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by Dave Rome
October 14, 2020
Photography by Dave Rome & Tim Bardsley Smith
Endurance road bikes were once the go-to for weekend warriors looking to clock up the miles without pinning on a race number. The general design goals were to offer a more relaxed and upright geometry, a more comfortable ride, and a wider gearing range. And bikes which fit the bill, such as the Specialized Roubaix, Giant Defy, Cannondale Synapse, and Trek Domane were and arguably still are the road bikes best suited to most of us.
However, in recent years it’s felt like these endurance road bikes have lost some of that widespread appeal. This is partly due to many performance race bikes trending to be more accessible in fit, comfort, tyre clearance and gearing offered. Meanwhile, the growth of gravel riding is perhaps also part of the reason why endurance road bike sales have seemingly dwindled.
It has been a while since Merida – one of the world’s largest bicycle manufacturers – offered a true endurance road bike. That changes for 2021 with the new Scultura Endurance. It’s a modern take on where endurance road bikes seem to be headed, and that direction is all about adding versatility through increased tyre clearance. Merida combines that with a relaxed riding position that’s intended for those that spend their days behind a desk, or perhaps are now retired from such a thing.
I’ve been testing the new 2021 Merida Scultura Endurance 7000-E — the top model in the new well-priced range.
Merida typically positions itself as a value-oriented brand, and despite offering a full carbon frame and many modern features, the Scultura Endurance stays true to the company’s affordable pricing reputation.
Every model in the Scultura Endurance range features the same mid-grade CF3 carbon frame and many of the same touchpoints, too. Compared to the company’s top-end race models, the frames are made with a slightly lower grade carbon and resin layup in order to hit a better price point. And hit some impressively competitive price points they do. Models start from as a low as £2,000 / AU$3,199 (Shimano 105-equipped) and top out at just £3,500 / AU$5,299 for the model tested. Worth noting: Merida is not available in the United States.
Merida has loaded the Scultura Endurance with a number of smart disc-brake-specific elements that make it appear more expensive than it is. And while many brands have done similar while moving deeper into the pool of proprietary integrated components, Merida has kept itself somewhat in the wading shallows with open compatibility.
For example, Merida may run the cables and brake hoses through the headset (more on this below), but it does so while using a regular handlebar and stem. Meanwhile, the cabling system works with both mechanical and electronic shifting. At the back, you’ll find a regular round 27.2 mm seatpost.
The cables closely follow the stem before tucking into the frame.
Merida has merged those common components with modern aero cues that extend beyond the neat cabling. The main frame tubes offer truncated NACA airfoil tube profiles, effectively slimmed-down versions of what’s found on the new Reacto race bike. Meanwhile, the massively wide top tube and down tube are all about retaining a high level of frame stiffness.
Equally the top tube is kept fairly flat in its profile and meets with an integrated seat wedge that’s hidden from the wind. And then the seat tube is cut out around the rear wheel, too.
They may be truncated, but the tubes are also extremely wide.
This bike may be stacked with aero elements but no related data has been shared. And that doesn’t really bother me. Look to the massively wide head tube used for that internal cable routing, the upright fit, wide tyres and round-shaped cockpit, and the Scultura Endurance is quite clearly not intended to be an aero race bike.
And that’s where the comfort element comes in. Merida has clearly tried to provide vertical flex in the rear end of the frame. The chainstays are sculpted to produce flex, while the flowing seatstays are impressively thin and wide. Further comfort is offered from that slim 27.2 mm round seatpost, and then there’s the tyre clearance.
I like that this frame uses a standard 27.2 mm seatpost, but I don’t love the position of the seat post clamping wedge. The angle of the bolt and the close proximity to the seatpost means that you’ll struggle to fit most torque wrenches into this spot.
Merida claims you can fit a 35 mm tyre into the frame, and in reality, you can go quite a bit wider. Merida equips measured 33 mm tyres as stock and you could put the surrounding room on Airbnb. Fitting a knobby 35 mm will be no issue, and the only concern with going even wider will be the tread height (a knobby 40 mm gravel tyre fits width-wise, but is too tall). No doubt, the tyre clearance offered here would have been considered generous on a gravel bike from a few years ago.
