Hugely capable gravel bike that really shoes it's true abilities on the roughest of gravel adventures
- Confidence-inspiring handling
- Mountings and stable character make it a great bikepacker
- Slick Shimano GRX Di2 shifting
- Easy to find the limits of off-road drop bar riding
- Rims and tyres difficult to set up tubeless
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, tall stack and slack geometry, the Merida Silex+ makes no secret that it is positioned at the latter end of the spectrum.
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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 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 percent. 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 barrel 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 and trendier description.
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 put the rider in the desired position. A 74-degree seat angle will help to push weight forwards on climbs to give better positioning to manage front wheel lift when putting the power down when the gravel takes an extreme upwards turn. 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 under the downtube for flexible hydration or added luggage storage.
As the top-of-the-range Silex, it gets the best Shimano gravel groupset available, the GRX Di2 treatment (hence the 'E' in the name). 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 stops 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 support to the 45mm Kenda Flintridge Pro tyres. The tyres roll and grip well on hardpack, damp woodland trail and tarmac although the rear suffered a large sidewall gash after an unlucky connection with an opportune rock. If you are looking upgrade the rubber to something larger, Merida says max tyre clearance is 50mm. Alternatively, if you fancy a second 700c wheelset the Silex will fit a 45mm tyre although we think 650b better suits the bikes style.
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. Once seated 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 helped but both tyres still required more frequent inflation than I would have expected.
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.
Ride, handling and performance
On-road performance is decent although not particularly inspirational if you are accustomed to sharper bikes with more prone riding positions. Understandable these racier bikes don't appeal to everyone and those who prefer a more relaxed fit will likely get on well with the riding position. The short stem and long reach may have some more traditional riders scratching their heads regarding bike fit. Looking at the bike, the overall layout seems a bit unbalanced but once on the bike everything looks right. It works well too offering a comfortable riding position and as the stack is so high even riders with the stiffest of spines will find the drops are a very achievable primary position in for efficient long-distance milage.
The high stack, long reach and short stem make the most sense when you descend off-road. The mountain bike DNA becomes very evident, the composed handling and ample reach for body adjustments make the Silex one of the best gravel bikes at descending off-road. Corners can be carved with gusto and the compliant frame allows rough sections to be taken at speed. The only negative is that the Silex can easily remind you of the limitations of drop-bar off-road riding, lulling you into a false sense of security only to find that you have bitten off more trail than you can chew. All this stability does mean that the SIlex is a worthy candidate for riding loaded, resisting unpleasant ride qualities that can come from the added weight of bikepacking gear.
The respectable weight means the Silex is a decent climber whether spinning up road or gravel ascents but its underlying unshakable control once again shows on technical sections where the bike feels like a rock crawler. Whether it's balancing weight to simultaneously manage rear-wheel traction with front-wheel lift or tackling climbs which may require a few Danny Macaskill-esque manoeuvres to clear cleanly, the Silex feels significantly more capable than most other gravel bikes.
While a 27.5-inch fat-tyred 1X gravel bike will never share the lightening acceleration and top speed of race bikes, the Silex isn't a slouch and can pick up speed and hold a decent pace if need be thanks to its reasonably low weight. What impressed us though was that the Silex 8000-E feels as if it could maintain this momentum over any surface. Partly down to the voluminous dampened tyres but also thanks to its mountain bike inspired geometry giving it controlled intuitive handling and positioning so when other drop bar gravel bikes become unsettled by rough terrain, the Silex remains planted.
This geometry does mean that the Silex would be a bit out of place lining up for a fast-paced gravel race, instead, it's a bike that likes it rough. A gravel bike for those that are unsatisfied with just leaving the tarmac behind and want to spend their time chasing mountain bikers down rough trails and singletrack. Strap on some bikepacking bags and the Silex becomes a dependable mile-munching dirt tourer that will remain unshaken and comfortable as you explore all manner of unknown tracks and terrain.
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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