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by Dave Rome
February 3, 2020
Photography by Dave Rome
As far as cycling names go, there is none greater than Eddy Merckx. And even though he retired from the sport well before personal computers became useful, your English-based spell-checker knows exactly who he is. Heck, even a stranger walking their dog past me recently may not have known much about modern bicycles, but they remarked: “Eddy was a legend in cycling, right?”
And now, Eddy Merckx bikes are back on the world stage. Merckx himself sold his company many moons ago, but only recently did the trademark come under the ownership of the Belgium Cycling Factory, the same owners as Ridley. As a result, the famed Belgian cyclist now finds his name emblazoned on a whole new range of Belgian-designed bikes and with a large enough investment to see them back in the WorldTour.
While the brand’s sponsorship of AG2R-La Mondiale may be where the bikes are most visible, there’s more than just performance racing bikes on offer. Eddy Merckx’s new range is split into two distinct areas – carbon fibre bikes and steel bikes, with the latter all given the “MyCorsa” title. Within that steel bike range are pre-made and reasonably priced production bikes out of Taiwan (like the one I’m reviewing here) or the option to go full custom, with frames made in Belgium by a builder who Eddy himself trained back in the day.
I’ve been testing the Hageland, the true gravel bike in Merckx’s new MyCorsa range. It’s a bike that merges classic styling with a do-it-all approach to adventure riding.
Hageland is situated in the Flemish region of Belgium and gets its name from the dense, low forest and undergrowth of the area. Rich in gravel back roads, it’s a fitting name for a Belgian-designed gravel bike.
While Eddy Merckx bikes have a storied history with Columbus tubing, the Tig-welded Hageland frame is constructed with an unidentified “Eddy Merckx Signature” double-butted steel tubing. The tubes are 0.9/0.6/0.9 mm wall thickness on the downtube and a 0.8/0.5/0.8 mm on the top tube.
Some premium details can be seen in the chainstays and seatstays — these are dramatically curved like a fine swooping road. The drive-side chainstay gets a modern trick in the use of a steel plate yoke that boosts tyre clearance without hindering space for chainrings. And up front a formed headtube holds the drop-in style tapered headset.
That yoke provides the Hageland with room for up to a 700C x 46 mm tyre and a double chainring, all while using standard road cranks and wheels. A modest number of mounting points are given, including: toptube bag mount points; front and rear pannier and fender mounts; everything-type mounts on each side of the carbon fork blades; two regular bidon cage mounts found within the front triangle; and another on the underside of the downtube.
Chainstay yokes are becoming a common sight on modern gravel bikes, and they help to resolve common clearance issues.
Such tyre clearance and mounts are new-age to dropbar bikes, but the Hageland retains a number of classic cues. The top tube is only gently sloped, and meets up with traditionally high seatstays. Between those road cranks sit a good old fashioned English threaded bottom bracket. There’s no provisions for a clean internal Di2 setup here, rather the segmented gear cable routing is left entirely external (and exposed) and runs along the bottom of the downtube (the brake hoses are internal, at least until the bottom bracket).
The seatpost is a simple rounded 27.2 mm item, and held in by — gasp — a regular external clamp. And then there’s the classy, classic two-tone paint with heritage Merckx graphics.
The Hageland’s ride somewhat surprised me, I was expecting a bike with subdued handling and a soft, comfortable feel. Instead the Hageland handles and rides like a performance bike with a familiar quickness and eager stiffness.
There’s a cliche in cycling that steel frames offer a magical steel-is-real feel, but like any material, it’s how the material is used that matters most. And perhaps a sign of the Hageland’s surprisingly affordable price, the ride quality is somewhat talkative without being annoyingly chattery. For example, when rolling along on a typical repaired road I could feel the lines and inconsistencies through the saddle and bars, but not in a jarring way. Rather it was just enough to provide feedback on what my tyres were doing.
Installed is a 650B x 48 mm tyre, and there’s daylight around it.
Off-road this feedback obviously becomes a little more obvious, but the Hageland still does well to remain poised, planted, and best of all, balanced in feel, front to rear. Comfort can always be added with larger rubber, and the ability to equip a flexible 27.2 mm seatpost, but regardless of what is done this frame will always better suit a rider seeking some feedback from the ground beneath.
Twisting the frame reveals only the slightest amount of flex between the bottom bracket and headtube, and the bike holds a desired line without argument. Such stiffness means the bike responds well to your manual input but there’s also no hiding the weight that sits within this frameset. With a frame weight nearing 2,000 g and a fork that’s exactly half that again, the bike may be efficient with transmitting your input, but it doesn’t jump forward like lighter bikes do.
