The Merlin Cycles PR7 is a £300 entry-level road bike that offers outstanding value for money and superb performance all wrapped up in a smart-looking package.
The ride feel is very sprightly with a decent turn of speed and very sure-footed handling that will make anyone buying their first road bike feel right at home. The components are far better than many bikes costing substantially more; the slick shifting Shimano Claris gears are a real highlight.
The PR7 tips the scales at 10.6kg (23.36lb). You do notice the weight when pulling away from junctions, but get up to speed and it rolls along with plenty of gusto. The weight soon disappears as you revel in the fine handling it displays when carrying speed through the corners and along the flat.
At its heart is a 6061 aluminium frame with a carbon fibre fork. That's impressive given the price - even the more expensive Boardman Road Sport only gets an aluminium fork. The carbon fork blades (with aluminium steerer tube) contribute to a lower weight but really benefit the performance with direct steering and noticeable smoothness.
The frame has a maximum tyre clearance of 28mm, with the bike coming with 25mm tyres as standard. That's a nice touch. Compared to the more common 23mm width, the bigger tyres provide a bit more comfort because you can run them at a lower pressure. I used 85psi which provided plenty of cushioning but was still pleasingly quick.
There are rack mounts, so you could transform the PR7 into a daily commuter with the addition of a rack and pannier. While there are mudguard mounts on the frame, there are none on the carbon fork, which does limit your choice if you wanted to fit mudguards. That's a shame; a set of proper mudguards would make this a great winter bike.
Apart from that lack of a complete set of mudguard mounts, the PR7 is looking really good. And then you get to the Shimano Claris groupset. This is a departure from what you might commonly expect on bikes in the £300-500 bracket, and makes the PR7 a truly appealing package.
Claris sits one rung below Sora in Shimano's range and gets the same Dual Control levers, with the downshift paddle behind the brake lever, and the brake lever handling the upshift. In use the gear levers are lovely and smooth, with gear shifts slick and crisp. The 16-speed setup provides, via a 50/34 chainset and 11-30 cassette, a wide spread of gears that go low enough to get you up the steepest hills in your area.
The brake work adequately, but feel quite heavy at the brake lever compared to Shimano's more expensive brakes. They'll stop you in a hurry if needs be though, don't worry about that, they just lack a bit of feel.
Slotting into the frame is a pair of wheels built from reliable Mavic CXP-22 rims on Joytech hubs. They're sturdy wheels, clearly not the lightest, but like I said up top, once you get the PR7 up to speed the weight soon vanishes from your mind. The wheels are reliable and durable though, with not a pip squeak from the hub bearings during the test, and have survived a few inadvertent pothole collisions.
Merlin offer the PR7 in a range of sizes. I found the 56cm the perfect fit for my 5ft 11in height. The 56cm refers to the seat tube measurement, the top tube actually measures 55cm and the head tube is quite short, just 15.5cm. That's race bike territory, but there is a large headset top cap which raises the front end, and Merlin have thoughtfully added a few spacers that can be arranged above or below the stem to raise or lower the height of the handlebars as you see fit.
The reach with the stem was good, and the shape of the handlebars provide comfortable with a nice smooth transition to the brake hoods. One nice touch is Merlin fitting different length cranks, stem and handlebar widths to the four frame sizes they offer, ensuring the best fit possible for different height cyclists.
Saddles are very much a personal thing. The shape and cushioning of the saddle on the PR7 looked initially as though it would be comfortable, but I just didn't get on with it. I'm not even that fussy with my saddles either. Still, you may get on with it just fine. It's easily changed if you don't like it.
The PR7 is a lot of fun to ride. The geometry gives race bike handling, so you can hunker down and get aero if you want, but there's enough front-end height if you want the handlebars higher.
The aluminium frame is decently stiff for hard pedalling, climbing out of the saddle and sprinting, but manages to still be fairly comfortable on rougher road surfaces. Aluminium sometimes gets a bad rep for being harsh but that just wasn't the case with the PR7.
The carbon fork really contributes to a smoother ride with less of the buzz and vibration compared to a steel or aluminium fork common on bikes at this price. Also, the 27.2mm seatpost also has a small amount of deflection to provide a bit of give in the saddle.
The PR7 is impressively sharp and very responsive. Sling it down a hill and it tracks through bumpy corners with a great deal of predictability. It's an easy bike to ride and to ride fast.
