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Verdict: 
Very good gravel bike that's exceptional value, but lack of eyelets for rear mudguard and rack dent its all-rounder potential
Weight: 
8,960g

The Merlin GX-01 is a snappy gravel bike with a really good frame and a solid component mix, and it's exceptional value for money, although the lack of mudguard/rack eyelets on the frame is likely to put off some potential buyers.

  • Pros: Good frame and groupset, solid all-round handling, great price
  • Cons: No mudguard/rack eyelets on frame

No frame eyelets? That's a missed opportunity, in my opinion. Granted, you get eyelets on the fork, but the lack of any at the rear of the bike seems odd. Yes, there are ways of attaching a rear mudguard and/or a rack without them. And yes, pure gravel race bikes tend to do without. However, the GX-01 is in a price bracket where it could appeal to those looking for an all-rounder to cover everything from adventure riding to long-distance commuting to winter road rides. The lack of eyelets just seems alienating to a slice of the potential market.

> Buy this online here

I asked Merlin and the explanation was that the GX-01 is specced for gravel with an eye towards adventure biking. You can, of course, fit a handlebar bag, seatpost bag and frame pack (as below), and you could fit a more substantial rack on the fork.

Bikepacking bags

"We wanted flexibility for potential adventuring while still keeping the smooth and uncluttered look," said Merlin.

I thought I'd start with that info because it might be a deal-breaker for you, in which case you can move on and enjoy your day. If you're not arsed either way, the GX-01 has a whole lot to offer.

The ride

This is a bike that feels great when you're bombing along over broken roads, be they gravel or just worn out tarmac. There's enough give in the slim (27.2mm diameter) Deda Zero1 6061 aluminium seatpost and skinny seatstays to keep you comfortable, although it's the 35mm Schwalbe G-One tyres that provide most of the cushioning. Those tyres also provide confident handling on gravelly/stony roads and are versatile enough to make a good fist of most other surfaces too (I'll come back to component details in a mo).

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 R7000 Carbon Gravel Bike - riding 2.jpg

The fairly long wheelbase provides plenty of stability when the road surface is doing its best to knock you off line, and the riding position when you're resting on the hoods is one that you'll probably be able to hold all day long without any worries. The drops of Deda's Zero1 handlebar provide another comfortable position when you're looking for extra speed on the flat or more security over the bumps or on steep descents, while the Shimano 105 hydraulic disc brakes provide a shed-load of control even when your bike is soaked from hitting rain-filled potholes.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 - head tube.jpg

The GX-01 is light enough to feel reactive to increased effort and you never get the impression that it's holding you back on the climbs. The 50/34-tooth chainset matched with an 11-34-tooth cassette gave me all the gearing I really wanted for both tarmac and gravel. You might feel differently, of course, particularly if you're carrying a load, but I reckon this is a good range for this type of bike. The only time I ever spun out was on the occasional tarmac descent, never on gravel where things become a bit of a blur before you reach that point.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 R7000 Carbon Gravel Bike - riding 3.jpg

Anyway, Merlin builds up each bike individually so you can choose your own spec to some degree by picking from a range of options. If you wanted higher gearing, for example, you could have a 52/36t chainset and an 11-28t cassette. One thing to note, though: some of the options (including components on our test bike) are currently out of stock. Our test bike as built would cost £1,559, but the cheapest using in-stock parts is £1,681.50. Stock is being replaced all the time, so more options will be available.

Frame

Putting the question of eyelets to one side, the GX-01's frame is a high-quality offering. It's made from carbon-fibre (70 per cent 24 ton carbon, 25 per cent 30 ton carbon, 5 per cent liquid crystal polymer carbon) and the fork is full carbon too.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 - fork.jpg

You get 12mm thru-axles front and rear (as opposed to open ended dropouts with quick release skewers), flat mount disc brakes and internal cable routing which has the dual benefit of looking neat while protecting cables from gunk thrown up from the road surface.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 - cable route.jpg

The GX-01 also comes with a threaded bottom bracket, which is a rarity. The vast majority of times a pressed-in BB works absolutely fine, but if you've ever had one that won't stop creaking you'll know it can be a nightmare. A threaded BB can creak too, of course, but you can usually cure it quite quickly, and when it is time for a new one the removal and replacing process is simple and the tools don't cost a fortune.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 - bottom bracket.jpg