With five sizes on offer, the Hageland’s geometry offers a fairly typical and proven approach to a gravel bike. In most cases, the key figures are most comparable to a bike like the Giant Revolt Advanced, but with a little quickness in the steering that’s closer to what’s expected of a cyclocross bike.
The Hageland’s geometry. All sizes (except the small, at 72 mm) feature a 70 mm bottom bracket drop.
For example, the Hageland’s 72º head angle (medium size) and 50 mm fork offset (the same as used across all frame sizes) provide a 63 mm trail figure with 700C x 40 mm rubber, and a quicker 59 mm figure with a 650B x 48 mm setup. By comparison, the Giant Revolt Advanced has a 72 mm trail figure with 700C x 40 mm rubber.
This quickness gives a lively and agile feel to the bike, and one that ensures the bike retains its edge even with a load strapped to the handlebars or bolted to the fork mounts.
The Hageland’s reach figures are fairly traditional and are based around the use of a road-length stem. There’s nothing out of the ordinary for the stack figures, either, and along with the aluminium-steered fork, there’s plenty of scope for finding a preferred handlebar height.
The almost horizontal toptube won’t do you any favours for stand-over clearance, but it does leave plenty of room for frame bags and large bottles. And while there are certainly many bikes with more mounts, I found the Hageland to strike a nice balance of mounting options while retaining a clean and uncluttered aesthetic.
The minimal graphics and elegant sufficiency of mounts add an element of class to this ride.
As with any bike which offers generous tyre clearance, it’s important to consider how the wheel size will impact handling. In my case I found myself preferring the bike most when used with 700C x 40 mm rubber. The larger wheel tamed the steering just a touch and gave a hair of extra pedal-to-ground clearance when compared to using a smaller 650B wheelset.
Those smaller wheels, however, do help to entirely avoid the potential for toe overlap. The larger 700C wheels produced just a whisp of overlap on my medium sample.
I typically don’t comment on the aesthetics of bikes as it’s more subjective than saying what bartape is best, however, I can’t help myself with this bike. That paintwork is like George Clooney: timeless, classy and looks like it could be featured in a Nespresso advert.
The segmented gear cables are a classic touch, but are likely to introduce greater maintenance needs with time.
The external and segmented (exposed) gear cable routing leaves me feeling torn. As a mechanic, so often have I whinged about poorly executed internal cable routing, and just how simple and pleasing it is to work on bikes with external and exposed cables. Additionally, shifting is never better or more free from friction than a bike set up with freshly-installed exposed cables. However, fresh cables are a very important caveat here, and things don’t stay fresh for long when in the firing line of a knobby front tyre.
Mountain bikes stopped using exposed cables years ago and moved to full-length housing to stop dirt from creating multiple points of friction. And it seems that the Hageland could perhaps benefit from this lesson, or at least work out a way to provide the consumer with the option for running either full-length or segmented gear housing. At least then the gear cable would also match the rear brake hose which is routed through the downtube (and then run externally from the base of the tube).
See that cable stop? I caught my heel on it a few times.
Combining thru-axles and wide tyre clearance with road cranks is always going to introduce heel clearance issues, and thankfully, the curvy bends of the Hageland’s rear end do well in this regard. However, further to the cabling confusion, the placement of the rear derailleur cable stop at the chainstay has proven to be an error, and while my heels clear the chainstays, I did find myself accidentally catching the cable stop when riding hard up semi-technical off-road climbs. Merckx could easily fix this by removing that cable stop and instead running one long piece of housing along the bottom of the chainstay – attached with a cable tie.
The aluminium fork steerer also has me running my own internal debate. On one hand, an alloy fork steerer isn’t something you need to be as cautious about: there’s no expander plug to slip, no carbon to crush and little fear of a manufacturing wrinkle leading to endless dental bills. However, on the flip-side, an alloy-steerer fork does feel out of place on a frameset of this price and it misses the ever-so-slight comfort benefits that some carbon steerer forks manage. And yeah, it weighs a kilogram!
These simple wind-up thru-axles work just fine, but I’ve found they require a surprising amount of hand force before brake rub disappears.
The Hageland shares similar thru-axles to those used on the Giant Contend AR, and again, I found myself having to do them up tighter and with more hand-force than expected in order to prevent disc rotor rub under hard efforts.
