This bike smooths out rocks even more than the camera does.

“It’s just like my old bike. But newer. And with more green.” Or so I thought.  A couple of changes in set up, engineering and equipment also mean the Merida 96 Carbon Team bike is lighter, faster and seems to float more over technical trails. It rewards playful, aggressive riding, and if you stall half way up a technical climb, it appears to let you take a breath, put in another pedal stroke and continue on as planned. It’s like cheating, really.

I suppose my previous 96 also feels like cheating, only with so many bling bikes dominating the race track at least the playing field has leveled out a bit.

Limited Edition frame with BG decals

The SRAM XX cluster is a thing of beauty

The biggest differences between this bike and my previous one are the SRAM XX running gear, the oversize BB30 bottom bracket and ever so slightly shorter chain stays.  This combination keeps the climbing responsive and the pedaling fast. It’s also the first time I’ve ever bought a bike with a stem and post that are spot on in terms of fit, allowing the set up (straight off the shelf) to be fast, powerful and race-ready.  I did swap out the riser bars for some flat ones to keep the front end down and will look for a flatter spacer to keep the stem nice and low. I won some matching ESI grips at the Spring Fat Tyre Fest last year so I’m giving them a whirl as well.

No such thing as too much colour.

"You've just been passed by a weapon."

For sale: 9 spd quick links.

While the awesome factor of the bike pretty much speaks for itself, the biggest influence in my decision to choose it again was wanting to ride a brand stocked by my local shop.  The Merida state team set up has changed a bit this year, but I’m grateful to Merida Australia for their continued assistance and hope there’s some fun teams to race with at future events.  These changes meant another decision:  Buy the new 2012 Merida 99 (which has a new rear suspension design that is meant to have better small bump compliance), or stick with the 96 and keep the extra dollars for a holiday. I chose the bike plus holiday option, am stoked to experience such nice gear, and am busy planning places to take it and races to do while I’m there. If the first few rides are anything to go by, there are certainly some fun days on the cards ahead.

Photos: Kath Bicknell and Gaye Camm (thank you).

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