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De Rosa Merak review

24 May 2021
Verdict:

Oozes Italian flair and passion, and backs it up with a polished performance that won’t disappoint. Photography: James Carnegie

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£6,800
For 
Exquisite looks • Stiff • Light • Ample comfort
Against 
Wheels marginally behind modern trends

Ugo De Rosa once built Eddy Merckx more than 50 frames in a year, including five in one week as The Cannibal prepared for Paris-Roubaix.

Famously fastidious, Merckx obsessed over every tiny detail of his bikes, and it was De Rosa he trusted for the bulk of his career to wield the brazing torch and make his race bikes. Two at a time, of course, so he would have a spare for the team car.

Moser, Motta, Van Looy, Argentin, Berzin, Gonchar, Vainšteins, Casagrande, Baldato, Pellizotti… the list of cycling stars who have won on frames built by De Rosa is a long one indeed. De Rosa claims that in the 1974 Giro d’Italia 80% of the frames being ridden were his, although obviously many were hidden behind a paint scheme bearing another brand’s logo.

As the 2021 racing season gets underway, Team Cofidis will be flying the De Rosa flag, aboard both this bike – the recently re-released Merak, which is the brand’s lightweight, all-round GC contender – and the SK Pininfarina, its truly aero machine.

‘More of the team riders will likely choose the Merak most of the time,’ says Cristiano De Rosa, Ugo’s third son, who is now at the helm of the company. ‘The frame weight is 800g painted so it’s extremely light but also extremely stiff.

‘It’s got a real racing heritage at its heart,’ he says, gesturing with a few taps of his fist at the centre of his chest. It’s clear none of his father’s passion has been lost through the generations.

 

‘The Merak is an icon of the brand,’ he adds. ‘It represents our racing soul. It was in the past the very best in terms of performance and it won the World Road Race Championships in 2000 with Romāns Vainšteins. It was aluminium then, but in 2020 we decided to bring it back in carbon.

‘We have tried to match the highest level of performance in the modern racing era, with disc brakes and clearance for wider tyres, but also to match the traditional style. The frame is very easy on the eye. No big, strange tube shapes.’

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White is faster: fact

I couldn’t agree more. It is, to my eye, a truly exquisite bike, resplendent in all white. Until this landed on my doorstep I hadn’t considered just how rare a sight white bikes have become nowadays. I think somehow white things – in cycling at least – have a weird way of priming the psyche for a good ride.

Buy the De Rosa Merak now from Merlin Cycles

It’s the same when you go out wearing pristine white shoes or socks. So with that, plus some more frequent appearances by the sun, I felt like I had a real spring in my step as I began to get to know the Merak. And each ride seemed to feel even more pleasurable than the last.

 

The Merak greeted me with a purposeful, business-like demeanour, like the sort of firm and powerful handshake I imagine the now-octogenarian company founder would still give. The Merak’s racing pedigree bears out in every pedal stroke.

There was no questioning its unflinching stiffness as I delivered my best efforts up the steepest of my local climbs, and I could almost hear it laughing – punctuated with Italian hand gestures, of course – as I sprinted, head down, with everything I had.

‘Is that all you’ve got, Bowers? Pffffft. Go home!’

 

The forks look slender but stand firm, and the Merak’s handling is correspondingly direct and precise. Its 405mm chainstays are as short as is possible on a disc brake bike with clearance for 30mm tyres and they ensure accelerations are met with an equally taut reply. The overall sensation is one of complete power transfer, which combined with a respectably low weight (7.69kg) means speed comes with efficiency.

I felt I could trust the Merak to lean far over in the corners too. The tubeless 28mm Vredestein Fortezza tyres helped in that regard, assuring additional comfort and grip. The Fulcrum Wind 40 wheels however, while laterally stiff and not too weighty (claimed 1,620g pair), were a little narrow internally at 19mm to fully realise the potential of the wider tyres.

Buy the De Rosa Merak now from Merlin Cycles

Comfort is so often the thing that modern race bikes sacrifice but, to its further credit, De Rosa has even managed to sneak in just enough of this to satisfy me. The Merak is no magic carpet ride but sufficient work is done by the carbon layup, aided by the tyres, to absorb enough of the bumps that it never gets irritating.

In fact, there really is nothing about this bike I could call irritating. Ugo De Rosa himself once told Cyclist that to him the beauty of the bicycle lies in its simplicity: just two triangles and a rider. I think that has been epitomised in the Merak. Sublimely simple and also simply sublime.

Pick of the kit

Castelli Pro Seamless armwarmers, £25, saddleback.co.uk

As winter abates and the mercury begins to rise, these armwarmers come into their own. They are still warm enough for temperatures as low as 8-10°C but their seamless design makes them noticeably less bulky than traditional armwarmers, which means they’re very light at just 67g a pair and also highly breathable.

They dry really fast too and take up very little space in a jersey pocket – perfect for changeable spring days.

Buy the Castelli Pro Seamless armwarmers now from Wiggle

Alternatively…


Alloy wheels

Keeping the same Campagnolo Chorus 12-speed spec but swapping the carbon Fulcrum Wind 40 DB wheels for the alloy Fulcrum Racing 400 brings the price to £5,800, a £1K saving.

Buy the De Rosa Merak for £5,712 now from OnBuy


Go Shimano

We’d say it’s almost sacrilegious to put a Shimano groupset on such an all-Italian bike as this De Rosa, but the Ultegra mechanical version brings the price down further to £4,999.

Buy the De Rosa Merak Ultegra now from Merlin Cycles

Spec

Frame De Rosa Merak
Groupset Campagnolo Chorus
Brakes Campagnolo Chorus
Chainset Campagnolo Chorus
Cassette Campagnolo Chorus
Bars FSA Energy Compact ACR
Stem FSA ACR
Seatpost De Rosa Carbon
Saddle Prologo Kappa RS
Wheels Fulcrum Wind 40 DB, Vredestein Fortezza Tubeless 28mm tyres
Weight 7.69kg (size 52cm)
Contact derosa.it

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