While still on point in terms of aesthetics, Merida’s Big.Nine cross-country hardtail has been around for quite a while. Seven years in fact, so it’s safe to say that it was overdue an update. Today, Merida has unveiled the updated machine with a revised geometry complete with a new frame, available in both carbon and alloy. We managed to wrangle a spin on the range-topping Big.Nine 10k ahead of its launch.
2016 was the last update of the Big.Nine, which ushered in 29-inch wheels. Since then, cross-country tracks have gotten pretty gnarly and the brand wanted to offer a cross-country bike that could excel on a modern XC race circuit.
Though the brand has also recognised that riders quite like the whole 'longer, slacker, lower' trend, Merida has built the new Big.Nine to offer good handling as well as the best fit.
And that makes a great place to start. The geometry is a clear departure from the previous iteration but right in line with what Merida’s done with its One-Forty and One-Sixty full sussers albeit a little more reserved. The Big.Nine goes the way of the brand’s Agilometer sizing concept that focuses on the bike's length, rather than the rider's height. With short seat- and headtubes across the size spectrum, potential customers can easily size up or down depending on their desired ride characteristics. Instead of naming the sizes ‘Small’, ‘Medium’, etc, these sizes now go by ‘Short’, ‘Mid’, ‘Long’, and up to 'X X Long'.
To put those sizes into numbers, a Midsize bike gets a 452mm reach, a 68-degree head tube angle and a 75.3-degree seat tube. As for the chainstay, they're size-specific with measurements ranging from 430mm to 442mm but there's space for a 29-inch wheel and clearance for a 2.4in tyre. The seat tube on the bike has been reduced by 30mm, with the Mid frame coming in at 410mm.
Merida has employed the natural flex of a very, very long seat post. Granted, the seat stays on this bike have been flattened to boost vertical compliance. That said, the brand has concentrated flex in the seat post area, which translates into tens of millimetres of movement rather than just a few as found on bendy seat stays. The Big.Nine also relies on fat, 2.4in tyres to absorb bumps and chatter.
Merida’s choice in refraining from utilising flex stays or elastomer-equipped vibration dampers has allowed the designers to dial in forgiveness in the right places, without having to sacrifice efficiency or add weight to the frame.
Speaking of weight, the Big.Nine is available in three frame materials, two of which are carbon while the other is a hydroformed alloy that Merida calls Lite. That Lite aluminium frame weighs 1,920g and what's very cool about these frames is that they're sorted with kickstand, fender and rear carrier mounts.
The carbon frames drop the grams with the CF3 version coming in at 1,100g.
That range-topping race-ready machine, the Big.Nine 10k, benefits from an even lighter frame, with a claimed weight of 880g. This has been achieved through the use of an even higher quality level of carbon which has allowed the designers to use less of the material without compromising strength or stiffness.
As for frame features, there are some pretty cool things going on such as the bottle mount positions. Instead of positioning them on the seat tube, Merida has placed them under the top tube so riders can either install long-travel dropper posts or slam their seat posts to accommodate smaller riders. There's then 142x12mm Boost spacing, an integrated headset, a SRAM UDH hanger and a Flat Mount rear brake that can accommodate either a 160mm or 180mm rotor. The bike is 1x specific with a 55mm chain line.
Elsewhere, there’s the internal routing as seen on the Ninety-Six that routes the cables through the headset. There’s a BSA threaded bottom bracket and slung under the Prologo saddle, is a well-hidden multitool – something that's become a mainstay of Merida bikes.
The latest iteration of the Big.Nine isn’t completely about aggressive XC racing as it’s also offered in a more trail friendly or, dare I say it, downcountry build that comes with a 120mm travel fork dubbed TR. Of course, this slackens the geometry and shrinks the reach a touch. TR bikes will come with more aggressive tyres and dropper posts as standard and will be available with CF3 carbon or Lite aluminium frames.
Outgoing iterations of the bike will not be binned but rather offered at entry-level price points, which marks a clever move – especially given the current cost of living crisis.
