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Merida Trans Mission Comp

  • Merida Trans Mission Comp
  • £1,600
  • Exclusively from Mukshop
  • 0845 600 8218

Unless you’re a follower of international XC racing, you may not have heard of Merida. It sponsors a large and powerful team of XC racers but 2004 is the company’s first year in the UK. Like Giant, Merida is a huge Taiwanese frame-building concern primarily involved in manufacturing frames for other people. Merida also happens to own a substantial chunk of Specialized, which gives you some idea of the scale of the operation… Now it’s looking to “do a Giant” and make a name for itself in its own right.

The relatively compact 2004 bike range covers ultralight magnesium hardtails and short-travel full suspension bikes, plus the Trans Mission long-travel bikes. We’re looking at the Comp, the cheaper of the two models on offer.

Frame

Ever-so-slightly barrel shaped head tube

At first sight, the Trans Mission frame looks rather like a Specialized Epic, but really all the two designs have in common is the rear shock placement. The Epic has a pivot on the chainstays, making it a true four-bar linkage, while the Trans Mission has a pivot on the seatstays meaning that the rear axle travels in a simple arc around the main pivot near the BB – it’s effectively a single-pivot design. The other key difference is travel. The Epic is a lightweight, short-travel bike delivering around 90mm of travel at the rear. The Merida is a considerably burlier offering, packing a full 120mm.

The idea of the shock placement is twofold. First, it puts all of the suspension parts outside the main triangle, which means that there’s space for two sets of sensibly-positioned bottle bosses and lets you carry the thing on your shoulder should you need to. The design also a low ratio between shock travel and wheel travel. The Merida blurb claims a 1:1 ratio (10mm of wheel movement compresses the shock 10mm) but we assume that they’re talking about the short-travel Mission frame – the Trans Mission’s more like 2:1. That’s still a low ratio, with most bikes using something around 2.5-3.5:1. The advantage of a low ratio is that the shock can be used with lower pressures, making it plusher, and it generally moves slower and sees lower forces, allowing it to last longer. It certainly lends the Trans Mission a very conventional profile – it just looks like a bike, and is unlikely to cause offence to traditionalists.

Unusually, Merida keep quiet about what the Trans Mission is actually made of. It’s aluminium, obviously, but there’s a refreshing lack of magic number hype surrounding the grade. Which is fine by us. It’s clearly something that lends itself to complex tube forming, though – there’s hardly a tube on this frame that hasn’t been hydroformed or machined into some interesting shape.

Merida’s LRS suspension design

Starting at the front, the head tube has a very slight barrel profile but with enlarged ends where the integrated headset sits. It’s attached to a down tube with a flared front end, a rectangular cross-section and a slightly channelled underside. The top tube is even crazier, with a trapezoid cross-section, gradually increasing fatness from back to front and a bit of styling with a curved “fold” and an ‘HFS’ (for Hydro-Formed System) logo in the sides.

The seat tube is a fairly conventional round section, which is handy as it has tradtionally round things like seat posts and front mechs attached to it. Down the bottom it flattens off and narrows to accomodate the one-piece forged BB shell and main pivot. Hanging off said pivot is the chainstay, featuring a forged yoke at the front, vertically rectangular stays and beefy forged dropouts. The seatstays pivot off the top of the dropouts and head up to a forged upper link, which also carries one end of the special Manitou Swinger SPV shock.

Manitou Black Elite fork

All of the suspension pivots run on sizable cartridge bearings, mud clearance is adequate, the claimed frame weight for the 20in model is a par-for-the-course 3.1kg (6.9lb) and the clear lacquered finish gives the whole thing a nicely understated look.

Components

Looking at similar sorts of bikes for similar money, it’s clear that the Trans Mission has got a spec fight on its hands. It puts in a strong first punch with the suspension components – you get Manitou SPV units at bothe ends, with a Swinger 3-way shock out back and a Black Elite fork. The SPV version of the Black is a new fork to us, and the Elite incarnation packs a lot of adjustability. There’s a “Wind-Down” travel adjust dial on the left leg giving you between 90 and 120mm of rate-corrected travel, while the damping in the left hand leg offers adjustable rebound damping and SPV pressure.

