Black magic: the Merlin’s ride and specs are incredible for the price
seatmast being chief among them. Although popular with racers for the stiffness and weight savings they offered, seat masts like this can be unforgiving (and a pain when it comes to packing your bike for overseas travel). Other features that date the design are the frame’s giant circular tubes (no aero profiling here) and the lack of internal cable routing.
There’s limited height adjustment offered by the seatmast’s cap (so cutting the seatmast to the correct length is essential) but the frame’s 175mm head tube makes it fairly easy to get a position that strikes a good balance between being racy and relaxed. The handlebar, stem, saddle, wheels and brakes all come from Ridley’s in-house 4ZA brand, while a Shimano drivetrain and Continental tyres complete the spec.
Getting the slick action of Shimano’s Ultegra R8000 shifters and mechs is hardly believable at this price. Admittedly a few quid has been saved by speccing a 105 cassette, a non-series RS510 chainset and the 4ZA callipers, but the riding experience is mostly coloured by the excellent gear controls Shimano puts in your hands.
Our Cordite SL came with 25mm Continental Ultra Sport II tyres (but should be Vittoria Zaffiros according to merlincycles.com), which give the bike a sturdy refinement to match its lively but assured handling. Up front, the 4ZA bar has a good shape and works with the stem to provide ample stiffness, while the fork offers a good level of bump absorption. The rear end transmits power well thanks to flattened but chunky seatstays and beefy chainstays.
When you’re cruising below 20mph, even the generously upholstered saddle can’t disguise the fact that jolts from the road reach the rider. But most of the time it’s not intrusive, just a sign that this frame is firmer than more modern designs with flex built in. At 25mph-plus, rough surfaces become quite choppy, but the stability provided by the parallel 73° head and seat tube angles ensures it’s easy to remain in control of everything.
4ZA’s RC31 wheelset rides quite well, but with only average levels of rigidity, acceleration and weight, they’re neither a racer’s nor a climber’s natural choice. Braking is acceptable, but lacks the precision and power of Shimano’s callipers, although the 4ZA units offer just about enough room to cram a 28mm tyre in underneath them. A wheel upgrade could lower the Cordite SL’s 8.47kg overall weight as well as increase its speed and would still leave you with a machine costing less than most bikes with lower specs. Fitting tubeless tyres would improve its ride quality too and give this ‘old horse’ a whole new lease of life.
THE VERDICT Enormous value for money and surprisingly good performance
Below Shimano’s Ultegra shifters and mechs provide crisp and swift shifts between gears Bottom The alloy handlebar and stem are provided by Ridley’s in-house brand 4ZA