At US$1,349 / €1,119 / £1,099 / AU$1,699 for a frameset, the Hageland sits well above the likes of Soma and Surly and is squarely pitched against the likes of Ritchey and Salsa. For the money, you’re also looking at a number of nice aluminium options, and some good carbon ones, too. There’s certainly a tonne of competition at this price point, and the manufacturing quality and aesthetic appeal of the Hageland is competitive.
There are a number of thoughtful elements to this frame, and I do truly love the classic lines and graphics. However, a bike nudging this price should have its own character and I can’t shake a certain feeling that this bike could have almost any small- to medium-sized brand name emblazoned on it and brought to market.
That’s perhaps an unfair criticism as having the Cannibal’s name on a bike shouldn’t need to magically turn it into something out of this word. And yet, I feel that to be true to the Merckx name, perhaps this heritage-like frame should be made from Columbus tubing, and offer a ride quality that’s just a little bit closer to the old-school “steel is real” feel – even if that bumps the asking price into another bracket.
I’ll leave you with a caution to not base your buying decision on my subjective conclusion, and rather make your decision on the highs and lows covered earlier. As a well-priced, easily-serviceable, versatile and fuss-free bike, the Hageland will surely make plenty of people happy; but given the name attached to it, I was just left wanting a touch more refinement.
Eddy Merckx offers the Hageland as a frameset or complete bike, however, the complete bike options do vary from region to region. My test sample is a limited edition 650B build (AU$4,999) that’s specific to FE Sports, the Australian distributor for Eddy Merckx.
The Australian-spec 650B Hageland as reviewed.
This build consists of a SRAM Force 1x groupset, 3T Discus C35 Pro wheels, 3T cockpit and Panaracer Gravelking SK tyres.
I found the equipped 11-42T cassette and 44T chainring to be a little too limiting when riding off-road, and I’d rather elect for a 42T chainring and ideally upgrade to a 10-42T SRAM cassette to regain the gearing at the other end.
It’s little details like this that I find a nuisance when working on bikes. There are many tool types that can’t be used with such a stem.
Additionally, I just can’t in good conscience recommend many of the 3T components equipped. The Zero25 seatpost has a tendency to slip, and requires a T27 bolt to tighten (show me a regular multi-tool — not a bit-based multitool — with that tool size.) And if the seatpost wasn’t enough, the rear-facing bolts on the 3T Apto Team stem require a special ball-ended long-reach socket in order to be tightened with a torque wrench, and again, most multi-tools can’t help you there. Such component choices are frankly silly for a bike that’s designed to go into remote areas.
Finally, the 3T wheels are just a little ho-hum. The asymmetric rim design puts the valve at a weird angle that sticks out wider than the spokes, and they were just generally harder than expected to get setup as tubeless.
Simply put, I’m not a huge fan of a number of the component selections used on this Australian-based sample and would much rather choose the AU$4,799 Ultegra Disc version (which also features the wrong choice in chainring sizes and frustrating 3T cockpit) or better yet, the frameset if it were my own money.
Eddy Merckx offers the Hageland in a choice of either Desert Sand or Mist Grey (tested) paint schemes. Only the Mist Grey is available to those in Australia, which I personally feel is the better looking of the two options.
After years of the bikes simply being branded “Merckx”, the Belgium Cycling Factory decided it was time to bring the original “Eddy Merckx” branding back to the bikes.
The Hageland is a versatile machine with an eager handling feel.
The fork offers handy mounts on the carbon blades, however, the alloy steerer tube points to this being a price-point fork.
The frame tubes are held together with clean and consistent welds.
Eddy Merckx provides the Hageland with traditional fender and rack mounts. No special adapters needed.
The 650B x 48 mm tyre fits comfortably at the back.
Another look at that chainstay yoke. There is clearance to fit a double chainring setup on this frame. A band clamp front derailleur is required.
Both the seat and chainstay are manipulated to swoop around the tyre and still provide ample heel clearance. Sadly it was spoiled by a single protruding derailleur cable stop.
Traditional cable stops make it easy to set up and adjust the gear. However such segmented and exposed cabling has its own issues.
Weirdly enough, the brake hoses are run internally through the frame and fork.
In the case of the rear brake line, it exits just before the bottom bracket and then follows the left-side chainstay.
We’re starting to see a number of companies use a single-piece dropout and and brake mount. The hageland instead sees the flat mount brake mount welded to the chainstay.
My sample was built with 3T Superghiaia Team handlebars and I found them to be pretty comfortable.
And another look at the bent stays that make up the rear.