Mekk have produced a lovely frame here that, with a few changes to the componentry - preferably before you even leave the shop - will offer an excellent racey ride.
Mekk are still pretty new to the UK bike market but the two guys behind it, Mark Edwards (ME) and Ken Knight (KK) show their years of industry knowledge regarding products, design and racing to deliver an absolutely cracking frameset on their Pinerolo AL 1.0 bike.
The Pinerolo range is Mekk's entry level of three aluminium bikes; the ZR, a single butted alloy frame, carbon fork with Shimano's 2300 (£549.99) at the bottom, the AL 1.5 which has a triple butted alloy frame, carbon fork and Tiagra 10spd all for £799.99, obviously leaving our AL 1.0 sat in the middle at £699.99.
The majority of bike manufacturers go one of two ways when it comes to putting bikes on the shelves at a given RRP, especially at this entry level. The first is a basic frame adorned with plenty of bling to entice the customer, the old rear mech upgrade sort of trick. Mekk have gone for the other, upgrade friendly option of a top notch frame with a functional but not exactly exciting build. Always a better long term option in my opinion.
Frame & Fork
The AL 1.0 uses the same frame as the AL 1.5; triple butted seamless tubing built into a semi compact style thanks to the shallow sloping top tube. The oversized downtube ovalises either end providing a larger mating face for welding to the headtube and BB shell creating a stiffer frame. The chainstays are square section as they leave the BB, narrow giving plenty of heel clearance before swooping out mid way along to provide enough space for the rear hub. The seatstays and seat tube are chunky looking affairs implying the AL 1.0 is intended more for performance than comfort.
The sizing runs from a 48cm to 58cm in 2cm increments with the size referring to the seat tube length. The test model is a 54cm which has an effective top tube c-to-c of 55.5cm and a headtube of 15cm which looks smaller due to the diameter of that downtube. The seat and head tube match at 73.5° which ties in with the other cues that Mekk have aimed the Pinerolo range at the performance end of the market.
The headset is internal, standard 1 1/8' top and bottom while the bottom bracket is pretty much a retro item, Shimano's Octalink. Designed as a replacement for square taper BB's, the Octalink uses eight splines for the matching crank to be aligned with.
The welding from the Taiwanese factory is as tidy as you'd expect from a frame at this price point and finished off with a bright red deep paint job.
There are some neat little features too, like the guides being on the headtube rather than the downtube which stops paint rub from the cables as you steer and internal cable routing for the rear brake. Little details which show there has been some thought behind the whole design process.
The fork has 3k carbon fibre legs with an aluminium steerer. The straight legs are a deep section which should keep things pretty tight up front.
Shimano provide the drivetrain made up predominately of their second tier Sora groupset. It's been 9 speed for a few years now and uses a thumb button and the brake lever for changing gear (for 2013 the shifters are following the rest of the line up with the brake lever and paddle controlling the gear changes, known as Sora 3500) a bit like Campag's Ergolevers. They don't quite work for me as the button always seems to be in the way of your thumb when you want to ride in the hoods (unlike Campag's button which sits further back) and you can't reach it from the drops. That aside though the shifting is very good, a solid precise clunk up and down the block from the rear mech and it performs pretty well under load.
As mentioned above, the chainset uses Shimano's Octalink tapered spline mating system. It's a basic non series model using 50/34 rings on a 110 BCD but to be honest the shifting performance was pretty impressive. After years of riding bikes with larger axles afforded by outboard bearings and BB30 the bottom bracket doesn't feel as efficient in terms of stiffness though.
The brakes are non branded dual callipers which are quite literally crap and at times downright scary. Soapbox time I'm afraid... on a bike designed primarily for beginners is it common sense to downgrade the one component that is quite literally a lifesaver? I'm not aiming this specifically at Mekk either, it's a problem across the board from virtually every manufacturer I can think of. Anyway, rant over, back to the review.
The brakes then, as you can probably guess aren't the best. The calliper bodies flex and when paired with the hard non-cartridge pads the majority of your braking power just disappears with the levers feeling spongy in your hands. High speed descents just become scary as you have to drag the brakes to keep the speed under control causing huge amounts of heat build up and brake fade.
