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First announced for the 2018 season, the Merida Silex is the Taiwanese mega-manufacturer’s take on the do-it-all gravel segment. It’s a bike that’s available in both alloy and carbon variants, and new for 2020, a 650B-wheeled version of the latter.
While it’s not a new bike, we hadn’t ridden one, until now. While attending the Australian Merida dealer launch at Spicers Hidden Vale, Queensland, I got a chance to test the fresh Merida Silex 6000+ — the 650B-wheeled version of the carbon bike — and then followed it up with a test of the Silex 700 — a high-value alloy ride with 700C wheels.
The Silex is one of those gravel bikes that’s somewhat open to interpretation. It can be used for commuting, bikepacking and gravel exploring. However, despite only spending a brief time on the bikes, it’s clear that the relaxed and remarkably upright geometry produces bikes that prioritises riding comfort over outright performance.
The Silex range explained
With bikes starting from just AU$1,499, the Silex range is one of the more value-orientated offerings in the gravel space. Merida’s model numbering defines whether the bike has a carbon or aluminium frame: thousand-series bikes (e.g. 6,000 and 8,000) are for carbon, while hundred-series bikes (e.g. 200, 400, 700) are aluminium. New for 2020, the “+” designates the use of 650B (27.5in) wheels and wider tyres, while the rest of the bike is identical to the pre-existing 700C versions.
Where it’s common for brands to offer multiple grades of carbon frames, the Silex is kept simple with one grade of carbon frame (CF2) and one grade of alloy (Lite), claimed to weigh 1,090g and 1,900g respectively (medium size). Both carbon and alloy bikes feature the same 520g tapered carbon fork with 12mm thru-axle.
Regardless of material, the Silex offers a noticeably sloping toptube and some distinct tube shaping. For the alloy frame, that shaping is done with hydroforming, while even more extreme shapes are found in the carbon version.
Flat mount brakes and 12mm thru-axles feature across both frame materials, however, the carbon adds Merida’s disc cooler concept to the rear that aims to direct passing air onto the caliper and disc. The carbon frame offers a noticeably dropped chainstay for more tyre clearance, too, with Merida claiming room for up to 42mm rubber on 700C hoops or 50mm on smaller 650B rims. By contrast, the alloy is a little more restricted in absolute width and can handle up to 42mm tyres in either 700C or 650B.
Carbon frames feature an integrated seatpost clamp, while the alloy uses a regular seat clamp to hold the surprisingly oversized 30.9mm post. That large post diameter does allow for plenty of dropper post options, but that’s something few will ever bother with. Both carbon and alloy frames use press-fit bottom brackets — the former is the larger BB386 system, while the latter is Shimano’s BB86.
Carrying stuff is no problem for the Silex — there are rack and fender mounts found front and rear, although adding fenders will limit tyre clearance to 35mm. There are three bidon cage mounts provided on the frame, with the carbon versions getting a more adjustable three-bolt setup along the downtube. The carbon fork features both a light mount and carry-everything mounts on the blades. Perhaps the only thing missing is bosses for a toptube bag.
Merida claims the Silex is inspired by mountain-bike geometry, and while that’s partly true, it’s also just another way of saying the handling is more relaxed and upright when compared to a more road-orientated gravel bike. Across all five frame sizes, the Silex features the same 71-degree head angle, 74-degree seat angle and 45mm fork rake – providing a 70mm trail figure with the 650Bx45 wheel setup, or 74mm in 700x38mm.
Reach figures are intentionally on the long side — for example, a medium frame offers a 400mm figure where many competitors would offer closer to 380mm. This reach is balanced by the use of a relatively short 80mm stem across all sizes, something that helps bring a little quickness back to the slowed steering.
The Silex’s somewhat recreational purpose becomes clear with a look at the stack figures. For example, a medium offers a wind-in-your-hair 626mm stack height from a 200mm head tube. By comparison, the Giant Revolt Advanced features a 572mm stack in an equivalent size, and that is already considered a relatively upright ride.
Riding the Silex 6000+
New for 2020, the Silex 6000+ sees 650B wheels fitted as stock. It’s a setup that aims to add a little more gravel flair to the existing Silex platform, and in many ways, it achieves that – but not without compromise.
Merida’s combination of a straight seatpost and steep 74-degree seat angle puts you in an obviously forward position, quite similar to how you’d typically sit on a cross country mountain bike. That forward position is met with the tall stack, and on the first impression, it’s an unusually upright feeling. I felt like I was sitting up in the wind, and even after slamming the stem against the headset top cap, I still found the front handling a little more vague than I’d ideally like.
