The Merida Silex 300 is a relatively low-cost entry into the world of gravel and adventure riding. Equipped with a plethora of mounts for racks and cages, able to take a 44mm 700C tyre, dropper-post-friendly and with handling designed to take on the rough stuff, it's a lot of fun off-road. Hit the tarmac with slick tyres and it fair hoofs along, too. For the money it's a great package.
The Silex 300 sits one up from the bottom of Merida's Silex range and is its cheapest 1x bike, with the options either side both being Shimano 2x drivetrains. You need to spend another £500 to get 1x (still Apex) with hydro brakes – quite a jump. Earlier, Stu really liked the carbon Silex 9000 and Jim gave the alloy-framed Ultegra 700 9/10. Both are discontinued for 2019, replaced by lower-spec models that retain the Silex signature frame, which is really the talking point here. First, though, how does it ride?
After swapping out the 35mm Maxxis tyres for 38mm Compass Steilacoombs, the bike went from sketchy and unpredictable off tarmac to surefooted, safe at speed and confidence-inspiring through technical stuff.
Shifting was as sure as SRAM Apex 1x always is – up, down, in rough or smooth, under load or easy, it just worked without grumble or hunting for a gear, and needed no adjustment over several months of riding. The roller clutch did its magic, with not a single decibel of chainslap apparent even in the smallest sprocket, bombing gravel roads at maximum speed. The ability to lock the jockey wheel cage open for rear wheel removal makes wheel swaps a faff-free breeze, as it gets the mech totally out of the way from the cassette, meaning you can focus on aligning the rotor with the calliper.
Yes, it's a very upright riding position – I would normally have another 40mm of stem ahead of me, putting the front axle halfway along the stem instead of out beyond the faceplate when looking down. The mildly flared compact bar also affects this, with the point where you attach the hoods being only about 60mm out from the centre of the bar in the stem clamp – about 30mm shorter than my usual bars. After an hour or so of trying to be aero with a bar closer than normal, my triceps gave up the ghost, so I sat back and enjoyed the ride instead.
I could have possibly gone to an XL frame with my 6ft height and stupidly long arms, but the Large did very well. Stack and reach figures (687mm and 498mm as I make them, BB centre to handlebar centre) with stem slammed were both within 10mm of my go-to disc bike, a Merida Ride 5000 Disc also in Large. There's 25mm of spacers to play with should you want a bit more handlebar height.
The slightly steeper 74-degree seat tube angle on the Silex adds 14mm of forwardness compared with my Ride 5000, meaning between the two bikes and notwithstanding the handlebar reach to the hoods, they're pretty much the same. But the two degrees off the head tube definitely makes for a more forgiving, less twitchy ride on the Silex.
I spent most of the review period exploring a new area of forestry, highland estate and windfarm criss-crossed with long gravel roads – with a 30-minute stretch on tarmac and estate roads to get there. Across this varied terrain, including trail-free mossy forest firebreaks, rooty descents and leaf-strewn riverside trails, the Silex 300 never skipped a beat.
Riding several miles of newly made estate road, then a few more of knee-deep heather and deer tracks, I thought that with wider tyres this would be even easier. With a 44T chainring and 11-42 cassette, the lowest 44x42 gear suited the toughest of climbs, an 8% ascent of 500m passing without note except for a few really steep pitches where the long head tube and slammed-backwards saddle warranted leaning forwards out of the saddle to keep the front wheel down.
And with 44x11 at the fast end I never wanted for higher gears – at 90rpm you're doing 47kph and serious wind resistance is piling up, so just tuck in and enjoy.
In twisty singletrack the Silex did well, with the short chainstays getting round tight corners; you could certainly race cyclo-cross on it with no hassle and likely do quite well, limited shoulder room for running with the bike notwithstanding. Yes, the front end isn't as agile as an out-and-out race machine, but there needs to be a balance.
Spending more than a few hours on frost-hardened snow run-through with properly-frozen vehicle tracks, the Silex 300 didn't kill me, not even once. That predictable handling really does make for a fun bike to ride through sketchy stuff.
