Fast, comfortable and precise, the all-new Merida Scultura ticks all the boxes as far as the best road bikes are concerned
- - Fast, yet compliant
- - Lightweight
- - Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 groupset perfectly suited to the platform
- - Impeccable handling manners
- - Generous tyre clearance
- - Superlative communication and traction levels
- - Bahrain Victorious livery is not for everyone
- - No sprint/satellite shifters
Considering the global acclaim received by the current Merida Reacto, the 2022 Merida Scultura comes to market with great expectations. While its predecessor, the Scultura IV, was impressive on many levels, its outdated design geometry and lack of front-end integration saw it fall by the wayside in recent years as rival brands ushered in the contemporary dropped-seatstay silhouette made popular by the aero road bike category. This cost it a perfect score when we tested the Merida Scultura Disc 10k-E last year but that bike, in many ways, represented a swan song of sorts as Merida was putting the finishing touches on the bike you see here.
Development of the Scultura V started as far back as late 2019 and by early-to-mid 2020, it was already in prototype guise, getting stress tested and put through its paces. Merida puts a lot of emphasis on pro-rider feedback, taking into account specific rider demands during prototype testing and includes these suggestions when finalising the product line. Those with an eagle eye would have noticed the Bahrain Victorious team aboard the Scultura V during this year's Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour de France and Vuelta a España - the team received their bikes six months before the official launch. In fact, Jack Haig went on to finish on the overall podium at the Spanish Grand Tour and Merida will say it had a lot to do with the bike he was riding, a bike it claims is better than its predecessor in every way - but is it?
Well, the verdict is in. I've been testing it here on UK soil for the past four weeks in an effort to identify any weaknesses as well as establish how it fares when compared to current leaders in the best road bike category.
Design and aesthetics
The previous-generation Scultura, although well rounded, was starting to show its age in terms of its design language and, while it climbed like a dream, it was let down by a pretty harsh ride quality and total lack of front end integration. To help stand out from the class-leading offerings that comprise the best road bikes, Merida has drawn inspiration from its Reacto aero road bike - a move that sees it adopt the company's new design DNA. As a result, the 2022 Merida Scultura represents a radical design progression over the model it replaces, eschewing the classic climbing bike blueprint for something more Reacto-like.
In terms of the baseline numbers, the new Scultura's geometry is identical to that of the Reacto - a cunning move that ensures both bikes can be set up exactly the same. And while this move was initiated to reduce the disparity between bike setups for professional riders - allowing them to seamlessly switch between bikes depending on the parcours - I feel it's beneficial to the amateur rider, too. Let's look at the numbers... It shares the same compact 989/990mm wheelbase, short 408mm chainstays, head tube (128mm) top tube (54.5cm), head-tube angle (72.5-degrees) and seat tube angle (74-degrees) with the Reacto. Stack (542mm) and reach (390mm) numbers are also exactly the same. Like the Reacto, Merida has kept to its simplified sizing philosophy with six options spanning models from XXS to XL.
Looking at the design - in come dropped seatstays, aerodynamic tube profiling and a one-piece cockpit. These additions have improved ride quality, aerodynamics and weight but also changed the way it looks, bringing it more in line with its contemporaries. As the headline act in the Scultura line-up, the Team version gets the brand's ultra-high-modulus CF5 (40T and 60T) lay-up. These fibres are more complex and time-consuming to lay compared to, say, CF4, CF3 and CF2 grades, but the result is a stiffer and lighter frame. According to Merida, the new Scultura tips the scales at 822g for a medium frame, making it 4.4 per cent lighter than its predecessor. Our small test bike weighed in at 6.95kg without pedals, a testament to the work carried out to make the Scultura competitive in the high mountains. These weight savings, however, have not come at the cost of aerodynamics. Merida was quick to point out it stitched in bits of the Reacto's DNA in an effort to make the Scultura as slippery as possible. While we can't quantify these claims, tweaks include a reduced frontal area including a Reacto-like head tube and fork, a hidden seatpost clamp, lower seatstay anchor points and a super-tidy, cableless cockpit. All this has culminated in a reduction of drag (10 watts at 45km/h).
In terms of the colourways, the Scultura Team can be had in one of two distinct designs: metallic black or Bahrain Victorious colours (pictured here). While the team changed sponsors for 2021, the designers were careful not to deviate too much from the script and retained some of the McLaren orange colours for continuity. As a result, the Scultura adopts a similar colourway to that of its predecessor and siblings, the Reacto and Time Warp time trial bike. Black is still the predominant theme here - taking up nearly 70 per cent of the frame real estate - but it fades diagonally across the top tube, down tube and fork into a striking, deep orange. It looks great and the introduction of the triangular motif makes the colour transition less abrupt. There's more cyan present than before (on the seat tube and upper headset edge), which complements the orange paint and Continental logo.
Components and build
As the range-topping model in the Scultura line-up, the Team version is naturally specced to the hilt and comes outfitted in the recently launched Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 groupset, replete with power meter. The 52/36T, 11-30T chainset is driven by 172.5mm cranks, which has proved ideal for the lumpy topography that makes up my Surrey Hills test route.
