Merida Scultura Disc road bike - first ride review

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Merida Scultura Disc – first ride review

We take Merida’s new lightweight disc road bike for a ride on the hallowed cobbles of Paris-Roubaix

Merida’s foray into disc brake road bikes has gained serious momentum with the launch of the Scultura Disc. It’s a significant step towards disc brake adoption in the pro peloton, with positive noises emanating from the Lampre-Merida camp, who used the Scultura Disc at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – but how would we fare when we took it out on the pavé ahead of the race?

The Scultura has been part of Merida’s range since 2006 and the rim brake version of the frame was updated last year, with the weight of the semi-aero frame dropping to 740g and flagship model coming with the self-appointed title of the ‘lightest production bike in the world’.

– Merida unveil Scultura Disc ahead of Paris-Roubaix –

Now Merida have followed up with a Disc version of the Scultura, which has thru-axles at the front and rear, and 160mm rotors, in order to conform to the latest UCI recommendations regarding disc brakes in the pro peloton, while Merida have also developed a fin cooling system for the rear brake and borrowed Focus’ RAT axle system. You can find the full tech story on the Merida Scultura Disc in our launch report.

But how does it ride? We took the Scultura Disc out on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, with the pavé of the Hell of the North providing a tough initial test of the bike’s performance. And, with Team Lampre-Merida guiding us through the first secteurs on their own disc-equipped Sculturas, it’d be a great opportunity to learn from the pros; I mean, how hard could this be?

The Lampre-Merida team rode the Merida Scultura Disc at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix

Definitely not following the pros

Well, very, as it turns out. Our test route took us over 12 sections of pavé, covering 70km topped off with a ride back to the hotel to make for a total of 122km, and starting with the daddy of them all, the Trouee d’Arenberg. While not the full-beans Paris-Roubaix course, I was keen to see what this Scultura Disc frame – a frame perhaps previously pigeon-holed as a super-light climbing bike – could take in its stride.

The thing is, the Arenberg Trench, ranked as one of only three five-star secteurs in Paris-Roubaix, dominates the experience – truthfully, it’s difficult to evaluate just how much compliance you’re experiencing based on one trip through the Trench, because it’s tough for any road bike to effectively deal with that amount of rough stuff.

So, as I watched the pros ride away, I took to the side track (now known to me as ‘the bench’) to see how it handled gravel – and to sneak a little more speed. There’s no shame in this, I told myself: I’ve seen the pros do it on TV as they scrabble for the easiest path. Thankfully, the Scultura Disc was sure-footed and predictable; just what you need when the road surface becomes broken.

– Merida Scultura 9000 review –

Rolling around on 28mm Continental Grand Prix 4000 II tyres also helped matters here, smoothing out buzz while inflated with a mere 60psi of air. While Merida say the removal of the Scultura’s brake bridge helps offer a little more flex in the rear triangle, it’s the ability to run wider tyres that primarily lends the Scultura Disc its comfort, thanks to the extra clearance gained over the regular Scultura. Riding over the rough stuff is a surprisingly relaxing experience, with divets and potholes ironed out with composure by the whole setup beneath me.

There’s no getting around it – riding the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix is tough

Back on the cobbles, feeling the speed

Still, I returned to the trench from ‘the bench’ when I was brave enough, seemingly riding up and down each individual cobble and clattering into the next as I struggled to keep momentum. With the team riders seemingly gliding over the pavé, I realised why the Trouee d’Arenberg has the reputation is does. But now I’d got my eye in with my miserable first attempt at taming the Trench, I could begin to appreciate just how vicious the jutting edges of the cobbles were, and how the Scultura frame – and FSA K-Force bars and seatpost – was able to, if certainly not iron out, competently take the edge off the violent feedback. So, two kilometres later, with my teeth rattled free from my gums, yet with a sense of appreciation for the ride-smoothing abilities of the Scultura Disc, I came to the end of the Trench to return to tarmac. Oh, sweet, sweet tarmac.

Once again the 28mm rubber came to the fore, but what proved most surprising is how efficient the bike feels when the paving is smooth, and the low rolling resistance delivered by the Continental Grand Prix 4000S II tyres. That experience is multiplied by the undoubtedly stiff frameset, which especially through the BB86 bottom bracket and beefed up rear triangle lays down power superbly. Great acceleration, coupled with low rolling resistance. Can’t be bad for speed demons, can it?

Merida have added cooling fins to the left-hand chainstay to improve braking performance – but we’ll need more time on the bike to comment on that

 

It makes me wonder that, when disc brake technology allows bikes to be truly competitive in the weight stakes, this is a machine which will be equally at home in the high mountains as well as the flat lands of the Roubaix cobbles – a true all-rounder in the making.

Those Shimano hydraulic brakes, though, are superb. Bearing in mind the lack of climbs the Paris-Roubaix course offers, a true test is limited, but it’s a joy to pull the lever and have effective, sure-footed and consistent braking as you zig-zag in and out of the 90-degree bends which are a constant feature of the Paris-Roubaix course, as it turns from tarmac to farm tracks through agricultural northern France. Getting used to a disc-equipped road bike, and the initial feeling of on-off power, takes less time than you might think (or fear), and before long you’ve got a great deal of tactile modulation available to you.

Another noticeable strength of this tweaked frameset under braking is in the extra fortification in the fork and rear triangle to house those disc brakes – the stability and stiffness is excellent, balancing the braking forces through the frame.

Punching through hallowed ground

The day continues thus: pave-smooth-pave-smooth-pave-smooth, and so on. It’s exhausting, physically and mentally – and if it is for me, I stand in awe at the pros who covered more than 250km in the race itself, eventually won by Orica-GreenEDGE’s Mathew Hayman.

– Ian Stannard third as Mat Hayman bags surprise Paris-Roubaix win –

But each section, thankfully easier than the Arenberg Trench, comes and goes, and the Scultura Disc continues to take the punishment without too many complaints, encouraging its rider to engage the next sector with renewed vigour.

Three versions of the frame will be available. We rode the top-end CF4 model, which weighs a claimed 900g, with the CF2 frame coming in at around a kilo and an aluminium chassis at at just under 1.5kg

That vigour is borne from the responsiveness from the ride – you really feel the bike is doing its job to try and smooth the ride on every kind of road, but it retains a sense of stiffness when you get out the saddle and put in an acceleration, or aim to steadily build momentum. The Scultura Disc didn’t quite have the pin-sharp reactions I expected from a bike used by a pro team, but for a bike which essentially remains a compromise between comfort, disc brake utility and race aspirations, it’s not half bad, though we’ll deliver a full verdict after a longer test on UK roads.

Back in Roubaix, however, an air of suspense and underlying excitement permeates the secteurs as we ride on, each one already sprinkled by fans in their campervans ready for the race proper to come. Riding past a campervan at the end of one pavé section with a French punter dressed head-to-toe as a chicken certainly stands out, but it goes to show just how much Classics fever permeates the place this time of year. It’s a special place, made better on this ride by a very good bike. We’ll see just how good when we get hands on one for a full review later in the year.

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