Merida Big.Nine 10k - Components
I sampled the race-ready range-topping and mega-racy £9,000 Big.Nine 10k. It’s safe to say that Merida hasn’t cut any corners with its specification-level and all-carbon garnishings.
Up front, is the very latest SID SL from RockShox with 100mm of travel. It’s sorted with the Twistloc remote lockout system. The big update with this fork is that it gets a larger air volume, as well as an increased bushing overlap. Shifting is then supplied by SRAM with the very spendy XX SL Transmission drivetrain that's equipped with a Quarq power meter.
This bike rolls on a pair of Reynolds carbon rims that are laced to Industry Nine Hydra hubs, with the freehub offering an impressive .52-degrees of engagement. Those are wrapped with almost slick but volumous 2.4in Maxxis Rekon Race tyres with EXO casings.
In an interesting move, this build rocks a fixed seat post. Though this choice will likely have been made on account of maximum weight savings, and maximum flex.
Merida Big.Nine 10k - Performance
I usually ride bikes with a more rearward weight bias and the Big.Nine did take a bit of getting used to but what came as a real surprise was how quickly I bonded with its modern-shaped frame. Granted, on this test sample, the cockpit was absolutely slammed. That took a larger level of customisation and one that would need more than the hour of bike time I put in. While we’ll get back to that a little later, stock bikes will get longer steerer tubes.
Flinging the Big.Nine up the first few climbs really showed off its efficiency and Merida’s big brains in putting flex and stiffness in certain areas. Cranking uphill, the flex in the seat post very effectively takes the sting out of trail chatter and more sudden hits, which makes for a comfy ride over long distances by reducing bum fatigue.
Though with a stiff rear end, traction at the back wheel is plentiful and I was surprised not to spin out as the bike capably encouraged me up steep sections with a good heft of speed and without horrific effort levels. Merida’s decision not to opt for flex stays, as seen on its bigger bikes, is one that is very appreciable as the stiffness retained within its chainstay and bottom bracket area claws back all the efficiency possible while improving comfort when saddled.
The Big.Nine distributes rider weight very well both through its reasonably long front-centre and its reserved (for Merida) seat-tube angle. Only through more technical sections did I feel the need to shift weight forwards. Elsewhere, I could leave the bike to do most of the work, though with the handlebar slammed on the steerer with a negative rise stem, this was to be expected.
Even though the bike’s reach is comparatively long, the front end is rather responsive owing to the stem and bar setup. This made winding through uphill switchbacks a doddle.
Getting the Big.Nine up to speed is hardly a task thanks to its overall light weight but also the stiffness around its rear end and bottom bracket area. Strong bursts of power were massively rewarded with heaps of forward momentum, which became invaluable when preparing to haul up techy ascents or regaining speed after tight corners. In fact, I got so into the easily achieved speed that I found myself pushing everywhere.
Descents are where the bike’s capability really surprised me. It’s not often I have a saddle shoved permanently close to my behind, which, I’ll admit, made me a little nervous but even though I felt uncomfortably close to a premature prostate exam when stood on the pedals, the bikes rad XC geometry soothed those nerves enough for me to let go of the brakes.
This bike loves speed, and when let off the leash, it rewards with very useful stability which more than makes up for its lack of suspension. The decision to employ chunky tyres is one that seriously pays back as not only do they help absorb nastier hits but they help the bike skip over techy sections, which translates into more control. Those flat seat stays do a bit of work here, too, as they soften the transmission of sudden hits to the ankles.
Though one area where the bike got a little nervous was during heavy compressions, where the fork would blow through its travel due to having more positional weight placed over the front. However, this is solely down to that low as flipping possible cockpit – and, lack of talent...
With this latest update, Merida has aimed to modernise that Big.Nine and that’s exactly what’s happened, resulting in an aggressive-but-lightweight race machine that’s really surprised with a welcoming ride. Once acquainted, thanks to its up-to-date geo and well-considered flex profile, it’s more than happy to be pushed and ridden hard. With a range catering to almost all price points, it’s a bike that’ll certainly please both those who are looking to tip their toes into cross-country racing or tackle elite-level racing.
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