- Complete Dura-Ace spec at a bargain price
- Low weight for lively climbing
- Aero benefits from frameset
- Comfortable ride
- Teardrop frame profiles look a bit dated
Price as reviewed:
Chorley-based Merlin Cycles has a large internet business as well as a physical shop. It sells famous brands, but also has its own bike range with quality specs, often sourced from well known marques. Its latest offering is the Merlin Nitro Aero. As its name suggests, it’s an aero race bike and Merlin is offering this limited edition version in full Shimano Dura-Ace spec. Since its bikes are built to order, you also have the opportunity to specify options like gear ratios and crank length to suit your own preferences.
The Merlin Nitro Aero frameset is a mix of 24-tonne and 30-tonne carbon-fibre, with a claimed weight of 1,100g for a size medium, while the high-modulus carbon fork weighs in at 385g.
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The tubes have a classic teardrop profile. Many aero framesets now use a truncated Kamm tail profile, which has potential advantages in weight saving and crosswind stability. But the Merlin Nitro Aero is certainly competitively light and was never a handful in crosswinds.
The rear triangle of the Merlin Nitro Aero features chunky chainstays and beefy seatstays. Although the latter do not have an obvious aero profile, they come with a curve, which helps provide a little rear end compliance.
The fork blades too are wide and aero profiled. They come with a smart-looking Merlin logo across the top of the crown. As you’d expect, all the cables on the Merlin Nitro Aero frameset are internally routed.
Merlin says the full Dura-Ace version of the Nitro Aero is a limited edition. As such, it comes with the latest Dura-Ace mechanical groupset, including the brakes. The chainset on the test bike is a semi-compact 52/36, coupled with an 11-28 cassette.
Merlin gives you the option to choose your own configuration when you order the bike, so you can choose a 50/34 compact or a full-strength 53/39 if you prefer. You can also select your preferred crank length and cassette option.
Full Dura-Ace really means that. You even get a hollow-pin Dura-Ace chain and there are Dura-Ace C24 carbon-alloy hybrid clinchers too. With a claimed weight of 1,453g they’re light, although not aero. Although full carbon clinchers may be the thing, the alloy brake track clearly doesn’t add a lot of weight and leads to more reassuring stopping in a mix of conditions than some all-carbon wheels.
The cockpit is Deda Superzero alloy. The bars have wide, comfortable tops with a forward sweep, while the stem has a chunky triangular section. There is the option to upgrade to carbon bars, if you prefer.
Riding the Merlin Nitro Aero
With 80 per cent of aerodynamic resistance coming from the rider, getting a lower position on the bike is a major factor in riding faster. In this respect, the Merlin Nitro Aero doesn’t disappoint. It has quite a low ride position as a result of its longish top tube and short head tube.
It doesn’t feel too stretched out though and I was comfortable enough on longer rides not to feel achy. It’s a bike that one could happily ride in a race, but equally on longer sportives.
At just over 7kg, the Merlin Nitro Aero is competitively light for an aero machine, helped by the low weight of the Dura-Ace components. This translates into a lively ride, the bike feeling fast on the flats and particularly on climbs.
Descents are handled with competence, as there’s quite a slack head tube angle, with the alloy brake tracks and excellent Dura-Ace calipers meaning that you can brake confidently, even in the wet.
Aero features can lead to a bumpy ride, but this isn’t the case with the Merlin Nitro Aero. There’s enough compliance built into the frame to soak up road imperfections and shield you from the worst surfaces. The comfortable saddle and wide bars with their thick tape do the rest.
At around £2,300 for a full Dura-Ace aero road machine, there’s no arguing with the Merlin Nitro Aero’s value for money. At a price where some makers are giving you 105, it’s impressive. Merlin quotes a full retail price almost £1,000 more, which wouldn’t be unrealistic.
What’s particularly impressive is that there has been no compromise on the component spec. Everything, right down to the chain is Dura-Ace.
The Nitro Aero with its full Dura-Ace spec offers impressive value for money. Merlin describes this as a Limited Edition, so it’s likely that there will be some spec downgrades in future. Nevertheless, the Nitro Aero frameset is a nice ride. It’s aero without being uncomfortable for longer excursions and competitively lightweight. It’s also nice to be able to choose the component options that work best for your style of riding.
Frame: Nitro Aero 24 tonne, 30 tonne carbon
Fork: High modulus full carbon
Size range: 47–60cm
Size tested: 54cm
Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace
Gear ratios: 52/36 11-28
Wheels: Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 C24
Tyres: Continental GP4000S II 25mm
Brakes: Shimano Dura-Ace
Bars: Deda Superzero alloy aero
Stem: Deda Superzero alloy
Seatpost: Merlin Aero carbon
Saddle: Selle Italia Flite