A short while after Eddy Merckx arrived at the Belgium House and Cycling Paradise in Middle Temple, central London last Friday, the covers were pulled off the two brand new bikes to grace the Merckx range in 2013: the EMX-525 and ETT. We got an exclusive first look.
The EMX-525 has been named after the number of road race wins the legendary rider, known as The Cannibal, achieved throughout his career.
Two years in development, the frame is the work of research and development manager Dave Luyckx, who started with the Belgium company just before development on the new frame began. He was brought in for his knowledge of carbon fibre; he has a background that includes a degree in composites engineering and a stint at car manufacturer Toyota. Eddy calls him the 'the carbon guy'.
It's obvious he knows his stuff, as he talks us through the details of the company's brand new EMX-525. Clearly the company is intent on raising the bar. The driving force behind this new model, which replaces the EMX-7 at the top of the range, was to deliver the highest performance possible.
While some companies might be engaged in a battle to produce the lightest road bicycle frame, this isn't what interests Merckx, Dave tells us. Instead, ride performance is the driving force behind this new bike. Optimising stiffness was key to the design, and in particular the stiffness between the front and rear axle to give a frame that exhibits stable and crisp handling. It's this quest to produce the best handling bike that dictated the design of the new frame.
There were some good foundations laid in the EMX-7, and the EMX-525 builds on that. A focus on frame stiffness is evident if you cast an eye over the photos on this article. The down tube has a huge volume to increase stiffness. A BB86 bottom bracket was used as it's the widest available on the market at the moment, and there's a tapered head tube with a 1.5in lower bearing race. The new Aero II fork has been improved to deliver better stiffness at the front end.
The rear triangle of a frame is under a lot of stress with forces from the rear wheel trying to twist and distort the stays out of alignment – essentially the rear axle is trying to move towards the bottom bracket. Merckx use asymmetric seat stays to combat this. The non-driveside seat stay flares away from the rear wheel while the driveside stay runs closer to the wheel.
As well as careful shaping of the tubes and their profiles, the layup has been extensively worked on. A combination of carbon fibres are used to achieve the best performance. At the main junctions the fibres are continuous; the fibres in the downtube are laid over the bottom bracket and extend into the chainstays, to ensure there's no 'join' at vital areas that would impact upon the frame's stiffness.
In a thoroughly modern touch, the frame has been designed entirely around electronic groupsets - Shimano's Di2 and Campagnolo's EPS. Merckx weren't happy with some of the internal wiring designs of other bike brands, so they set about integrating the wires from the design brief up. And it's a clean looking frame for it, with minimal cabling on the outside of the frame and no nasty holes or plugs. For now the battery is mounted underneath the non-driveside chainstay, but as soon as Shimano's seatpost battery is available, they'll be using that. Questioned on the non-compatibility for mechanical groupsets, Dave told us they would address that if there was sufficient demand.
For 2012 Merckx, after losing the Quickstep team to Specialized at the end of 2011, supplies bikes to two Belgium teams, the professional continental Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator and continental Wallonie-Bruxelles-Crédit Agricole. Dave told of how Merckx are heavily involved with the Topsport team, using them to test the new frames and getting a lot of feedback from to help influence the development. Hopefully we'll see Merckx bikes at the top level of the sport again soon.
Merckx's UK distributor i-ride were on hand and tell us that the frame will cost £2,800, with a complete bike (like the one pictured with Shimano Ultegra Di2, 3T components and Fulcrum wheels) at £4,600.
Merckx are breaking new ground with their all-new time trial bike. Every manufacturer is looking for that unique angle to give them an advantage over every other frame, and Merckx reckon they have one.
The new ETT features something called the 'Venturi Powerbox'. The downtube has three slots that funnels air through. As the air passes through the slots, it speeds up in direct proportion to the reduction in area. The result is a reduction in drag and buffeting.
It is a technology that has been used in Formula One for the last couple of years, with the rear diffusers mounted at the back of the car using similar principles to manage airflow in much the same way.
From the wind tunnel video we were shown, there's less disruption to the airflow as it passes over the lower half of the frame. It's much cleaner as it reaches the seat tube and rear wheel. They haven't got any figures for its performance yet, so it's just potential at the moment until it's put alongside other time trial bikes.
You would think the UCI might frown on such a design solution, but they've given Merckx the thumbs up and it has the organisation's seal of approval. You can see it on their list here. But the approval comes with a caveat; they can't use the design in any future model developments.
Groundbreaking down tube aside, the frame relies on more typical time trial fare everywhere else. The brakes are TRP mini V-brakes integrated at the front behind the fork, and at the rear they're on the seat stays. At the junction with the seat tube the seat stays form a wide box section to allow uninterrupted airflow as it passes over the seat tube.
The stem is sunken into the head tube and, bar the sticky out steerer, ensures a clean passage from the front of the stem along the top tube to the slender seat post. Cables are routed cleanly internally.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.