Slowing from more normal riding speeds is met with a lack of feel and control as you change from full power to nothing in a bid to find the right balance. An upgrade is a must - at the very least we'd get the pads changed in the shop.
Mavic's CXP22 32 hole rims are laced 3 cross building into a strong if slightly heavy set of wheels which look good and should be reliable. We certainly didn't seem to have any issues over the test period with them staying as true as the day they were delivered. The hubs are sealed units from ICE and they rolled smoothly from day one.
The tyres are Kenda Kampaign tyres, 23mm in width with wire beads and a mere 60TPI meaning they aren't the supplest. Puncture performance and wear levels were good though so you take the pick on whats most important to you.
The seatpost and stem are ICE branded aluminium components while the handlebars get an upgrade to Ritchey Comps. These have got a profile somewhere between a traditional curve and the more commonplace anatomical style. It strikes a good balance between comfort and position as you don't need to move so far forward to get into the drops. Ritchey call this LogicCurve.
The Mekk saddle is a narrow race perch that has some of the softest padding known to man. It's comfortable but you do need to put your saddle up by the best part of 10mm to compensate for the compression. Three hours or so was fine and the white cover stayed clean too.
The frame impresses the moment you start turning the pedals with its all round racing feel, tightness, position and handling. The Pinerolo AL 1.0 may weigh in at 20.3lbs (9.2kg) but once you've got it moving off of the line it rides like a bike much lighter.
With the 405mm chainstays bringing the rear wheel in close to the seat tube the resulting small rear triangle and short wheelbase of just 980mm means the AL 1.0 responds quickly to direction changes and hard efforts out of the saddle making it ideal for club runs and group rides where changes in pace are frequent.
The Kenda tyres have a lot of rolling resistance and do dull the ride a lot but change them for something a bit quicker (I swapped them for my 58mm deep carbons and Velomax Master tyres for a couple of rides) and you will feel exactly what the frame will do, and just how upgradeable it is. Maintaining a decent average on the flat is no problem although if things are a little lumpy the jumps between sprocket sizes become noticeable on the 12-28 cassette.
When it comes to climbing the 32' bottom gear helps offset the overall weight and the AL 1.0 performs admirably. There are some feelings of flex from the chainset and bottom bracket when you're out of the saddle - most notable from the chain rub at the front mech. Whether in the saddle or out the Mekk remains comfortable and even when your weight is over the front end the handling remains the same.
Going downhill, on straight bits anyway, the Pinerolo remains unflustered as the speed increases. The forks have very little give and remain locked on to where you're pointing them. Due to the braking issues with the standard brakes the usual gung ho 'let's see where the limit is' style of descending through the bends was put on hold until a more suitable calliper was fitted from the spares box, Shimano's solid 105. Once set up though the frame and fork once again showed its quality easily taking everything you could throw at it. The stiff rear end could become a little unsettled at speed on rough road surfaces but the fork once again kept the front end neatly in position.
Aluminium frames get a reputation for being harsh which is often misguided, especially with modern tube design. Thankfully the Mekk is another frame that dispels this myth as it absorbs road buzz rather well. Some of the bigger bumps do make it through to your hands but that's more to do with the hard nature of the 60TPI tyres not responding with the surface imperfections.
Eighty to ninety mile roads were done in relative comfort though so if the Mekk is an investment for your first sportive or charity ride you shouldn't be disappointed.
On paper, especially for a newcomer to the sport the Pinerolo AL 1.0 might not look that appealing due to the lower end components like the Octalink chainset and Sora 3400 shifters compared to the other bikes sporting an entire Sora 3500 or even Tiagra groupset at this price. With the Mekk you are paying for the frame though and what a cracking frame it is to. You could easily spend £500 to £600 quid upgrading components and still be left with a bargain. Sticking uprated wheels, tyres and a trustworthy front brake on for part of the test period completely transformed the AL 1.0 and allows you to really get the best out of the frame.
