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Merlin Cordite review

13 Oct 2015
Verdict:

Can the mail order giant deliver with the Merlin Cordite road bike?

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£1,339
For 
Very high spec finishing kit
Against 
Perhaps too race focused

Merlin is best known as a mail-order specialist that supplies to cyclists worldwide and offers an impressive range of components and accessories at extremely competitive prices. Less well known to roadies is that the company made a name for itself at the turn of the millennium building its own bikes, notably Merlin and Rock Lobster branded hardtail mountain bikes. With the recent boom in road cycling, the company has expanded onto the tarmac, and the Cordite is its top-of-the range frameset.

The frame

Merlin Cordite frame

The first thing we noticed when we gave the Cordite a proper once-over was the small sticker on the seat tube – a Ridley sticker. So is this bike just a rebadged Ridley? It’s not a frame from Ridley’s current range, but Merlin has confirmed it is definitely made by Ridley. To us, that’s reassuring – it’s not difficult to pick a frame from a Chinese catalogue and get it sprayed up, but to have the reassurance of this big-name brand is a mark of quality that suggests the Cordite is, structurally, as good as it looks. What’s more, there’s a UCI sticker on the down tube, which means the frame has been put through the UCI’s testing procedure to approve it for road racing. That’s not something you get with every mass-produced Chinese carbon frame, and it’s another indicator that Merlin has done its homework.

The frame’s geometry is 'racey', with a short wheelbase, short head tube and a high bottom bracket to let you pedal through corners. Cables are routed internally, the BB is a PF30 running a BSA converter for Shimano cranks, and the head tube is tapered – all very modern and attractive. What’s also attractive is Merlin’s new visual identity. The new logo is classy and the paintjob belies the bike’s price. The frame looks and feels quality.

Components

Ye gads! What is this? Ult-something? Ul-teg-ra? It’s a rare sighting at this price point to see a flashy Shimano Ultegra groupset in place, where all around is the 105. Don’t get us wrong, we love 105 and we think it performs almost identically to Ultegra (which is ever so slightly more refined and a bit lighter) but the Ultegra badge will certainly earn you extra café-stop cachet. A 52/36 ‘semi-compact’ chainset complements the 11-28 cassette, offering big enough gears for going fast on the flats, and small enough for scaling any slope you’d want to take on. With a frame and fork from the Ridley factory, it’s no surprise that the bars, stem, seatpost and saddle are supplied by Ridley’s parts and accessories brand 4ZA. It’s all good gear, well chosen for the price and the likely application of the bike.   

Wheels

Merlin Cordite dropouts

Fulcrum makes some great wheels and the Racing Quattros are some of our favourites. They’re light enough (at 1,725g) to get up to speed quickly, they’re strong and, at 35mm deep, they pack a noticeable aerodynamic punch. The hubs are robust and have a quick pick-up and experience suggests they keep going for ever. The braking surface is really effective too. The Cordite comes with 25mm Continental Ultra Sport tyres, which are inexpensive but we’ve had a generally positive experience with them in the past. There are grippier, lighter and faster-rolling tyres out there, but we’ve not had too many flats with Ultra Sports – and when it comes to training, that’s our main concern.

The ride

Merlin Cordite review

Regular readers will have noticed us going on about bottom bracket height a fair bit recently, and without wanting to bore on about it again, we’re rapidly realising that, for most riders, lower equals better. Up to a point of course – you need enough clearance to pedal properly and there are standards in place to make sure that’s always possible and safe. But since riding the Trek Domane Disc, with its 82mm BB drop, we’ve been inclined towards lower bikes, so the Cordite, at 67mm, feels like a bit of a throwback. Combined with its short head tube and conservative wheelbase, this bike definitely feels racier than other bikes, and we’d be very happy to use it at local closed-circuit criterium races where that BB height would allow you to get on the gas earlier out of tight corners.

Experienced riders will find it a really good all-day and sportive bike too, with its low weight and great components. We ended up with a couple of centimetres of spacers under the stem to get the bars to a comfortable position, which means it’s really quite versatile; generally speaking, bikes have taller head tubes than ever, so slamming the stem all the way to the top cap of the headset has become a default. On the Cordite a slammed stem put us in an aggressive position with the drops out of usable reach. The choice of components, low weight and great frame made the Cordite a favourite among our testers, and it really does look the business – not always a given with bikes that come direct from shops. For £1,339, it really is a bargain.

Geometry

Geometry chart
Claimed Measured
Top Tube (TT) 547mm 548mm
Seat Tube (ST) 480mm 515mm
Down Tube (DT) 591mm
Fork Length (FL) 368mm
Head Tube (HT) 145mm 145mm
Head Angle (HA) 72.5 72.1
Seat Angle (SA) 73.5 73.6
Wheelbase (WB) 976mm
BB drop (BB) 67mm

Spec

Merlin Cordite Ultegra
Frame 24 ton high modulus carbon, full carbon fork
Groupset Shimano Ultegra 11-speed
Brakes Shimano Ultegra
Chainset Shimano Ultegra 52/36
Cassette Shimano 11-28
Bars 4ZA Stratos
Stem 4ZA Stratos
Seatpost 4ZA Stratos
Wheels Fulcrum Racing Quattro
Tyres Continental Ultra Sport, 25c
Saddle 4ZA Stratos
Contact merlincycles.com

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