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Merida Reacto DA Ltd road bike – review

The Merida Reacto DA Ltd shares many of the features of the flagship aero machine used by the Lampre-Merida team and combines a wind-cheating frame with solid handling, but the (mostly) race-ready spec deserves better brakes and the bike is carrying a little extra weight.

If you’re a fan of professional road racing and the Merida Reacto looks familiar to you, then that’s because it’s the bike you’re most likely to see the Lampre-Merida team riding. Rui Costa and co now also have the updated, super-light Scultura at their disposal, as well as the Ride for the Spring Classics, but the Reacto is, by and large, the go-to machine.

However, while, aesthetically and aerodynamically speaking, the Reacto the team rides is the same as our test bike, under the skin the two frames differ. The £7,500, Shimano Dura-Ace Di2-equipped Reacto Team-E is made from a high-modulus ‘CF4’ grade of carbon fibre, while our £3,500 Reacto DA Ltd is made from a more affordable ‘CF3’ grade of the black stuff, and that helps account for the fact the former costs twice as much as the latter.

The frameset

From whatever angle you look at it, the Reacto is a striking machine, be it the aggressively-angled aero tube profiles, the integrated fork crown, the low-slung seatstays, the ‘S-Flex’ seatpost and its internal clamp, or the mid-section Vision T42 wheels.

The Reacto’s tube profiles are dubbed ‘NACA Fastback’ by Merida and are similar to those used on the Warp TT machine. It’s essentially a truncated airfoil design, popular with bicycle manufacturers thanks to its ability to cheat the wind without unduly affecting stiffness or weight.

The Reacto’s aero features extend beyond the tube profiles. The fork crown is neatly integrated with the headtube, the internal cable routing feeds the cables through the headset top cap and into the toptube, and the Tektro direct mount brakes should save a little drag, with the rear brake removed from the seatstays and hidden behind the bottom bracket. How much difference this makes in the real world is open to debate, and we’d normally like to see the rear brake in its native position, but more on the brakes later.

Moving on and the seatpost shares the same NACA Fastback profile as the rest of the frame, but has a built-in elastomer to build some comfort into the back end. The integrated seat clamp is also designed to cheat the wind, but, Merida say, further contributes to comfort by minimising turbulence in the toptube. The ‘Flip Flop’ head of the seatpost is also designed to offer a wide setback range for riders who want to adopt an aggressive position, particularly for triathlon.

The ride

The first thing that struck me when I lifted the Reacto DA Ltd from its box is that it’s no lightweight. Ok, at 8kg it’s not what we’d call a heavyweight either, but for the £3,500 price tag it is undoubtedly carrying a little excess. Still, we hoped that the slightly weighty Reacto would still be exactly that on the road – reactive.

At this price point I think you should be able to wheel a bike out of the showroom and on to the race track without making any changes, so that’s exactly what I did and, after an initial setup spin, took the DA Ltd into battle in a local race. What’s immediately obvious is that what the Merida design team have created is a super stiff frame, and there’s no place better than the cut-and-thrust of a circuit race, with its constant accelerations, to find that out.

Where the DA Ltd does suffer a little, however, is uphill. While the frame does an excellent job at transferring power from the pedals to the rear wheel, climbing is hindered a little by the overall weight and the Vision Trimax T42 wheelset, which, as a mid-section carbon clincher with an aluminium braking track, offers an aero advantage but comes with a claimed weight of 1,720g. Short, sharp and steep climbs were bowled over by the power transfer as you can kick up them out of the saddle, but longer, steadier drags were hampered by the additional weight. Wheel spec is always a tricky balance for bike brands, and it’s obvious why Merida have gone for this setup, but the extra rotating weight is felt. Basically, it depends what your priorities are. On a machine like this, aerodynamics are sure to figure pretty high on the list, and on flat and rolling roads the additional weight of the bike isn’t so much of an issue. When up to speed the Reacto can hold on to the top of your power range for as long as you can.

I was also impressed with how planted and stable the Reacto DA Ltd felt at speed. It is the very definition of neutral, neither twitchy nor dull. The average speed for the two-hour race was 40kph so it was far from slouching around. A fair chunk of time was spent on or near the front of the bunch and the Reacto felt composed and gave positive feedback through a series of fast bends in the wet. The excellent Continental GP4000S tyres no doubt contributed to the quality of the cornering, and certainly boosted confidence when turning the bike in.

The cunning proprietary S-Flex post with its elastomer insert means that the sting is certainly taken out of the road. Merida say they have also incorporated ‘bio flax’ fibres into the carbon layup because of their vibration dampening qualities and while it’s nigh-on impossible for us to assess just how must impact they have, the Reacto DA Ltd does a fairly good job on the rough stuff. Aero bikes can sometimes suffer when it comes to comfort and while I wouldn’t go as far to say the Reacto DA Ltd is an armchair ride, it is more than acceptable in that regard.

The components

The DA in Merida Reacto DA Ltd stands for Dura-Ace but, in reality, only the shifters and derailleurs come from Shimano’s flagship groupset. The rest of it is a bit of a mismatch.

There’s nothing wrong with the Rotor 3D30 NoQ chainrings, even if we’d prefer a Dura-Ace chainset. In this 52-36t semi-compact configuration it offers a good middle ground between a standard and a compact for racing and general riding, particularly when paired with the 11-28t cassette at the back. It’s a Shimano 105 cassette and so doesn’t have quite the same quality as a Dura-Ace or Ultegra cassette but the Dura-Ace derailleurs performed with all the gentle precision we have come to appreciate. The bike comes with mechanical shifting, but the frame is Di2 compatible should you wish to upgrade to electronic shifting in future.

On to the Tektro brakes and they’re best described as… adequate. That is to say they bring you to a halt. We found that hunkered down on the drops, the performance was best with our fingers at the very bottom tips of the levers, but when squeezing from the hoods the performance was only passable. There are worse brakes out there, but the performance of the current ‘new’ crop of dual pivot and direct mount brakes from the likes of Shimano mean that the Tektro calipers do feel inadequate, particularly on a bike of this price, and the Reacto DA Ltd deserves better.

Otherwise, the DA Ltd is finished with an FSA Team Issue handlebar and stem, and a Prologo Nago Evo T2.0 saddle, and it’s all quality kit. Continental provide the Grand Prix 4000S tyres and they’re excellent: fast and grippy.

Conclusion

The Merida Reacto DA Ltd is a tricky bike to sum up. It is very competent in a number of areas, with secure and reliable handling, and plenty of top-end speed on flat or rolling roads thanks to the aggressive aero frame. It’s a (mostly) race-ready package but the spec sheet is let down by the brakes, which don’t come close to matching the rest of the spec. The stiffness of the aero frame makes the Reacto DA Ltd an excellent rouleur’s machine and the comfort afforded by the flex in the seatpost means you could sit in the saddle all day churning it out in the big ring over pretty rough roads. However, at £3,500 and 8kg the Reacto DA Ltd sits in a very competitive market and it suffers a little from carrying a few extra pounds when it comes to acceleration, particularly for lighter riders.

Pros

Super-stiff, aero frame
Fast but stable handling
(Mostly) race-ready spec

Cons

Deserves better brakes
Acceleration dulled by extra weight

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