Merlin Cycles, known best these days as an online retailer of cycling kit, impresses with this build aimed squarely at the sub-£1000, commuter-sportive rider. Complete with a full Shimano 105 groupset and a carbon frameset, at £949 this bike is a real steal.
Imported over from Belgian manufactuer Ridley – which helps keep R&D costs, and therefore the end price, down – the frameset utilises 24-ton high modulus carbon, and teams this with a carbon fork. Alongside this, the frame is designed with sportive-orientated geometry, and the result is a ride that absorbs many of the creases and crevices you come across on UK roads. In short, it ticks the box for a forgiving ride.
Included, too, is a mix of integrated and external cable routing, with the top tube housing the rear brake cable internally. This serves to make the bike look sleek and tidy, while the exposed cabling elsewhere can only make things easier to service, which I consider to be a plus point if this bike is to be used through the winter and on commutes alongside sportive activity.
Around the frameset, the Fuse is garnished with a full 11-speed Shimano 105 groupset. Brakes, levers, derailleurs, chainset, the lot. That's quite an achievement at this price, and on paper represents possibly one of the best value-for-money deals on the sub-£1000 market today.
Integration of the groupset into the build works seamlessly – evidence that the boys and girls at Merlin have clearly thought about the framesets they buy in for their bikes. This meant that I was pleasantly surprised to discover that 105's well-documented potential as an Ultegra rival to everyone except keen racers has been made the most of here despite the low price point: it shifts very smoothly, while the brakes afford excellent stopping power with a reassuring level of modulation.
That braking performance is also down to the feel that the supplied Mavic Aksium One wheels provide. They don't set the world alight by any stretch, but they roll smoothly and efficiently, and are a good pick for a starter endurance/commuter road bike of this ilk.
No complaints over the tyre choice either – 25mm Continental Ultra Sport IIs, which complement the smooth ride of the wheelset and offer good levels of grip when you're getting a move on on a descent.
The finishing kit
The Merlin Fuse is topped off with basic 4ZA aluminium finishing kit throughout, and it's here where the bike just shows that it's a budget build. It all performs a function, and does it reasonably well. No points for style here; just solid, usable parts that won't let you down in a hurry.
The saddle is also from 4ZA, and provides decent support for longer rides. Cushioning is adequate, and over the time we had the bike didn't cause any issues worth noting. Bar profile and tape comfort are also reasonable, but on the drops the levers do seem a touch too far away to use comfortably – an issue I had to work around by sticking with the hoods under braking.
As an added bonus, all the finishing kit bits and bobs match the frame paint job, which gives the bike a quality finish and means it certainly looks the part against your clubmates' more expensive rides.
Out on the roads, the carbon frameset gives a smooth and comfortable ride. There are no frills with the seatpost, stem or bar, so its overall comfort level is limited when compared with manufacturers who insert gel into the frame or engineer clever technology specifically designed to absorb lumps and bumps. Let's say that you perhaps wouldn't want to do a cobbled sportive on it, but for everyday roads and bike paths you're well covered.
Our medium machine weighs in at 8.61kg so it's also no heavyweight, but you shouldn't expect a sharp and responsive ride to go with the decent levels of comfort. You can get out of the saddle if you like, but sluggish acceleration means you're likely to be better served staying in the saddle and playing to its strengths as an endurance bike. Bottom line: compared with my four-year-old Specialized Allez on the same wheelset, it's simply not as exciting.
Descending is dealt with competently if not brilliantly, and rolling resistance is low overall thanks to the quality tyres, which means you can hold relatively high speeds without too much trouble – perfect for the weekend club rider.
All this means we're dealing with a competent and decent quality machine, and we must return to the headline: the price tag. Factoring in everything that this bike offers for the club, sportive and everyday road cyclist, the comparatively measly cost of £949 (for comparison, Canyon's equivalent Endurace comes in at £200 more – a bike also considered good value), is astonishing value.
Sure, it won't be a bike snob's choice, and racers and more aggressive sportive riders will probably want to set their sights higher up the market on lighter, stiffer and more responsive machinery, but the Merlin Fuse 105 should at least be on the shortlist of cyclists looking for top bang for their buck under £1000.