When I shared first photos of the Silex 300, comments ranged from 'Is it made of spare tubes left over from other bikes?' to 'Could've just got a mountain bike'. Hardly surprising, as Merida took inspiration from the long top tube/short stem mountain bike world for the Silex range.
I'll spare you the number-word soup that most geometry discussions descend into, suffice to say that it just works. Overall, I was able to get the saddle-nose-to-handlebar distance the same as my other bikes, but the shorter stem made for quicker handling off-road in the filth that the Silex beckons you to take on.
Short, almost cyclo-cross-length chainstays help with nippy handling in amongst trees, and the slacker-than-roadie head tube and commensurate longish wheelbase keep things stable at speed on fast gravel blasts. The sloping top tube meant I had a decent 200mm of exposed seatpost to aid comfort.
That head tube is a standout love it/hate it feature mind – at 220mm on the Large test frame it's a whopper, a good 50mm longer than that on my racy bike. But a gravelly-adventure bike is all about taking in the views, not out-and-out aero speed requiring the flexibility of a cat. You get three spacers – 10, 9 and 6mm – adding up to 25mm-worth of stem adjustment.
You get threaded mudguard mounts in the fork crown and both dropouts, downwards-facing in the case of the fork. There's a threaded rear mudguard boss in the chainstay bridge, and an unthreaded 5mm hole in the seatstay bridge.
The fork has low-rider/cage side bosses, and rounding out storage the frame has three sets of bottle bosses set fairly low to aid framebag clearance and handling. There's a double clamp cut in the seat tube, at either side so as to be out of the way of tyre spray – nice touch.
The seat tube is a dropper-post-friendly 30.9mm, but while you could enter the top tube via the redundant front mech cable port, there's no obvious provision for internally-routing the cable at the BB – a real miss on a 1x bike where a dropper could be connected to a traditional left-hand shifter. Where the cables exit the down tube it looks like there could be a way to route an internal dropper post above the BB once removed, but I didn't try this.
Merida has gone with a BB-86 press-fit bottom bracket, to which I will rail, 'WHY?' Maintenance-wise the Silex is sorted, with its internally routed down tube opening at the BB shell for ease of cabling – the very best of both worlds. But a press-fit BB? Surely threaded external bearings make more sense, especially for affordable bikes designed for a good thrashing in the muck. All was good for a few months, then a persistent creak emerged definitely related to the BB. Were it my bike I'd be reaching for the Loctite 609, or asking the seller to; this sort of thing should not be an issue in 2019.
The BB shell itself is drilled for a front mech cable guide and there's an indent in the seat tube for a front mech, should you wish to go double.
The original Maxxis Razzo tyres were the first things to go. At 35mm they are clearly well under-rated for what the Silex is capable of when properly shod, and while fine rolling on tarmac, lean into a hard corner and the shoulder tread would start to squirm – beware at speed.
After a few initial blasts to get to grips – or lack thereof off-road – I swapped them out for the Most Excellent Compass Steilacoom 38mm rubber.
The Merida Comp 17mm rims are functional if a bit weighty paired with the VP hubs, and set up tubeless with a single layer of tape and valve. Inflating the Compass tyres was hassle-free, pointing to a well-dimensioned rim bed. And – joy – both wheels are 12mm thru-axles, meaning you can run a spare set of wheels with slicks, and swap them out in seconds. This axle design is one of the best I've seen yet, where you just screw in until tight, then pull the spring-loaded lever out off a splined shaft and position at your preferred angle.
The TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes are functional enough, and during the review period – including some fairly hairy fast descending at the edge of the Steilacooms' traction – I never felt I needed to go into the drops for more braking power. Use the drops for faster, more aero handling, yes, but two fingers off the hoods was enough to haul me up sharpish.
That said, on longer descents I felt a bit of hand fatigue, so you may want to look at an upgrade to the excellent TRP Hy/Rd callipers at some stage.
