As gravel riding matures, bikes are beginning to split off into different subcategories. On one end there are fast race bikes that are almost, or sometimes are, road bikes with conservatively fat tyres. On the other end are gravel bikes which appear to be doing everything they can to disassociate with their tarmac-biased cousins. Both have their merits and bikes from the full spread of the gravel spectrum feature in our guide to the best gravel bikes. With its 650B wheels, the Merida Silex+ makes no secret that it is positioned at the latter end of the spectrum.
Design and aesthetics
The Silex range comes in both alloy and CF2 carbon options which are fitted with 700C wheels, however, Merida has now added a Silex+ option as well. The plus designates that instead of 700C wheels, the bike is specced with 27.5in hoops instead and equipped with bigger tyres for added grip and rowdier riding. This works because a 45mm 27.5in tyre will blow up to a similar circumference as a 38mm 700C tyre so won’t affect the existing geometry.
The Merida CF2 carbon is reinforced with an epoxy resin to make what Merida calls 'Nano Matrix Carbon' to enhance resistance to rock strikes by a claimed 40 per cent. Tube shapes are slim and flat, linking into each other with sculpted edges that lead from the front to the back of the bike. The top tube, seat tube and seat stays meet at the integrated seat collar that holds the seatpost with a neat wedge. The frame is finished with internal cable routing that is clamped to avoid rattling, 12mm axles with a removable lever and CNC cooling fans to disperse heat from the rear caliper.
Merida describes the geometry rather unflatteringly as ‘upright gravel’ but with its geometry numbers much akin to a cross-country mountain bike from a few years ago - monstercross may be a more appropriate description. How monstrous it is will remain to be seen once more testing has been carried out.
Sporting a 71-degree head angle and 74-degree seat angle, the bike's intention to tackle rough terrain is clear. A deeper dig into the geometry charts shows that the reach of 400mm and stack of 626mm puts the rider in a similar position as Merida’s current crop of XC mountain bikes.
The talking point of the Silex is the tall stack and slack head angle which should offer a big advantage in stability and control over racier alternatives through rough sections. The downside is a visually tall headtube which looks a little odd but is necessary to bring the headtube to the desired position. A 74-degree seat angle will help to push weight forwards on climbs, as the gravel takes an extreme upwards turn, riders body weight is better positioned to manage front wheel lift when putting the power down. The reach is on the long side but an 80mm stem brings it back in as well as keeping the steering sharp, the long front end should also offer a bit more space to throw shapes when pinballing down a trail.
The gloss fork has a chunky crown area which becomes more slender towards the dropouts. The crown has a huge amount of tyre clearance, although if you want to fit bigger tyres, the rear end will be the limiting factor. The fork has two bottle cage mounts on the legs and a set on the downtube for flexible hydration or added luggage storage.
As the top-of-the-range Silex, it gets the Shimano GRX Di2 treatment. Shimano’s gravel-specific drivetrain is specced with a 40T 1x system that is paired with an 11-speed 11-42T SLX cassette. This should be a plentiful range of gears for most occasions unless you are frequently faced with seriously torturous gradients laden with bags or trying to keep up with the fast boys on a road ride. A front derailleur mount provides the option to switch up your gearing choice, were you inclined. Gear shifts are prompt and precise and the clutched derailleur should stop the chain getting into any mischief on the bumpy stuff.
While the Shimano drivetrain has many positive attributes, the stand out feature is the ergonomics of the levers. Well shaped hoods are extremely comfortable and offer the security of grip that is vital on rough terrain. The lever control is one of the best of any drop-bar groupset, beautifully shaped levers and a high pivot point gives precise modulation and massive power both on the hoods or in the drops.
The Fulcrum Rapid Red 500 gravel wheelset should be more than up to gravel duties, built with beefy rims and a 23mm inner rim diameter to offer plenty of support to the 45mm Kenda Flintridge Pro tyres. The tyres roll and grip well on hardpack, damp woodland trail and tarmac that we have so far ridden. If you are looking upgrade the rubber to something larger, Merida says max tyre clearance is 50mm.
As it should be with all gravel bikes, setting the bike up tubeless was on the top of our to-do list. Seating the tyre was a little frustrating but that’s down to not having a compressor at hand to give it the initial blast. The front tyre seemed to seal quickly however the rear proved to be more problematic with air leaking around the seam of the rim. Some perseverance and a few refills of sealant have helped but both tyres still required further inflation so only time will tell how reliable this setup is.
The rest of the components are from Merida’s stock. Out front, an 80mm stem mounts a 440mm aluminium bar that has 12-degrees of flair, 81mm reach and 130mm drop. At the back, a carbon Merida Team CC post with S-Flex shaping is topped with a Merida Expert CC saddle.
We have only managed a few rides on the Silex+ 8000-E and the relaxed riding position quickly felt familiar and comfortable. While a 1x 27.5-inch fat-tyred gravel bike will never share the lightening acceleration and top speed of a race orientated gravel bike, the Silex is no slouch and quickly picks up speed and holds a respectable pace. In fact, when at cruising speed the bike feels as if it could maintain this momentum over any surface. The steering feels quick and intuitive and hasn't become unsettled by speeds picking up or rough surfaces so far. We are looking forward to riding the Merida Silex+ 8000-E a lot more to unearth the true capabilities of this bike.
Specifications: Merida Silex+ 8000-E
- RRP: £3,250
- Frame: Merida CF2 carbon
- Size: Medium
- Weight: 8.55kg (medium, claimed)
- Groupset: Shimano GRX DI2, 11 speed
- Crankset: Shimano GRX cranks (172.5mm)
- Wheels: Fulcrum Rapid Red 500
- Tyres: Kenda Flintridge, 27.5x45cm
- Brakes: Shimano GRX hydraulic disks, 160mm rotors
- Bar: Merida Expert GR
- Stem: Merida Expert CW
- Seatpost: Merida Team CC
- Saddle: Merida Expert CC
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