ON TEST | The New Merida Ninety-Six Splits Into Two Versions For 2021

Alongside the new Specialized Epic, Cannondale Scalpel, Orbea Oiz and Trek Supercaliber, Merida has just announced its (somewhat tardy) arrival to this year’s XC party with the brand new Ninety-Six. Completely overhauled for 2021, the new Merida Ninety-Six replaces the outgoing model, which arrived back in 2015, and went on to become one of the most popular options for Aussie XCO and marathon racers of the past few years thanks to its low weight and excellent value for money. Merida is set to build on that reputation with the new model, which receives a swathe of updates to help redefine this flagship race bike, while addressing the evolving expectations and demands of modern XC riders and racers.

2021 merida ninety-six
Merida unveils two new Ninety-Six platforms for 2021.
2021 merida ninety-six rc 9000
Both Ninety Six models feature a new carbon frame with 100mm of rear wheel travel and a lighter flex-stay suspension design.

What’s New With The 2021 Merida Ninety-Six?

Everything! The new Ninety-Six has been totally reengineered from the inside-out. While the new bike does share a similar layout to the old model, it receives an entirely new carbon fibre chassis that is sleeker, more modern and more practical than its predecessor. It also takes a hefty step up in the looks department too.

Rear suspension travel now sits at 100mm (up from 96mm) and all four frame sizes are built around 29in wheels – even the Small. Merida says the rear suspension is more progressive than before, and most models feature a custom Fox Float DPS shock that sees the cable lockout hidden from view through the top tube.

Every Ninety-Six model is spec’d with a dropper post as standard – a welcome and forward-thinking move on Merida’s behalf.

The fork and shock are linked up via cables to a RockShox TwistLoc remote, allowing you to lock out both simultaneously with the flick of a wrist. The TwistLoc remote allows for a proper under-the-bar dropper post lever, and on that note, every Ninety-Six model is spec’d with a dropper post as standard – a welcome and forward-thinking move on Merida’s behalf.

There’s a little more tyre clearance, so you can now fit up to 2.3in wide rubber in the rear. And as with the majority of XC full suspension bikes on the market, the Merida Ninety-Six has also eliminated the pivot at the dropout. The one-piece carbon swingarm relies on flex through the seatstays instead, resulting in a lighter and simpler layout.

2021 merida ninety-six rc 9000
The silhouette might not be all that different, but there are some big improvements on the new Ninety-Six.

Race & Trail Versions

For 2021, Merida will also be offering two distinct varieties of the Ninety-Six. Both use the same chassis with 100mm of rear travel, but the fork travel and spec are different between the two. Here’s a quick summary, though full specs and pricing can be found further down the page.

Firstly, there’s the Ninety-Six RC (RC = Race). This is the lightweight race bike, which features a 100mm travel fork, fast-rolling XC race tyres and two-piston brakes front and rear. If low weight and race-bike efficiency are your bag, this is the bike for you.

And then there’s the regular Ninety-Six. This is the pumped-up version, which gets a 120mm travel fork, chunkier tyres and a bigger four-piston brake up front. The bigger fork slackens off the angles, making this the more versatile option for everyday riding. We also see it as being the better race bike option for heavier riders.

The silhouette might not be all that different, but there are some big improvements on the new Ninety-Six.
The Ninety-Six 8000 beefs things up with a 120mm travel SID, a bigger front brake and chunkier Minion DHR II tyres.

Big Geometry Updates

The current Ninety-Six has been looking a touch long in the tooth for a while now, and as expected, Merida’s given the new frame a significant push forward in terms of its geometry.

The Ninety-Six RC’s head angle is 1.5° slacker than the old bike, and the seat angle is around 2° steeper. The BB also sits 5mm lower, and the overall wheelbase is quite a bit longer. On a Medium frame, reach has grown from 429mm to a very generous 453mm. Stem length has shrunk accordingly – you now get a 60 or 70mm long stem, along with 740mm wide bars.

As you’ll see in the geometry chart below, those angles do kick back further on the 120/100mm travel Ninety-Six.

2021 merida ninety-six geometry

2021 merida ninety-six rc
All Ninety Six models use a full carbon frame – even the suspension link is made from carbon.

There’s A Sub-1.7kg Carbon Frame

Being a race bike, weight is of course an important consideration. According to Merida, the new Ninety-Six CF5 frame comes in at just 1,695g for the bare frame. Once you add in the rear shock, seat clamp, derailleur hanger and frame armour, that weight comes out to 2,064g. Decent, but according to claimed weights from the competition, it isn’t the lightest on the market;

Bear in mind that these are all claimed weights, and not every brand weighs its frame with all the requisite hardware. That aside, it’s one thing to believe the manufacturers, it’s another to have all those frames in front of us to weigh side-by-side.

Given this is likely to become the race bike of choice for many privateers, there’s plenty of practicality built into the new Ninety-Six.

While we’re grammin’ though, it’s worth noting that only the top-end Merida Ninety-Six RC 9000 gets the lighter CF5 carbon frame. All other models come with a CF4/CF5 carbon frame that supposedly weighs an additional 200g due to a heavier front triangle. The moulds, tube shapes and geometry are identical between the two frames, and we’re told that stiffness and strength is equal too.

