Merida Scultura Disc Team road bike - review
Beautifully balanced race bike with disc brakes - is this the future?
The Merida Scultura Disc Team delivers the grin-inducing ride you'd expect from a WorldTour-ready bike - thanks to the stiff, responsive frame, seductively smooth ride quality, and fast but neutral handling - but with the assured, all-weather performance of disc brakes. It's a winning formula fit for 2017.
While disc brakes have been appearing on endurance bikes for a few years now, Merida were among the first to push disc brakes into the pro peloton. The Scultura Disc was launched in April 2016 and was used by the Lampre-Merida team in the season's big cobbled Classics: the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Of course, disc brakes were subsequently banned from the pro peloton after The Hell of the North, but the UCI has re-started its trial. And while Lampre-Merida were one of the few teams to truly test disc brakes last season, the tide has begun to turn, with both Marcel Kittel and Tom Boonen winning races on disc-equipped bikes in January 2017.
The Merida we have here is, give or take a couple of component tweaks, the same bike used by Lampre-Merida in 2016. While this bike is painted in Lampre-Merida colour, and Merida now supply the new Bahrain-Merida team, the frame remains the same for 2017. We expect to see Bahrain-Merida on the Scultura Disc at some point this season.
Let's take a closer look at that frame, then. Merida offer the Scultura Disc in two varieties: the CF4 and CF2. The former is the pro-level frame of the Scultura Disc Team and it comes with a claimed weight of 900g and the kind of aggressive geometry you'd expect from a bike ridden at the highest level. Whereas the CF4 is pitched squarely at racers, the CF2, which still comes with a claimed frame weight of less than 1kg, offers a more accessible entry into the Scultura Disc range, thanks to the more relaxed geometry.
The Scultura Disc looks very similar to the rim brake version but Merida have tweaked the carbon layup around the fork and rear triangle to account for the one-sided braking forces that come from discs. The chainstays have also been extended by 8mm to offer more tyre clearance (the Scultura Disc comfortably takes a 28mm tyre, as fitted on our test bike), but that's only an increase from 400mm to 408mm, helping to keep the handling lively and the acceleration snappy.
- Price: £6,500
- Sizes: 52cm, 54cm, 56cm
- Size tested: 54cm
- Weight: 7.59g
- Website: Merida
While our test bike is marked as a 54cm frame, that refers to the seattube length, whereas the toptube is 56cm. The rest of the numbers underline the Scultura Disc CF4's position as a race bike, with steep 73.5-degree headtube and seattube angles, and a 15.5cm headtube, giving stack and reach figures of 557mm and 394mm respectively.
Tweaked carbon layup and geometry aside, Merida say the Scultura Disc shares the same headtube stiffness, bottom bracket stiffness, comfort and aerodynamic performance as the rim brake bike. When Merida remodeled the Scultura back in 2015, they introduced a series of subtle, truncated tube profiles across the bike to help it cut through the wind, though it's certainly not an aero bike in the mould of Merida's Reacto.
One feature specific to the Scultura Disc is the addition of aluminium 'cooling fins' on the non-driveside chainstay. While Merida say the front disc brake is naturally cooled by oncoming airstream, the rear is prone to overheating, which can in turn affect braking performance - the cooling fins are said to improve heat dissipation by 50 per cent, though it's not something we particularly noticed on the short, steep descents found on our test loop.
Finally, as far as the frame is concerned, the Scultura Disc has 12mm thru-axles at the front and rear, which the bike industry seems to have settled on as the go-to option for most disc-equipped road bikes. In another nod to the Scultura Disc's racy intention, Merida have used Focus' R.A.T. (Rapid Axle Technology) axles, which require just a quarter-turn to release the wheel, thus helping to speed up wheel changes over conventional thru-axles.
With disc brakes and 28mm tyres, the Scultura Disc Team is the epitome of a progressive race bike in 2017. Its most satisfying quality, however, is that it feels just as a race bike should - the frame responds exceptionally well to accelerations, whether digging in on a seated attack or rising out of the saddle and sprinting. That, combined with the fast but assured handling, means the Scultura Disc is an exhilarating bike to ride.
