Black magic: the Mer­lin’s ride and specs are in­cred­i­ble for the price

Cycling Plus - - FIRST RIDE -

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

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