The Merida Silex is the type of bike that just didn't exist a few years ago. Dropped handlebars, hydraulic disc brakes, a mountain bike-inspired geometry and enough tyre clearance to shake a fistful of your loosest, chunkiest gravel at. The Silex offers a check-list of forward-thinking features and, as a result, is an extremely versatile bike for a whole range of riding. However, in achieving that versatility, the Silex 700 makes a handful of concessions along the way, depending on what you want from the bike.

The Silex was launched last September, drawing from Merida’s experience both on tarmac and the trails. The German-Taiwanese brand has a huge range of bikes, covering almost every type of rider, but the Silex is Merida’s most adaptable machine, designed to capture the imagination of gravel-curious mountain bikers and dirt-dabbling roadies - a quick look at the frame design tells you that.

The frame itself is available in aluminium (claimed weight 1,500g) and carbon fibre (1,050g), and you’ll find seven Silex bikes in the range, from the Shimano Sora-equipped Silex 200 (£1,000), to the top-of-the-range Silex 9000 with SRAM Force 1 (£3,500).

The Silex 700 we have here is the top-of-the-range aluminium model and comes with a Shimano Ultegra groupset, with a compact 50-34t chainset and 11-34t cassette, for £2,100.

That’s the introductions over, so let’s take a closer look at the Silex - and, most importantly, how it rides.

Merida Silex 700 gravel bike, downtube

The chassis - mountain bike-inspired adventure adaptability

As we mentioned at the top, Merida’s engineers used their experience in the mountain bike world when designing the Silex, so you’ll find a smattering of features that make this machine stand out against some of the road-orientated gravel options out there.

Merida Silex 700

Price: £2,100

Sizes: XS-XL

Size tested: M

Weight: 9.47kg

Website: Merida Bikes

The geometry is particularly interesting. Across its five sizes, the Silex has a long toptube and very tall headtube – a medium bike comes with a 580mm toptube has a 200mm headtube. That is paired with a short stem and a slack 71-degree head angle, all designed, according to Merida, to put the rider in a comfortable, endurance-focused position without resorting to a stack of spacers, while still keeping the handling responsive enough for tight trails. On the flip side, those riders who want a more aggressive, aero position may struggle here, and the Silex’s tall headtube and low standover height do give the bike a unique look that will challenge traditionalists.

The Silex can carry up to five bottles, with standard mounts on the top of the downtube (where you’ll find options for two positions) and seattube, along with additional mounts on the underside of the downtube and either side of the fork (where you can also attach bags). On that note, the Silex is also a fully capable bikepacking machine and, upon launching the Silex, Merida also released a range of luggage, from handlebar bags to saddle bags, though needless to say you can use any brand’s kit here.

Merida Silex 700 gravel bike, fork, bottle cage/bag mounts

This aluminium frame is built from a hydroformed, triple-butted, AL-6066 tubeset and at first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking it was made from carbon, so smooth are most of the welds. Generally, it’s a really well finished bike, not only because of those welds but also the sculpted tube profiles, 12mm thru-axles, flat-mount disc brakes, internal seatpost clamp and subtle mudguard mounts.

In terms of tyre clearance, according to Merida there’s room for up to 46mm tyres in the carbon frame and 38mm in the aluminium chassis. It’s a shame the aluminium bike falls short of the carbon frame, given the prevalence of 40mm and 45mm tyres for true gravel riding, but it is possible to use 650b wheels to up the clearance to 51mm (carbon) and 42mm (aluminium).

The ride - super-versatile and ready for rough stuff but lacking a little edge

Versatility is the Silex’s calling card - Merida describes it as the ‘Swiss army knife’ of the range, a bike with no ‘real category’. It’s true, the Silex can turn its hand to any type of riding in the road-gravel spectrum, capably handing terrain from smooth tarmac to trails, though that versatility comes at the cost of a little excitement.

