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Good scores are more common than bad, because fortunately good products are more common than bad.
The soft shell Merlin Cycles Elite Travel Bike Bag allows secure, easy packing of your bike, with plenty of remaining space for all the items you would usually need when travelling with your bike. It has plenty of straps and handles to make travelling with the bag easy, though some extra wheels might help when pulling it along.
As someone who has previously used a hard shell bike box, the light weight of the bag was instantly the first positive feature I noticed. You further realise the value of a light bag when you can suddenly fit more into your bag and still meet a budget airline's weight limit.
When you come to pack the bike for your trip, the Merlin bag makes the process really easy. Basically, follow the pictures online and there will still be loads of space for other important things such as helmets, shoes and nutrition.
The bag comes with separate wheel bags, with straps to hold the wheels in place once the bike is packed.
There are extra Velcro blocks to keep your chainrings and rear derailleur well protected, plus a sleeve to ensure the handlebar doesn't clash with the headset when taken off.
Once the frame is in place, internal straps keep the bike exactly where you positioned it to avoid unwanted movements in transit. Often, you feel that additional bubblewrap or pipe insulation is worth adding to ensure your pride and joy reaches its destination with no damage, but this wasn't necessary with the Merlin bag.
The proof of the bike protection was that there was no damage or bumps on the bike through my trip, which is goal #1!
A half-kilometre walk to the bus station was absolutely no problem with the bag fully loaded, even with cyclist-level arm strength. It's a little unstable on its wheels when being wheeled across pavements, but absolutely fine once at the airport and for quick walks to the car park. Bike bags of this style tend to only have wheels at the rear, but on balance, it's a worthwhile trade-off to keep the overall weight low.
Being a bike bag, it's obviously something that will be big and bulky, but it was relatively easy to load into a car and manoeuvre onto baggage carousels. It fitted easily into the back of a Ford Fiesta with the rear seats down, if that's a good benchmark.
For someone with limited home storage space, it was also helpful that, when unloaded, the bag folds down to a small size, taking up roughly a quarter of the space needed when fully loaded. This is something not highlighted in Merlin's product information and it's certainly something I would consider when choosing which product to buy.
When you compare the Merlin bag against the other options in the market, it stacks up very well – especially at its current selling price of £199. Discounted, it's still a little more than some basic options from the likes of Chain Reaction and Wiggle; I've not tested those, but I would happily spend the extra £50 or so to get the Merlin's protection and ease of packing.
At rrp it's £20 less than Evoc's equivalent, offering similar features, although you get separate padded wheel bags with the Merlin. We don't score products for value on discounted prices, but comparing the two online the Merlin is around £100 cheaper than the current best deal on the Evoc.
It also comes in cheaper than nearly all hard shell options, although at discount it's currently matched by PBK's Bike Travel Case, down from £474.99.
In general, the Elite Travel Bike Bag does a great job at a good – and currently excellent – price. It looks good, too, in my opinion – its mainly black and grey with green detailing makes it very easy to spot among the usual array of black travel bags at baggage reclaim.
Good quality bag that combines comprehensive bike protection and light weight – and currently at a great price
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Merlin Cycles Elite Travel Bike Bag
Size tested: Unfolded: Length 140cm, Width 30cm, Height 85cm Folded: Length 140cm, Width 30cm, Height 40cm Internal Dimensions: Unfolded: Length 130cm, Width 25cm, Height 80cm
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Merlin says: 'The Elite bike bag is full of clever, user-friendly features designed to help you quickly and securely pack your precious bike in a such a way that significantly helps reduce the potential for damage during transit.'
Totally agree. The bag performs as claimed, designed so packing can be quick and secure. It's built with ample protection to avoid risk of damage in transit.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Heavy Duty Lockable Zips
Internal Padded Fork-Guide
Padded Chainset / Frame Wedge Secures to Base with Velcro
Padded Rear Mech / Frame Wedge Secures to Base with Velcro
Internal Padded Bike Frame-Sleeve
Multiple Internal Security Straps
2x Robust Towing Wheels
External I.D. Pouch
2x Padded Wheel Bags – 700c Diameter
Tool / Spares / Accessories Pouch Included
Collapsible for Easy Storage
Unfolded: Length 140cm, Width 30cm, Height 85cm
Folded: Length 140cm, Width 30cm, Height 40cm
Unfolded: Length 130cm, Width 25cm, Height 80cm
Sturdy build, materials are good quality.
Protects the bike really well, easy to manoeuvre. Only weakness is slight instability while wheeling.
Limited use, but no issues so far.
Its rrp is £380, which is £20 less than Evoc's Travel Bag. But Merlin is selling it at £199, which is very good value for a product that offers similar features to top of the range bags.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Performed well – bike packing was simple and the bag made the process of getting through the airport with a bike as easy as possible. It protected the bike well.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Simple to use, and I liked how small it packed down when not in use. Good looking design.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Extra wheels might make it a little easier to pull the bag.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
It's a very good bike bag that does exactly what you need, at a sensible rrp, and currently at a great discount. It protects the bike well while being easy to pack and transport.
About the tester
I usually ride: Specialized Tarmac Pro My best bike is: Specialized CruX Expert
I've been riding for: 5-10 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, club rides, Gravel on a CX bike