Monday, 17 July 2017

Merida Big Trail 800 first impressions and recommended upgrades

In summary | She's big, tall and fat. A little heavy as well, but boy does she roll well.

I've ridden the bike twice now and already I already know I've made the right decision.

I've only ridden a semi-fat once before, and not for long, so didn't really know how well it'd feel or work even. I took the plunge on this bike as I wanted something a little more fun than my current bike (a Niner ROS), and boy did I make a good choice.

Maxxis 3C full quality tyres as standard

I'v;e captured a few photos and thoughts below that may help you to make a decision about whether to get this bike yourself and what you can expect when it arrives.

Where did I buy it?

I bought the large Merida Big Trail 800 from Lakes Cycles in the UK and got a 9% discount over the RRP. Bargain for the spec and quality of the bike.

I'm 5' 11" and I bought the large. There's so much stand-over clearance on the bike that a Medium would have had too short a reach and I'd have had my knees around the stem when seated. On the ride I did wonder whether an XL would have fitted as well. 

The Merida Big Trail 800 2017

My very first impressions

I didn't like the grips, but they use a 3mm allen key to stay secure

  • Meh, the black paint is OK. Would have liked the blue or the red more
  • Weighs a bit, likely around the 29lb mark I'd say
  • Tyres are big, but not super massive
  • Grips aren't all that
  • Sizing is good. Lots of stand over clearance and good reach. Saddle needs to be further back
  • Bars are nice and the stem is mega short
  • Had to remove the reflectors in the wheels and the massive wheel protector behind the cassette
  • Fork width looks much larger than a regular fork
  • Brakes are basic and I wonder how well they'll work and last
  • The dropper is really nice and I love the actuator on the bar
  • LOVE the soft entry and exit cable points on the frame. So simple, silent in operation and keep the cables away from the frame - all bikes should use this as the new standard
  • Huh, the tyres are full quality 3C models, which means I won't need to upgrade them
  • The wheels were ready for tubeless from the off, just needed the valves and the gunk
  • Wonder whether the hubs will be any good
  • Huh, the wheels have the RockShox torque caps to provide a greater surface area between the hub and fork
  • Saddle looks junk

Fork width and clearance are size-able

My very first ride impressions

  • Yup, the saddle is junk
  • Grips are harsh
  • Tyres make wicked noises
  • This feels like it rolls as well as my Niner
  • Roots and bumps are simply absorbed
  • It's much more comfortable than my Niner
  • I'm impressed with acceleration and speed of direction changes
  • Ha! It's super easy to wheelie (not that I can that well)
  • I didn't notice the weight particularly
  • The dropper is dead smooth and I much prefer the lever over my Thomson on the Niner
  • Gears are perfect - didn't have to think about them once
  • Brakes were surprisingly good and were silent
  • Tyres skidded a few times on wet and rock, but picked up traction again quickly
  • Never once felt out of control

Amazing cable management

Immediate changes and upgrades

  • I changed the saddle to a more comfortable WTB Volt
  • I swapped out the grips for some ODI numbers
  • I converted the wheels to tubeless using 35 mm Stan's valves and 100ml of Stan's sealant
    • Noticeably saved weight on the bike - the tubes are MASSIVE
    • Pro Tip: I needed to use a Schwalbe air canister to inflate the wheels (110 PSI did the trick)
  • Helicopter taped the frame in key areas (prefer some damage to the frame for character)
  • I put the stem at the bottom of the stack of spacers

List of next changes and upgrades

Neat looking, flex for comfort, but isn't
compatible with my butt

  • I'd like a lower stack height headset in time and to cut the steerer tube down - never like the idea of something sticking out the top of the front of the bike
  • I'll toy with the idea of new brakes. I've had XTs for a number of years and models and really appreciate the variable lever point (which the Merida's brakes do have, but needs an allen key)
  • Longer dropper post, lighter wheels and better rear mech are on the wish list, but all items have really impressed me so will only be replaced when they break (if they break)

Look out for a more in-depth review in the coming months.

If you have any questions, then share below and I'll be sure to reply.

More photos

All the bits that came with the bike

Fork uses the Torque caps to provide
a greater surface area between the hub and the fork

Super short 35 mm stem. Lots of spacers for adjustment.
Nice bar too

Deore brakes impressed more than I was expecting

Dropped remote / actuator is the best I've used

Front profile

No touchy! Cables stay away from the frame and don't tangle (lovely)

Loads of adjustment opportunity

Dinner-plate sized cassette and great looking SLX cranks (scuffed after first ride)

Artsy shot

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Hilly trail running routes around Cookham and Maidenhead

Come the Summer, this is the best place to run in Maidenhead
I love to run hilly trails, I feel that there's nothing better than an arduous ascent and a quad-jolting descent to improve fitness and free the mind from the weeks oppression and stress. And as I quite dislike running on the flat, I pretty much only run hills.

