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Merida Scultura Disc Team Edition review

3 Feb 2017
Verdict:

Merida's WorldTour racer makes a smooth transition to discs while ironing out some of the earlier niggles of the rim brake edition

Price: 
£6,500

Merida is part of a royal circle of cycling brands that dwarf all others.

Where many brands hire Far Eastern factories to build their high-end racing frames, Merida owns an enormous Taiwanese bike building business and numerous factories itself.

It’s also big enough to throw its weight behind a WorldTour team, with title sponsorship of Bahrain-Merida, the new home of Vincenzo Nibali.

So with money, marketing and manufacturing all on Merida’s side, the new Scultura should be a world-beater.

Size matters

The Merida Scultura is from the lightweight endurance mould of road bikes, boasting all the compliance, weight and stiffness claims common across the genre.

It’s a tricky balancing act, and competition in this market is fierce, so Merida has taken a meticulously scientific approach. 

‘When we start a project like this, we buy frames from our competitors and test them using industry-standard machinery,’ says Merida product manager Patrick Lapell.

‘The goal is to beat them on stiffness or on weight. For example, we say we want to have 100Nm head tube stiffness, and we need to have that at a lower weight, not just because we want to be better than our rivals but because we know that with these values the bike will handle extremely well too.’

Despite being principally a manufacturer, Merida still has an R&D centre in Germany, where empirical data is a key currency of the cycling industry.

Key link

Lapell is keen to emphasise that this facility, while separate to the Taiwanese mothership, is a key link in the chain: ‘It’s a huge advantage. In terms of prototypes it’s quick and easy.

‘If you’re a brand that doesn’t belong to a factory you have to wait in line. Equally with Europeans it’s not always easy to communicate with producers because it’s a different culture.

‘Even communicating with other vendors in Taiwan we have a better understanding of each other than other European companies.’

Perhaps that opportunity to prototype and develop in short time helps explain how Merida managed to add only 50-70g to the weight of the Scultura frameset while switching from rim brake to disc brake compatibility.

I just hoped it would also prove more advanced in performance than its rim brake sibling, which I found to be a little more flexy than I wanted. 

Far and wide

The first things that struck me on seeing the bike were the pink highlights on the frame, saddle and wheels, and the wide 28mm tyres that come as standard.

A few years ago, you’d only find such wide tyres specced on an endurance-focused cruiser or even a gravel machine. Here they accompany a purebred racer, but from the outset it plays to the strength of the bike.

Sometimes the extra weight and rolling resistance of 28mm tyres can take the edge off a bike’s speed and deaden the ride.

The Scultura manages to avoid such a compromise and retains an extremely racy feel while benefitting from the grip and added comfort the wide 28mm tyres offer.

Running at a pressure below 90psi was where these tyres were at their best, and I felt confident rolling off the tarmac and onto gravel and dirt tracks.

The Scultura Disc showed amazing versatility for a bike made for speed. 

Wider tyres are just one benefit of the disc brake set-up, which doesn’t come with the tyre clearance restrictions of rim callipers.

On days of torrential rain I found the braking to be excellent and I was glad that grit and road debris weren’t tearing away at my rims.

Disc brakes are now surprisingly common on top-tier race bikes, considering that they are still not allowed in races at the WorldTour level.

Up with the best

The likes of the Giant Defy, Cannondale Synapse Disc and Specialized Tarmac Disc set an extremely high standard, and my first impression of the Scultura Disc was that it sat right among them.

While last year’s Scultura rim brake frame was criticised for lacking stiffness, this frame strikes a balance between effective power delivery and agreeable comfort.

After a number of outings I concluded that the Scultura Disc is better suited to long, fast efforts on the flat than it is for punching up steep hills, despite looking like a mountain goat.

I found the deep wheels and stiff rear-end suited intense seated efforts, while on ascents the extra few hundred grams took a bit of a toll.

Merida claims the frame has been developed in a wind-tunnel, and although it doesn’t match the aero credentials of the Merida Reacto, the frame has clearly been designed with aerodynamics in mind, with aerofoil tube profiles on the head tube and down tube.

In conjunction with the mid-section Fulcrum Quattro Carbon wheelset, the overall build holds speed very well and I was happily sticking above 40kmh for long periods. 

Handling the pressure

If there’s an area where the Scultura Disc loses out to some of its rivals, it’s the handling.

Not that it handles badly, but compared to the Specialized Tarmac Disc, that tight and perfectly predictable handling quality on a descent isn’t quite there, possibly owing to the slightly longer disc-compatible chainstays.

At the same time, there are benefits in weight and aerodynamics to the Scultura Disc that beat the rest of the market.

With that in mind, I’d say the Scultura Disc is best suited for serious racers.

It’s a bike for pounding out big distances at high speeds, and would certainly be at home in the pro peloton if the UCI ever gets round to changing the rules on disc brakes.

CF4 or CF2

A caveat to that claim is that the Scultura comes in two iterations – this is the CF4, and below it sits the CF2 for bikes up to around the £2,000 mark.

The CF2 boasts a far slacker geometry, adding 15mm to the head tube and relaxing the angle.

Where the Team Edition did ever so slightly strain my back on long rides, I’m confident that the CF2 would have been a much easier fit, and suited to a more forgiving and enjoyable day in the saddle.

If I had to hand over six and a half grand, the bike snob in me would probably opt for a brand perceived as more desirable, such as Pinarello or S-Works.

But shallowness aside, the Scultura Disc might well be Merida’s best to date, and a prime example of how much disc brakes can bring to a bike when used well.

Verdict: Merida's WorldTour racer makes a smooth transition to discs while ironing out some of the earlier niggles of the rim brake edition. It makes for an impressively comfortable, versatile and swift ride.

Spec

Merida Scultura Disc Team Edition
Frame Superlite CF4 carbon + full carbon forks
Groupset Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 9070
Brakes Shimano RS805 disc brakes
Chainset Rotor 3D30
Cassette Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
Bars FSA K-Force Compact
Stem FSA OS99
Seatpost FSA K-Force
Wheels Fulcrum Racing Quattro Disc carbon
Saddle Scratch 2 T2.0
Weight 7.48kg
Contact merida-europe.com

 

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