Wil Reviews The 2020 Merida One-Twenty 700
For those unfamiliar with the name, the One-Twenty is Merida’s zippy short-travel trail bike. It features 120mm of rear wheel travel, a 130mm travel fork and 29in wheels. Amongst the broader market, that puts it in competition with likes of the Giant Trance 29, the Trek Fuel EX, Pivot Mach 429 Trail, Canyon Neuron, and Norco Optic.
The One-Twenty was completely revamped for 2019 with a new frame, revised geometry, and a move to a trunnion-mounted rear shock. Those changes carry through into 2020, and there are now no fewer than eight models across a price range from $2,399 AUD to $8,999 AUD. The high-end models are built with full-carbon frames, while cheaper models feature an all-alloy chassis.
In fact, this is up there as one of the best I’ve ever ridden, and certainly for the money I’d have a very hard time recommending anything else. Here’s why.
Last year we tested the full-carbon One-Twenty 8000 and absolutely loved it. To see whether that experience is mirrored further down the pecking order, we’ve been riding the One-Twenty 700 for the past few months. This is the top-spec option of the all-alloy models, but at less than four grand, it’s nearly half the price of the One-Twenty 8000.
Yes, it is heavier and it misses out on the exotic materials and components of its pricier siblings, giving it a more utilitarian look and feel. However, there is no denying this is one helluva trail bike. In fact, this is up there as one of the best I’ve ever ridden, and certainly for the money I’d have a very hard time recommending anything else. Here’s why.
1. It’s Got Better Balance Than A Tightrope Walker
As modern trail bikes evolve to become burlier and more raked-out (eg. the Optic and Fuel EX), Merida has thankfully exercised some restraint with the One-Twenty. Geometry is considered and well-balanced, with enthusiastic handling that puts it on the sportier side of things.
The head angle isn’t too slack at 67.3°, so it isn’t overly floppy and unmanageable at slow speed. However, Merida has cleverly boosted stability for 2020 by moving to a reduced offset fork (42mm vs 51mm). This has increased the effective trail measurement, calming the front wheel down at higher riding speeds. To maintain responsiveness, the stem has also been shortened (50mm vs 60mm). It’s a win-win outcome, with a really direct feel between your hands and the tyre contact patch, along with less wobble at high speeds compared to the 2019 model. Alongside the Canyon Neuron we tested recently, which has a similar head angle albeit with a 51mm fork offset, the One-Twenty is a noticeably more planted bike at speed.
Reach isn’t too long either. It’s 435mm on our Medium test bike (455mm on the Large, 475mm on the X-Large), and that meshes comfortably with the 50mm stem and 760mm wide riser bars. For reference, I stand at 175cm tall and ride a Medium in every brand, and the One-Twenty felt comfortable right out of the gate with very little fettling required.
Of course the conservative reach and head angle means the overall wheelbase isn’t gargantuan, especially compared to brands that are pushing much longer, lower and slacker. As such, those who pursue trends via their keyboards may run the risk of glossing over the One-Twenty entirely.
But while a fashionably long wheelbase does provide greater straight-line stability, at it’s heart the One-Twenty ain’t no plough-mobile. Instead, this bike places a much stronger emphasis on agility overall. Spot-on weight distribution centres the pilot between both wheels, and the One-Twenty asks very little of you in terms of positioning. For dancing through tight and twisty singletrack, this bike is about as zippy and as nimble as they come.
2. Meat Where It Matters
Rather than relying on geometry alone, technical trail control has been enhanced by a carefully curated build kit, which gives the One-Twenty 700 the right amount of muscle, without overdoing things and turning it into a mini-enduro bike.
The front end is particularly tough and confidence inspiring. You get a RockShox Revelation, which is basically a cheapo Pike, with a robust 35mm chassis that enhances the direct and sporty steering.
But it offers an obscene amount of grip across a very wide range of trail types – dry or wet, loose or hardpack, rocks or loam.
In between the fork legs is a chunky 2.4in wide Maxxis Minion DHR II, which is one of my favourite aggressive trail tyres. Weighing in at 3 grams short of a kilo, it is porky and it’s also draggy on the road and on hardpack surfaces. But it offers an obscene amount of grip across a very wide range of trail types – dry or wet, loose or hardpack, rocks or loam. The reliable all-condition traction swells confidence levels for the entire bike, and by spec’ing a lighter and much faster-rolling Forekaster on the rear, Merida hasn’t sacrificed too much acceleration overall.
