Strangely, Merida, one of the biggest bicycle manufacturers in the world, was a late comer to the 29er wheel size party. In 2014, it launched its first big-hooped models, including the Big Ninety Nine XT. Would it be as composed as its 26-inch race-bike ancestors?
– Photos: Dino Lloyd
First impression: Understated. The colour is matte black and gray, quite a popular colour/shade on mountain bikes of late. The front triangle is carbon fibre and the rear triangle is aluminium. The burly downtube looks exceptionally firm and apparently has an internal rib to increase stiffness and strength. The suspension design – essentially an enlarged version of the 26-inch Merida dual suss design – is a single pivot, four-bar style with a pivot unusually placed just above the rear dropouts. The one difference from the 26-inch design is that the seatstays are one-piece, wrapping around the seattube, which looks very strong. Suspension is full Fox Float CTD with 106mm of travel at the rear and 120mm of travel up front. The CTD has a simultaneous remote adjust lever.
The spec is a Shimano mix, with XT derailleurs and crankset, Deore hubs and brakes (180mm rotor upfront) and SLX shifters. There’s a lesser-seen traditional bottom bracket (most bikes these days have the newer pressfit style). We don’t see many performance-orientated 29ers with a triple chainring, but there’s a triple on the Big Ninety Nine. Mated do the Deore hubs are eyeleted DT Swiss rims, while the tyres are a folding bead OEM spec of Continental’s popular X-King. These tyres caused us some anguish (understatement!). We’d recommend fitting the aftermarket X-Kings before you take the bike home.
The cockpit comprises Merida’s house-brand components. Most welcome is the 720mm wide flat bar.
The Big Ninety-Nine immediately felt longish. A post-first-ride check confirmed that it has a 1151mm wheelbase, longer than the other bikes in this group test – actually 49mm longer than the Momsen VIPA AC, the bike with the shortest wheelbase. We were sent the 19-inch size. At 1131mm, the 17-inch size’s wheelbase is also still longish. What does this mean? Well, it means that the bike isn’t quite as nimble in fast, twisty turns. But to be honest, that’s only really noticeable to riders like our testers who are aware of these nuances. It is very stable elsewhere though. And stiff! That rear triangle design with the single chainstay tube is probably the stiffest design we’ve encountered on a dual suss bike. But having said that, it comes with a weight penalty, which we felt on some of our regular climbs. We can only assume the rear triangle is what adds the weight because the carbon front triangle seems svelte. We never used the smallest chainring, but expect that less conditioned riders would appreciate it.
The headtube angle is 69 degrees, which is a little more relaxed than most marathon/XC race bikes. This actually is a benefit on the descents where we felt the bike handled beautifully. But this handling would all be a combination of the 120mm travel fork, 15mm through-axle, tapered headtube, 720mm wide bars AND the slacker head tube angle. The DT Swiss rims seem hardy, standing up well to a variety of rocky interactions. Besides the tyres, we found the wheelset really solid, ideal for bigger riders or those who tend to lack finesse in the skills dept…
The rear shock wasn’t very progressive, giving way to big hits well, but not medium-sized challenges. We did become used to it though and used more pressure and the remote adjust lever to manage it more than we’d normally do.
We’ve yet to come across a Fox CTD remote system that works perfectly. And the Big Ninety-Nine didn’t change that. It took a fair bit of time to get it as close to precise as possible. It is a nice feature though, but make sure you get your bike shop to set it up well from the outset.
The Big Ninety-Nine XT is a very solidly built bike that’s extremely stiff. This comes with a slight weight penalty though. It’s also not the most nimble in tight stuff, but it does offer a high level of descending confidence. The remote Fox shock CTD adjuster probably pushes the price up and obviously offers more consistent rider control, while the Shimano blend groupset delivers a high level of reliability and durability. We think it’s an ideal bike for bigger riders for whom weight isn’t a priority, but who are looking for a stable, durable package.
SIZES: 15.5-inch, 17-inch, 19-inch (tested), 21-inch, 23-inch
TOP TUBE LENGTH: 624mm
SEAT TUBE LENGTH: 482mm
HEAD TUBE ANGLE: 69.0 degrees
SEAT TUBE ANGLE: 73.0 degrees
CHAINSTAY LENGTH: 450mm
PRICE: R39 999
COLOURS: Matt Black with Grey Detail
FRAME: Nano Carbon Front Triangle, Alloy Swingarm
WEIGHT: 13.58Kg (Tubeless with pedals)
FORK: Fox Float CTD, 100mm travel, 15mm thru-axle
SHOCK: Fox Float CTD (106mm)
SHIFTERS: Shimano SLX Trigger
FRONT DERAILLEUR: Shimano XT (3×10)
REAR DERAILLEUR: Shimano XT, Shadow Plus
CRANKSET: Shimano XT (40/30/22)
BRAKESET: Shimano Deore, Front Rotor 180mm, Rear Rotor 160mm
WHEELS: DT Swiss 533D-29 Rims, Shimano Deore Hubs, Stainless Spokes TYRES: Continental X-King folding bead 29 2.2
OTHERS: MERIDA pro OS 720mm Flat handlebars, MERIDA pro Carbon -5 Stem, MERIDA carbon H SB0 31.6 Seatpost, Prologo Kappa 2 Saddle
CONTACT: www.merida-bikes.com; 021 852 0509
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*Originally published in TREAD Issue 33, 2015 – All rights reserved