The single-run Jagwire cables are sealed with a rubber boot, to give some protection and longevity to the cable outer. Both the brake and shift cables are held under the stays by cable-ties – a perfectly good solution and very home-mechanic-friendly.
The finishing kit is all Merida's own Comp line. Unusually for a gravel/adventure-orientated bike, Merida has specced the very mildly flared bar, measuring 440mm at the drops and 400 at the hoods. It sweeps back ever so slightly and is broad across the tops, to aid grip and wrist comfort when hammering over corrugations. Bar tape is nice and thick, and plenty grippy.
Overall, the Silex 300 is a great package. The foibles of lack of dropper post routing and threaded BB are liveable-with, albeit frustrating given how easily they could be added at time of manufacture. The ability to fit fat tyres and swap wheels quickly makes for a jack-of-all-trades approach, and adding racks/bags/cages opens up new horizons.
You need to spend an extra £500 to get the same Apex 1x with hydro brakes on the Silex 600, which shares the same frame, fork and many other components. I find this price odd as the difference at RRP between Apex 1x11 hydro and mechanical is about £100, and there's less than 200g between the bikes even with a nicer-but-still average wheelset on the 600. My move would be to buy the 300, sell the Spyres new, find a pair of TRP Hy/Rds on eBay new for around £100 and enjoy a significantly improved stopping experience, with the ability to replace brake cables easily each year. Or, strip the mechanical levers/callipers at new, bung them on eBay and find someone selling a set of Apex 11-speed hydro levers/brakes – likely around £200 used.
As for other brands, a logical comparison would be the Whyte Glencoe that Dave really liked, a £1,300 alloy-frame-and-forked adventure bike also packing Apex 1x11, but managing to get TRP Hy/Rd hydraulic callipers into the parts mix, and flat mounts too should you want to go full-Apex hydro in future. The Glencoe comes with 650B wheels and 12mm thru-axles from the outset, and – joy! – a BSA external bottom bracket. At 11.2kg there's a bit more pork in there someplace, 350g in extra 650B rubber for sure, 100g extra in the brakes and the rest probably in the alloy fork. The Glencoe doesn't get fork cage mounts, mind, but it looks a close run thing between the two bikes; everything Dave liked about the Glencoe's handling, I can see in the Silex 300.
They may look odd, and take a bit of getting used to, and suffer a few odd spec decisions, but all in all I welcome our new affordable long top tube/short stem mixed-surface masters.
A great bike for fanging about on or off road, with the simplicity and light weight of 1x
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Merida Silex 300
Size tested: Large
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
FRAME SILEX LITE
FRAME SIZE XS, S, M, L, XL
COLOR MATT-OLIVE (RED)
FORK MERIDA SILEX CF2
BRAKE FRONT Tektro Spyre
BRAKE REAR Tektro Spyre
BRAKE LEVER Sram Apex 1
HEADSET MERIDA M2331
HANDLEBAR MERIDA Expert GR
HANDLEBAR STEM MERIDA Expert CC
GRIP MERIDA Road Expert
DERAILLEUR REAR Sram Apex1
SHIFTER FRONT no
SHIFTER REAR Sram Apex 1
SEAT POST MERIDA Comp CC
SEAT CLAMP MERIDA Expert
SADDLE MERIDA Comp CC
CHAIN KMC X11-1
CHAINWHEEL FSA Gossamer
FREEWHEEL Sunrace CSMS8
BOTTOM BRAKET FSA PF86 MegaExo
RIM MERIDA Comp SL
TIRE FRONT Maxxis Razzo
TIRE REAR Maxxis Razzo
HUB FRONT VP 173SB
HUB REAR VP 273SB
AXLE FRONT MERIDA QR48N 12-100
AXLE REAR MERIDA QR48 12-142
ROTOR FRONT Tektro M160
ROTOR REAR Tektro M160
SPOKES Black stainless
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?
It's for someone wanting an adventure-gravel bike that can do road duty when needed.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
It's one from the bottom, above the Silex 200 (Shimano Sora 2X) and £300 cheaper than the Silex 400 (105 2X, hydro brakes).