The massive clearance means there’s room to run full-length fenders, and the mounts for those are stealthily tucked away on the inner side of the seatstays. Then there’s a removable bridge for the fender higher up. Such a removable bridge is becoming a common sight on the latest road and gravel bikes. The Marin Headlands and Chapter2 AO offer similar, for example, allowing a cleaner look for those riding in drier climates.
Merida equips its own heat sinks at both brake calipers.
Merida has also equipped its unique aluminium disc cooling plates which act as heat sinks for each brake caliper. They’re a similar idea to the Ice-Tech fins found on higher-end Shimano disc brake pads and rotors, and simply aim to pull heat away from the brake system and toward a place with constant airflow. They don’t add much weight to the bike and they are removable if you’d prefer a cleaner look.
Plenty of consumers have been demanding brands move back to threaded systems but Merida has stuck with a press-fit design. Here they’re using the Shimano-standard PF86 system, one which has historically given us very few issues. The PF86 shell is wider than an equivalent threaded bottom bracket shell. Merida put that extra width to use with the huge down tube and wide-set chainstays.
One other piece not often seen on a bike of this price is the direct mount derailleur hanger. This is intended for a cleaner fit with current Shimano 11-speed derailleurs and helps to offset the derailleur in a way that makes installing the rear wheel just that little bit easier.
Ok, so something has to give with all of those features offered at such a competitive price point. We can see that on the scales. A medium frame is claimed to weigh 1,124 g, with the matching fork at 411 g. That’s still lighter than a nice aluminium frame, but it will seem quite heavy when compared with all the latest “I can buy a car for that” carbon offerings.
As tested, my medium sample weighs 8.52 kg without pedals. That’s a figure that at first seems quite porky, but isn’t unexpected given the study DT Swiss wheels and wide, puncture-resistant Continental 4 Seasons tyres.
Ok, so the semi-concealed cable routing has enough going on to deserve its own section. The short of it is that the cables enter at the top of the head tube and are directed into the oversized headset for a cleaner look and a claimed aerodynamic benefit (you’ll need a wind tunnel to tell the difference).
All cables are routed through the oversized headset.
The longer version is that it’s a similar system to the likes of FSA’s ACR system (like what Merida’s new Reacto uses) and it retains the use of a regular round 1 1/8″ fork steerer up top. The cables are routed through the headset top cap and then through a unique slotted compression ring that interfaces with the oversized 1 ½” top headset bearing. Of course, this larger headset bearing means the head tube has to be quite rotund.
Personally, I don’t love this design. Yes, it looks pretty great, but it does require a whole other level of mechanical aptitude to work on.
Firstly, both headset bearings and the headset top cap are trapped in place by the brake hoses – something that will present a more costly service bill if or when those bearings ever rust out.
And secondly, it certainly presents additional servicing difficulty when a mechanical shift housing requires replacement. Now that’s not an issue on the Di2-equipped model I tested, but it will be something to be well aware of if you’re shopping for any of the lower-priced models. However, as one saving grace, the mechanical models do use full-length cable housing, so at least replacing a frayed inner cable (assuming the housing is in good condition) is still quick and simple.
The massive tyre clearance, aero cues, clean cable routing and fancy disc coolers only tell a small part of the story here. The more important point is actually the Scultura Endurance’s fit and geometry — a tale of a tall handlebar height (stack) and a few … interesting numbers across the six available frame sizes.
On my medium sample that stack sits at 584 mm, a fairly tall figure brought on by the 175 mm long head tube (before the require headset top cap). By comparison, the Scultura Endurance’s stack sits only 10 mm taller than a new Trek Domane, and is equal to the FutureShock-equipped Specialized Roubaix.
That tall stack certainly has an ideal market out there. Riders who typically have to resort to positively angled stems and a large stack of spacers will be well served here, and it’s quite likely you’ll be able to get the bars almost equal in height with the saddle while retaining a negative rise stem (how fashionable) and a few small spacers.
The reach is longer than a number of comparable endurance road bikes. A simple stem swap solves this.
Where things get a little different is in the reach figure, and the Scultura Endurance is unexpectedly and comparatively long given the relaxed stack. Merida then equips that with a 100 mm stem that just makes the bike feel too stretched for its intended purpose. I swapped the stem for a 90 mm and immediately thought the bike felt better balanced and suited to its intended market.