It rolls over bumpy roads with great composure and flies through corners and around bends with grin-inducing speed. Those 25mm tyres, if you don't inflate them to 120psi but rather 90psi or thereabouts, provide ample cushioning for tackling rough roads. The tyres felt nippy and displayed a good level of grip when leant over in the corners.
Apart from the weight, the PR7 really does ride like a much more expensive bike. You have to remind yourself how affordable it is because after your first ride on it you just won't believe how little Merlin are charging for it. The PR7 has race-bred performance and will suit any aspiring new cyclists, whether it's simply for weekend rides or getting into racing or sportives. The PR7 has a high ceiling, it'll match any ambition.
For anyone looking to get into cycling and wanting a high quality road bike with a good specification at an extremely low price, well really your options are very limited. The Merlin PR7 is startlingly good, delivers on its promise and really is almost flawless considering the price. It is a shame there are no mudguard eyes on the fork and the brakes don't have a lighter feel, but those gripes aside there's nothing to complain about. It's a very nicely put together bike.
Outstanding value for money and superb performance make this the perfect first bike
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Make and model: Merlin Performance Road PR7
Size tested: 56
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
If you're looking for your first road bike then look no more. The PR7 rivals other bikes that cost twice this price. It's not just a good looking bike, it's a great riding bike too.
A sophisticated aluminium frame paired with a carbon fork and built up using quality Shimano gearing and Mavic equipped wheels. This bike is a real testament to how technology that was previously found on much more expensive machines ends up trickling down to bikes at the more affordable end of the spectrum.
The frame is the heart of any bike and it's here where the PR7 really impresses. A quality aluminium tubeset with profiles rarely seen on entry level bikes. The integrated heat tube, oversize bi-axial down tube and broad-to-slim top tube all combine to give the frame impressive stiffness and efficiency under power.
Our designers have done a great job with the paintjob and the decals too. We think this is a really classy looking bike. Why should cheap bikes look naff?
The carbon fork is a real bonus. Often the first thing that gets replaced on entry level bikes is the harsh metal fork, so we saved you the bother and fitted a decent carbon fork from the get-go.
Above all it's a simple and reliable machine. The Shimano Claris drivetrain offers crisp and quick indexed gear shifting with a broad range of gearing that's capable of steep climbs as well as flat-out sprints.
The wheels play a big part in any bike. The PR7's Mavic CXP-22 wheelset is a free-spinning robust pair of hoops. We've shod them in decent-width 25mm tyres which offer a great combination of speed with comfort. There's room enough for up to 28mm tyres in there too if you want to go bigger.
A final feature to mention is the mount on the rear stays which means that you can run a rear pannier rack simply and reliably.
We have a history in designing excellent road bikes and although this is one of the lowest price ones, it's also definitely one of our favourites.
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?
The new Merlin PR7 alloy road bike with carbon fork and Shimano Claris drivetrain and Mavic CXP-22 wheels
A sophisticated aluminium frame and carbon fork combo
Our finest ever entry level road bike
8 speed Shimano Claris drivetrain offers crisp, accurate gear shifting over a broad range
The Mavic CXP-22 wheelset is a free-spinning and robust pair of hoops
Outclasses bikes that cost more than twice the price
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Race-bred performance best sums up the geometry of the PR7. It is quite low at the front which might not suit everyone, but many will find enough adjustment available to find a good fit
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Fit was spot on, the handlebar width and stem are different depending on the frame size.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Impressively smooth on rough rides, the carbon fork noticeably provides more front-end smoothness than steel and alloy forks common at this price.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Good stiffness when out of the saddle whether climbing or sprinting.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral, striking the right balance that will make beginners feel right at home.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Very stable and nicely responsive, not twitchy or too fast.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The Shimano Claris groupset is a joy to use, proper Dual Control gears from Shimano with slick shifting.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The brakes have a heavy lever feel which is a bit of a letdown, but they stop you adequately.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
I'd like to see mudguard mounts on the fork.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
The Merlin PR7 is an affordable entry-level road bike you can buy with confidence. It is one of the easiest to recommend road bikes I've ever tested. The lack of front mudguard mount is a shame because otherwise it would be near perfect but you could probably improvise with p-clips.
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67
I usually ride: My best bike is:
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: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, mtb,
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.