While road bike tyres are undoubtedly getting wider, 25mm is still very much the standard for race bikes. Our Scultura Disc Team came with 28mm Continental Grand Prix 4000S II tyres, and while that means the Scultura feels like it is floating a little more than a raw race bike on narrower tyres, that has no obvious negative impact on speed or handling.
In fact, the Scultura Disc is deceptively fast. Harsh bikes that clatter over every bump in the road can sometimes feel fast, as a result of the aggressive ride, but that's not also evident in your actual speed - it's just tiring mentally and physically. The Scultura Disc has the opposite effect. Think Usain Bolt at his wonderfully languid best.
That helps contribute to the Scultura's beautifully well-balanced ride - it's particularly comfortable for a thoroughbred race bike, thanks to the wide tyres, slender seatstays and 27.2mm seatpost. Hit a stretch of unbroken tarmac and the Scultura doesn't get flustered or clatter from one rut in the road to the next pothole, but it still retains the taut, responsive and aggressive persona of a race bike when put under pressure.
The handling is lovely, too. The Scultura's position is fairly aggressive, with a low and long geometry, and the handling is as sharp as you'd like at the front end, responding accurately to steering inputs - but, crucially, it remains on the right side of fast and doesn't require too much attention from the rider.
That's most evident when descending. The reassured handling, combined with the footprint of 28mm tyres mounted on Fulcrum's relatively wide Racing Quattro DB wheels, ensures the Scultura Disc Team is a confident companion which will push the rider's limits to the edge, while providing enough feedback to keep on the right side
Head uphill and the Scultura Disc Team is also a rewarding ride, though it's carrying a little extra weight at 7.5kg, as a result of the additional hardware required for discs and the Fulcrum wheels. On long, gradual climbs, that's not really an issue, but on shorter, sharper pitches, the Scultura doesn't quite have the same immediate bite as it's rim-brake sibling. Whereas the regular Scultura feels like a true, out-and-out climbing bike, the Scultura Disc Team is better pitched as a rewarding all-rounder.
The Scultura's disc brakes take centre stage here, with the Team equipped with Shimano's non-series, flat mount RS805 calipers. Those calipers and the accompanying ST-R785 shifters provide brilliant performance - the braking is smooth and progressive, and you only need a fingertip to drop the anchor.
The derailleurs, cassette and chain also come from Shimano's Dura-Ace 9070 groupset and shifting is as clean and crisp as you'd expect from the Japanese firm's flagship, race-ready setup. The best thing about Di2 is the way the groupset shifts under heavy load - it's clinical, in that regard.
There's no Dura-Ace chainset, though - instead you'll find a Rotor 3D noQ unit, with semi-compact chainrings. We'd prefer a matching Dura-Ace chainset but the Lampre-Merida team partnered with Rotor and that's evident in the Spanish firm's appearance here. The semi-compact chainrings are ideal for a race bike for the consumer masses (we use the word 'masses' lightly in regard to a £6,500 bike, but the point is this exact machine isn't being raced in the WorldTour) and provide a balanced spread of gears for top-end speed and low-end climbing, especially with the 11-28t chainset.
The Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon DB wheels are excellent all-round hoops, with the 40mm-deep rim offering an aerodynamic benefit without being overly affected by crosswinds. The wheels spin up well and offer plenty of stiffness, and the 17mm internal rim width (24.2mm external) is a great match for the 28mm Continental Grand Prix 4000S II tyres. They're not the lightest at 1,605g, but they're a decent match for the Scultura.
FSA provide the K-Force carbon fibre handlebar and stem, as well as the OS99 stem, which is made from aluminium and wrapped in carbon. The spec sheet is completed by a colour-matched Prologo Scratch 2 T2.0 saddle.
The Merida Scultura Disc Team is a beautifully balanced machine which offers an exciting and rewarding ride, alongside the assured braking of disc brakes and comfort that comes with clearance for wide tyres. While it is carrying a little extra weight compared to a similarly top-end rim brake bike, you still can't escape the compelling ride.
- Beautiful balance of stiffness and comfort
- Fast but assured handling
- Top-end spec
- Disc brakes mean a little extra weight