The explosion in the cyclo-sportive calendar has coincided with a vast increase in the number of bikes pledged to meet the principle requirement of most riders taking on such events: all day comfort.
The Merckx EMX-1 succeeds in avoiding the label of a ‘sportive’ bike – but still delivers in the comfort stakes while offering a ride which remains racy.
How so? Well, Merckx’s carbon range is split into four bikes, with the top-end EMX-7 and EMX-5 (raced by Tom Boonen and his QuickStep team-mates last season) revolving around the ‘pro geometry’, while the EMX-1 and EMX-3 are designed around the company’s ‘performance geometry’, where the trick is in creating a more relaxed ride while retaining the frameset’s thoroughbred instincts.
So the EMX-1 isn’t typical of machines aimed at the sportive market, which tend to be very long in the headtube. Instead, only a little more height is added to the front end: 173mm on our test model,13mm higher than the equivalent model in the ‘pro’ geometry.
Merckx size their ‘performance’ geometry on the length of the seat tube from the centre of the bottom bracket to its junction with a sloping top tube. A traditional measurement, from the centre of the bottom bracket to the centre of a ‘virtual’ (non-sloping top tube), would size the same bike at 55.4cm.
It’s a geometry influenced heavily by Eddy Merckx – renowned as a rider for his quest to find the perfect position, particularly after a crash in 1969 in which he cracked a vertebra and twisted his pelvis - and the tweaked front end combines with a relaxed seat tube angle with superb effect, offering a position which is comfortable through long rides, with smooth, predictable handling.
The oversized downtube and bottom bracket promise stacks of power transfer and the EMX-1 offers a responsive ride that climbs well. It isn’t the stiffest bike we’ve swung a leg over at this price point and lacks a little of the punch found on racier machines. I quite like that though; a thoroughbred machine may offer a ride which demands to ridden faster with every pedal stroke, but may handle more nervously, while the EMX-1 is a sure-footed, consistent machine better suited to long rides, but stiff enough to get a shift on.
Tapered chainstays and Merckx’s ‘Comfort Seatstay Design’ help dampen road buzz, while the oversized headset, tapered from 1 1/8″ to 1 1/2″ and aero-bladed fork make for a super-stable front end which descends confidently.
Our test machine came equipped Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels; budget wheels which are good for training, despite the name. They’ll manage many, many miles without any problems – but they do weigh nearly 1.9kg so consider a wheel upgrade to get the most of the EMX-1′s excellent chassis on faster rides. The wheels were shod with Vittoria Zaffiro Pro tyres which are of a similar ilk; tough as nails and grippy but not particularly well suited to riding quickly.
Meanwhile, the full Shimano 105 groupset proved as reliable as ever and offered a lowest gear of 34-25, which should accomodate most climbs, although you could swap in a cassette with a 28-tooth sprocket for the really steep/long stuff. That, combined with the compact chainset, should get you up and over anything.
I liked the FSA Wing Compact Handlebars; a shorter reach and shallower curve means your position isn’t too extreme when riding on the drops, which inspires confidence. Additionally, the brakes are closer, a bonus for someone with small hands. FSA also provide the Team Issue stem and seatpost, which means it’s an all-carbon affair as far at as the ‘bars, stem and seatpost are concerned. The Prologo Kappa saddle didn’t suit me and I soon swapped it for my preferred model, although saddles are down to personal taste.
The spec described above will set you back £1,999. A Shimano Ultegra-equipped build with upgraded Fulcrum Racing 5 wheels and Vittoria Rubino Pro tyres costs £2,399. All that’s left to comment on is our test machine’s stunning matt black finish, accented with a flash of white and a hint of red.
So, all in all, the Merckx EMX-1 has proved to be a highly capable all-rounder which is well-suited to all types of riding thanks to an excellent balance of performance and comfort.