‘Confidence-inspiring’ is an overused cliche in bike reviews but it’s true of the Merida Silex, and it comes from both the position the bike puts you in and its handling characteristics. The Silex’s progressive geometry is at the heart of the bike - Merida hasn’t been afraid to break convention here - and that results in an unavoidably upright position. If you’re looking for a machine for long, adventure-driven rides in comfort, the Silex is well placed for the task in hand.

Merida Silex 700 gravel bike, bikepacking bag

At the same time, by introducing a more relaxed riding position, the handlebar drops are likely to be more accessible than on the majority of riders’ road bikes. That adds an extra dose of confidence by being able to quickly and easily access a more assured riding position, whether descending on the road or navigating a bumpy, rock-strewn trail. In that regard, the Silex’s layout makes complete sense - after all, what’s the point of taking a drop-bar bike off-road if you can’t use the drops?

"Essentially, it comes down to what kind of relationship you want with your knobbly-tyred bike - do you want cross-genre dependability or a wilder machine for more aggressive gravel grinding"

The Silex is a point-and-shoot bike, in that you can point it where you want it to go and it will do the rest. There’s not too much thought required on behalf of the rider, until you want to step things up a notch on more technical terrain. The Silex’s handling is pretty languid - that’s what give the bikes its adaptable personality - but riders in search of a more exciting off-road experience and the kind of gravel bike that keeps you constantly engaged will be better served elsewhere. Essentially, it comes down to what kind of relationship you want with your knobbly-tyred, drop-bar bike - do you want cross-genre dependability or a wilder machine for more aggressive gravel grinding. The Silex feels better suited to steady rides or longer adventures than a couple of hours blasting around the woods or trails, constantly seeking the bike's limits.

Merida Silex 700 gravel bike, Maxxis tyres

Merida Silex range

Merida Silex 9000
SRAM Force 1
£3,500

Merida Silex 6000
SRAM Apex 1
£2,250

Merida Silex 700
Shimano Ultegra
£2,100

Merida Silex 600
SRAM Apex 1
£1,700

Merida Silex 400
Shimano 105 mix
£1,500

Merida Silex 300
SRAM Apex 1 mix
£1,200

Merida Silex 200
Shimano Sora
£1,000

That’s not to say the aluminium frame is lacking stiffness, because it’s not - you’ve got a responsive platform here when accelerating or climbing. Comfort is good, too, with the flattened seatstays helping to eliminate unwanted buzz and, of course, the plump tyres going a long way to keeping things smooth.

While we’re talking tyres, all Silex models comes with 35mm Maxxis Razzo tyres, developed in conjunction with Merida. Tyres can be easily changed, and there’s an ever growing range of options for today’s gravel rider, but the Maxxis tyres specced here are representative of the Silex as a whole - they’re really solid all-rounders, with a semi-slick centre tread that will serve you well when criss-crossing from road to hard-packed dirt, but you’ll need to swap in something else for more adventurous gravel riding. The widely-spaced knobs offer some reassurance on dirt but are found wanting when it’s particularly loose or muddy.

A final word on the spec: Shimano’s Ultegra groupset works as well off-road as we’ve come to expect on-road. There’s a strong argument for a 1x drivetrain on gravel bikes, given the mechanical simplicity or a single-chainring setup, but here you get slick, efficient shifting with a wide range of gearing. Other details include a carbon seatpost, aluminium cockpit and Prologo Scratch saddle.

Merida Silex 700 gravel bike, Shimano Ultegra compact chainset

Conclusion

If you want a bike that’s dependable for the commute, comfortable for all-day riding, and ready to be loaded for a bikepacking adventure, the Silex is your match, but it’s not without its faults as the 'Swiss army knife' of Merida's line-up. Merida should be applauded for its progressive approach to the Silex but in designing a cross-genre bike that will appeal to a wide range of riders, those in search of a purer, more engaging gravel experience might feel left out.

Pros

- Versatile frame for commuting, bikepacking or gravel riding
- Smooth aluminium welds given appearance of carbon
- Confidence-inspiring handling & relaxed geometry for all-day escapades

Cons

- Languid handling for aggressive gravel or road riders
- Tall headtube and sloping headtube challenge traditional aesthetics
- Tyre choice limits off-road riding