It’s also fabulous to see a 150mm stroke dropper post (170mm on L/XL sizes) as well as Shimano’s 4-piston SLX callipers and 180mm rotors. Having tested these 4-piston brakes separately, we’re big fans. Yes they’re a bit heavier than the 2-piston equivalents, but modulation is actually better and of course there’s more power on tap, useful given it’s very possible to bite off more than you can chew with this bike.
3. The Suspension Is Simple, But Effective
Merida has prioritised active suspension performance on the One-Twenty, though the relatively simple single pivot design still delivers good pedal efficiency along with a tactile trail feel.
The platform itself is called Float Link. It’s named as such because the shock is sandwiched between the rocker link and the chainstay, where it effectively ‘floats’ separately from the mainframe. Along with the big volume DebonAir can and trunnion bearing mount, the One-Twenty eases into its travel with slick, unfettered off-the-top sensitivity.
The Deluxe shock has a long 55mm stroke, resulting in a low average leverage ratio of 2.18:1. This means operating pressures are on the lower side – for my 68kg riding weight, I’ve got just 130psi in there to put me at 25% sag. I initially ran 30% sag, but found I was hitting full travel too regularly. The low leverage rate also means that damping has a stronger effect, so you’ll notice a big change between each click on the rebound dial. I ended up just three clicks off the fastest setting.
We did encounter a problem with the shock early on, where it would choke on high-speed hits, giving the back end a harsh and sluggish feel. After some investigation, this turned out to be a tuning error from the factory. The shock was sent to SRAM’s DSD technical service centre to be re-built with the lighter stock tune, and everything has been sweet since.
The One-Twenty climbs efficiently, which is also down to the steep seat angle. On a side note, it’s nice to see that the seat angle measured out as claimed at 75.5°. However, this was measured with my BB-to-saddle height of 70cm. And because the seat tube kicks back quite heavily, it does mean that riders with longer legs will find the effective seat angle will become slacker once the saddle is extended to the correct height.
As long as you’re seated the suspension is quite stable, with good support kicking in at the sag point. Start throwing your weight around out of the saddle though, and the shock will see plenty of activity. There is a 2-position lever that allows you to engage a firm compression setting, which I made use of for the bitumen commute to and from the trails. Otherwise I left the shock wide open anytime I was off-road.
It’s worth noting that Merida hasn’t gone overboard with pedal efficiency though – there’s actually less anti-squat here compared to the previous frame design, with a greater priority placed on active suspension performance.
It’s worth noting that Merida hasn’t gone overboard with pedal efficiency though – there’s actually less anti-squat here compared to the previous frame design, with a greater priority placed on active suspension performance. As a result, traction control is excellent. It isn’t quite as seamless on slabby, technical climbs as a multi-link bike like the Mach 429 Trail though. You also don’t get the same tractor-pulling grunt on the climbs that you get from bikes with much longer chainstays and wheelbases. As such, the One-Twenty can be a bit more lively when bashing your way up steeper pinches. As things get more awkward and technical however, the manoeuvrable One-Twenty responds well to power-moves and weight shifts for thrusting it up and over roots and rock ledges. Pedal clearance is decent too, mostly because the suspension doesn’t wallow through the mid-stroke, which helps the pedals to hold their distance from the rocks below.
4. Cornering Is An Absolute Treat
Thanks to the supportive suspension, sticky front tyre and balanced weight distribution, the One-Twenty sings the most delightful tune through the turns.
The back end is sufficiently short at 435mm, and the BB hangs nice and low at 40mm below the hub axles. However, it’s the stout chassis that really helps to connect your handling inputs through to the rear wheel. The chainstay tubes are generously proportioned, and you’ll find clevis junctions at both ends of the seatstays to minimise wiggle through the pivots. According to Merida, the One-Twenty is the stiffest full suspension frame it’s built to date – even compared to the One-Forty and One-Sixty. And I can believe it too.
According to Merida, the One-Twenty is the stiffest full suspension frame it’s built to date – even compared to the One-Forty and One-Sixty. And I can believe it too.
