The Merida Silex performs competently on and off road
Merida has split its drop-bar off-road offering this year, with the new Mission CX cyclo-cross bike adopting a typically aggressive racing geometry. The Merida Silex gravel bike, however, is much more upright, with a long head tube and lots of clearance for wider 700c or 650b tyres.
The Merida Silex carbon frameset has the look of a hardtail mountain bike. Most gravel bikes look much more like a road or cyclo-cross bike, usually with a slightly higher head tube. But Merida has adopted the slacker 71 o head tube angle and steeply sloped top tube of an mtb in the Merida Silex.
This leads to a lot of seatpost extension. The seatpost itself is 30.9mm diameter – wider than the post on many road-going bikes, but compatible with a dropper post – another off-road feature ported to the Silex.
The sloping frame also leads to a tight rear triangle for good power transfer. And another mountain bikey feature is the chainstays, which flare out behind the chainrings to provide loads of rear wheel clearance. Merida says that you can fit 42mm 700c tyres. Swap to 650b and there’s space for 50mm.
The frame also sports Merida’s finned heat sink attached to the rear brake caliper (but not the front). It’s designed to reduce heat build-up in the brakes on longer, steeper descents, and it’s likely to be particularly useful when fully loaded.
The head tube of the Merida Silex is longer than on many gravel bikes – 180mm on the small sized frame tested. Merida says that it’s designed to avoid a stack of spacers, leading to more front-end stiffness and a tauter off-road ride. It also makes it easier and more comfortable to use the drops when descending.
There’s a long reach to the frame too, offset by fitting a shorter stem – again typical of an mtb. The frame wouldn’t look out of place with a suspension fork. Instead, Merida fits an all-carbon number with massive tyre clearance.
There are all the mounting points you’d ever need. You can fit mudguards and a rear rack if you so choose and there are two mounts on the fork as well as a central mount on the fork crown. Under the down tube there’s a third set of bottle bosses. Merida sells a complete set of compatible bike bags as well as Silex-specific quick-release mudguards.
Although the Merida Silex 6000 is equipped with a single-ring SRAM Apex groupset, there’s a front derailleur mount. The next spec up Merida Silex 7000 comes with a Shimano Ultegra compact groupset.
The Merida Silex 6000 comes in the same lustrous deep blue paintwork found on Merida’s top-end roadgoing bikes, as used by the Bahrain-Merida pro team. In the Silex, it’s highlighted in orange.
Merida offers the Silex in aluminium as well as the all-carbon frame used in the Merida Silex 6000 tested and the 7000 and 9000 models. The alloy models don’t quite have the clearance of the carbon frameset, only taking 42mm 650b tyres.
Merida fits a SRAM Apex 1 groupset to the Merida Silex 6000. It’s SRAM’s entry level single-ring groupset and comes with hydraulic braking and SRAM’s high fronted hydraulic levers. The 44 tooth chainring, with its wide/narrow tooth profile, is paired to a wide-range 11-42 tooth cassette.
Merida fits its own Expert CC tubeless ready wheels, which use 12mm thru-axles. They’re shod with Maxxis Razzo tubeless ready tyres. These come with Maxxis’s Silkworm puncture and tear protection material incorporated under the tread.
Another mountain bike feature: there’s no setback to the carbon seatpost. The saddle sitting atop the post is the 142mm width variant of the Prologo Scratch. I find the Scratch’s profile suits me and the base model is more padded than the Scratch 2, adding extra comfort.
Riding the Merida Silex
Like Ridley’s bikes, Merida’s sizes tend to be on the large size, with a small frame still managing a 56.4cm top tube and over 60cm stack. I’d normally ride a size 54 and the small Merida Silex worked out just fine for me size-wise. That’s the bottom end of the four sizes offered, so if you’re of less than average height, you may not find a Silex to fit you.
The fit is probably down to the zero setback seatpost and the short 8.5cm stem compensating for the long top tube. The bars too have a backward sweep, which results in a more comfortable wrist position and also decreases how far out they are from the saddle.
The net result is that, with the stem slammed, the ride position on the Merida Silex is pretty neutral: neither too stretched nor very upright. So it’s easy to throw your weight around to balance over obstacles and hop branches and steps.
Apex 1 is the bottom level of SRAM’s single-ring groupsets. You don’t get the fancy carbon cranks and light weight of Force 1, with everything in Apex 1 made from black anodised alloy. But shift quality feels just as good as SRAM’s higher spec single-ring groupsets, as does braking. The levers too are as comfortable to hold and use.
The wide-range gearing gives you bags of bottom-end grunt for off-road climbs unloaded, although if you’re bikepacking you might want something a little lower to get you up steeps.
The Maxxis Razzo tyres have a faint file tread over most of their surface, with fairly low profile side knobs. I was expecting a slippery ride on the incipient muddy surfaces of autumn coated with a veneer of leaves.
But they held on remarkably well and were skid free even on damp dirt climbs under trees. I’d probably want to swap them out for something more aggressive once winter really gets going though.
The benefit of the lack of tread is very easy, fast, silent riding on tarmac without the hum that off road tyres tend to make. As well as being fast rolling, even with tubes they’re pliant, so they smooth out imperfections on roads and gravel well.
The component spec of the Merida Silex 6000 is nothing to get overly excited about for a bike costing £2,250. But it does the job as effectively as fancier groupsets and wheels. Merida has clearly spent its money on the carbon frameset, which does very effectively everything you’d want a gravel bike to do and offers loads of adaptability to boot.
Step up to the £3,500 Merida Silex 9000 and you get SRAM Force 1 instead of Apex 1 and a fancier Fulcrum wheelset, along with a weight drop of around half a kilo.
The Merida Silex is a competent off-road performer with good manners, a comfortable ride and an mtb-like geometry that sets it apart from most gravel bikes. Its SRAM Apex 1 groupset works as well as SRAM’s higher end offerings and its tyres give decent grip off-road and roll fast on tarmac too.