefully stiff and precise for maxing out lean angles and aggressive intent on the side blocks of the Maxxis tyres. While we had to tweak our first fork sample in our fork review the air spring was fine on this bike. That leaves it smooth off the top, but nice and firm through the mid-stroke for railing hard. The fact it’s not super soft through the mid and end stroke means it’s not too much of a contrast with the solid back end either. The Sweep damper is impressively controlled a surprisingly long way down rocky trails with useful adjustment of low-speed compression via the plastic fork top damper. It’s designed to run happily between service intervals for a lot longer than most forks too, which will definitely appeal to riders choosing a hardtail rather than a cheap full sus bike so they can ride more and wrench less. We’re not going to deny that even though there’s no direct link with the classic Marzocchis of old it feels good to be on a bike with a Bomber on. The Merida bar and stem feel solid with plenty of well-balanced leverage and clean feedback through the Ergon style lock-on grips. While the back end isn’t as smooth as the most flowing alloy bikes we’ve tested recently, it’s not a brutal bludgeon either so riding light will skim you through rocky rooty sections without killing speed or your ankles too obviously. Once you’ve set them up tubeless the big tyre volume will help take out more sting too, although don’t go mad on psi spilling as they are standard EXO carcasses not reinforced EXO+.
That helps keep complete bike weight under 14kg though and together with the tight rear end and sloped tyre tread it accelerates well and taps out extended climbs comfortably. You will need to be careful pedalling on rougher/rooty/rocky/rutted trails though as the low BB means crank clearance can be an issue.
The Big.Trail geometry focuses attention on the front of the bike too, with the relatively steep seat angle pushing you forward along the short top tube. That makes the Merida great for tweaking through tight singletrack (bar width allowing) and it climbs steep technical verts very well too. The low BB also increases stability but we’d definitely size up for a longer reach and wheelbase if you like riding steeper, faster trails. Otherwise, while the head angle and bar do a great job of keeping the front end under control there were definitely times when it pitched forward or tucked more than it would with the extra 20mm reach of the XL.
The Deore 12-speed shifting is firm but fair with no hiccups or grind right across the broad gearing span and the rattle and wobble-free dropper remote enhance the solid, high-quality feel of the bike.
The brakes are very wooden though, with a ‘pumped out’ rather than squeezably subtle feel. The soft rotors can only be used with resin pads too, so expect to replace them regularly when the trails get dirty. They are at least resolutely reliable though, which chimes well with the long-running fork and steel chainring to guarantee maximum ride time.
Merida has pitched the Big.Trail with the tagline 'Trail Fun Simplified' and it has done a great job of creating a package that maximises ride time and a broad range of users. The frame rides really well on technical rocky singletrack but has the fixtures you need for extended adventures or daily driver commuting. That versatility also partially excuses them for keeping the reach short. Given that Merida has not been shy with the steering and seat angles though and fork, bar and tire spec are all full commitment hardcore choices it is slightly frustrating that its full flat out potential will only be unleashed if you size up. Otherwise the Big.Trail is definitely right up in the mix for affordable aggro riding and the Marzocchi fork and multi fixture frame details will push it into the lead for some riders.
Temperature: 20-25 degrees
Surface: Mixed local wood singletrack and man-made red/black trails
Tech Specs: Merida Big.Trail 600
- Discipline: XC/Trail/enduro
- Price: £1,500
- Head angle: 65.5-degrees
- Frame material: 6061 Techno Formed alloy
- Size: Large
- Weight: 13.7kg
- Wheel size: 29in
- Suspension (front/rear): Marzocchi Z2 Bomber 140mm travel, 44mm offset
- Components: Shimano Deore 10-51T 12 speed gearing and shifter. Race Face Ride 30T chainset. Shimano Deore brakes with 180mm rotors. Maxxis Dissector EXO TR 29 x 2.4in tires on Merida/Jalco 29er rims. Merida Expert TR 780x35mm bar and 55x35mm stem, Comp TR 150mm dropper post and saddle.