With that taut and short back end, the One-Twenty tracks a strong, defined arc through the corners. The 760mm bars give good leverage without being cumbersome, and the absence of a cartoonish wheelbase means your handling inputs are hardwired to both wheels. My local trail network is littered with tight switchbacks, both on and off-camber, which regularly stitch together into repeated S-bend chicanes. It’s in this kind of environment, where things get really tight and twisty, where the One-Twenty lights up. This really is an energetic little trail bike that loves rapid changes of direction.
There is a noticeable traction differential between the two tyres, and on looser, broken trail surfaces, the squirmy Forekaster leaves a lot to be desired in terms of cornering stability. It’s also quite slippy in the wet, and since it’s 200g lighter than the Minion DHR II, you do need to run higher pressures to prevent pinch flats – I’ve got 26psi in the rear tyre compared to 21psi in the front. Personally, I’d consider fitting a Dissector or a Minion DHF on the back to provide more cornering support for rougher and tougher trail riding. That said, the speedy Forekaster works fine on less choppy machine-built trails, and it’s admittedly an absolute riot when it spits out sideways.
I’m not much of a back-wheel bandit, but the One-Twenty is more than willing to pop up the front wheel. It’s a very loftable bike that thrives on being pumped, jumped and manualled at every opportune moment.
When pushing on the pedals out of corners, you’re delivered a terrific slingshot effect from the single-pivot back end. This snappiness underfoot gives the One-Twenty loads of zip and pop, something that’s amplified on modern, flowy jump trails. I’m not much of a back-wheel bandit, but the One-Twenty is more than willing to pop up the front wheel. It’s a very loftable bike that thrives on being pumped, jumped and manualled at every opportune moment.
5. The SLX Groupset Is All-Killer, No-Filler
What can we honestly say about the SLX M7100 groupset that we haven’t said before? Following closely in the footsteps of XT and XTR, the latest SLX drivetrain fires off fast, reliable shifts under pressure thanks to the brilliant Hyperglide+ cassette. You get a very usable 510% gear range that Merida has paired to a 32T chainring, which the rear suspension kinematics have been optimised around. The One-Twenty 700 isn’t a particularly lightweight bike at 14.38kg, so I’ve spent plenty of time in the biggest 51T sprocket. That’s one of the few downsides of this drivetrain – it doesn’t take a whole lot of ride time before the teeth on the black alloy 51T sprocket start to show wear.
That’s one of the few downsides of this drivetrain – it doesn’t take a whole lot of ride time before the teeth on the black alloy 51T sprocket start to show wear.
Compared to XT and XTR, there is a bit more mass with the SLX components, but functionality on the trail is otherwise identical to its more expensive brethren. If you want to know more about it, check out our standalone review of the Shimano SLX M7100 1×12 drivetrain here.
The brakes are equally unfussy, delivering excellent modulation and control, along with a significant boost in power over the 2-piston equivalent. They’re easy to setup with tool-free reach dials, and I love the I-Spec EV system, which sees both the shifter and dropper lever mounting directly to the brake lever clamps. It provides a really neat cockpit, albeit one that’s easy to dial in the lever position with. Check out our separate review of the Shimano SLX 4-piston brakes here.
6. Attention To Detail
While there are plenty of headline components on the One-Twenty 700’s spec sheet, it’s in the finer details where Merida’s designers have really flexed their collective muscles.
Case in point, the XT shifter. As well as affording a punchier and more positive shift feel compared to the SLX equivalent, the XT unit also allows you to up-shift two gears in the single paddle throw (you can only upshift one gear at a time with SLX, Deore and all SRAM trigger shifters). No, it isn’t exactly the second coming of Christ, but I really like this functionality while riding fast, undulating terrain. And when many other brands regularly down-spec cassettes, or use off-brand chains and cranksets, the fact that Merida went SLX with an XT upgrade on the mech and shifter shows genuine consideration to the overall riding experience.
No, it isn’t exactly the second coming of Christ, but I really like this functionality while riding fast, undulating terrain.
In a similar vein, you’ll find a Shimano MT800 dropper lever on the other side of the bars, which features a nicely textured paddle, a sealed bearing pivot and a snappy return spring. Many other bikes around this price point come with cheap, generic levers that tend to be overly flexy and wobbly. In contrast, the Shimano lever is smooth and solid, and it ties in neatly with the I-Spec EV mount.