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Chunky welds aside, great build.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is 6066 Aluminium and the fork is carbon.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The front end is very tall, and at 71 degrees the slack head tube makes for stable steering at speed. The short chainstays aid quick cornering around obstacles, while the long wheelbase is gravel-fast-friendly. The sloping top tube gives plenty of standover clearance and seatpost flex.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Reach of 498mm and stack of 687, with the stem slammed. About the same as my endurance road bike, a Large 2014 Merida Ride 500 Disc.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
With all that seatpost showing and fat tyres, yes definitely comfortable.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Everything felt just right.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes - stomp on the pedals and you're instantly rewarded.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
No, the slack head tube and long wheelbase mean even the largest feet should be OK.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Neutral, certainly. No surprises, but able to be chucked about when needed.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Felt well balanced, stable and safe, descending either off-road roughness or fast gravel.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The wide bar tops were good, as was the long seatpost. One thing it definitely needs is better tyres, though – go fat and tubeless!
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Such a short stem is plenty stiff, no point in upgrading there. I couldn't feel anything loose from the wheels either.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Again, tyres. The drivetrain's sweet.
It jumps you forward with urgency.
With the efficient power transfer, acceleration is entirely down to your legs.
The slacker handling means changes of direction in a hurry might be limited.
Really good – not sketchy at all, even on gravel.
The wheelbase and slack steering angle means a stable ride.
Again, no complaints.
Can't detect anything likely to cause upset.
With the fairly upright position you don't really feel 'in' the bike for fast swooping corners.
Climbs well; on really steep bits you may be out of the saddle more often to keep traction on the front.
Can't fault it – from the off it shifted crisply and without fault.
It's SRAM Apex – no reason to think it won't last ages.
With 1x it's defo lighter than 2x.
Some savings made using the FSA chainset and Sunrace cassette, but I doubt you'd notice the difference with full SRAM.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Everything worked together nicely, except for the bottom bracket – that started creaking reliably in very cold weather, after a few months worth of riding.
Wheels and tyres
Not light, but did the job and no noticeable flex on rough terrain.
Still spinning and true.
Probably one place to knock a few hundred grams off if you're feeling that way inclined.
With such fat tyres on I don't think the wheels need to do much.
More workhorse than thoroughbred.
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
Can't fault them, though I might opt for something lighter, maybe 650B.
Good in the dry, on gravel, but don't bother in the wet, or leaves, or mud/silt...
Only used briefly.
In a Scottish winter, not ideal at all. I'd say they're a summer tyre for non-muddy use.
Can't fault them.
They felt OK, different to my typical Ultegra but not an issue.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Apex levers offer both shift paddle and lever reach adjustment, to get both closer to the drops for smaller hands.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
The Spyre C brakes worked well enough, but I'd suggest an upgrade to TRP Hy/Rds when you can.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's both lighter by 800g and cheaper by £100 than the Vitus Substance V2, but lacks hydro brakes. Likewise the Pinnacle Arkose 3 gets hydro, while opting for a 2x Shimano 105 groupset at £50 more. Merida wants an extra £500 for the Silex 600, adding hydro brakes and better wheels. For my money a set of TRP Hy/Rds is the upgrade to go for. The Sonder Camino AL at £950 gets the hydro Apex brakes and saves you £250, but overall the quality is lower, with external cables, cheaper finishing kit and no thru-axles.
Use this box to explain your overall score
Overall, the Silex 300 is very good. If a few issues were sorted – the press-fit BB that started creaking after a few months, lack of dropper cable routing, narrow bar, and average brakes – it'd be 4.5/5. And if it were a hundred quid or so cheaper it'd be 5 stars, as it would if it had the SRAM Apex hydro brakes – a £100 uplift looking at RRP between mechanical and hydro.
About the tester
I usually ride: Merida Ride 5000 Disc My best bike is: Velocite Selene
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo-cross, club rides, general fitness riding, mountain biking, Dutch bike pootling