The frame comes with bridgeless seatstays and acres of clearance around the 35mm-wide tyres. There's easily enough space for a 40mm tyre in there, and the same is true of the fork.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 - seat stays.jpg

I had the XL sized GX-01 in on test with a 580mm effective top tube, 580mm seat tube, and a 175mm head tube. The head angle is 72.5 degrees, the seat angle is 73 degrees, and the wheelbase is a middling length (for a gravel bike of this size) of 1,025mm.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105.jpg

The stack is 604mm and the reach is 390mm, giving a stack/reach ratio of 1.54, which is similar to that of the Wilier Jena gravel bike that I reviewed earlier in the year and many endurance road bikes. You get quite a lot of headset spacers to play with too: 35mm's worth on our review bike. Merlin also allows you to choose your own stem length and handlebar width so you should be able to get the position you're after.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 - stem.jpg

Groupset

The groupset is Shimano's popular 105 which sits below Dura-Ace and Ultegra in the hierarchy and offers better value for money than either of them. Like the higher level groupsets – and unlike next-level-down Tiagra – 105 is an 11-speed system.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 - drivetrain.jpg

It has provided a flawless performance during a review period that has extended over several months (I've been busy, alright!). I've ridden this bike a few hundred miles over many types of terrain and in varied conditions and all I've had to do is index the gearing once by turning the rear derailleur's barrel adjuster. That's the type of maintenance I like.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 - rear mech.jpg

The rear derailleur features Shimano's Shadow technology that's come over to the road from the mountain bike groupsets. It's significantly more compact than the previous derailleur and doesn't protrude so far outside the frame. This means it's better protected in the event of a crash although, thankfully, I've not had to put that to the test. Shifting is light and precise across the whole cassette and I don't remember dropping the chain once.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 - rear hub.jpg

The 105 groupset extends as far as the hydraulic disc brakes which perform superbly. Acting on 160mm IceTech rotors, they provide all the power and modulation you need even on wet and grimy rides. I've certainly not found them wanting in any situation and, when the time comes, they're easy to bleed.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 - rear disc brake.jpg

Wheels and tyres

The Fulcrum Racing Sport 77 wheels aren't especially remarkable but they've proven reliable over the test period with no loose spokes or any of those other teething problems you sometimes get. In fact, a quick check on the wheel jig shows they're still both perfectly round and true... None of which is particularly relevant to you because the only wheel option that Merlin currently offers is the Fulcrum Racing 6 DB. These wheels have the advantage of being 2Way Fit ready, meaning that you can run them tubeless, although Fulcrum says only with certain Schwalbe tyres.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 - rim.jpg

Speaking of tyres, model selection is always crucial on a gravel bike and Merlin has done well to spec the 35mm Schwalbe G-One Allround here (the 38mm version and other models are also available, including tubeless Schwalbe options). These are versatile enough to perform well on a variety of different road surfaces, providing good grip on gravel and anything stony. The pimple-tread can occasionally struggle to gain traction if the gravel is deep and soft, and if it's mushy after a lot of rain you might find your wheels spinning on a steep climb, but for the most part they're very good. They're also pretty quick on tarmac and, let's face it, virtually every ride is going to involve some of that.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 - tyre.jpg

The tread works fine on hard-packed forest roads too, although it's too shallow to bite into mud that's in any way gloopy, which is fair enough because they're not designed for this. Take on a slippery trail and you're either going to have to take it steady or run the risk of landing on your butt.

If I have one criticism about the tyres it's that they're not the most durable in the world. Don't get me wrong, I've used them more on gravel and tracks than on the road and I've not experienced any significant cuts, but the tread has worn down faster than on some other tyres out there.

Money

The GX-01 had an original RRP of £2,169.99 but that has been reduced to £1,681.50 (with stock currently available), and Merlin assures us that it will not return to the original price.

The aluminium-framed Salsa Journeyman Apex reviewed by our sister site off.road.cc recently is £1,650. Apex is SRAM's fourth-tier road groupset. This is a lovely bike but it's let down by its weight – at 11.6kg, it's 2.6kg heavier than the Merlin – and the cable-operated disc brakes.

> Buyer's Guide: 22 of the best gravel and adventure bikes

The Vitus Substance CRX that we tested has a full-carbon frame and fork and a SRAM Apex 1 groupset. That bike is very good value but it's still over £100 more than the GX-01.

