Amongst a modern backdrop of ultra-aero megabikes with integrated and airfoil-shaped everything, and pseudo-aero “all rounder” bikes that are slightly lighter — but just as “system engineered” as their stablemates — the Merida Scultura Team-E of Bahrain-Merida rider Rohan Dennis stands out like that one person who stubbornly hangs on to flared jeans after everyone else has moved on to slim-cut.
Merida fits the Scultura Team-E with a “NACA Fastback” semi-aero shape on the down tube and seat tube, both of which should ostensibly help the frame post better numbers in a wind tunnel. However, the company doesn’t pepper the marketing materials for this with any wind tunnel claims to go along with the modest effort, and the overall appearance certainly doesn’t seem nearly as comprehensive as much of is competition.
Merida offers the Scultura Team-E with disc brakes, but Dennis’s bike has traditional dual-pivot forged aluminum calipers that clamp blocks of rubber on to the rims. And about those rims? They’re lightweight Fulcrum deep-section aero wheels wrapped in Continental tubulars, which are only 25mm-wide because that’s all Merida says will fit.
Up front, the cabling is exposed between the bars and frame. The tops of the FSA handlebars are basically round (round!) and clamped in place to the matching forged aluminum stem with a four-bolt faceplate. The FSA carbon seatpost? It’s also round — and 27.2mm in diameter — and secured with a traditional seatpost clamp, not some funky internal wedge thing that works better on a CAD screen than it does on the road.
Science says that this bike should be slow — well, maybe not “slow” per se, but in a relative sense as compared to all those fancier-looking machines in the peloton. Those exposed cables and wires, all those round profiles. So. Much. Drag. Those brakes shouldn’t even work, should they? And my god, how are the wheels even safely attached with those little levers at the dropouts?
Technically speaking, science is right, of course. This bike undoubtedly requires more effort to ram through the air at the same speed as someone riding next to Dennis on a more efficient steed.
But it probably rides amazingly well, and feels fantastic to pedal, wispy-light and oh-so-efficient and snappy. The team mechanics can probably build this up from a bare frame in a couple of hours without cursing. And have I mentioned yet how light it really is? Whereas most bikes in the Tour de France are regularly in the low-to-mid-sevens on the scale, Dennis’ bike is bang-on at 6.8kg, which will undoubtedly ease the pain when the Tour hits the big mountains.
Yes, science says this bike should be slower, and being the time trial specialist he is, Dennis certainly knows that. Chances are, he’s spent a good chunk of his life hunkered down over the aero bars in a wind tunnel, poring over any bit of esoterica that might save him a second here, half a second there. Given that, it’s even more curious that this bike exists with his name on it.
But then again, it’s also entirely possible that, in this case, he just doesn’t give a damn what science says. Whatever the reason, it’s a beautiful machine worthy of admiration. Rock on, Rohan Dennis. Rock on.
There’s a very obvious benefit to going with a more traditionally shaped frame, non-integrated components, and rim brakes, though. Actual weight on Dennis’ bike as shown here is 6.8kg on the nose.
Dennis is commonly said to hail from Adelaide, Australia, but more specifically, he grew up in a neighborhood called Salisbury Heights – and he’s clearly very proud of it.
Merida says the Scultura’s down tube is made with a NACA truncated airfoil profile, but more important in this case is how the overall aspect ratio still allows for a very light and stiff tube.
Merida’s engineers clearly had a specific orientation in mind for the seatpost collar on the Scultura. But what the engineers want, and what the team mechanics want, aren’t always the same thing. Note the “rear” lettering – on the front of the collar as it’s positioned here.
Dennis runs his bars tilted pretty high, but has his levers at a rather traditional angle. And if you’re wondering why there’s a Prologo sticker on the handlebar tape, well, that’s for the cameras, of course.
25mm-wide Continental Competition ProLtd tubulars for Rohan Dennis – as traditional as can be.
The Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 rear derailleur is attached to a Direct Mount hanger, which theoretically provides a stiffer foundation for better shifting. The more practical benefit in this application is that it provides an easier path for the rear wheel to fall out for faster wheel changes.
The SRM Origin power meter is a joint collaboration with Look, whose most obvious visual contribution was the three-sided pedal insert that allows for three different effective crank lengths on the same arm (Dennis runs it in the 172.5mm position). If this looks light and expensive, that’s because it is. Retail price is €1,950 without chainrings.
Nothing integrated to see here, folks! But remember the Prologo sticker on the side of the drops? The FSA stickers up top serve the same purpose – anything to get the logo in front of the cameras.
The Campagnolo hubs rotate on silky-smooth hybrid ceramic bearings, with ceramic balls and cryogenically treated steel races. They’re fast, sure, but also more resistant to corrosion than standard steel bearings.
It might be a little unusual to see a 10mm headset spacer on a top pro racer’s bike, but if it fits, it fits.
Dennis runs his Shimano Di2 sprint shifters right below the hoods, and rotated slightly forward on the drops.
Pro riders have been steadily moving to larger cassettes in recent years. Spin to win.
It’s common practice for teams to run press-fit bottom brackets that come from a supplier other than an official sponsor. But Bahrain-Merida seems happy enough with FSA’s standard plastic cups here.
There’s no chain catcher to be found on Rohan Dennis’ bike, which says a lot about how confident the team mechanics (and Dennis) are in the reliability of the front shifting.
Claimed weight on these feathery Elite Leggero Carbon bottle cages is just 15g each.