One of the fears which mountain bikers face when considering switching to riding a road bike is the handling aspect, something which I experienced when I first tried my first road bike some 6 years ago. There are two main reasons for this: firstly, the reduced weight of the road bike vis-à-vis the mountain bike and secondly, the different riding posture with the drop-style handlebars. While the brand Merida does not usually come up when we think of road bikes, one thing which really stands out is its handling and the case in point is the Merida Race Lite 904 aluminium road bike.
The appearance of the 904 resembles that of the classic road bike, with its rather straight top-tube compared to many of the current sloping top-tube road bike models out in the market. The frame is made of 6066 aluminium with hydroformed tubing. One thing which really stands out is the clean welds on the frame, making it quite indiscernible from a carbon frame unless one has a very keen eye for detail or is a bike aficinado. The internal brake routing adds on to the clean aesthetics of the bike. The tapered 1.5 inch lower head tube is unusual for a bike of this category and certainly contributes to the overall front-end stiffness.
Kit-wise, the very reliable Shimano 105 drivetrain (derailleurs and STI levers) performs shifting duties with a non-series Shimano compact crankset and Merida’s own Pro-series brake calipers. The Merida branded 27.2mm carbon seat post matches the rather nicely detailed seat clamp (see below) and a Selle Italia X1 saddle provides a comfortable perch for the rider. The saddle foam feels a bit stiff for me but saddles are a rather personal thing. The FSA Gossamer New Ergo handlebar is also a nice touch for road bike at this price-point.
Wheels are 32H Alex rims laced to a set of Shimano 105 which are buttery smooth and the slight profiled rims give an extra boost when coasting at higher speeds. The Vittoria Rubino Pro Slick tires feel grippy and inspire confidence during corners and descents.
With a decent kit and clean-looking frame, how does the bike feel when we put the power into the pedals? One thing which is immediately noticeable is how ‘at home’ the rider feels on the bike, a somewhat comforting sense of familiarity especially for those who have not really tried a road bike before. I say this because a mountain biker friend of mine tried the Merida briefly and he was surprised at how confident and comfortable it felt.
With such a great feel and confidence in handling, going on descents were a breeze and the bike steers and performs the way exactly the way you want it to be. Of course, a large part of this was attributed to the tapered lower head tube of the 904. The bike is no slouch when it comes to climbs either. Essentially the 904 is a race-ready machine with a steady character when it comes to handling and control. Just pop-on a set of lighter weight wheels for race-day and you are ready to go.
If you are looking at a sub two thousand dollar road bike with race-ready and confident handling capabilities, the 904 is a hard choice to resist. It is also a compelling choice for new road cyclists who want at least Shimano 105 level components on their rig.