The first thing to strike you about the Merlin is the price.
At £439, it’s about the cheapest road bike you’ll find. The second thing is its old-fashioned looks. Offset somewhat by an almost complete Shimano Claris groupset, scanning its build sheet there are no obvious weak links in its specs either. Getting aboard, the non-compact frame is a little less upright than more beginner-friendly designs, although they’ll be plenty of riders who don’t want their lack of budget equated with a lack of experience or flexibility.
On the road
Although a little retro, the PR7’s geometry isn’t so severe that you’ll find yourself uncomfortably contorted.
A tad more head-low, bum-high than some cheap bikes, both in terms of ergonomics and aerodynamics the PR7’s geometry will prove faster than something more relaxed. Not that it’s super aggressive in the grand scheme of things anyway, while arriving with plenty of uncut steerer means there’s always the ability to hoist the stem up a bit if needed.
Of medium weight, when pushed, the PR7 will eventually get up to speed. Although with a decent chunk of its mass contained in the wheels and tyres, this isn’t the fastest procedure. Once at terminal velocity, swishing through the gears keeps it ticking over efficiently.
Having opted for a narrow ratio cassette, this leaves the jumps between each of its eight gears small, and a compact chainset means you’ll need to venture into the hills before you’ll be bothering its largest 28t sprocket. While the operation of the gears could leave the Merlin mistaken for a much more expensive bike, the same can’t be said of the brakes. With anonymous callipers, these are a bit underpowered.
The Merlin’s non-compact frame still manages to pack in a decent amount of standover. With a pretty conventional 72.5° head angle, short wheelbase and correspondingly stubby chainstays, the PR7 cuts across the tarmac in much the same way as any other nippy road bike. It’s also relatively comfy. Despite modern thinking favoring skinnier seatposts, we didn’t find ourselves too harshly treated by the Merlin’s frame, partly thanks to its carbon-bladed fork.
On the flipside, its narrow tyres don’t suit being run at lower pressures. They’re also a little harsh and aren’t exactly overflowing with grip. In general, it’s the rolling stock that stymies its ambitions, and swapping them out would instantly level-up the Merlin. The wheels themselves are fine. Tough and reliable, if a little heavy, combined with the tyres, they mean the Merlin isn’t the fastest bike to accelerate. An easy and cheap part to change, and one that will wear out eventually, riders would do well to earmark them for a later upgrade. Perhaps we’re being a little picky, certainly these criticisms need to be weighed against the bike’s minimal pricing.
While most cheap bikes tend to be tailored to a less engaged crowd, the PR7 has pretty straight up racing geometry. With a short wheelbase, low front end, and steep head angle, it’ll change lanes fast, but requires more flexibility and better handling skills than its competitors to get the most out of it. This tendency is also reflected in the frame’s construction.
Within the constraints of its budget, it prioritizes low weight, something just about managed by its 6061 aluminium tubing and skinny carbon bladed fork. This propensity for speed also sees mounts included on the back, but no matching tabs on the front, meaning you can fit a pannier but not mudguards. As itis, there’d be little room for them anyway. At the maximum, it’ll accept 28ctyres.
Unlike more modern hydroformed bikes the PR7 uses straightforward round profile tubing. This doesn’t rob it of much in terms of stiffness but does leave its looks distinctly old school. This appearance is furthered by the external cable routing. Running along the underside of the top and downtubes, this leaves the cables largely exposed, although on the plus side this does keep braking and shifting crisp and easy to adjust.
A few years back Claris received a makeover leaving it closer to Shimano’s high-end offerings. Removing some of the stigma associated with its nerdy external cables and clunky crankset, the cables are now internal, the hoods slimmed, and the crankset employs both integrated chainrings and an external bottom bracket. A pricey piece of kit, this last part’s inclusion on the Merlin is very welcome.
Not present are the Claris callipers, instead you get just-about-adequate generic replacements. Despite swanky looks and solid operation, what the Claris groupset can’t muster is a surplus of sprockets. With just eight at the back, the option is to either go for a narrow cassette or accept big jumps. The Merlin tends towards the former with an 11-28t block that are efficient but won’t suit less-fit riders on climbs.
The Kalloy Uno finishing kit is a bit clunky looking but does the job. We liked the old-school rounded profile of the shallow drop handlebar, but were less keen on the dip it created in the transition between itself and the shifters. The saddle looks a bit of a lump, but turned out to be a good match for our backside. Perhaps unusually the seatpost is an oversize 31.6mm model. With a single bolt and nothing to detect in the way of flex.
The PR7 comes fitted with conventional looking wheels. Made by Mavic the rims are CXP22 models and spin on unnamed hubs. Laced with 32 spokes in a traditional three-cross pattern, they’re medium weight and seem reassuringly tough.
The Kenda tyres are stamped 25c, are narrow, not particularly light, grippy, or flexible, and do little to alleviate road buzz. Swapping them would improve the PR7 no end, and would only cost another £20-30 if bought from the Merlin website.
Frame: 6061 aluminium, carbon fork alloy steerer
Groupset: Shimano Claris 8-speed
Chainset: Shimano Claris 34/50t
Cassette: Shimano HG 8-speed 11-28t
Bars: Uno Alloy
Stem: Uno Alloy 31.8
Wheels: Mavic CXP-22
Tyres: Kenda Road 25c
|Size tested: 56cm||Chainstays (C): 415mm|
|Weight: 10.46kg||Head angle (HA): 72.5°|
|Top tube (TT): 550mm||Seat angle (SA): 74°|
|Seat tube (ST): 560mm||Wheelbase (WB): 990mm|
|Stacks (S): 558mm||BB drop (BB): 66mm|
|Reach (R): 390mm|