As some of you may recall, Merida ditched its longtime partnership with Fulcrum Wheels in late 2019 for Vision and has been using its wheelsets ever since. For this particular build, Vision's Metron 45 SL tubeless-ready wheels have been employed together with Continental GP5000 28c clincher tyres. The Scultura comes standard with a tube-type clincher configuration but can be converted to tubeless - the frame has clearance for rubber widths of up to 30mm.
Unlike the Reacto Team bike which employs a Vision Metron 5D integrated bar/stem arrangement, the Scultura gets an in-house-developed, one-piece Team SL 1P cockpit. It provides a very clean aesthetic and the two-piece spacer design allows riders to tweak things without the need of disconnecting cables or cutting hoses. The headset itself has been designed in such a way that all the control cables are plumbed through the stem and enter the frame via a 'wireport' access point.
The balance of the build comprises a Prologo Scratch M5 saddle with carbon rails, a Merida Team SL carbon seatpost, Merida carbon cages and Prologo Onetouch bar tape.
Ride, performance and handling
The new Scultura may be an out-and-out climber's bike but the smatterings of Reacto DNA has made it incredibly fast in a straight line, too. Hunkered down in a racing position and it will reward you with unrelenting speed - momentum it's able to maintain pedal stroke after pedal stroke regardless of the terrain ahead. While much of this comes down to its aerodynamically-honed shape, the super-stiff CF5 carbon layup - particularly around the bottom bracket - has helped ensure power transfer is immediate.
Aim it towards a climb and it will reveal its playful and sprightly character. It punches up steep inclines and sharp hairpins and makes a complete mockery of gravity. As a package, Merida has struck a superb balance here. The spec level is just perfect and everything works in harmony - especially the Vision Metron 45 SL wheels. They're super fast on flat roads but only truly come alive when the road ahead begins to twist, tilt and dip like a rollercoaster. The communication from the wheels, underpinnings and touchpoints is rich and granular in feel, which allows you to get to grips with what's happening around you, and the extra speed that would otherwise be lost to premature/panic braking lets you scythe down twisty descents with reassuring confidence.
The brakes are a big part of what makes this bike so impressive to ride. While the previous-generation Shimano Dura-Ace stoppers weren't terrible, they lacked a certain degree of sharpness that often led to self-doubt - particularly on descents or technical cornering situations. The new brakes have incredible modulation and improved stopping power which not only allows you to brake later but also play with the weight balance mid-corner for improved front-end grip and exiting speed. The level of connection between rider and bike is so telepathic that you needn't think about what to do next - just pedal, climb, descend, repeat.
The stock tyre setup is excellent, too. Usually, when a test bike arrives, the first thing I do is swap out the standard tyres for tubeless rubber as I prefer the extra compliance and traction benefits afforded by running lower pressure. This time, however, I decided to give the standard inner-tube-type clincher configuration a go and, after a few rides, I felt no need to switch out the 28c Continental GP5000s for tubeless tyres. The Contis supplied a well-balanced distribution of grip, rolling efficiency and compliance - and puncture resistance for that matter.
Over the past two years, Merida has put in a stellar effort when it comes to developing a comprehensive range of road bikes and it shows - particularly with the new Scultura. The build quality is world-class and everything feels solid and well put together. Sure, the bold and in-your-face Bahrain Victorious livery may not be to everyone's liking (me included) but there is a stealthy metallic black option for those who prefer to go incognito.
Dynamically, it's faultless. It's super fast no matter the terrain and is telepathic in the way it behaves and responds to pedal and steering inputs. The new Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 groupset works well in partnership with the bike's underpinnings, too. The brakes are superb, modular and feelsome and the responsive shifting coupled with the stiff frame makes for a lively performer.
It's not just about pure speed though as the Merida Scultura Team's ride quality is nothing short of class-leading. Compliant yet granular, it combines the best of both worlds allowing further comfort to be unlocked through the lower pressures afforded going tubeless.
In terms of pricing, Merida has it nailed. For a bike as lavishly laden as the Merida Scultura Team, the £7,750 / €9,999 sticker price seems hard to believe, and more on par with mid-level rivals such as the Cannondale SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod Ultegra Di2 and Specialized Tarmac SL7 Pro Ultegra Di2. There's nothing currently on the market that comes close to it - not just from a pricing perspective but from the way it rides. The big issue, however, will come in the form of availability and Merida will need to ensure it has enough of a supply to meet the demand, which I'm sure is going to be massive.
As it currently stands, the 2022 Merida Scultura Team is the new benchmark in the best road bike category. It's the new champion and is going to take some doing to beat.
Logbook: 2022 Merida Scultura Team
- Temperature: 18-22 degrees
- Weather: Sunny, overcast
- Road surface: Dry, mixed surfaces
- Route: Tarmac, B roads, rolling topography
- Rides: 14
- Mileage: 711km
Tech Specs: 2022 Merida Scultura Team
- Price: £7,750 / €9,999
- Size: Small, 54.5cm
- Weight: 6.95kg (small, actual without pedals)
- Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 Di2
- Crankset: Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 power meter chainset, 52/36T
- Wheels: Vision Metron 45 SL Disc
- Bottom bracket: SM-BB92-41B, Pressfit 86.5
- Tyres: Continental GP5000 28c
- Brakes: Shimano Dura-Ace RT900 Centerlock 160mm rotors front/rear
- Bar/stem: Merida Team SL 1P
- Seatpost: Merida Team SL
- Saddle: Prologo Scratch M5 carbon
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