Merida is a well-known name in the UK thanks to its sponsorship of major events like the MTB-Marathon enduro series and TransWales stage race. The high profile of the brand doesn't seem to have quite translated to a strong presence on the trails, though, largely because (we suspect) that the bikes haven't quite fitted UK tastes. But we fully expect that to change during 2007, with a complete UK-specific range backed up by a substantial dealer network.
The AM bikes use a fairly conventional swingarm/linkage driven shock arrangement but with some neat constructional details. Asymmetric stays maximise tyre clearance and minimise weight, while the rocker arm comprises a pair of 3D forgings joined not only by the actual pivots but by a pair of additional struts, one at each end. This ought to make for a notably stiff construction. Alternative shock mounts offer 115 or 130mm of travel.
The top of the range AM 3000-D uses 6066 hydroformed aluminium tubing, while the 800 (pictured) and 500 use mechanically-manipulated 6061. Entry level is the 500 at £799.99. That gets you RockShox Dart forks, an SR rear shock (with lockout), Deore transmission, Tektro Auriga hydraulic discs and FSA cranks. Step up to the £1,199.99 800 and you'll find a RockShox Recon U-Turn fork and Ario rear shock, Deore/LX transmission and Hayes brakes. At the high end, the 3000 has a no-nonsense Fox 32 fork/RP2 shock/full Shimano XT setup at £1,749.99.
Merida has an extraordinarily successful race team. Obviously having multiple World Champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja on the squad helps with the trophy count, but the rest of the riders are always up there too. Needless to say, Merida has some top-notch XC race bikes on offer. The two shown here both have FLX carbon stays that are deliberately flattened to allow a few millimetres of bum-saving vertical flex.
If you really want to have no excuses at all, the Carbon FLX 3000-D is the bike to go for. The frame is the same as that used by those team riders (weighing in at a claimed 1.28kg, fact fans). The complete bike has a full XT group and Fox 32 FRL 80mm travel forks at £1,999.99. Or you can save some cash and go for the MATTS FLX 3000-D - same spec, but a half-carbon, half-aluminium frame. Well, slightly less than half carbon, but it's not just the usual carbon fibre stays - the whole back end is the same as that on the Carbon FLX. The full bike will set you back £1,599.99.
Exotic race-bred bikes are all very well, but it's the more workaday bikes that are where the big brands earn their money. Merida has a wide range for 2007, starting with the Kalahari 6 at a penny under £200. We actually quite like the look of this - a lot of manufacturers try to boost the shop-floor appeal of entry-level bikes by chucking on disc brakes and suspension forks of dubious functionality and considerable weight, but Merida has chosen to keep things simple - aluminium frame, chromoly rigid fork, V brakes. It's bound to be lighter and more reliable than a lot of its competition.
The next step up the Merida ladder is the SUB range. There are four bikes here, all sharing a 6061 aluminium frame. Cheapest is the SUB 20-V (£269.99) with an RST Gila 100mm fork and Shimano transmission. Most expensive is the SUB 60-D, which packs quite a spec for the £519.99 asking price - Deore transmission, RST Gila fork with lockout and Hayes HFX-9 disc brakes. There's also disc and V-brake versions of the SUB 40 that fit in the middle in both price and spec.
Filling the gap between the SUBs and the FLXs is the MATTS TFS series. Three bikes, all with funkily-shaped 6061 frames, ranging from £649.99 for the RockShox Dart/Deore/HFX-9 700 up to £999 for the Reba SL/XT,HFX-9 900.
You're nobody if you don't have a cyclocross bike in your range for 2007, and fortunately for Merida it's escaped a fate worse than obscurity by putting out a small range. We only get one model in the UK, but let's be honest, that's probably enough. Especially when it's rather nice-looking, as the CC4 is. The 6066 aluminium frame is decked out with a carbon fork, Shimano 105 bits and an FSA Omega chainset for £849.99.
Those are the ones that catch our eyes, but there are plenty more in the range - kids' bikes, women's bikes, road bikes, commuter bikes, all sorts. We'll endeavour to get some of these through the BM test mill shortly - in the meantime, keep checking www.merida-bikes.co.uk for more information.