Merida is one of the biggest bike manufacturers in the world and the established wisdom used to be that the company made bikes for countless other brands at its five factories (one in Taiwan, three in China, one in Germany). In truth, it did start out by producing other people’s products — Raleigh USA’s in fact — but apparently now it focuses a lot more on its own-brand bikes.
That said, it does have a 49 per cent share in Specialized, which might not come as much of a shock when you look at the Ride 90’s alloy frame and that bowed top tube — there’s more than a hint of the Specialized Allez about it. Merida certainly isn’t related corporately to Giant, though, yet that tiny rear triangle has a resemblance to some of its Taiwanese rival’s bikes or even GT’s aluminium road bikes.
In truth, my first impression is that it’s a bit like Frankenstein’s monster. But look closer and the Ride 90 starts to reveal a more refined character. For example, the finish might look boring black in web pictures, but there’s a subtle sparkle about it in real life. There’s also through-frame cable routing for both derailleurs and rear brake. So the Merida definitely has some established design elements going on here. The question is, do they work well together?
Up, up and away
The answer, certainly initially, is yes. The Ride 90 spins along very smoothly. On pan-flat, perfect surfaces you hear barely a whirr, and it’s up to speed very eagerly too. As we encounter slightly less easygoing surfaces you can feel the rigid nature of the aluminium frame come more to the fore. It’s never uncomfortable, but you’re aware of most of the bumps and lumps passing by under tread.
However, the Merida has an unexpected trump card: this is a cracking bike for climbing. When the road goes up it’s easy to put yourself in a nice, constant rhythm and really feel like your effort is being rewarded. A combination of the direct power transfer through that relatively small rear triangle, and a very forgiving gearing combination of compact chainset with 32-tooth biggest sprocket at the back means it is a surprisingly effective machine on which to start a hilly sportive career.
A word here also has to go to the Shimano Claris gearset. I have a soft spot for this notch in Shimano’s range because I run its previous iteration on my day-to-day bike. Nowadays it comes with Shimano’s proven double paddle Dual Control shifters in effect here, and to all intents and purposes it works very well. It’s not as plush or as smooth as higher spec options, but it feels truly bombproof, and, dare I say it, just a little bit more reliable than some of its supposed betters.
Slightly less impressive are the unbranded dual-pivot caliper brakes. They’re about what you’d expect on a bike at this price, and a set of aftermarket pads would improve them no end, but following the unforeseen enjoyment that comes with going up hills on the Ride 90, it’s a bit of a shame not to be able to really let fly down the other side with a bit more confidence. That said, the frame itself tries its best, and bike control is never an issue.
Other small problems? Well, you’ll notice it can all get a bit rattly. But what were we saying about appearances? It may look a little odd, unwieldy even, but the Merida Ride 90 is actually a very fine bike to ride, and if you’re new to road cycling, it’s a very friendly companion.