Merida’s Ninety-Six Team is a genuine world-class XC chassis with a ‘no expense spared’ spec and head-down racer mentality.
While 29in wheels roll fastest, racers can’t always get low enough over the big hoops. The Ninety-Six answers that in several ways. The two smallest sizes come with 650b wheels (an option on the medium too), while the bigger frames use a super-short head tube and flipped 90mm stem to minimise bar height. The 70-degree head angle and 74.5-degree seat angle push rider weight forward aggressively too.
Nano Matrix resin improves the impact resistance of the carbon frame, and it’s moulded on removable silicone formers for the smoothest, strongest layup possible. Neat features include switchable cable or electric entry plates for the internal routing and sliding sleeves to stop suspension movement affecting shifting.
RockShox’s RS-1 fork is great in a straight line but flexy in the turns
SRAM’s flagship XX1 transmission delivers minimal weight drive, while own-brand carbon kit keeps overall weight under 11kg. Superlight foam grips and a Prologo saddle keep contact points firm but fair, and Maxxis Ikon tyres are our go-to high-speed race rubber.
Straining at the leash
With its low weight and head-down stance the Merida is straining at the leash from the first pedal stroke. With the suspension locked out it’s got impressive power transfer too, ripping up fireroads or smooth climbs hardtail fast, whether you’re trying to get the first-corner holeshot in a race or just leading your ‘mates’ into the pain cave. The reasonably proportioned (for a race bike) 720mm bar and 615mm top tube give plenty of breathing space for extended effort too.
We liked the clear distinction between open and locked suspension modes
Unlike on most race bikes, the default ‘open’ suspension mode sucks up trail irregularities for excellent traction and fatigue reduction, rather than skimming over the top. The fork and shock can be made more progressive with spacers, but we liked the clear on/off contrast between open and locked when it came to hardtail-distancing descending and lungs-out climbing.
It’s more of a handful in tight turns, where tracking accuracy is undermined by the twisty RS-1. Even with the naturally sharp and responsive handling, we found ourselves falling off the outside edge of corners until we adapted to it. The fork’s Accelerator damper can be smashed through the roughest straight-line overtaking lines without flinching though, and the relatively large-volume tyres are tough enough to let you take liberties too.