Merida has been quietly edging closer and closer to the top of the long-travel rankings in recent years, and the latest One-Sixty puts them into a potential podium position.
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Even before you get onto the 8000 you can see it’s shaped ‘right’. The large size combines a 475mm reach with a 65.5-degree head angle to create a super-stable, self-correcting handling feel that’s on your side even when the terrain definitely isn’t.
RockShox’s Lyrik is an unshakably solid, smooth and consistently-controlled fork that’s easily tuned to a sweet spot. There’s no shortage of stiffness from the big box-section front end of the carbon frame too, making the only handling glitch the odd-shaped 760mm bar. That’s an easy swap though, and the SRAM X01 Eagle and Guide RS stop/go kit is excellent.
Clamped internal cable routing and room for a bottle are design pluses, while the press-fit bottom bracket and just three frame size options are minuses. The asymmetric alloy rear end has extended chainstay tips which, together with the short rocker link, create a ‘floating’ mount for the latest RockShox Super Deluxe RC3 shock. This has a three-position low-speed compression damping lever, which adds pedalling support to the smoothly mobile, high-traction back end if revs are low and torque high.
The One-Sixty is clearly a gravity-orientated rig though, and while it has 160mm of travel, its capacity to calmly swallow the biggest blocks and drops of battering black runs or off-piste boulder fields without flinching, spiking or getting kicked off line means it feels like a much bigger bike.
This means you can push the Merida hard on the rowdiest trails with masses more confidence than on most bikes. Like the Lyrik, the Super Deluxe shock has a more forgiving bandwidth, in terms of tuning, than the Fox Float X dampers on the other bikes, so you can get your A game on ASAP.
It would have been a possible Superbike of the Year test winner if Merida had fitted a wider option from the excellent DT Swiss 1501 wheel line-up. Unfortunately, the 25mm rims together with the stiff ‘2.4in’ carcass of the Continental Baron mud tyres (which actually only measures 2.2in) create an unnecessarily harsh ride. That meant the One-Sixty only revealed its truly outstanding performance when I swapped in wider, smoother wheels and tyres, but it’s potential is still good enough to score very high.