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The Merlin Malt G2X GRX is the third edition of Merlin's gravel bike, and gets some welcome tweaks to the geometry and a much wider spread of sizes – all without losing the neutral yet fun ride style of its predecessor. It still offers strong value for money, too.
I rode the previous version of this, the Malt G1X just over a year ago, and I really enjoyed it. Nothing has changed in that respect as the majority of the characteristics have been retained, but thanks to new geometry – focused mostly around top tube lengths – the Malt has become accessible to a larger range of rider heights. I'll get on that in a bit, though.
The Malt has neutral and balanced handling, which makes it ideal as a first graveller, or a bike for those who enjoy spinning for hours offroad without having to focus too much on what's going underneath the tyres. You can just kick back and enjoy the scenery.
That makes it sound a little dull, but in fact, it is the opposite. It's fun to ride because it's so controllable and easy to live with, which also makes it pretty efficient on those longer rides. That's only helped by the comfortable position the new geometry allows.
The steering is still quick enough to deal with the trails, though. It's not quite as sharp as the more race orientated gravel bikes I've ridden, but you can still chuck this thing about should you want to get a shift on.
The GX2 is no slouch through the bends either. There are decent levels of feedback coming through from the tyres, letting you guide it through corners on your desired line making subtle changes if necessary.
As a whole, the Malt is pretty responsive to subtle shifts in body position, which is exactly what you want off-road. Tiny tweaks here and there offset the terrain shifting around beneath your tyres.
This relaxed handling means the Malt isn't as lively as a road bike once on tarmac – in the dry, anyway – but it's not trying to be replacement so it's not exactly a big deal. On its standard 35mm Schwalbe G-One tyres, it rolls well enough it's not a chore through your gravel link-up roads.
Stick a set of wide slicks on, though, and it cruises at a decent pace and covers big miles in relative ease and comfort. Should you press it into commuting duties, its mild manners only help on wet, cold and greasy roads.
If you are doing a lot of road work, one thing to consider is the gearing. The 40/11T top ratio isn't that tall, and you find yourself spinning quite a high cadence on the flats and downhill. If you want a double chainring the Malt GX2 is available in a Claris build with a 50/34 chainset.
At the other end of the cassette though, the 40/42T combination certainly helps drag you up the climbs in the saddle.
At 10.18kg the Malt is no lightweight, but it doesn't feel that heavy out on the road. It's still quite lively, and acceleration isn't hampered unless you have to keep pulling away from a standing start.
The GX2 gets a triple-butted 6061 aluminium alloy frame, and it not only gives a good ride quality but looks the business too. I must admit, I'm more taken by the green/grey paint job on this version than I was with the green/orange on the previous model.
Everything you expect of a modern gravel bike is here, such as flat mount brake calipers, 12mm thru-axles front and rear, and internal cable routing (for the front part of the frame, at least). There are also mudguard and rack mounts, to add to the versatility.
Merlin has also gone for a tapered headset (1 1/8' at the top to 1.5' at the bottom) to boost stiffness under steering and braking loads. It also allows for a larger diameter down tube, to beef up the lower part of the frame.
The Malt GX2 uses a standard BSA threaded bottom bracket – good news for home maintenance – so you don't have to worry about the creaks that water and dirt can create with some press-fit options.
The bottom bracket area isn't exactly massive, and I can get a small amount of flex here, but only when mashing on the pedals.
Fork wise, it's a full carbon fibre job. It's certainly stiff enough to cope with hard braking, yet it gives a comfortable ride quality too.
Tyre clearance is plentiful, as it is on the frame. Merlin says the Malt can easily take 40mm tyres, and I had no issue getting a set of Zipp Tangente Course G40s in there, and they were closer to 42mm on a wide carbon rim. The Malt is compatible with 650b wheels too.
The previous version came in four sizes, but they were all quite large. The GX1 I tested was a 50cm but had a top tube length 565mm, and that was the smallest you could go. That bike's short stem helped the reach a little, but shorter riders could still find it a bit of a stretch.
For the GX2, Merlin has shortened the top tube and lowered the front end a little, while also adding a 47cm frame to the now-five size (47, 50, 53, 56 and 59cm) range.
This one here is the 53cm, and has a 540mm top tube and 160mm head tube creating a reach of 382mm and a stack of 587mm. The head angle is 71.5° and the seat angle 73°, while the chainstays are 435mm long, adding to the stable nature of the handling.
As the name suggests this Malt GX2 model is equipped with Shimano's gravel-specific GRX 600 groupset, albeit with GRX 400 brake calipers. It's a very good groupset with great shifting and plenty of braking power, even when the conditions are horrendous.
The benefits of GRX aren't just in the lower gear ratios and options of a 1x chainset – one of the biggest is the shape of the brake lever. Unlike the road versions, GRX is flattened where you rest your fingers, and on rough, fast sections this helps a lot to stop your hands slipping off the lever. Their shape works really well with flared handlebars, too.
The Malt has 160mm rotors front and rear, which gives plenty of stopping power, and as with all Shimano hydraulic systems they have massive levels of modulation to stop you locking up even on loose gravel.
There was a bit of squealing from the discs when they were new, but after a couple of off-road rides, they were bedded in and running smoothly.
The GRX chainset here comes with a 40T chainring and an 11spd 11/42T cassette, which is part of Shimano's off-road SLX range. Jumps between gears can be quite large, which can be noticeable if you ride within a very narrow cadence range like a lot of roadies do, but they're easy to adapt to over time.
The shift feels solid and precise even on the rough stuff, while the clutch-enabled rear mech keeps the chain taut, quiet and stuck to the chainring.
FSA supplies the seatpost, stem and handlebar. It's good quality and I wouldn't be rushing to upgrade any of it – everything just works. The Adventure Gravel bar has a good flare at the drops for stability at speed, and it's plenty stiff enough for efforts out of the saddle.