A number of brands have started to invest greatly in achieving consistent trail figures across all available sizes, with the goal being to create a bike that handles the same regardless of how tall or short the rider is. That doesn’t seem to be the case here — Merida uses the same 48 mm offset fork throughout the six frame sizes. Match that with a sizeable variance to the head angles and there will certainly be a difference in handling characteristics from the smallest to the largest size.
My medium sample offers a fairly steep 73º head angle which provides a race-bike-like 56 mm trail figure with the stock 33 mm tyres. And while that may sound like a handful, it’s thankfully balanced by the one-meter-long wheelbase and 418 mm chainstays. Still, a shorter fork offset for the upper 50% of the size bell curve would be welcomed.
Things get a little stranger with a cyclocross-like 66 mm bottom bracket drop. It’s a tall bottom bracket height for any road bike, but especially one intended for use with big tyres. By comparison, the Trek Domane – which is built around the same 32 mm stock tyres – has a 80 mm drop, while the Roubaix is at 76 mm.
That tall height will reduce the risk of clumsy pedal-strike-induced crashes, and that may indeed be a good thing for newer riders. However, it doesn’t help with the general lack of standover height, nor with providing the best handling characteristics.
I took the Scultura Endurance on everything from fresh tarmac roads to those in desperate need of care, and then threw in a little well-maintained gravel road riding, too. And according to Merida, the Scultura Endurance is built for exactly that type of varied use.
From newer riders to older riders, many will find the Scultura Reacto’s relaxed fit comfortable.
The tall geometry is absolutely the most defining element here and directly impacts how the bike fits and feels. The tall stack is likely to be a good match for those that work at a desk, have average to poor flexibility, and get their exercise on the bike. But while it may put low stress on your back and hips, it does result in less weight on the front wheel and handling that’s vaguer to input than you’d expect from the short trail figure.
Combine the wide tyres and extended wheelbase and this bike is stable at speed and more akin to bikes with far longer trail figures. The exception to that is felt with the tall bottom bracket that can make the bike tip into corners a little quicker than expected.
The handling was certainly improved by shortening the stock stem. The bike became just a little more nimble, and of course, more comfortable when riding in the hoods or drops. And this only became more true as the road surfaces worsened. No doubt most people who’ll benefit from the tall stack will equally benefit by fitting a shorter stem.
That’s a 33 mm tyre in the frame and there’s plenty of room for more.
With generously wide 32 mm tyres as stock, the ride was never going to be unforgiving or rough. When run at low pressures (58 psi for my 71 kg weight) those tyres do a great deal to soak up the imperfections beneath you. Many riders used to narrower tyres will find the ride plush, however, the carbon frame isn’t doing much to assist.
Despite those slender seat stays and skinny seatpost, this frame is actually quite rigid in its ways, especially up front. In fact, its rigidity is comparable to a high-end race bike, and those tyres only go so far to reduce the sting of larger hits that can be felt through the bars, saddle and pedals.
Those seat stays may look flexible, but they’re anything but.
And I’m not alone in this feeling. I lent the bike to my father who I see as the target market for this machine. In his late 60s, he’s had a lifetime of pushing pedals. These days he lives the retired life, riding with road groups multiple times a week on a well kept Trek Domane 6.9 Disc from a couple of generations ago. He too remarked about the ride being stiffer than expected, and the bike feeling more chattery than his personal pick (which is set up with narrower 28 mm tyres).
Look at the size of this thing. There’s no detectable flex here.
That stiffness does carry the benefit of being free from flex. Stamp on the pedals and there’s no sign of the bottom bracket swaying. Push the bike as hard as you want into a corner and the front end will stay completely square to the rear end. That’s all good stuff in a race bike, but I feel the rider buying this bike could benefit from it being a little softer.
Thankfully there is plenty of scope to add additional comfort if ever desired and if budget allows. The stock German-made Continental 4 Seasons tyres – effectively a grippier Gatorskin – are wonderfully versatile, durable and puncture-resistant, but not the most supple-riding things. Add in that the DT P1850 wheels are tubeless-ready and right away there’s an opportunity to further reduce tyre pressure and run faster-rolling tyres.