Living in Maidenhead I'm lucky that there are a few biggish hilly trails that I can run up and around that suit my particular style.

Here are two of my favourite hill running routes around Cookham / Maidenhead.

Winter Hill* "Beast me" reps

It's 100 feet(ish) tall. Goes up like a rocket and has multiple trails that mean you can always find something to suit both the beginner trail runner and the die hard nut. The shortest run is about 5k (from the car park and after a few reps), but can obviously made to be much longer the more you do. It's also really easy to follow.
*Huh, it's not actually Winter Hill. Thanks Google!

The big loop was for the dog to get a drink on such a hot day, which she outrightly refused. Ugh.
  1. Starting at the top of Winter Hill in the car park, face the view and run right
  2. Pick up a thin trail and follow it all the way
    • Take the left at the wooden posts a 100 metres from the car park
    • Straight across the roads separated by a drop
    • Take a left at the gravel t-junction
    • Jump the gate ;-)
    • And go straight all the way down to the moor
  3. When you hit the moor, you'll see a hill screaming into the sky on your right with a well worn trail
    • Run up it
    • It has a hidden top, so save something for the end
  4. Once you're up, head left on the trail and catch a breath
  5. After 50 paces run the technical descent (slippery in the wet) to the left
  6. Hit the moor-floor-once-more (ha!), turn around and repeat in reverse what you just did
  7. And keep on repeating it up and down over the same hill
For true leg smashing training
Rather than turning around and running back-up up the technical hill, head left at the bottom for 100 meters and look left (up the hill). You'll see the light trodden trail that I've made into the side of the hill. It goes right up. It's a beast. Run up that, technical route down and repeat. Most I've done is 10 repeats. It's horrible and I love it.

For a running break
At times I need to run-off the hill reps, so at the top of the hill where you take the technical descent, take the right turning just before it. The singletrack is a lovely bumpy feel-good run and when you get to the bottom take a left and after the same distance you just ran you'll see the technical route on your left or you can take the hill rep option a little further on.

Running with a dog?
After a few reps, head down the technical descent and over the wooden bridge. Take the slight left trail from the bridge and head towards the river. There's easy access for dogs to the water, just watch for cows and swans.

Winter Hill and Bisham Wood loop

This is essentially a combination of the run above, and another run the other side of the car park at the top of Winter Hill. It's a varied route with only the end hill to challenge you, but it's 'bumpy' and fun. It's also well shaded, so ideal for midday runs within sunscreen during the week of Summer.

The Bisham part of the loop starts with running in the opposite direction of the above run (left as you face the view from the car park).

This one is harder to follow. Use a GPS if you have one.

This was a run covering Winter Hill > Bisham Wood > Winter Hill
  1. Run along the trail away from the car park
  2. You'll run onto someone's drive, follow the trail to the right of the wall
  3. After a minute or so take the left spur near a wooden post up the hill
  4. Moments later you'll pop out into an open
  5. Run straight ahead into the trees (don't follow the trail left)
  6. Look for the lightly trodden markings and spacings on the ground and openings between trees
  7. You'll end up by a road with a trail immediately across it (you can't see the trail from the other side)
  8. Cross the road and cut across all trails heading far-left for a couple hundred metres
  9. You'll come to a road at some point and follow it right (follow it right on the trail if possible)
    • If on the trail, take the left turnings; until
  10. At the very long and straight bridleway (either on the road or on the trail) take a right and head all the way to the top
  11. You'll come to two wooden gates (take the furthest one from you, not the one on the left)
  12. Follow the trail all around until you come to another wooden gate at the top of a large descent
  13. Take that descent heading right and down
  14. Take the slight up-hill right at the first set of signposts into the trees
  15. You'll pop out near another set of signposts with 4 routes and a wooden gate to your left, take the first right (not the immediate sharp right leading back-up the hill)
  16. Follow this route for 500 metres and then take the left turning down a very steep 'chute'
    • This left turn is from an intersecting singletrack from the right
  17. At the bottom of the chute take a right
  18. Take care when you come to the road - look for cars and cyclists (this is also my, and many others, cycling hill rep route)
  19. Cross over and take the right up the trail
  20. This is a long and hard hill run, enjoy
    • There are also about 30 steps at the very top too
  21. Before you step onto the road, take the left and follow the trail
  22. If you have a good memory the wooden post you come to is the same wooden post at the start of the run, either run the route again (about 2.5km) or continue along back to the car park
If you're after something flatter then the moors make for great fast and flat trail routes. If you run during the warmer months you can get a belting ice cream at the Cookham Moor car park. Sometimes it makes it even worth running the flat for a hill-goer like me.