Every cyclist looking for top bang for their buck under £1,000 should have the Merlin Fuse 105 on their shortlist
If you're thinking of buying this product using a cashback deal why not use the road.cc Top Cashback page and get some top cashback while helping to support your favourite independent cycling website
road.cc test report
Make and model: Merlin Fuse 105
Size tested: 56cm top tube
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
24 Ton High Modulus Carbon frame and fork material
Full Shimano 105 11 speed groups
Mavic Aksium One wheelset
Continental Ultra Sport II 25mm tyres
4ZA finishing kit
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?
Merlin says: "The Fuse is our best ever execution of a carbon road bike that's easy to live with and is a pleasure to ride. It's very much a practical everyday machine as well as a great looking sportive steed.
"The carbon layup on the Fuse has been chosen to offer high levels of comfort and vibration dampening. We know that a lot of UK roads aren't exactly billiard table smooth and it's real world riding that the Fuse is intended for.
"The Fuse exhibits remarkable stability, balance and smoothness with a consistency that is all too rare with carbon bikes at this level. This is not to say that it can't mix it with the best of them when the red mist descends and you want to go on the attack.
"It's a great handling bike that's impressively taut under pedal power and responsive up front too. It's sort of like a race bike that's had its harsh pointiness removed.
"We need to mention its appearance again. The Fuse is one fine-looking bike. The classy matt black finish is a delight to the eyes as well as the fingertips. The Fuse frame and fork are superbly finished and this level of quality really shows when set against our logo and graphic work.
"To get the most out of this excellent frameset we committed early on to a fully Shimano 105 groupset. 105 is where Shimano's trickle-down technology is at its best. Super slick 11 speed shifting and powerful, controllable braking.
"We opted to go with legendary brand Mavic and their award winning Aksium wheelet. 4ZA supply the rest of the finishing kit for a dependable and consistent ride character."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The frameset is designed and built by Ridley, which has a great track record of solid frame building from its base in Belgium. Both are finished nicely, making the bike look more expensive than it actually is.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frameset is made of 24 Ton High Modulus Carbon, which provides reasonable levels of stiffness and solidarity underneath the rider.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The geometry is firmly in the endurance/sportive range, with a shorter, curved top tube allowing the rider to sit up and relax as they ride. This is not a bike for getting down on the drops for a prolonged amount of time.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Bike height matched my expectation of similarly specced frames, but the reach was shorter than I've become accustomed to on my Specialized Allez, which itself features a curved top tube. I had to push the saddle back and tip the bar forward to get a comfortable position without messing around with the stated build.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, very comfortable overall, with a decent bar and stem setup reducing vibrations through the arms and shoulders. There are no fancy tricks in the frame, but it dealt well with all the uneven surfaces you can expect on UK roads. The saddle won't be for everyone and the seatpost transferred some road buzz through it.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
I didn't notice too much flex to ruin my rides, although responsiveness was at a premium, suggesting a bit more flex than I'd ideally like.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Reasonably well – out of the saddle it was a bit flat and unresponsive, but in the saddle it transferred the power I wanted through the 105 cranks no problem at all.
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? Steering was neutral, providing enough feedback without exhausting you.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The bike rode at comfortable speeds very competently. It's only at really high speeds that it begins to come unstuck and a bit numb.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
At this price point, no changes recommended. The Shimano 105 system shifts brilliantly, as ever.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Again, at this price point I can't recommend any changes.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The 105 drivetrain operated brilliantly, helping to maintain speed on the flat efficiently.
Out of the saddle, it feel numb unfortunately.
The Merlin doesn't engender lots of confidence when sprinting, but it isn't designed to.
No complaints from this or other 105 bikes we've tested.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Full Shimano 105 performance at £949. Need we say more?
Wheels and tyres
Mavic Aksium Ones are a great inclusion – right at the level this bike pitches at, unlike some £1,000 bikes on the market.
The combination on offer rides smoothly and comfortably on all but the roughest of paved roads.
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?
No changes necessary – they complement the bike very well.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? No - I'd personally want something with more pedigree (and therefore cost).
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes - as a value proposition for the first serious road bike or sportive/commuter road bike, it's fantastic value.
About the tester
Age: 25 Height: 188cm Weight: 83kg
I usually ride: Specialized Allez Sport My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding