Project 29er: Losing that 29er virginity

The bike

During our visit in Hanko last week we were delighted to see the 2011 Merida bike range on display and at our disposal for some fun in the woods. Difficult choices were be made on arrival: Should we test ride the new One Twenty carbon full-suspension or the 29er 1000SL hardtail? Keeping Project 29 in mind we opted (naturally) for the lower mid-range 1000SL. An aluminum frame (17″) with an 80mm Rock Shox Recon fork, Alex rims/ Shimano Deore hub wheels, Avid Juicy 5 brakes, Shimano SLX/XT drivetrain and shifters and basic FSA parts added up to 12.5 kg of hardtail.

where the bike belongs - forest singletracks

The handling

We used the evening ride of the first day to get acquainted with our test bikes and optimize our biking position. Nothing special so far, except for the fact that it did feel like you’re a bit higher up – partly thanks to the 10 degree rise on the stem. I was easily rolling along with the two cyclocross bikes (on 35C tires) with my Schwalbe 2.10 Racing Ralphs.

On the second day we went for the real test on the singletracks and rocks next to the coast. Roots and bumps are not an issue, as quoted by  many other 29er reviewers. Keeping the “momentum” on twisting, root riddled tracks goes pretty smoothly and with a certain amount of comfort despite the 80 mm fork and a cross country (XC) racing oriented Racing Ralph tires. In the boulder section – both up and down – the bike once again displays its easy rolling-over capabilities while feeling pretty stable overall. No long climbs or descents in Hanko so unfortunately we couldn’t test the 1000 SL’s behavior on those crucial aspects – maybe Merida wants to send us to Lapland to test ride the 2012 models?

Maarten cliffriding a Merida 2011 Twenty Niner

The verdict

I can understand the enthusiasm of 29er riders related to the comfort and “rolling” performance on the big rubbers. A test in more demanding conditions (descents) is definitely needed to be able to judge the claimed stability advantage over the 26″ bikes but from the experience I gained I don’t doubt it – although a 100 mm fork in rocky terrain would be preferred. The acceleration capacities of the bike are ok but I would still give the 26 inchers the advantage on this one – I’d say the bike is more marathon than XC racing machine. Overall the tested bike itself is too heavy –  a weight of 10.5 kg would be acceptable if you are planning to race it – but let’s not forget it’s position in the Merida range (and price tag). A good starters bike suited for off-road touring, winter rides and occasional commuting to work.

29er experience: Our verdict: ★★★★★

SL 1000: Our verdict: ★★★☆☆

Related Posts:

By Maarten Patteeuw

Maarten is an avid road and mountain biker who lives and breathes everything rolling on two wheels. You can follow his rantings on Twitter by looking for @maapathel.