The Merlin Cordite Ultegra R8000 provides a lot of bike for your money. It’s a competent long distance performer with a comfortable ride and is light enough and has the gear range to tackle uphill sections with confidence. It’s nice to be able to choose your own spec and gearing and to be able to make the upgrades you want, for a bike which is well tuned to your needs.
Really comfortable ride without lacking power delivery
Excellent Ultegra R8000 groupset
Ultegra brakes included
Opportunity to spec the bike as you want
All name brand components
It’s easy to get carried away with spec upgrades!
Based in a warehouse and shop on the site of a former ordnance factory in Chorley, Lancashire, Merlin has taken this heritage to heart: all of its bikes have names with a link to explosives, including the Merlin Cordite.
It sources its frames from well-known brands or direct from reputable Far Eastern factories, kitting them out with quality specs, usually including a complete name-brand groupset and selling them at competitive prices.
The Merlin Cordite exemplifies this, being specified with the latest R8000 iteration of Shimano’s Ultegra groupset, which gives quality shifting and a modern look.
Merlin targets the Cordite at sportive and endurance riders. It has a carbon frameset with a sloping top tube and a longish 17.5cm head tube on the 52cm model which we’ve tested, giving you quite an upright riding position, which I found ideal for longer outings, although it’s not going to give you the aggressive position you might want for racing.
The frame is predominantly mid-modulus 24-tonne carbon fibre, with 25 per cent high-mod 30-tonne carbon thrown in. Merlin quotes a size medium frame weight of 990g, with the fork adding another 385g, so it’s competitively light. Merlin sells the Cordite in five frame sizes from 46cm up to 58cm, so there’s particularly good coverage for the shorter rider. There are also a couple of different colour options.
It’s a frame designed for good power transfer with a wide down tube and chainstays coupled with thinner seatstays to add some extra compliance to the ride. The frame includes a BSA threaded bottom bracket shell, which should help with maintenance and squeak-free operation. Full internal cable routing should reduce maintenance of shifting and brake cables too. The Merlin Cordite Ultegra is competitively light at 7.9kg.
In contrast to many bikes built to a price point, Merlin has kitted out the Cordite Ultegra with all name-brand components, without any swap-outs from the full Shimano groupset.
The Cordite Ultegra comes with Shimano’s latest R8000 version of Ultegra. This benefits from trickle-down from Dura-Ace R9100, with the same chunky aesthetic to the chainset. The rear mech has Shimano’s latest Shadow design, which shelters it under the chainstay. It also adds range, with the short-cage mech handling cassettes up to 30 teeth and the long cage version going up to 34.
Merlin has an online configurator that lets you choose from different options for all the components. So you can choose from seven different cassettes with ranges from 11-25 up to 11-34, as well as different crank lengths and chainring sizes to suit your needs. The bike we’ve ridden comes with a 52/36 semi-compact chainset and 11-30 cassette.
The bike has Deda Superzero alloy bars and you can specify your preferred bar width and stem length. The Superzero is a comfortable option with wide aero section tops and Merlin fits comfortably squishy bar tape. You can also upgrade to carbon Deda bars to save a bit of weight.
The test bike comes with Fulcrum Racing Quattro LG wheels. They’re a £110 upgrade option from the standard Shimano RS010 or RS11 clinchers. Fulcrum Racing Quattro LG wheels have a semi-deep 35mm section, weigh a claimed 1725g and should be durable and easy to service. Again, there are a series of other wheelset options from Shimano or Fulcrum.
There’s a range of 13 different saddles on offer. Although the stock Pro Falcon titanium railed saddle is perfectly adequate, we were seated on a Fizik Aliante VS Kium – another £30 upgrade. And you can swap the 31.6mm diameter seatpost from alloy to carbon for an additional £60.
The specified upgrades bring the retail price of the test bike up from £1,399 to £1,569.
Riding the Merlin Cordite Ultegra
The Merlin Cordite follows in this vein. It just feels ideal for its target audience of sportive and endurance riders, with a very comfortable ride and a slightly more upright position.
There’s a whole heap of spacers below the stem, but even with them reversed and the stem slammed, dropping the bars 4cm, the 17.5cm head tube on the size 52 means that the position is not overly aggressive. So if you’re worried about your back, the Merlin Cordite should work well for you.
We’ve mentioned the comfortable bar tops and it’s equally easy to ride in the drops, as the reach down is not too great. The sloping top tube means that there’s quite a lot of seatpost exposed. This adds plenty of saddle comfort even with the 31.6mm stock alloy post.
The gear combination worked well for me. The 11-30 cassette gives you wider jumps, but coupled with the semi-compact chainset, there’s a get-out gear for steeper climbs as well as the top end gearing for faster descents.
The frame has the right feel of pedalling efficiency coupled with upper body comfort to work well on longer excursions too.
The Merlin Cordite’s Ultegra groupset extends to the brakes. They feel really effective in the wet and the dry. Aided by the Conti GP400S II tyres fitted on the test bike (a £30 upgrade), they provide a lot of confidence on steep and fast downhill runs.
Merlin tends to discount its bikes and although the RRP of the Cordite Ultegra is £1,599, it’s currently on sale at £1,399.
At under £1,500 for a machine equipped with the latest version of Shimano Ultegra, the Cordite provides a high-value package. If you know the components and gearing that are likely to suit your riding style, it’s also great to be able to specify the bike as you want it.
But it’s also worth considering the Ultegra Di2 version of the Cordite. For an extra £100, this gives you Shimano’s excellent electronic shifting, albeit the older R6870 version.
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Paul started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2015, covering cycling tech, new bikes and product testing. Since then, he’s reviewed hundreds of bikes and thousands of other pieces of cycling equipment for the magazine and the Cycling Weekly website.
He’s been cycling for a lot longer than that though and his travels by bike have taken him all around Europe and to California. He’s been riding gravel since before gravel bikes existed too, riding a cyclocross bike through the Chilterns and along the South Downs.
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