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Merida Scultura 9000 review

25 Nov 2015
Verdict:

Like a size-zero catwalk model, the Merida Scultura 9000 is evidence that it is possible to lose too much weight.

Scultura is Italian for statue, which is perhaps an odd name for a new bike considering most statues are heavy and immobile. While the heaviest statue in the world is the Statue of Liberty at 204,116kg, the new Merida Scultura Ltd weighs just 4.56kg. Cyclist’s test version is the slightly more reasonably specced Scultura 9000, which is only a touch heavier at 5.8kg. In fact, so light is the frame that it gave pro team Lampre-Merida a slight problem. ‘No matter what kind of wheels, power-measurement system, GPS antenna we used – the bikes all stayed below the 6.8kg UCI limit,’ says Merida director Chris Carter. 

The Scultura frame has been around since 2006, although it’s been refreshed twice already in that time. It weighed only 1,100g when it launched so it’s never exactly been a porker, but the new frame is an astonishing 680g (claimed) – 10g lighter than the previous production record holder, the Trek Émonda. Merida says this was achieved by smart design and lots of trimming rather than by any giant technological leaps or gimmicks. ‘The construction uses more than 400 individual carbon parts, carefully placed over a plastic core. Potential resin accumulation is prevented and internal wrinkles are reduced,’ says Carter.

Twist and shout

Merida Scultura 9000 cable routing

Merida claims that the tube walls of the Scultura are as thin as 0.7mm in places, and it even opted for an external seat clamp over an integrated one because it’s lighter. External cables would have been lighter too, but Merida chose to make them internal to improve the aerodynamics. The drive for aerodynamics can also be seen in the shape of the tubes.

‘Improving aerodynamics results in more teardrop profiles, but that requires more material that increases weight,’ says Carter. ‘The tubing profiles are a noticeably more aero shape, using the NACA fastback shape of the Reacto but with greater truncation.’

It’s no surprise that the Scultura 9000 has an advantage over its rivals when it comes to climbing and accelerating. Losing a couple of kilos is like gaining free speed uphill, and on long steady climbs your riding partners quickly become distant memories. Short, punchy climbs aren’t quite the same story, however. 

The area where I ride regularly is generally quite flat with the odd 10% hill thrown in. Most of these are short climbs, so I tend to leave it in a big gear and muscle my way over the top, but the Merida doesn’t like that approach. Really pushing on the pedals doesn’t elicit
the sort of acceleration that you would expect of such a light bike
. The speed comes sure enough, but not quickly. Some of that energy drains away as the slender frame struggles to remain solid under the stress of punchy pedalling efforts.

Merida Scultura 9000 Sram Red

Merida says its Reacto model remains 15% stiffer in the bottom bracket area than the Scultura, and pro rider Diego Ulissi has chosen to stick with the Reacto, even on summit finishes. It seems that for aggressive and attacking racing, where every watt counts, the Reacto may be a more appropriate choice.

What about those of us who prefer to take things a bit easier? Much as I enjoy the occasional foray into the red, mostly I like to cruise the lanes for a few hours and just enjoy the birds in the trees. For my second ride on the Merida I took in some of the quietest roads I know, and in the silence of a steep hill I was able to hear the faint twittering of blackbirds, finches and rubbing brake pads. 

There’s been a fair bit of criticism levelled at bottom bracket-mounted brakes on these pages and I’m afraid I have to add the Scultura to the list. The rub isn’t huge but it’s enough to require you to slacken the brakes off when pushing hard on the hills. Also, due to the Shimano Dura-Ace unit not having a quick-release, a large in-line one has to be used (pilfered from one of Shimano’s commuter groupsets) that looks hugely out of place on a £7,500 bike that makes a fuss out of attention to detail. 

Merida Scultura 9000 bottom bracket

Merida defends the choice of a direct-mount brake as the relocation allows the removal of the seatstay bridge and increased flexibility in the seatstays. As it happens, I think I’d almost forgive them the brake rub because it seems to have worked.

The bike changes direction very quickly but it’s still predictable enough for familiarity to grow

For such a light, aggressive bike, the ride was surprisingly comfortable. It didn’t turn the roads into soft pillows, but I could still walk at the end of a 130km ride. Carter says that while ‘the main aims were to reduce weight and improve aerodynamics, Merida always has its mind on comfort and stiffness. Comfort was improved 20% versus the previous model.’

That’s also why the Scultura has a conventional 27.2mm seatpost rather than an integrated seatmast. Merida was unhappy with the options available so developed its own seatpost specifically to improve comfort. The new frame also has increased tyre clearance, allowing 25mm tyres to be fitted, which may well account for a good portion of the comfort.

Merida Scultura 9000 review

Too much comfort can lead to a sloppy feeling, but the handling is the right side of aggressive. Likewise, with an increase in tyre clearance quite often comes lengthened chainstays, but the chainstays on the Scultura are fairly short at 400mm, and so the wheelbase on this 52cm model is just 972mm. 

The bike changes direction very quickly, which could easily be mistaken for nervousness, but it’s still predictable enough for familiarity to grow quickly. With each ride I found myself attacking corners faster and faster as I became more accustomed to the bike’s handling. Merida says this is down to the re-profiled tapered head tube, but I think it’s just because it’s a very well-balanced frame. The Scultura isn’t just free speed uphill – it’s free speed back down too.

I’d say that how much you enjoy the Scultura 9000 will be dependent on your pedalling style. If you spin a high cadence and winch your way up the mountains like Chris Froome, you’ll love the Merida because it will give you that lightweight edge. But if you’re the sort of person who likes to stick it in the big ring and try to bend the crank arms, this probably isn’t the bike for you – the sluggishness in the face of pure brute force might well leave you feeling robbed.

Spec

Merida Scultura 9000
Frame Merida Scultura 9000
Groupset Sram Red 22
Brakes Shimano Dura Ace 9000 rear brake
Bars FSA K-Force Compact OS
Stem FSA OS99
Seatpost Merida EGM-Light
Wheels DT Swiss Mon Chasseral
Saddle Selle Italia SLR Kit Carbonio
Contact merida-bikes.com
Price: 
£7,500

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