The fairly generic alloy handlebar and stem do almost nothing to assist with the riding comfort, but with completely standard mounting dimensions they’re easy to change. Upgrading to something like a Redshift stem would give an immediate comfort benefit, and likewise by swapping the stock carbon post for a more compliant model.
Of course, all of this adds cost and somewhat undoes the high value that the Scultura Endurance begins with.
Speaking of value, a Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset on a carbon bike of this price has become a rare sight in 2021 models. As expected the shifting is faultless in function and always reliable. Over time the robotic shifting is likely to help simplify repairs, too. The wide gearing range, with a compact (50/34T) crank up front matched with an 11-34T cassette out rear, is an ideal fit for the bike with its larger tyres.
Shimano’s Di2 is the benchmark for shifting smoothness.
Similarly, Merida hasn’t cut any corners in the brake pads or brake rotors equipped, with each featuring Shimano’s finned Ice-Tech technology. Combined with Merida’s own cooling fins you’ll be hard-pressed to overheat these brakes.
It’s rare to see these tyres equipped as stock. They’re not fast rolling, but they are superbly puncture resistant.
The rolling stock is of equal quality and reliability. Those DT Swiss P1850 wheels aren’t particularly light (1,790 g) or wide (18 mm wide internal), but they are at least built with proven spokes and entirely serviceable hubs. There is some significant weight to be lost and speed to be gained with a change in wheels and tyres, but what’s provided is a great choice for carefree use.
There are highs and lows with some smaller items. For example, Merida’s own saddle is a little on the narrow side for my liking, but it comes with a neat integrated multi-tool tucked behind it. Likewise, the Merida-branded alloy stem offered a subtle aero profile with a classy matching top cap, but unfortunately, that top cap sticks out if you wish to run any headset spacers above the stem (a lower handlebar height).
There’s a multi-tool in the saddle. Too bad I didn’t like the perch.
Finally, the matte blue paint is simple without being boring. Plenty of people remarked how much they liked the finish. Just be warned that matte paints are harder to clean, although Merida has treated the top tube to a gloss finish.
I suspect many people buying this bike are likely coming off something with rim brakes, 23 mm tyres and a position that is all wrong for them. The fit, wide tyres and control of the discs will absolutely blow these riders away and no doubt provide a renewed passion for cycling.
Despite its wide tyres and high bottom bracket, the Scultura Endurance is most certainly still a road bike. It handles like a road bike, offers a lively feel, and most importantly, feels like it belongs on the road. And those wider tyres are just begging for you to go beyond your local road loops.
Merida has come extremely close to answering the needs of an under-serviced market while doing so at a great price. And in many ways they’ve done it, however, I just wish they had done more with the carbon layup to improve the ride comfort. Bikes like the Trek Domane, Specialized Roubaix, Cannondale Synapse or Giant Defy will all provide a smoother ride, but you’ll have to pay extra for such bliss.
The 2021 Merida Scultura Endurance 7000-E.
The Scultura Endurance is intended for road riding, but it goes great on well-kept gravel roads, too.
The rear fender bridge can be removed for a cleaner look.
The headset top cap nestles into the top tube.
The matte paint may be hard to keep clean, but cleverly the top tube is given a gloss finish.
While it may not be built as a race bike, the Scultura Endurance is UCI approved.
The only limitation on tyre size is total wheel diameter.
The down tube makes full use of the oversized head tube. These tubes are large.
The down tube offers a tapered profile.
Both the seatstays and chainstays offer swooping lines.
The brake cooler technology is unique to Merida.
In my haste to build the bike I made somewhat of a mess with the Di2 cable routing. Personally I’d like to see Merida equip the bike with a cleaner solution that doesn’t require a Di2 wire to be run externally from one side of the handlebar to the other, but that’s a fairly minor issue.
The fender mounts are hidden on the inside of the stays.
The rear tyre clearance is assisted with an assymetric chainstay design.
Merida has printed the keys features on the frame just in case you forget them.
Merida supplies a removable hex-based handle with its thru-axles. This can be swapped from front to rear.
Not a single round tube to be seen, except for the seat post and handlebar bolted in place.