- Merida Mission Elite
- 0845 600 8218
Merida is certainly trying hard in the UK market – it’s sponsoring all manner of stuff, and with the international race season in full swing it’s pro team is getting the podiums in. They’re developing a dealer network and the Trans Mission Comp we tested a while back proved to be a decent performer. The Mission Elite we’re looking at here is essentially the same design but with less travel and pitched squarely at the XC race market – it’s won World Cups under Merida team riders.
We’ve discussed Merida’s Low Ratio System rear suspension design before. To briefly recap, you’re getting a long shock stroke for the amount of wheel travel so the shock moves more slowly and sees lower forces. Which means that you can run a lighter spring and less damping so it’s more plush and the shock doesn’t have to work as hard so it lasts longer. It also keeps the main triangle free of suspension gubbinses, making room for a couple of sensibly-placed bottle mounts and letting you easily shoulder it.
All of these attributes make a lot of sense on an XC race bike. They certainly make more sense than on the longer-travel Trans Mission. The relatively short travel of the Elite (choose from 60 or 80mm) is delivered by the same shock as you’ll find on the 120mm rear travel Trans Mission – in the 60mm setting you’re running pretty much a 1:1 leverage ratio on the back end. And that is, as advertised, Low.
The rest of the frame is also very similar to the longer-travel bike only with subtley different tube profiles and (obviously) less travel. Curiously, Merida’s claimed frame weight for Mission is actually 20g heavier than for the Trans Mission, which doesn’t seem quite right. We didn’t get a chance to strip and weigh either of them so we can’t really be sure one way or the other. The big shock and stout tubing are fairly weighty elements for a fairly race-oriented bike, though.
Obviously colours are subjective things, and the Merida is certainly in the love/hate area. It’s “Racing Green” apparently, although one slightly unkind witness described it as “Radioactive Bogey”. We’ll be diplomatic and call it “distinctive”.
The rear SPV shock is complemented by a Manitou Skareb Elite up front. This fork also features SPV damping – it’s actually more adjustable than the shock, as there’s a volume adjuster for the SPV chamber letting you dial in your preferred bottom-out resistance. Interestingly for an XC bike the fork is a 100mm travel unit, so you’ve got between 20 and 40mm more travel at the front than at the back.
Wheels are rather lovely lightweight items from DT Swiss. You’re getting DT 240s hubs, XR4.1 rims and super-skinny black spokes. They’re shod with surprisingly beefy Maxxis Ignitor/Dy-No-Mite 2.1 tyres There’s no scope for fitting discs to the hubs, which is a pity – if you want to run discs you’ll have to abandon a seriously nice pair of wheels. We assume Merida didn’t want to take the weight penalty, but DT’s own Shimano Centerlock-compatible hubs are only 48g heavier for the pair.
Of course, you’d also have to change the shifters, as the Mission Elite comes equipped with XT Dual Control units driving Avid SD7 brakes. We’re growing quite fond of Dual Control, particularly on racy bikes but we’re not going to argue that separate shifters and brake levers are a more flexible setup. We must be getting used to Low Normal, too, because we got all confused on the Mission Elite until we realised it had a regular XT rear mech. The crankset is the splendid XT Hollowtech II unit which we’ve so far found to be stiff, light and trouble-free. You even get pedals with it – Shimano 540s might seem a bit low-rent on a 2.2k bike but they’re functionally indistinguishable from the top of the line 959s.
Finishing kit is all from FSA. The in-line post is topped with an unbranded Ti-rail saddle, while the bar is an oversized 31.8mm item with a stem to suit. It’s an intriguing spec decision – we’re used to seeing oversized stuff on more freeridey bikes, but whether you need the extra stiffness and strength on a fairly narrow flat bar is debatable.
It’s a decent-enough spec, but at the price it’s a little underwhelming – most other shortish-travel bikes for this money run discs or are a bit lighter. Like the Elite’s bigger brother, it looks as if the inclusion of a unique shock is compromising equipment elsewhere.
Hop on to the Mission Elite and everything screams “XC race” at you. The 20in test bike has a 23.8in top tube, 120mm stem and flat bars. The 71.5/73 angles are on the steep side and the in-line post pushes your weight forward. One slight weirdness is the 16.9in stays, which are towards the longer end of the spectrum – combined with the forward-set riding position it feels like there’s quite a lot of bike hanging out the back.
Handling is, as you might expect to look at those numbers, sharp. It always manages to stay on the right side of sketchy, though, helped along by the well-behaved SPV forks and shock. The forks tend not to dive under braking and with a short-travel back end there’s not much scope for distracting pitching.
On the long-travel Trans Mission we felt that the SPV shock was compensating for theoretical deficiencies in the rear suspension layout, specifically that without it we’d expect a fair bit of squat under power and general mushiness. Those traits aren’t in evidence here either, but we’re not convinced of the merits of SPV on such a short-travel bike. With just 80mm of travel to play with at most you end up running the shock quite hard to avoid running out of travel. With a firm shock you don’t get much movement under power anyway. The SPV does mitigate the short travel a bit by refusing to travel more than it needs to for any given hit, but you’re still going to bottom out 80mm of travel earlier than 100 or 120.
The end result is that you end up riding the Mission like a hardtail, weighting the front to get the most out of the fork. Indeed, with the racy setup it’s hard to ride it any other way. You still get a traction benefit from the rear suspension but the necessarily firm setup and SPV kind of works against the sensitivity promised by the low swingarm pivot and low leverage ratio. We actually preferred the ride of the Trans Mission – the extra travel lets you run a softer setup but the SPV keeps it stable, so it doesn’t feel any less lively.
And that’s kind of where we find ourselves with the Mission Elite. It’s a sharper handling, shorter travel version of the Trans Mission but there doesn’t seem to be any massive benefit to having less travel. The overall bike weight is a bit lower but there doesn’t appear to be much in it frame-only. What it comes down to is that you could race the long-travel bike but the short-travel one can get out of its depth on meatier terrain. To be fair, it’s designed as a race bike and it’s a proven performer in that arena but we’re always drawn towards versatile bikes and compared to its bigger brother the Mission Elite looks a bit single-minded.
Positives: Light, agile, World Cup heritage, flattering performance
Negatives: No clear disc upgrade path, can get out of its depth, there are better value bikes out thereVerdict
We think we’d take to this bike more if there was a disc-equipped version in the range – not that we feel that a bike like this has to have discs, just that it’d be nice to have the choice, particularly as there’s no economical upgrade path from the V-brake spec to discs. It’s a good bike, and if you’re looking to add a World Cup proven XC racer to your stable the Mission Elite is well worth a look. But you’ll find better all-round performance elsewhere in Merida’s own range.