Merida’s new Ninety-Six is an XC and marathon racer you may be able to afford

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Taiwanese mega-manufacturer Merida has just unveiled a wholly new version of its Ninety-Six cross country dual-suspension racing platform, a bike that has a long and illustrious history of cutting laps at World Cups, Olympics and the biggest multi-day marathon races.

And as we’ve seen with many other cross country race machines of recent time, Merida has updated its offering with more progressive geometry, a lower weight and some more trail-friendly options, too. Here we take a brief look at this freshly updated offering.

More progressive geometry

Merida’s new Ninety-Six is built around 29er wheels and 100 mm of suspension travel in the rear. Merida will offer the bike in either a race-focussed “Ninety-Six RC” version with a matched 100 mm front fork, or in a more trail-orientated “Ninety-Six” version with a longer 120 mm fork up front, wider tyres and a stronger front brake. The two versions share the same frame.

Those frames now feature more modern geometry figures, although they’re still not as progressive as what we’ve seen from the likes of Mondraker and Specialized. Here the head angle has been slacked off by 1.5º, now sitting at 68.5º with a 100 mm fork, or 67º with a 120 mm fork.

A look at the figures proves the new Ninety-Six is still very much a cross country race bike.

The reach figures have grown significantly, and a size medium (with 100 mm fork) now offers a 453 mm figure. Following other trends the seat tube angles are now noticeably steeper than before, the bottom bracket heights are lower, and so are the standover heights.

Merida will offer the Ninety-Six in two levels of carbon frames, with the top-level RC 9000 featuring a “CF5” frame that’s said to tip the scales at an impressive 1,695 g. Merida hasn’t provided weights for the more price-conscious CF3-level frame.

All new suspension and hardware

Like so many other brands in this space, Merida has ditched the use of a pivot point near the rear axle and has instead optimised for the stays to flex in a controlled manner. While not a new concept, it’s a popular design decision that saves weight and improves frame stiffness. That change means there wasn’t a whole lot of room to adjust the rear brake and so Merida has moved the Ninety-Six to a road-style flat mount for the rear brake, something now also used by the likes of Orbea and Cannondale.

Flat mount brakes are indeed becoming more common on cross country mountain bikes.

Also helping to improve frame stiffness are larger bearings at the pivot points. Merida has equipped its “Non-Slip Tightening” pivot bolts which can all be tightened and untightened from just one side of the bike with a single T30 Torx key. That’s the type of simplicity that makes us smile.

Inside the main triangle are two notable changes. Firstly the rear suspension is now more progressive than before which should provide better mid-travel support and a little more bottom-out resistance. Secondly, the main triangle now has room to fit two full-size water bottles (the small size frame will only fit a 500 mL bottle on the seat tube position.). That latter feature is almost a must-have for anyone looking to do multi-day marathon racing, and Merida has made it happen through the use of an adapter bracket which can be swapped out for a tool wrap in case you don’t want the second bottle.

There’s room for two bottles. The use of this bracket has allowed Merida to further extend the straight section of the seat tube for longer dropper post lengths to be used.

Tyres as wide as 2.4 inches are currently trending at the sport’s top-level but Merida has only given the Ninety-Six a modest increase in clearance. The new version will comfortably clear 29 x 2.3″ rubber, with Merida stating it made the conscious decision of trading in absolute tyre clearance for a more performance-focused Q-factor (pedal stance width) and reliable strength in the area.

Look to the front of the bike and you’ll see that the cables route through Merida’s own headset top cap for a clean aesthetic. This system is almost identical to that of the Merida Scultura Endurance road bike, and shares plenty in common with the recently released Canyon Exceed hardtail, too. It certainly looks clean but will make changing that top headset bearing a whole lot harder down the track.

A new trend in mountain bikes for 2021, the cables are guided in through the front of the bike.

Some other features of note include a 30.9 mm seat tube for plenty of dropper post choice, an English threaded bottom bracket (woot!), and the use of SRAM’s Universal Derailleur Hanger. It does seem that a heap of new bikes are making use of that new standardised derailleur hanger which makes me super happy to see, but I’m also sad it took the industry this long to get here.

Prices and availability

There will be four models (details in the gallery below) of the new Ninety-Six available in Australia starting from early 2021, and they all appear to keep with Merida’s typical good-value-for-money mantra. Even the top-tier version is priced at a cool AU$10,000, almost half what a similarly equipped (sorta) Specialized S-Works sells for. UK pricing is also listed, while those in the USA can look but not touch.

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