19 Feb 2013

José Hermida debuted a new 27.5-inch race rig in front of the world’s cycling media on the Spanish island of Mallorca this week.

The most consistent world cup rider of the last twelve years is one of five athletes on a decidedly svelte Multivan Merida Biking Team. The Queen of XC Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå, Dutch mountain biker of the year Rudi van Houts, Under 23 World Champions Thomas Litscher (2011) and Ondrej Cink (2012) comprise the new-look squad.

Hermida said passion is the secret to a prolonged orbit of the world’s XC podiums and cited his chocolate medal at the London Olympics as a 2012 highlight. The 34-year-old who, like many of his generation, has been reluctant to completely abandon the classic wheel size described the shift toward courses that are not only faster but also more technical as a factor in re-evaluating equipment choices.

The team’s youngest members are from the active, dual-pivot generation. They trust the kinematics, sitting and spinning through the same technical sections where their mentor stands to finesse his hardtail; albeit with a firm hand. For the self-described “bullfighter” from Spain the 650B standard better suits an aggressive style. “For this style of riding the 27.5 is perfect,” said the 2010 world champion. “It has the benefit of small wheels and some of the benefits of the 29er: stability and less rolling resistance”.

At 172cm, he found his cockpit dimensions were not ideally suited to the Merida Big.Nine. Despite using it extensively (and successfully) throughout much of the 2012 season Hermida will set the 29er aside purely for marathon duties this year. In addition to an entirely new frame the team riders and mechanics are working with a new wheel sponsor in 2013: Fulcrum replaces DT Swiss hubs on Alex rims. The Italian marque will provide both tubular and tubeless wheelsets in aluminium and carbon for both 27.5 and 29-inch wheel sizes; complete with freehubs to suit the SRAM XX1 cassette. The SRAM family theme runs to Avid brakes and Rock-Shox SID XX forks and suspension. Prologo will take over seating duties from Italian rivals Selle Italia.


The Big.Seven.

From a distance the distinction between 27.5- and 29-inch bikes can be hard to spot thanks to near-identical team livery. A closer look reveals two completely different design languages at work: the Big.Seven’s surfacing is hard-edged and aggressive; the Big.Nine more organic in its form and tube shapes.

At a claimed weight of 1,060g, the Big.Seven frame is closer in mass to the Big.Nine (1,090g) than the ethereal 26-inch 0.Nine (sub 900g). Merida’s engineers are satisfied with this figure – in absolute terms it’s an admirable acheivement – and the small weight penalty over the company’s lightest offering is an acceptable price to pay for such performance.

Merida are banking on the 650B and some say it could be the perfect sweet spot for all types of riding.

Merida has moved the rear calliper from seatstay to chainstay in the quest of greater compliance from a longer, uninterrupted span of carbon. A central ply of flax-fibre in the read end lay-up absorbs key frequencies and the in-house PRC seatpost helps to dampen impacts by a few percentage points. But this is still a race frame.

Stepping off a 29er, the Big.Seven feels more playful with a greater willingness to take orders from a 178cm rider: 29er skeptics, you owe it to yourself to try this format. Technical climbs are the best demonstration of the 650B’s appeal and lend credence to descriptions of this standard as the ‘goldilocks size’. It can make you a marginally better climber, a more capable descender and a more efficient racer but those gains need not be at the expense of the exploitable ‘chuckability’ that has seen so many riders clinging to their 26-inch rigs for dear life: Hermida included.

One-Forty B Prototype

Merida’s R&D department brought several prototype 650B dual-suspension platforms to Mallorca for evaluation and feedback from the MTB media. The One-Forty B as it is currently known (pictured here in the team’s service course) offers 140mm of Virtual Pivot Kinematic travel within a wheelbase and with a front end height that would be impossible on a 29er. Described as “the future” by Merida Product Manager Darryl Moliere, the bike was in high rotation on a rock strewn test course towards the north of the island.
Match nicely with XX1 this bike will be on hot demand.

It’s easy to appreciate the versatility of this configuration – particularly when equipped with SRAM XX1 – and thoughtful details abound. The 2014 production model will sport a revised cable routing and graphics package to what you see here but the prototype frame is already impressive. Tyre clearance to the swingarm X-brace is slight (a consequence of acheiving such a tight rear end) and the obvious upside is superb torsional rigidity. A comprehensive test by Flow is needed before a final judgement can passed but it’s an exciting time to be in the all-mounain market. Innovation in this area is to be applauded.

Although the two 27.5-inch models Merida launched in Mallorca were diametrically opposed in their intended purposes, the enthusiasm with which the manufacturer and the assembled press embraced the format suggest 650B’s comeback will be for good.