The Merida Cyclo Cross 4 is a disc equipped cyclo cross bike, with eyelets and time tested designs that make it into an appealing option as a winter trainer, especially once you see the £999 asking price.
I know Merida more from their commitment to mountain biking, so it's no wonder that they've gone disc with the Cyclo Cross 4. It is in fact their only 'cross bike that is being brought to the UK and actually bottom rung of their 'cross ladder - the full Merida range is disc-equipped. Clearly Merida UK see 'cross more as an option for those looking for a versitile utility bike, that can go from riding to work to being raced around the local school football pitch on a Sunday. I couldn't agree more really and on first sight, the Cyclo Cross 4 certainly fills that role.
I'm torn on the idea of discs in cross. I see the benefits: zero brake judder, better braking and improved mud clearance but in my experience, I have little experience of those problems. In the dry, cantilevers do just fine and when it does get muddy, braking becomes even less of a requirement as momentum is lost as soon as you stop pedaling. The other point is that while discs offer more power, braking requires traction and that is often the limiter when it comes to cyclocross bikes with narrow tyres.
The Merida is issued with Hayes CX5 mechanical disc brakes. I haven't used this set before but they didn't do much to shift my opinion on discs. I found they felt spongy - like a hydraulic system that needed bleeding - so didn't feel better than a set of decent cantilevers, perhaps worse. The poor feel could be down to the chicken brake levers on the tops; all the extra routing often creates bagginess.
As a do it all bike, mostly used on roads and bridal ways, the discs do tidy things up and save the faffing of getting cantilevers setup correctly - more of a fit and forget - personally though, I'd prefer a set of cantilevers here.
Regardless of the brakes, riding the bike on and off-road was lots of fun. The tight geometry begs to be thrown through corners and taken sideways. I had plenty of those smile inducing moments when you bring the bike back from the edge of grip. Thanks to a short head-tube and wheelbase, the bike feels like a racer, but also meant I did clip my toes. I even shouldered the bike a few times but found the top tube rather uncomfortable. In addition, the down tube cable routing wasn't great when trying to wrap my arm underneath, though the 105 shifting did remain constant without any maintenance throughout the test, despite the exposed cables.
Doing a little loop in Bristol, I took the bike on the man-made mountain bike trails. With plenty of tight corners it can often feel a bit cumbersome on a 'cross bike but the Merida took to them well. It was here I found the discs did triumph, providing a predictable, modular level of braking on the hardcore surface.
Wheels are a set of Merida branded Novatechs - from one Taiwanese brand to another - and like most disc hubs, the rear is 135mm, so you can't go swapping in a turbo wheel from your road bike even if you wanted to. They were solid and did the job well considering the £999 price point. A carbon fork helps to dampen any vibration you're likely to experience. Maxxis Raze tires sit on the rims, which are an intermediate block profile I got on with off-road and didn't find too bumpy on-road.
Other than the discs, the Cyclo Cross 4's looks are to me bit bland. It's surprising to see external 1 1/8in headsets these days, especially on a 'cross bike and the gussets, which bring attention to the welding, look a bit old-fashioned to my eyes. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and many may see style in an otherwise hydro-welded, tapered steerer world.
The price has to be one of the most attractive features of this bike. For just shy of £1000, you're getting a lot of bike: Shimano 105, FSA chainset, carbon fork and disc brakes with cartridge bearing wheels. That's a lot more than most road aluminium road bikes at this price, where you'll normally find a Tiagra or even Sora groupset.
The Merida Cyclo Cross 4 is a great option as a first entry into 'cross. It also makes for a great winter steed or commuter, thanks to eyelets for mudguards. It'll open up new training routes as you can dip off into the woods or carry on up that bumpy farm track. The brakes were less than stellar but once the industry gets fully behind road discs there'll be plenty of potential for an upgrade.
Great value starter 'cross bike that'll also do the job as a winter trainign bike or commuter steer… it's lots of fun too.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Merida Cyclo Cross 4
Size tested: 55cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Aluminium frame with a carbon fork (aluminium steerer).
FRAME Technoformed, butted and heat treated 6061 aluminium with smooth welding
SHIFTERS Shimano 105
BRAKES Hayes CX5 160 / 140
CHAINWHEEL FSA Gossamer 46-36 Mega
CHAIN KMC X10 10s
HUBS Road Disc Bearing
RIMS Merida XCD Lite
FREEWHEEL Shimano CS-4600-10 12-28
TIRES Maxxis Raze 33 Kevlar
HANDLEBAR Merida Road Pro Classic OS
STEM Merida pro E OS -7
HEADSET Orbit X
SEATPOST Merida Pro H SB15 27.2
SADDLE Merida Pro SI
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
I think this bike is aimed at someone who doesn't want to spend too much on a bike that they can have a lot of fun exploring with on the weekends but can also make do for the daily commute.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
To me the build looks a bit dated. The welding is clean and tidy though. Mudguard lugs are included on the frame and fork.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Aluminium throughout the frame, with carbon used for the fork legs.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It's a tight, racy geometry with a short wheelbase and steep head tube.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
I found the reach and height about what I'd expect for a cyclocross bike (I tested a 55).
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
The carbon fork seemed to do a good job a removing ground vibration. I found the ride comfortable and not at all jarring.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes, everything felt good. The fork must be built up in all the right places to not flex or wobble under disc braking.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
It did, using the tried and tested Hollowtech II bottom bracket with an FSA chainset stuck through it.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
I found there was, yes, due to the short wheelbase and steep head angle. I only really found it to be a problem doing track stands though!
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Fairly lively but tamed by 44cm bars.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The race geometry meant it was a lot of fun to ride off-road, giving it some beans. In particular, it surprised me on the mountain bike specific trails; it was nimble and easy to get through berms.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The Merida brand 'Pro SL' saddle is a pleasant purch - like a Fizik Tundra.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
I didn't notice any real problems up front but perhaps a tapered integrated headset would improve things.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The brakes didn't impress me and need some tuning or perhaps replacing.
Average really but I wasn't expecting the rigidity of a carbon race frame.
The short wheelbase would make things twitchy if not for the wide 44cm bars.
105 is great and easy to use in the mud.
105 and FSA chainset on a £999 bike.
Wheels and tyres
Good combo on and off-road.
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
A solid set of wheels and senseable intermediate block tyre selection.
Average own brand stuff here.
Nice saddle - bars a bit too wide for my liking on a 55cm.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Great saddle. Bars too wide (44 c-c) for most on a 55cm I'd say.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? No - it doesn't fill a void for me.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
About the tester
Age: 23 Height: 184cm Weight: 66kg
I usually ride: Orbea Onix (Carbon) - Summer, Orbea Asphalt (Alu) - Winter My best bike is: Orbea Alma G10
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Semi pro
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, club rides, mtb,