There’s plenty of engineering aptitude to be found on the alloy chassis too. All pivot points rotate on sealed cartridge bearings, with torque settings etched on the hardware for quick reference. The slap-free internal cable routing is the most secure we’ve come across, with alloy bolt-up clamps at each port that allow you to pull the cables taut before they’re locked down.
Hidden away inside the lever of the rear axle is an integrated 4/6mm hex key, which you can tug out and use with the fork’s bolt-up axle, the seatpost clamp or brake levers. For more specific repairs, the bike comes with a compact multi-tool that stows underneath the saddle in its own little pocket. It’s pretty comprehensive, including the T30 torx bit that you’ll need for the pivot hardware. I’m a big fan of on-bike storage, particularly when it’s as neat and as functional as this.
Hidden away inside the lever of the rear axle is an integrated 4/6mm hex key, which you can tug out and use with the fork’s bolt-up axle, the seatpost clamp or brake levers.
7. There’s Still Room For Improvement
Given the fastidious attention to detail shown elsewhere, it’s so frustrating that fitting a water bottle to the One-Twenty is as difficult as it is. There are mounts for a cage on the downtube, but on the Small and Medium frame sizes, clearance between the top and downtube is so limited that a regular water bottle won’t actually fit. Argh! Apparently a 500ml bottle will go in there, but I’m still yet to find one that small at any of my local bike shops. As such, I’ve had to ride exclusively with a hydration pack – not a big deal for some, but potentially a deal breaker for others.
Another thing to note is that while the tyres and rims are tubeless compatible, you don’t get tubeless tape or valves. So you’ll have to BYO if you want to ditch the tubes. We ended up fitting a Peaty’s tubeless conversion kit – an additional $119.95 AUD, but still a worthy upgrade for dropping a bit of rotational mass, while being able to run lower pressures.
Speaking of wheels, the hoops on this bike are decidedly understated, though thoroughly solid. They feature Merida’s own alloy double wall rims with a 29mm inner width, and though they’ve been smacked about, there’s very little evidence to show it. Low-drag SLX hubs feature smooth, serviceable bearings, though the freehub does exhibit a bizarre silent-but-not-always-silent buzz. I haven’t experienced any skipping or functional issues from the freehub, and it’s near enough silent on the trail, it just sounds a bit shit when you’ve got it in the workstand.
Confirmed weight for the bare wheelset is a healthy 1,962g, so those who are chasing more speed should consider putting their upgrade dollars towards a lighter set of hoops. Of course fitting some faster-rolling rubber would be a good way to prepare the One-Twenty for more XC-oriented riding. Indeed this bike is efficient and comfortable enough to sign up to something like the Port to Port, so rather than buying a whole other race bike, you could take Mick’s advice and just get some business shoes for your party bike.
Low-drag SLX hubs feature smooth, serviceable bearings, though the freehub does exhibit a bizarre silent-but-not-always-silent buzz.
8. And The Fork Takes Some Tuning
There’s also some tuning and upgrade potential with the RockShox Revelation, which is sluggish out of the box. At the recommended pressure for my weight (80psi according to the setup chart), the fork sagged far too deeply into its travel. Even still, I struggled to use full travel. I ended up increasing pressure to 95psi to help lift the fork up, and I removed the single Bottomless Token to free up the end of the travel. I also wound the rebound dial nearly all the way to the fastest position (9/12 clicks), since the stock rebound damping is quite heavy and slow.
Partway through the test period, I decided to try out the new DebonAir C1 upgrade kit. Introduced alongside the new 2021 RockShox SID, Lyrik & ZEB forks, this upgrade kit sells for $44.95 AUD and is comprised of a new red seal head and a longer foot nut, which is designed to alter the position of the main air seal inside the fork. The end result is a higher-riding fork that sacrifices less of its travel to sag, while providing greater mid-stroke support on the trail. The difference was significant enough that I was able to add the Bottomless Token back in, while also dropping air pressures down to 85psi. Compared to the stock setup, the fork was noticeably more active, and it also better preserved its travel. It’s certainly an upgrade I’d recommend for this bike, along with anyone out there who owns a pre-2021 RockShox Revelation, Pike, Lyrik or Yari.
