First Ride Review : Pete’s Merida Ninety-Six 8000.

With a 120mm fork fitted, does Merida’s Ninety Six 8000 become a downcountry machine rather than an XC whippet? Pete has been finding out.

Sitting one notch below the top of the Merida Ninety-Six range, the Ninety-Six 8000 sports an awful lot of spec for your money, but does the longer fork make it a more capable trail bike or blur its XC credentials? Pete has been finding out what the racey machine can do.

Photos by Pete Scullion.

Key features:

  • Rockshox SID Ultimate 120mm fork
  • Rockshox SIDLuxe Ultimate shock
  • SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed drive
  • Shimano XT brakes
  • Reynolds TR 309 wheels
  • Merida Expert TR dropper
  • £6,200 RRP
  • Merida-Bikes.com

The Merida Ninety-Six has some serious cross country race-winning heritage thanks to the likes of Gunn Rita Dahle and Jose Hermida, and the 100mm platform was their go-to for more technical tracks here a hardtail wasn’t going to cut it.

In the latest revision of their cross country full suspension line up, the chassis, in this case, full carbon, got a serious tweak, with head angles in the 120mm forked models slackening out by three degrees. Reach also has lengthened but not anything like the longer, lower, slacker phenomenon of late. It needs to be remembered that the starting point was a fairly conservative XC machine.

Build and spec

The Ninety-Six 8000 is one of those 120mm forked models, and the highest spec of the two offerings. The frame is full carbon, with no chainstay/seatstay pivot to keep the weight down. The internal routing also runs through the headset to avoid having to put holes in the headtube. Blue dominates the colour scheme with bronze decals.

Talking of weight, I’m sure this bike weighs less than the box it came in… At a claimed 25.4lbs (11.57kg), there’s not a lot to this bike.

Top of the line Rockshox SID units handle the suspension, a SID Ultimate 120mm fork and a SIDLuxe Ultimate shock, both mated to a gripshift lockout lever should you need it.

Drive is provided by SRAM’s 12-speed GX Eagle with a 175mm carbon GX crank. Brakes are Shimano XT units on IceTech rotors. A 4-pot up front and a 2-pot on the rear.

Reynolds TR 309 carbon wheels are shod with a pair of 2.3″ EXO casing Maxxis Minion DHR tyres.

Merida’s own Team and Expert finishing kit rounds out the package.

Geometry

With the 120mm fork on the Ninety-Six in medium, the head tube angle drops to 67 degrees with a 75 degree seat tube. Reach drops slightly to 440mm which now matches the seat tube length. Chainstays are 435mm with a wheelbase of 1156mm.

TLD A3 Helmet

Opening moves

With the lock out meaning compression adjustments on the dampers a non-starter, setup was even more straightforward than usual. Simply set the sag and rebound, adjust tyre pressure and lever throw to suit and get to it.

What is immediately apparent is that the Ninety-Six wants to go forward. The 34t chain ring giving good range of options combined with the 52t cassette, and the rear end transforming any thought about leg movement into drive to the ground. Stamping hard on the pedals doesn’t seem to see any wastage into the suspension, find a smooth cadence and you’ll be rewarded with a speed that feels a little to easy at first.

It doesn’t feel like a bike with 100mm travel out back, the low weight, taller stance and steeper angles making it great fun when things get slow and picky, or you need to get the bike up and over a trail obstacle. Longer, easier rides where fire road is king are a hoot too. The miles simply flashing past.

So fast is the Ninety-Six in almost every situation that the lockout, for someone who is certainly not an XC racer, seems superfluous. At no point have I found the bike to be particularly inefficient, in fact, far from it. Out of the saddle climbs see the power still just transferred to the rear tyre that digs in and spits you out at the top. Big gear gallops area joy too.

While I wouldn’t discard the lockout to get more compression adjustment, the tune seems right for the kind of riding the Ninety-Six is designed for, you’d get a much less cluttered cockpit, less to go wrong and maybe even a slightly cheaper bike.

As the speed increases though, the foibles of the Ninety-Six start to come to the fore. Out on the trail, the Ninety-Six feels quite tall and this seems to be a hallmark of Meridas. The 440mm reach is spot on for me but the seat tube is, owing to the linkage design, just as long.

The -20 stem making for the feeling of a low front end too. With the dropper up for some fast blasting, it feels hard to shift your weight from anywhere but front-heavy, putting a lot of weight on your hands. The Merida Team carbon bars are stiff, and having a lot of weight on your hands only seems to make them feel stiffer.

It’s still early days yet and the Ninety-Six has been a good companion for hammering out the miles. I’m definitely coming to riding this bike from having ridden nothing but 140mm+ travel bikes in the past, so I’m willing to overlook this for now and hopefully some fine tuning can keep the Ninety-Six singing.

One last thing. Downcountry. I don’t know who or what that is, but for anyone that wants to ride massive distance with some big old descents thrown in, this Ninety-Six will certainly handle the distance, whereas if you’re leaning towards the descent, the OneTwenty in a higher spec guise might be more the machine for you.

You can check out the Merida Ninety-Six 8000 on Merida’s website here.