The stem and seatpost don't have the most exciting jobs in the world and basically, you don't notice them. They keep the handlebar and saddle firmly in place and that's all you want, really.
The saddle is a DDK. It's not my favourite – after using maybe 200 saddles over the years, I have a few – but neither is it the worst I've ever sat on. Take whatever lukewarm conclusions from that you will. There's plenty of padding and it's pretty supportive, though, so you might well get on with it.
Schwalbe's G-One tyres are a very good choice indeed, especially if you're mostly heading offroad. Despite their knobbly 35mm widths they roll well on the road, plus they're very supple for a great ride feel. This All-Round RG model isn't tubeless, though so if you want to go down that route, be aware.
Offroad they work best on hardpacked gravel and by-ways, but as the weather gets wetter and the mud starts to blossom (pretty sure that's how it works), you'll need something with a bit more tread for grip.
The wheels are Merlin's GDA-1, designed for gravel and based around 32mm deep, 25mm wide aluminium alloy rims. These are strung to Shimano RS470 hubs featuring cup and cone bearings.
Both the front and rear wheel have 32 spokes for strength and stiffness, which mean they have stood up well to all the abuse of testing. You could drop a bit of weight by upgrading them, but as with the finishing kit, I wouldn't bother straight away as they are a capable set of wheels.
The RRP for this build is £1,399, but that's been discounted to £1,199 and Merlin confirms it will remain there. A frameset can be had for £349.
At that new £1,199 price it matches the Ragley Trig Gravel, but that's steel-framed so a bit weightier, and comes with a Tiagra 10spd groupset and cable-operated discs.
Meanwhile, Giant's Revolt 1 undercuts the Malt by £50, but also comes with a lower spec – and you're tied into their odd stem and brake system, Conduct, which mates mechanical levers (Tiagra in this case) with hydraulics integrated with the stem.
The updated GX2 takes everything good about the previous GX1 and just makes it better. The tweaked riding position feels great and makes the whole bike even more fun to ride, while you can't fault the build for its quality groupset and frameset at this price.
Everything else can be upgraded at your leisure, should you even choose too – nothing screams out for it.
For me though, the biggest thing is the Merlin Malt's versatility. It's gravel and adventure bike at the weekend, and a commuter during the week – all with just a change of tyres.
Refined geometry makes the GX2 fast and fun on any terrain, and the spec list is quality for the money
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Merlin Malt G2X GRX 2021
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: Lightweight, Triple Butted Aluminium, 12mm Thru Axle - Flat Mount, Mudguard & Rack Mounts
Fork: Carbon, 12mm Thru Axle - Flat Mount
Wheels: Merlin GDA-1 - 700c
Tyres: Schwalbe G-One - 700x35c
Gear/Brake Levers: Shimano GRX600 - 11 Speed
Front Derailleur: N/A
Rear Derailleur: Shimano GRX812
Chainset: Shimano GRX600 - 40T
Cassette: Shimano SLX M7000 - 11/42T
Chain: KMC X11 - 11 Speed
Pedals: Not Included
Seatpost: FSA Gossamer
Handlebars: FSA Adventure Gravel
Handlebar Tape: Black Cork Tape
Stem: FSA OS168
Brake Calipers: Shimano GRX400
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 Merlin Malt G2X GRX is our top of the range aluminium gravel bike. The third generation of our versatile gravel bike range features tweaked geometry, offering more comfort and stability as well as a more inclusive sizing range. With improved geometry and the simply effortless performance of Shimano's acclaimed GRX groupset, the Merlin Malt G2X GRX is our best aluminium gravel bike yet!"
It works very well on gravel, with enough versatility to take on the road as well.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
A model with the higher spec GRX 810 is available for £1,450, while the frameset only is £349.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
It's a good quality frameset finished with hardwearing paint.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is triple butted 6061 grade aluminium alloy, while the fork is full carbon.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The geometry has been tweaked from the previous model, with a shorter top tube and head tube for a racier ride position. That means that the Malt feels responsive off-road.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
There are no offical stack and reach figures, but a quick measure gives 587mm and 382mm respectively for this 53cm model. That is pretty typical for this style of bike.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Ride quality is pretty good for an aluminium frame at this price. I had no issues with any harshness, even with the tyres pumped up firm for road use.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Overall stiffness is good. At maximum power like when sprinting up climbs I could feel a tiny amount of flex at the bottom bracket, but for the type of riding the Malt is designed for it really isn't an issue.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Its weight takes the edge off of acceleration from a standing start, but other than that it offers decent efficiency from a mixture of gearing, tyre choice and comfortable geometry.
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? Neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The handling is well balanced, which means it never feels a handful even when pushing it through the bends off-road. It's a very easy bike to ride.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I didn't quite get on with the saddle, but it may suit you perfectly.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The cockpit delivers plenty of stiffness for riding hard.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
If you spend a lot of time on flat roads or tracks, you might want to up the gear ratios a bit. For changing terrains off-road, though, the standard range works well.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The GRX 600 groupset works really well, bringing the performance of Shimano's road range to the gravel. The lever shape is especially good for grip.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
A solid set of wheels should stand up to plenty of abuse.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
A good tyre choice for switching between the road and hard-packed surfaces. You'll need something with bigger tread for the winter months though.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The FSA components all do their job, and I'm a big fan of the hand positions afforded by the stiff, flared handlebar.
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?
It's a little pricier (fifty quid) than Giant's similar Revolt 1, but comes with a much better spec. It's also competitive against others, such as the Ragley mentioned in the review.
Use this box to explain your overall score
The Malt GX2 is a very good all-round package, starting with the versatile frameset and finished off with a great spec. It's good price, too.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!