Pro bike: Rohan Dennis’ Merida Scultura Team-E — the outlier

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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.

Is the Scultura Team-E as aero as, say, the notably sleeker Specialized S-Works Tarmac, Cannondale SuperSix Evo, or Scott Addict RC? Seems unlikely.

Seat clusters like these are usually meant more for structural efficiency (read: low weight) than aerodynamic efficiency. Note the little “1” on the back of the seat tube, too. Every rider at the Tour will have multiples of each bike, and it’s important to keep them separately identified.

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?

External cable routing, rim brakes, integrated nothing – science will say that it’s slower, but it’s also somehow refreshing to see, too.

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.

 

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