The fork spins in a well-sealed Tange integrated headset. Bar, stem and seatpost on the test bike were IKE carbon fibre parts, but bikes in the shops will have FSA components. Transmission features an FSA Afterburner ISIS chainset and Shimano XT everything else, while braking is handled by Avid rim brakes. Wheels are Mavic X717 rims laced to Shimano XT hubs with smart black spokes and shod with a Maxxis Ignitor/Dyno-Mite 2.35 combination that appear to be essentially the same tyre running in different directions.

It’s a fairly well-rounded spec, although we’d have liked to have seen disc-ready hubs for an easier upgrade. Actually we’d have liked to have seen discs, but the suspension parts are a cut above most offerings at the price point. Many manufacturers would have another slightly pricier disc model in the range, but this is Merida’s first year in the UK and to keep things simple there’s only this bike and the £2,300 Expert in the Trans Mission range.

FSA cranks make it go

It certainly compares well with obvious competitors like Specialized’s Enduro Comp, which gives you Shimano 525 discs but a relatively lowly Marzocchi EXR fork and a slightly downspecced transmission. Somehow Marin appear to have come up with another spec winner in this sector, with the 4-6in travel Wolf Ridge coming with a Fox TALAS fork, Truvativ/XT transmission mix and Hope Mini brakes for £95 more than the Merida. The Trans Mission certainly has nothing to be ashamed of in the parts department, though.

Ride

The layout on the Trans Mission is quite unusual. Frame angles are relaxed at 70 head, 72 seat and the test bike came equipped with a 130mm stem which is huge by today’s standards. Combined with a 24.2in top tube, you’re looking at a pretty stretched-out riding position. In fact, the whole thing’s pretty long – the chainstays are 17.1in. It all adds up to a very stable ride somewhat in the European enduro tradition – the Trans Mission’s a bike that doesn’t demand too much of the rider than to keep pedalling, but it’s definitely more of a carver than a flicker in corners. The adjustable fork gives you a bit of scope to speed things up and we wound it down on twistier trails.

Suspension performance is very good. Ordinarily we’d expect a bike that’s essentially a low single-pivot swingarm to be very supple but tending to be mushy, but the SPV rear shock sorts that out a treat. After fiddling around a bit we ran the lowest recommended pressure in the SPV chamber at the rear and found a happy compromise between stability under pedalling and small-bump sensitivity. It’s not the plushest bike over the little stuff out there, though, but it’s not a bad trade-off for minimal movement under power. And the big Maxxis tyres take out the really small bumps… The SPV-equipped Black Elite fork is, as you might expect, an excellent match for the rear. Again, it’s not as plush as, say, a Fox on the smallest bumps, but it’s very stable and we were particularly impressed by its performance under braking – the SPV valve is pretty effective at resisting dive which minimised the pitching sensation that you can get with longish travel bikes on trails that are twisty enough that you’re on and off the brakes and pedals all the time.

Probably our favourite aspect of the suspension is its ability to suck up landings. One of the benefits of platform damping systems like SPV is that they tend not to “over-travel” on middling-to-big hits – they compress as far as they need to but no further, leaving the rebound damping with less work to do. Landings from drops are cat-like and it’s very hard to get the bike out of shape on fast rocky sections. Combined with the stable handling, you’ve got a bike that likes going fast.

Traction is better than you might expect given the length of the back end, but the relatively shallow seat angle puts you fairly over the wheel while the long stem keeps the front from lifting. It feels a bit unwieldy for really nadgery technical climbing, preferring the sort of stuff that you can deal with by aiming at the top of the hill, getting your weight in the right place and pedalling through everything in sight.

Positives: Stout feel, imperturbable performance, a little bit different

Negatives: Not for fans of flighty bikes, no discs

Verdict

On the showing of this bike, Merida are definitely one to watch for the future. The Trans Mission is well put together and respectably specced, and it works well. Some people will want something a little more dynamic-feeling, but the Merida’s platform damping at both ends and stable geometry make it a valuable ally on all-day big-terrain rides – it won’t try and kill you when you’re a bit tired… We’re hoping that Merida bring in a bigger range in future years, giving them scope to perhaps offer a Trans Mission with a shorter stem, more forward seating position and disc brakes. For now, though, the Trans Mission Comp is a worthy competitor if it fits your style.

Performance: 4/5
Value: 3/5
Overall: 4/5

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