The dice have been rolled and baptism of fire is well under way! Taiwanese brand Merida made the leap forward in top-level cycling by co-sponsoring the 2-decade old team of Lampre, which now has the best bikes the manufacturer can supply. Officially, none of the 4 models that the Merida-Lampre team uses is available on the market, but the Asians provide us with a quantum of solace through the Scultura 909 SL, Scultura SL’s slightly downgraded sibling.
Who does this road bicycle suit?
To keep the answer short, to anyone who desires a top notch road bike, 95% similar to those that are used in famous races like the Tour de France. Of course, this would only be one side of the story, because the perks of a high, if not top-end bicycle make-up an impressive list, that begins with the craftsmanship needed to make real such machineries and which leaves its prints all over the construction and probably ends with the one-of-a-kind experience felt when riding them. And the Merida Scultura 909 SL ticks all the boxes of that list, except maybe for the brand’s name, which isn’t yet notorious in road cycling, but then again, it’s nothing that really gets in the way either.
About the frame
Jurgen Falke and his engineering team back in Germany, where the Merida bikes are developed, did their best to come up with a frame that talks the talk in regard of figures. With what should we begin? With the 844 grams of an M-sized frame? Or with the high stiffness ensured by the BB386EVO bottom bracket and UHM carbon fiber used in construction? Or better yet with the above-average comfort reached thanks to the Bio Fiber Damping Compound? Anyway you look at it, the Scultura SL frame, the same present on the Scultura 909 SL model, manages to bury the hatchet of war between stiffness, weight and comfort. Matter of fact, according to extensive testing, just three other road bike surpass Merida’s prodigy from this point of view, namely the Cannondale Super Six Evo, Felt F1 and Specialized Tarmac.
Other features of the frame must be brought into light also. This include the 400mm chainstay, the anti-wrinkle resins used to glue the carbon together, the special silicon used to glue the tubes together and the larger width of the tubes in key stress points, such as the bottom bracket. Stiffness and strength are additionally empowered by the Internal Ribs found in the inside of the down tube.
So, it talks the talk, but does the Scultura 909 SL frame walk the walk? It sure does, at least as far as I’ve rode it. Stiffness is no longer a concept, but a reality, and one that can be sensed at every push of the pedals. Good power transfer, and responsive, all the energy used to action the pedals goes straight to the wheels via the frame. If you add very good manoeuvrability, and low weight (by this meaning below-the-UCI-limit-weight) it’s not nearly hard to see the road in a different way. The Scultura 909 SL bike as a whole is only marginally different compared to Lampre-Merida’s Scultura SL, and the difference is not comprised by the frame. So maybe, the entirely great experience lived on this bike is just a glimpse of what this top-end frame is capable of.
Adding too much would be futile after I mention that Scultura 909 SL features the Dura-Ace 9000 groupset. The Japanese’s manufacturer product works like clockwork, and the only waek point of it would be the weight. But why it would be and isn’t? Well, you see, Merida knocked down a lot of grams through the frameset that tips the scale at 1.290 grams. This in turn lead to a total weight of the bike of 6,5 kilograms, 300 grams below what UCI allows in World Tour racing, so how much sense would have been there in fitting a lighter groupset? Indeed, there are a lot of weight weenies out there, but they can easily win the weight war by some upgrades.
For example, by changing the Mavic Ksyrium SLR wheelset. Don’t get me wrong. Mavic wheels are still Mavic wheels, and in this case, they were a mere option of the manufacturer that represents the difference between the Scultura SL and Scultura 909 SL. The boys in pink, blue and green get to race on Fulcrum XLR Light wheels fitted with tubular tires, while plain mortals make do with this pair of wheels, unless they will swap it. Then again, as stated earlier, Mavic is Mavic and considering this wheelset as a weak point would be a mistake. The French manufacturer offers one of the best aluminum wheelsets on the market, that has a weight of 1.410 grams, and which come along with certain advantages like increased strength, while stiffness is decent and wind-defying features reveal themselves in the form of flat spokes.
Completing the exquisit line-up of the bike are the saddle and the handlebar. The first wasn’t exactly my type, but not because it’s flawed, but because is simply prefer a cutaway model. Selle Italia’s Monolink system is to be taken into account, as it makes adjusting the saddle a simpler task than before. As for the FSA K-Force Ergo OS handlebar, it’s what you look for on a road bike. Comfortable and light, it just adds to the great experience felt during a ride on such a bike.
Merida Scultura 909 SL is a top-end racing road bicycle. It’s not top of the heap by any means, but it comes pretty close to that. Although there would be some things that need a slight improvement on this model, you should keep in mind that Merida’s single better bike than this one can be currently seen on TV, used in races such as the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France.