- Merida AM800D
- More UK-oriented than Meridas of the past
- 130mm travel both ends
Pushed for time? Skip straight to the verdict.
Merida is one of the biggest producers of bike frames in the world, although most of the output from its factories is to other people''s designs and appears in the shops with other people''s branding. Thanks to the hugely popular enduro series that it sponsors, Merida is a brand with a high profile in the UK. That profile hasn''t necessarily translated into huge sales historically, largely thanks to the bikes on offer in the past being a little, well, European in style. But Merida''s been making a big noise about launching bikes more in tune with what UK riders are after, and 2008 is the year where that effect has really become noticeable.
While the 800''s frame looks the same as that used on the more expensive AM3000 bike, it''s subtly different in ways that you can''t actually see. The tube profiles and outer dimensions are the same, but the 800 uses a mechanical process to shape the tubes while the 3000 uses hydroforming. This gives the pricier bikes thinner tube walls and hence less weight.
It''s pretty impressive what Merida''s managed to do here. The down tube is particularly notable, being "ditched" along its length and featuring the essential "integrated gusset" flaring at the front without a hydroforming machine in sight. There''s certainly no doubting the company''s manufacturing expertise.
The suspension layout is a standard swingarm/seatstay pivot/rocker/shock configuration. It''s worth noting that Merida has managed to leave the seat tube both straight and unencumbered by pivots, thus allowing a full range of seat height adjustment. The drive-side chainstay is dropped at the bottom bracket end to clear the chainrings, while its opposite number takes the direct path from pivot to chainstay.
All the pivots are substantial sealed bearings, although there''s not much in the way of additional protection from the elements. Cable routing goes both ways, with the rear brake hose running along the top tube and both gear cables heading under the bottom bracket - the fully-enclosed rear gear cable is a welcome mud-friendly touch.
The whole frame is kind of a microcosm of where some would argue that Merida still is as a company - big on high-tech manufacturing techniques, but not a hotbed of design innovation. To put it more kindly, it''s a simple frame done well, and that''s no bad thing.
We always take an angle finder and tape measure to bikes that pass through the hallowed BM portal, but usually after we''ve ridden them - it''s amazing how knowing what the head angle is beforehand does to your perception of the ride. Usually our numbers are in agreement with those supplied by the manufacturer - if we get within a fraction of a degree on the angles and a couple of millimetres on the lengths we give ''em the benefit of the doubt and declare the stated figures to match reality. Most of Merida''s numbers for the AM800 came up on the tape measure, but the angles were somewhat different. The spec sheet says 69.5° head, 72° seat, we made it 68/73. That''s slacker at the front and steeper at the back, so clearly it''s not down to it being parked on a slope, having the forks adjusted to a different length or anything daft like that.
But numbers schnumbers. What matters is the ride, and it''s not at all shabby. The relaxed front end makes it extremely confidence-inspiring, and combined with the hefty tyres and acceptably stout frame leads you successfully into all sorts of point-and-shoot manouevres. When it comes to corners, carving is the name of the game - it''s not a bike for sudden changes of direction, but get everything lined up on the way in and it can be hustled along twisty trails with some aplomb.
While the overall weight is reasonable, the tyres are both quite portly and somewhat draggy which definitely affects acceleration, particularly on softer trails. It can feel a bit of a handful on tight, techy climbs, but once rolling it''s fine on more open stuff. The relatively steep seat angle commits your weight forward and helps you to maintain a line up hill.
Get on to harder, rockier trails and the tyres make much more sense. Indeed, the whole package feels very much at home on the kind of sweeping, "built" rocky trails that typify much of the UK''s purpose-built trail reserves. Given Merida''s stated commitment to producing more UK-oriented bikes, we suspect that this isn''t a coincidence.
It''s fair to say that you''ll start to feel the limitations of the suspension a little earlier than on more expensive bikes. That''s mostly down to the budget shock, which starts to gasp a bit on the bigger stuff and lacks the damping sophistication to feel really controlled through the full gamut of riding conditions. You''ll find that you need to strike a compromise with the setup - we leant towards sacrificing a bit of small-bump reactivity for the sake of more composure over bigger bumps and higher speeds.
Despite its name, we don''t think that the AM800D quite fits in with our idea of "all-mountain". But in some ways it reminds us of Marin''s Wolf Ridge - both feature geometry that you''d associate with longer-travel bikes but render it more usable by packaging it with handier, shorter-travel setups. The main obstacle that Merida''s offering will face is the conservative-looking spec, but turn off the part of your brain that''s evolved from magpies and you''ll see a solidly-specced and good-performing bike.
Ups and downs
Solidly made, respectable overall weight, confident handling, decent value, no nasty surprises
Appearance doesn''t excite, simple back end can show shock''s limitations, draggy tyres
People often comment that Merida has "an image problem". We''re not sure that "problem" is necessarily the right word, but few would argue that it''s not yet a "cool" brand - it''s going through essentially the same process that Giant went through some years ago, and you''ll find plenty of people saying the same about Giant even now. Brand snobs just aren''t going to be interested in this bike. Anyone looking for a solid, well-performing and good-value bike that feels very at home around the UK''s trail centres, however, should be interested in the AM800D. It might not attract any second glances, but it''s meant to be about riding, not being looked at...
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