The Sora drivetrain works well in all conditions and if the shifter design suits you there is no need to change them as the performance is snappy and precise. The flex mentioned with regards to the chainset is acceptable but an upgrade to a new Sora unit with outboard bearing cups would be beneficial for gains in performance and looks.
Everything else works well out of the box and the Mekk will complement any style of riding you fancy doing. It looks great too with the bright red paint job and white detailing, the designed in Italy sticker receiving a little bit of kudos at the cafe stop. All of Mekk's alloy and carbon frames are guaranteed for five years (with the usual disclaimers of course) which brings a bit of peace of mind to your purchase.
Impressively upgradeable frame (starting with the brakes) that delivers a responsive, and engagingly racey ride
road.cc test report
Make and model: Mekk Pinerolo Al 1.0
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame - Super Lite Aluminum Triple Butted Seamless Tubing
Fork - 3K carbon (aluminum steerer)
Tyres - Kenda Kampaign 23 x 700
Wheelset - Mavic CXP22 rims with ICE hubs 32 hole
Shifters - Sora 9 Speed
Front derailleur - Sora 9 Speed
Rear Derailleur - Sora 9 Speed
Crank - Shimano Octalink 50 / 34 - 172.5
Cassette - Shimano 9-SPEED 12-28T
Chain - KMC Shimano Silver 9 speed
Saddle - Mekk Race Lite
SeatPost - ICE alloy 27.2mm
Handlebar - Ritchey Comp
Stem - ICE Oversize alloy
Headset - Nico Steel / Aluminum
Brakeset - Mekk Dual Pivot Brakes
Tape - Velo Mekk Gel Tape
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Priced at 700 quid the AL 1.0 is aimed at the entry level for new riders and those coming from other disciplines. Mekk state on their website that the aim is spend money on the frame making it ripe for upgrading while providing enough quality components for the bike to be enjoyable from day one.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
the build quality is good with decent welding and a deep paint job. The attention to detail is high from the design and build point of view.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The alloy tubing is triple butted meaning the wall thickness varies along its length to put material where its needed and removed from where it isn't. The tubes are drawn rather than rolled meaning no welded seam equalling less weight and consistent strength.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The test 54cm has a 540mm seat tube with 555mm toptube. It's comparable to other 54cm/medium sized frames.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, the ride was comfortable on both long and short rides. The Mekk was being tested alongside a titanium frame and although alloy is less naturally shock absorbent the difference wasn't huge.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The frame has plenty of stiffness where it needs it, front end, BB area etc.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Very well considering the components quality and pricing.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Overall the handling impressed, very direct and stable
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Bad - Kenda Kriterium tyres, 60tpi just isn't supple enough.
good - suprisingly the super soft saddle
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The chainset/BB combo are the weak link for power transfer.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The large gaps in the cassette sprockets made undulating terrain gear choice a 'make do' affair so a change to a closer ratio block would be a good move.
sort the brakes out first though
Shifters, mechs all work well but the crank/BB are a bit antiquated
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
It all works well enough and when you consider that a full Sora groupset can be had for just £230ish online, bang for buck it's pretty impressive. Like I mentioned above though an upgrade to the crank/BB would be a good move.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
The wheels were good, remaining true throughout and the hubs rolled smooth. The 32 spokes in each wheel provide some comfort and shake of the worst of the rough roads.
The tyres are robust but let things down on the rolling resistance
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Its all pretty basic generic, oversized alloy and its kind of fit and forget stuff. The ICE logoed parts look good and have decent levels of stiffness.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? No but I'd happily buy the frameset if it was availiable on its own.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
One of those bikes that gives you a marking quandry; I really enjoyed the Mekk and the frame is a gem, but I've got to mark it as it comes so it gets a 7 based on the standard spec, change the brakes and it's easily an 8. A frameset only option would definitely be in contention for a 9.
About the tester
Age: 34 Height: 180cm Weight: 76kg
I usually ride: Ribble Winter Trainer for commuting, Genesis Flyer My best bike is: Sarto Rovigo
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.