2021 merida ninety-six rc
The new frame will take two water bottles inside the mainframe – that includes the Small too.

Double Bottles & Integrated Tool Storage

Boosting versatility, the new Merida Ninety-Six frame will now take two bottles inside the mainframe. On the M-XL frame sizes there’s room for two full-size 750ml bottles, while on the Small, you can fit a 750ml and a 500ml bottle. This will no doubt be good news for marathon racers and XC riders who like to go long.

To get that second bottle in, Merida has developed a special adapter to fit a water bottle cage on the seat tube, without sacrificing seatpost insertion depth. Alternatively, if you don’t need the second bottle, this adapter can be used to fit Merida’s new Trail Mount – a purpose built bracket that will accommodate a spare tube, CO2 cartridges, a compact pump, and a spare derailleur hanger. You can also run the Trail Mount underneath the top tube above the shock, though you’ll need to use a very compact inner tube like a Tubolito (as shown in the photos). Upon first glance, it looks to be quite a neat and practical solution.

Clean Cabling

Improving the sleek lines of the Ninety-Six, Merida is now routing cables through the headset, not unlike the new Canyon Exceed. The rear brake hose, derailleur and dropper cables all pass through the top cap and upper headset bearing, which does mean that headset servicing is a little more involved. However, it also reduces cable rubbing and allows them to be trimmed much shorter. The lockout cable is the only one that goes directly through a port in the head tube.

There’s also a novel solution for routing the derailleur cable through the chainstay. The lower portion of the chainstay yoke is actually made from solid carbon, and it has a nylon cable routing channel integrated through it. This allows Merida to get away with a wider chainstay tube with thicker walls, which purportedly increases durability in this high-load area of the frame.

Press-Fit No More!

Given this is likely to become the race bike of choice for many privateers, there’s plenty of practicality built into the new Ninety-Six. Whereas the old bike used a PF92 bottom bracket shell, the new frame goes back to a good old threaded bottom bracket.

All suspension pivot points use non-slip hardware that can be tightened from the one side, and you only need a single T30 torx key for the job. Merida has also moved the Ninety-Six frame to the SRAM UDH hanger standard, which should make replacements easier for those who like to travel with their bike.

Other frame features include a move to a flat-mount rear brake calliper that requires no adapters with a 160mm rotor. There’s also a minimalistic integrated upper chainguide, which is adjustable for use with up to a 38T chainring.

What Models Are Coming To Australia?

We’ll see four Merida Ninety-Six bikes coming into Australia for 2021. Prices start at $5,599 AUD for the Ninety-Six RC 5000 and go up to $9,999 AUD for the RC 9000.

While the RC models are due to arrive around January/February, we won’t see the brawnier Ninety-Six 8000 (that’s the model with the blue SID fork and Minion DHR II tyres) arrive until July. That’s a heckuva long time away! You can blame COVID for that one, as demand for bikes has gone through the roof this year and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

For those looking for a faster solution, it’s worth noting that all Ninety-Six RC frames can handle a 120mm travel fork, so you could always adapt one if you fancied a burlier setup.

Read on for a closer look at the specs and pricing for all four Ninety-Six models, and stay tuned for our review – we’ve just received the Ninety Six RC 9000 and a Ninety Six 8000 to put to the test on home trails. How will they compare to the likes of the Canyon Lux, Specialized Epic and Trek Supercaliber? Stay tuned!

2021 merida ninety-six rc 9000
The Ninety-Six RC 9000 is the only model to receive the super-light CF5 carbon frame. Equipped with Fox Factory Series livery, Shimano XTR and carbon DT Swiss wheels, this bike is race-ready out of the box.

2021 Merida Ninety-Six RC 9000

2021 merida ninety-six xt
The Ninety-Six XT takes one step down on the groupset, while also electing for alloy wheels and Performance Series Fox suspension to bust nearly three grand off the price.

2021 Merida Ninety-Six RC XT

2021 merida ninety-six rc 5000
The entry-point into the lineup, the Ninety-Six RC 5000 features a Shimano Deore 1×12 drivetrain, SLX brakes, a dropper post and RockShox air-sprung suspension.

2021 Merida Ninety-Six RC 5000

2021 merida ninety-six 8000
For riders who want to push a little harder, the Ninety-Six 8000 comes with chunkier rubber, a four-piston front brake and the excellent 120mm travel RockShox SID Ultimate.

2021 Merida Ninety-Six 8000

2021 merida ninety-six rc
For the red-blooded racer heads, we’ve got the Merida Ninety-Six RC 9000 on test.
2021 merida ninety-six 8000
Pumped up with a 120mm SID Ultimate fork, 2.3in Maxxis DHR II tyres and a bigger 4-piston front brake, the Merida Ninety-Six 8000 looks like an absolute scream!
2021 merida ninety-six rc
How does the new Ninety-Six perform on the trail? And how does the trail version compare to the race model? Time to find out!

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