Compared to the stock setup, the fork was noticeably more active, and it also better preserved its travel. It’s certainly an upgrade I’d recommend for this bike, along with anyone out there who owns a pre-2021 RockShox Revelation, Pike, Lyrik or Yari.
If you wanted to go even further with the Revelation, you could upgrade to the Charger damper. That would essentially turn it into a Pike, giving you greater adjustability, smoother performance, and greater high-speed traction control. All of which the One-Twenty is more than worthy of.
9. But Overall Value For Money Is Insane
There’s always a whole lot more contributing to how a bike rides than its spec sheet alone, and that is no truer than in the case of the One-Twenty 700. Still, spec-for-spec, there’s no denying this bike is one attractive package for the money.
You’ll have to spend hundreds more to get a similarly-spec’d Giant Trance 29 or Trek Fuel EX. The Canyon Neuron AL 7.0 is a sharply-priced competitor, coming in at $200 less than the Merida One-Twenty 700. However, even though the Canyon is sold direct-to-consumer, it still comes with much cheaper brakes, along with a lesser drivetrain and wheelset compared to the store-bought Merida. If I were choosing between the two, I’d go the Merida.
Only the $3,499 Norco Fluid FS 1 comes close in value. The Norco is also available through bricks-n-mortar bike shops, and it features a similar Shimano 1×12 drivetrain and RockShox suspension. You do get a Pike up front, though the brakes, cranks and wheels are better on the Merida. Geometry and suspension are a bit different though, with the Norco biased more towards aggro riding – check out its vibe in our review of the Norco Fluid FS 1 here.
Given our experience with the higher-end carbon models, we had strong expectations coming into this test. I can happily report that the One-Twenty 700 has pretty much exceeded all of those expectations.
While it may be heavier and less desirable than the carbon fibre equivalent, the alloy chassis has been well-engineered, and it shows excellent attention to detail. The suspension is quality too, and it offers a practical compromise between pedalling efficiency and smooth bump-eating activity. Along with the balanced geometry, which has been improved for 2020 thanks to the reduced-offset fork, the One-Twenty stays true to the spirit of a modern trail bike, with energetic handling and a penchant for twisty, technical singletrack.
I do hope Merida can come up with a practical solution to the water bottle issue, because that’s pretty much all that would hold me back from handing over my own cash to buy this bike. Otherwise the one-Twenty 700 hits a load of the right notes, with an exceptional hard-hitting spec that puts the quality where it counts. No, it might not have the same allure as the Santa Cruz’ and Pivots of the world. You could do well to forget brand status though, because the One-Twenty 700 is an absolute ripping trail bike that’ll leave you scratching your head why you’d need to spend any more.
You could do well to forget brand status though, because the One-Twenty 700 is an absolute ripping trail bike that’ll leave you scratching your head why you’d need to spend any more.
2020 Merida One-Twenty 700 Specs
- Frame | LITE Hydroformed Alloy, Float Link Suspension Design, 120mm Travel
- Fork | RockShox Revelation RC, 42mm Offset, 130mm Travel
- Shock | RockShox Deluxe Select+, 185x55mm
- Wheels | Shimano SLX 32h Hubs & Merida Expert TR Alloy rims, 29mm Inner Width, Tubeless Compatible
- Tyres | Maxxis Minion DHR II EXO 3C Maxx Terra 2.40WT Front & Forekaster EXO 2.35in Rear
- Drivetrain | Shimano SLX/XT 1×12 w/SLX 32T Crankset & 10-51T Cassette
- Brakes | Shimano SLX M7120 4-Piston w/180mm CenterLock Rotors
- Bar | Merida Expert TR Alloy, 20mm Rise, 760mm Wide
- Stem | Merida Expert TR Alloy, 35mm Diameter, 50mm Long
- Grips | Merida Lock-On
- Seatpost | Merida Expert TR, 30.9mm Diameter, Travel: 125mm (S), 150mm (MD), 170mm (LG, XL)
- Saddle | Merida Expert CC
- Available Sizes | MD, LG, XL
- Confirmed Weight | 14.28kg (Medium size as tested)
- RRP | $3,799 AUD
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