The Ribble CGR AL Shimano 105 is considerably cheaper at £1,399. Here you get a Shimano 105 groupset and Schwalbe G-One tyres, as you do with the Merlin, although the frame is aluminium. This is a hugely versatile and superb value bike for everything from gravel bashing to cyclo-cross and road commuting.

Conclusion

The Merlin GX-01 has plenty to recommend it, including a good frame and a high-quality groupset for the money. It offers stability, a decent level of comfort and plenty of control, all of which are valuable commodities on a gravel bike. Although it might sound trivial in the overall scheme of things, for me the deciding factor would be whether I wanted to fit mudguards and a rear rack for commuting or winter road riding. If you do, this bike doesn't make things easy for you. On the other hand, if those additions don't interest you, this is a great buy.

Merlin GX-01 Shimano 105 R7000 Carbon Gravel Bike - riding 4.jpg

Verdict

Very good gravel bike that's exceptional value, but lack of eyelets for rear mudguard and rack dent its all-rounder potential

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 GX-01 Shimano 105 R7000 Carbon Gravel Bike

Size tested: XL/58cm

About the bike

List the components used to build up the bike.

From Merlin:

Frame Merlin GX-01 Carbon Disc 12mm thru axle

Fork Full-carbon 12mm thru axle

Wheels Fulcrum Racing Sport 77

Chainset Shimano 105 R7000 50/34T

Cassette Shimano 105 CS-R7000 11-34-tooth

Chain Shimano HCX11

Bottom bracket Shimano Ultegra BBR60 English (BSA)

Rear derailleur Shimano 105 RD-R7000 medium cage GS

Front derailleur Shimano 105 FD-R7000

Shifters Shimano 105 R7020 hydraulic disc STI levers

Brakes Shimano 105 R7070 flat mount disc callipers

Rotors Shimano SM-RT70 IceTech

Tyres Schwalbe G-One Allround 35mm

Inner tubes Vittoria Lite 700c

Handlebar Deda Zero1

Stem Deda Zero1

Saddle Pro Griffon

Seatpost Deda Zero1

Bar tape Deda Mistral

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 GX-01 is a gravel bike. Merlin does a huge writeup on it:

"The Merlin GX-01 is our super-lightweight high-performance carbon gravel bike designed for mixed-surface adventures straight from your front door. Packed full of technical features the GX-01 has been designed from the ground up to excel on a wide variety of terrain. From fast, smooth tarmac to demanding gravel tracks and trails this bike feels equally capable and handles brilliantly regardless of what you throw at it.

"Key features of the Merlin GX-01 carbon gravel bike includes considerable tyre-clearance in the rear of the frame; thanks to its bridgeless seatstays and chainstays the GX-01 will easily accommodate up to a 40mm gravel-specific tyre allowing you to run lower tyre-pressures and providing you with more comfort and enhanced traction when you're negotiating lose gravel surfaces. Up front the full-carbon GX-01 fork offers the same amount of tyre-clearance while front & rear thru-axles help to ensure that your wheels are always secure, brake rotors are perfectly aligned with the calipers every time and there is no annoying brake rub. The GX-01 thru axles also add stiffness between wheel hub and frame with a noticeable increase in steering precision from the fork.

"The Merlin GX-01 carbon frame and fork features internal cable routing throughout, keeping the silhouette of the bike simple and clutter-free while protecting gear cables from getting fouled up with grit and grime. We've specced the GX-01 with a threaded bottom bracket shell to allow you to quickly and conveniently change the bearings without the need for expensive press-fit bearing tools. Slim seatstays provide a little bit of extra compliance keeping you comfortable on rough surfaces and a large bottom bracket area creates a super-stiff pedaling platform, allowing you to transfer all your power to the rear wheel during fast road sections and super-steep, lose gravel surfaces climbs off-road.

"Featuring:

"The Merlin GX-01 carbon gravel bike features Shimano's excellent new 105 R7020 11-speed hydraulic disc brake groupset which features a new Shadow Technology rear derailleur that gives a lower profile and increased protection from crash damage as well as a great looking chainset evolved from the Ultegra R8000 version which is even stiffer and provides more power transfer than its predecessor. With a wide range of gears available you'll be able to ride more economically regardless of the terrain, leaving your legs feeling fresher for longer. The addition of safe, easily-modulated Shimano BR-7070 flat-mount hydraulic disc brakes will have you descending with new-found confidence. A choice of finishing components lets you customise the finer details of this great handling carbon gravel bike before our Merlin workshop technicians custom build your bike to your own spec. Choose your preferred wheelset, tyre choice, stem-length, handlebar profile, the gear ratios of your cassette and chainrings options and more to tailor your dream carbon gravel bike specifically for you."

Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options

You can spec the components from a range on offer on Merlin's website. You just use the drop-down menu to make your selection based on your preferences and budget.

Frame and fork

Overall rating for frame and fork
 
8/10

Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?

Merlin gives the frame's composition as:

* 70% 24 Tons Intermediate Modulus Carbon

* 25% 30 Tons High Modulus Carbon

* 5% High-Impact Strength Liquid Crystal Polymer Carbon

* 12mm x 142mm Thru Axle Rear

The fork is full carbon.

Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?

I had the XL sized model with a 580mm effective top tube, 580mm seat tube, and a 175mm head tube. The head angle is 72.5°, the seat angle is 73°, and the wheelbase is a middling length (for a gravel bike of this size) of 1,025mm.

The stack is 604mm and the reach is 390mm, giving a stack/reach of 1.54, which is similar to that of the Wilier Jena gravel bike that I reviewed earlier in the year and many endurance road bikes. You get 35mm of headset spacers to play with. Merlin also allows you to choose your own stem length and handlebar width so you should be able to get the position you're after.

How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?

The stack/reach is similar to that of many endurance road bikes – about what I'd expect.

Riding the bike

Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.

Yeah, comfortable courtesy of a middling ride position and 35mm tyres. The frame and fork will both take 40mm tyres if you want more.

Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?

Stiff enough, and a long way from harsh.

How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?

It felt good in terms of efficiency.

Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?

The front wheel just misses the toe of my shoe.

How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Middling.

Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?

You get predictable handling whether you're on the flat, climbing or descending. It's a solid performer across the board.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?

With a gravel bike the biggest factor is always the tyres. I quite like 35s but you could go up to 40mm if you want more comfort. You could also spec tubeless wheels and tyres and run low pressures.

Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
 
7/10
Rate the bike for acceleration:
 
7/10
Rate the bike for sprinting:
 
7/10
Rate the bike for high speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for low speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for climbing:
 
8/10

It's light for a gravel bike of this price.

The drivetrain

Rate the drivetrain for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
 
8/10
Wheels and tyres
Rate the wheels for performance:
 
6/10
Rate the wheels for durability:
 
6/10
Rate the wheels for weight:
 
6/10
Rate the wheels for comfort:
 
7/10
 
Rate the tyres for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the tyres for durability:
 
6/10
Rate the tyres for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the tyres for comfort:
 
8/10
Controls
Rate the controls for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for comfort:
 
8/10
Your summary

Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes

Would you consider buying the bike? Yes

Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes

How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?

The aluminium framed Salsa Journeyman Apex reviewed by off.road.cc is £1,650, Apex being SRAM's fourth-tier road groupset. This is a lovely bike but it's let down by its weight – at 11.6kg, it's 2.6kg heavier than the Merlin – and the cable-operated (rather than hydraulic) disc brakes.

The Vitus Substance CRX that we tested has a full-carbon frame and fork and a SRAM Apex 1 groupset. That bike is very good value but it's still over £100 more than the GX-01.

The Ribble CGR AL Shimano 105 is considerably cheaper at £1,399. Here you get a Shimano 105 groupset and Schwalbe G-One tyres, as you do with the Merlin, although the frame is aluminium. This is a hugely versatile and superb value bike for everything from gravel bashing to cyclo-cross and road commuting.

All in all, the Merlin GX-01 stacks up well against the opposition in terms of price.

Rate the bike overall for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the bike overall for value:
 
9/10

Use this box to explain your overall score

It puts in a very good performance and it's exceptional value... as long as you don't want frame eyelets for fitting a mudguard and rack.

Overall rating: 8/10

About the tester

Age: 48  Height: 190cm  Weight: 80kg

I usually ride:   My best bike is:

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

2 comments

Avatar
Freddy56 [415 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes

great value!

Ive a kona gravel bike with 650b and just bought a set of Zondas disc on 26c tyres for it.

Did a road race on it last night with a longer stem. Did as OK as usual.

Could we do with one bike? Prob.

Will we, never!

Avatar
bikercat [12 posts] 5 days ago
0 likes

Curious about the sizing, the xl you rode has similar reach/stack figures as my bike, yet I’m 2.5 inches shorter. What size stem did you have please?