Descending and Handling
Merida is probably best known amongst cross-country aficionados, but with the short stem, wide handlebar, long reach and slack angles of the new Big Trail, the company has managed to shift its huge shadow firmly into the trail riding category. I came away highly impressed after riding the bike over all sorts of trails, local and not-so-local, longer cross-country rides with loads of climbing, racing enduro, and hitting up my local descents. It's clear that 27.5 Plus as a concept is here to stay, and whether you like it or not, I found the tire size ideally suited to this bike and its trail riding focus. It amps up the fun factor massively and gives you a bit of extra cushioning without dampening the ride. The geometry and the tires come together really well to provide a bike that is good fun, really agile and playful, and it goes where you might not dare take a conventional hardtail.
The Big Trail definitely has a favorite sort of terrain, though. It’s certainly not best on really fast and open trails with a lot of rocks and steps; even though the bigger volume tires do provide extra cushioning, the aluminum frame is extremely stiff and sends a lot of feedback through the pedals. Instead, I found it more at home on smoother trails in the woods, where loamy singletrack and flowing berms are the order of the day. On these sort of trails, it does everything you want with a high level of nimbleness and chuckability. With the short stem and wide handlebar, you can throw it into corners and let the big tires hook up and slingshot you through the turn, leaving a cloud of dust in your wake.
The big tires do contribute massively to the feeling of extra confidence. Being able to simply bang over stuff and not worry about line choice so much is a real blast, and the bigger volume definitely removes quite a lot of the harshness that is often felt on a hardtail. The Maxxis Rekon+ tires at both ends provide decent grip in dry to moist conditions, and it's only in the very boggiest slop that they can start to come unstuck. You've got to experiment with the pressures to prevent the bounce that can occur at the rear wheel if over inflated, and you definitely want to convert to tubeless to get the most out of the them.
The 130mm-travel from the Pike might not sound like a lot but it's well matched to the frame, and the high level of chassis stiffness prevents a wayward front-end on steeper drops. Plus, it's easy to tune the fork to suit your body weight and riding style, with the recommended settings giving a good setup out of the box.
|Merida is probably best known amongst cross-country aficionados, but with the short stem, wide handlebar, long reach and slack angles of the new Big Trail, the company has managed to shift its huge shadow firmly into the trail riding category.|
It climbs well, too. You might look at the big rubber and expect it to be slow, but it is, in fact, a decently rapid ascender, making light work of long and smooth climbs and able to scamper up steeper technical gradients. It's no race rocket, that's for sure, but the weight and stiff frame give it a very agile and responsive ride when hammering the pedals. The Rekon+ tires are fast-rolling and the Big Trail barrels along at a decent pace, while the 28lb weight keeps it going on the steeper gradients.
My first outing on the Big Trail was at the inaugural DMR Bikes Ex Enduro, a three-day event on Exmoor in the South West of England. With all stages ridden blind, the Merida provided all the stability and agility I could have asked from the bike, and while I did miss the safety net of full-suspension at times, the Big Trail gradually won me over with its playful character shining through. The bigger tires roll impressively quickly and there's loads of traction available in a wide range of conditions, with only the very muddiest of climbs presenting concerns. You really need to experiment with tire pressure, especially at the rear, as slightly too high and the bike can bounce and judder over rocks and roots on climbs. The Big Trail provides a roomy cockpit, so it’s comfortable on the climbs and good on the descents, and the wide handlebar and short stem provide excellent control through switchback climbs.
The wide-range 10-42 SRAM X1 cassette and 30-tooth chain ring provide all the low-end gears you need for scaling steeper climbs, but I did spin out on faster descents very easily. The plus-sized tires do offer good traction on the loose and it scampers up technical climbs well, but there are occasions when you really do have to work your weight balance to keep the rear tire from spinning out. Long climbs over an irregular surface can be jarring on your lower back as the back wheel judders and jolts, even with low pressures.
• Maxxis Rekon+ 27.5 x 2.8'' tires: I’ve ridden quite a few Plus tires in the last year but this was my first ride on the Maxxis Rekon, and it’s a smart choice to spec the rear tire on the front as well. It’s a really good combination for dealing with mixed terrain, coping pretty well in the wet but brilliant in the dry, and the tall shoulder knobs really hook up well in the corners and they roll reasonably quickly.
• Merida Expert 35 760mm handlebar and 35mm stem: It’s not often that own-brand kit gets us that excited but Merida’s aluminium handlebar and stem, using the larger 35mm diameter, proved a really good fit for the bike. The short stem keeps the handling agile and lets you really control the bigger tires, but I’d probably change to a 780mm handlebar if I was buying this bike for just a bit more leverage.
• Prologo Nago Evo X15 seat:
Everyone's underside is different, but this saddle has no place on a trail bike. I found it extremely uncomfortable, and it’s just too narrow and firm and pounded my undercarriage into a mush after just a couple of hours on the first ride.Pinkbike's Take:
|Hardtails aren't for everyone but in giving it a modern geometry and 27.5 Plus makeover, the Merida Big Trail is a huge amount of fun and will make you reassess your opinion of hardtails. I'd recommend giving the Big Trail a closer look if you're in the market for a new trail hardtail. -David Arthur|
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Thanks to 417 Project
for letting us use its awesome trails to test and photograph the bike.
About the Reviewer David Arthur is a freelance mountain biker writer based in the UK. Stats: Age: 34 • Height: 5'11:” • Weight: 154lb • Industry affiliations / sponsors: None