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Merlin have been building high-end bikes for well over 20 years now, and although the US brand has seen many changes over that time including a change of ownership and a move across the country, its frame material of choice remains titanium – custom drawn 3/2.5V ti, if you want the details.
Where the Cielo road bike differs most significantly from the rest of the Merlin range is that it comes with a unidirectional carbon top tube and down tube. Or rather, the central sections of those tubes are carbon, slotting into lengthy sections of titanium that act as lugs at either end.
Merlin alter the amount of manipulation and butting applied to the tubes according to the size of frame, but all the models double-butted seatstays that snake out, then in, then out again as they travel from the seat tube to the rear drop outs. We’re not convinced this S-bend makes a jot of difference to the ride-quality but, on the other hand, it looks cool.
The titanium tubes will last forever. They’ll never corrode and you’d have to whack them really hard to put a ding in them. If you ever scratch the surface, you just get out the wire wool and buff it out – good as new! The carbon fibre top tube and down tube add four extra joints to the frame, but we’ve got no reason to think they won’t stay the distance.
The frame is available with a Easton EC90 SL fork and a Chris King headset for £3,499 - reassuringly expensive, then. All Merlins use an external headset (where the bearings sit in cups that live outside the head tube and the Chris King unit just can’t be beaten. It’s been the best in the business for years providing superb performance and requiring minimal maintenance. Our test bike came with a Reynolds Ouzo Pro fork, SRAM’s flagship Red groupset components, and Reynolds Assault deep-section wheels. You’d be looking at upwards of six grand for that little lot.
It’s worth noting that as well as being available in seven sizes from 49 to 61cm, you can also get the Cielo made to measure if you're willing to pay more. In for a penny, in for a pound… an extra £420, to be precise.
When you spend this much cash on a bike you’re allowed to expect the ride to be a little bit special… and the Cielo delivers. You hear some right old nonsense spouted about the benefits of titanium (ti is whippy and springy? Yeah, right!) but the bottom line is that it can be built into stiff, strong, lightweight frames that perform superbly out on the road, and that’s exactly what you get here.
Tipping the Roadcc scales at 16.1lb/7.3kg (55cm model, built up, without pedals) with a frame weight of 1,330g, there’s not much to blunt your acceleration. The Cielo charges up to speed whether you’re coming out of a tight bend or you just fancy scaring your ride mates with a swift change of pace. You kick, the bike responds instantly. It’s a great feeling.
Get out of the saddle to jump on the pedals and haul on the bars and there’s really not a lot of noticeable flex between the two ends of the bike. Don’t worry, even if you’re an absolute hammerhead, the carbon centre section will hold everything together just fine – no bending, no creaking, nothing there to worry you at all.
Of course, a lot of the acceleration comes down to speccing the frame with the right equipment, especially the wheels, so choose carefully. The Reynolds Assaults on our test model weigh 1,550g the pair, so they’re not mega-light, but with 46mm deep carbon rims they are highly aerodynamic to help you eat up the flat miles effortlessly. They’re also very stiff – we had virtually no flex at all when jumping out of the saddle to crank it up or railing downhill corners as fast as we’d dare.
Back to the Cielo frameset, though, over rolling roads, it’s a delight. All that titanium and carbon does a good job of neutralising road buzz to keep you comfortable during long rides. You won’t get the Reynolds’ Ouzo Pro full-carbon fork that we had, but the full-carbon Easton EC90 SL blends strength and lightweight performance equally well. The result is a bike that you can just sit and pedal for hours in comfort; it would make a brilliant sportive machine.
Downhill? Again, the Cielo takes everything in its stride. Our Reynolds fork damped out the vibrations effectively to keep things from going blurry at speed and held its line when we threw it into sharp bends, and your Easton model will do the job just as well.
So, in terms of its ride, the Cielo is first-class. Stiff, light, comfortable... It’s hard to fault. But is that because of the carbon top and down tubes? It’s impossible to say for sure but we’d guess not, to be honest. We can’t help feeling that the carbon fibre is there more because carbon fibre is a Good Thing when it comes to boosting a bike’s appeal, rather than providing any performance benefits. That said, it is one gorgeous frame.
As for the price, well, if you’re looking for a bargain, you’ve come to the wrong place. Merlin don’t do cheap and cheerful. Try thinking of it as a long-term investment in your health and the price might not seem quite so steep.
A fabulous frameset built to incredibly high standards... at a monster of a price
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Make and model: Merlin Cielo
Size tested: 55cm
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Merlin use custom drawn 3/2.5V titanium tubing, with size-specific manipulation and butting. The top tube and down tube are unidirectional carbon fibre bonded into what are effectively extended titanium lugs.
The frame comes with an Easton EC90 SL full-carbon fork and a Chris King headset.
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 Merlin Cielo is a high-performance road bike. The manufacturers say this…
“For years, Merlin engineers envisioned a bicycle that fused classic beauty and superior ride quality. Once the Cielo was formed, their aspiration became a dream on two wheels. It is no coincidence that we called it the Cielo, which is Italian for Heavens. The frame is constructed from refined carbon fiber and expertly hand-crafted and engraved titanium to create a bicycle that holds true to its name. It is the best of everything – a combination of the most exotic modern materials, hand crafted precision, and performance to match.”
We agree that it provides everything you’d expect from a top-end road bike in terms of speed and agility along with a beautifully comfortable ride.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Lovely. Merlin’s attention to detail is first rate. The weld’s are super-neat and the engraved details on the frame, like the head tube badge, are a touch of class, showing that this really is a premier product.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Merlin reckon that their titanium tubes exceed aerospace standards for precision and uniformity.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Head tube angles on the Cielo range from 72.5° to 74°, depending on the frame size. They get steeper as the bikes get bigger. The exact opposite is true of the seat tube angles.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Unlike many brands, the Cielo's stated size relates exactly to the seat tube length, which makes life a whole lot easier when picking the right size.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Very. The titanium/carbon frame and the carbon fork work together to dampen road buzz and provide a really comfortable ride.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too felxible?
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, even when powering out of the saddle, it's snappy and efficient without much sideways movement in the bottom bracket.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
A little bit, but you'd have to be turning really sharply for that to be an issue. Not a problem.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral. And accurate.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Solid all-round performance – it climbs well, behaves on the descents and is a comfortable mile-eater on the flats. And so it should be at this price!
Did you enjoy riding the bike? The distributors want it back, right? Shame.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes. Of course, there’s the minor matter of raising the funds to pay for it. But if the right numbers come up on the Lottery…
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? If I had rich friends I would.
Age: 37 Height: 1.82m Weight: 69Kg
I usually ride: Specialized Tarmac Pro My best bike is: Van Nicholas Aeolus
I've been riding for: 22years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: Time trials, sportives, triathlons, occasional crit races, training, commuting
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, 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 winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.