The handling wasn’t slow though. The Silex was intended for 700C wheels, and by putting smaller 650B wheels on without changing anything else, Merida has quickened the handling. Add in the 80mm stems and bars that felt a touch narrow at the hoods, and the quicker-than-you-expect handling took some getting used to. Still, it didn’t take long before the bike was handling tight single track trails with poise.
The Silex’s short and upright stance makes it feel more playful on rougher descents and combined with the suitably short 430mm chainstays, you’re well placed to loft the front wheel and get your weight rearward when the terrain calls for it. For those who regularly feel a little too stretched out when descending, this will be a welcome change.
However, those smaller wheels have also lowered the Silex beyond its original intention, and I and a fellow media colleague experienced unexpected and abrupt pedal strikes when riding fairly innocuous single track. Given the Silex has a bottom bracket drop of 75mm, it’s pretty clear the smaller wheels drop it a bit too far.
Fitted with Kenda Flintridge 45c tubeless tyres, the ride is kept grounded but not quite as smooth as I had expected. Where so many of the latest gravel bikes have moved to either a D-shaped or 27.2mm seatpost to increase seated comfort, the Merida’s 30.9mm round post doesn’t do much to numb the buzz. Setting the tyres up tubeless and dumping the pressure will help to counter this, but it’s a bike that will never leave you singing “A Whole New World” while you pretend you’re floating on a magic carpet.
All of this may sound like bad news, but there are some silver linings. That fast handling will ensure the bike still turns with spirit when loaded with half a camping store, and the dropped bottom bracket will help keep the load more manageable, too. Then there’s the impressive value for money on offer. This is a carbon bike, equipped with SRAM Force 1 HRD, that costs just AU$3,799.
The 1x drivetrain is given an 11-42T cassette matched with a 38T chainring, offering a range that works well off-road and one that’ll be appreciated when carrying gear. However, it is on the low and slow-end if you’re planning to tag into some dedicated road riding. Such a compromise remains a clear issue with smaller-range 1x setups, and you’re typically left deciding whether you want low gearing to spin your way up a loose and rocky ascent, or higher gearing for sailing in a tailwind on tarmac.
The SRAM hydraulic disc brakes work admirably well, and all up, it’s a hardy groupset that has proven itself worthy of going the distance. While not at all Gucci like the Force 1 group, Merida’s own aluminium wheelset should prove equally reliable, with sealed bearing hubs, 32 double-butted spokes, and 19mm internal width tubeless rims. The rest of the build is in line with the wheels — somewhat generic but featuring suitable Merida-branded selections.
All told, a medium Silex 6000+ is quoted at 8.9kg without pedals (unfortunately I was unable to verify this on the day).
Riding the Silex 700
Despite the geometry being near-identical, jumping from a 650B carbon bike to a 700C alloy version was always going to present some obvious differences. None were quite so apparent as the rattly ride that left me wanting to keep releasing air from the 38c Maxxis Rambler tyres. The wide tyres stop the bike from wanting to skip uncontrollably over the terrain, but whatever the tyres don’t soak up, the frame will transmit on to you.
Again, setting up the tyres tubeless, adding some better-padded bartape, and swapping the saddle will all help to bring some additional comfort to this ride, but there’s no way to overcome the relatively stiff frame and oversized seatpost.
With the larger wheels, I felt the Silex handled more naturally. It was better-composed at speed and I felt I could relax a little more as a result. Additionally, the extra few millimetres of distance from the ground meant I was no longer sparking my pedals against rocks.
While the ride quality left me a little rattled, there’s no denying the value for money in this AU$2,799 bike. Shimano’s new GRX 810 groupset works admirably well and is most easily described as Ultegra R8000 for the rough. The brake levers are sculpted for easier and more confident holding, and braking from the hoods feels a little more powerful. The rear derailleur is much like the Ultegra RX derailleur, and the clutch keeps things quiet and secure, while the sub-compact gearing and 11-34T cassette offer plenty of range for conquering slippery gravel climbs, while still being able to carry good speed on the road.
This model is claimed to weigh 9.7kg in a medium size.
Better with bigger hoops
Although I haven’t ridden one yet, I’m confident the carbon frame with 700C wheels is the best combination in Merida’s line-up. Merida Australia offers such a thing with the 2020 Silex 7000 (AU$3,799, not pictured), a bike that’s fitted with Shimano GRX 810 2×11 gearing and Fulcrum 700 DB wheels. The wider-range gearing will mean the bike isn’t limited by the surface, while the carbon frame provides just that little extra tyre clearance and removes the edge from vibrations.
When you consider the sky-high front end and standardised angles across all sizes, it’s clear the Silex isn’t a bike for those who seek a high-performance machine. Instead, Merida has pointed the Silex directly at riders who want an upright-riding, durable and fuss-free ride that’s best used for seeking out roses to smell while on the path to point B.