Twenty years after being ridden to victory in the UCI World Road Cycling Championships, De Rosa has resurrected the Merak namesake from the archives and thrust it into the present day. Adorned with a frame shape that's bang up to date with its rivals in the peloton, the all-new Merak is positioned as the Italian marques all-around racer. With a feathery frame weight and a smattering of aero focussed tubing, there's little denying the intention of the new steed.
So with thanks to De Rosa Australia, we spent the better part of the last month putting the buttery smooth steed through its paces. Read on for more of our thoughts.
Who's it For?: The "budget no issue" road bike buyer looking for a genuinely sound alternative to the current crop of flagship all-around race bikes.
What We Liked: The buttery smooth ride quality and power transfer, competitive weight and sublime components.
What We Didn't: Integrated cockpit isn't exactly DIY friendly, modern frame design lacks Italian flair and the fact we had to give it back.
While it may cut a similar aesthetic to many of its rivals in the peloton, the Merak represents a significant departure for De Rosa. Italian brands have long been loved (and loathed) for their left of centre design queues and aesthetics, take the De Rosa SK Pininfarina, with it's swooping rear sail, the fighter jet styling of a Cipollini or the traditional, carbon lugged Colnago C64 for example. Rather the modern, aero frame shape meshed with lightweight climbing prowess shows that De Rosa is a company is not afraid to take on the industry juggernauts.
The frame itself makes use of EPS production technology when laying up the hi-modulus carbon for the frame. Standing for Expandable Polystyrene System, EPS production is where the carbon fibre is moulded around Polystyrene forms and then bonded with pressurisation. EPS is said to aid the carbon in seamlessly melding together, with the end result, a lightweight and rigid frameset with minimal material wastage.
De Rosa claims the heart of the Merak is it's lightest carbon frame currently in production, tipping the scales at 800grams for a painted size 54. A sign of the times, the Merak is disc-specific, but thankfully, it's not electronic groupset specific, opening up a wide possibility of build options for potential buyers. Cable routing for the Merak is exclusively internal, with buyers opting to build the bike from scratch requiring an internally routed bar and stem combination to make use of the all-new ACR integrated cabled headset. While the move to internal cabling undoubtedly cleans up the aesthetic of the bike, this may present some additional challenges to home wrenches who like to tinker with their steeds.
Race Bike Geometry
As the flagship race bike option in the De Rosa product line-up, it should come as little surprise to learn that the geometry leans more towards flat out and fast than upright and stable.
With a sloping top tube measuring at 56.4cm and an overall reach figure of 399mm on our size, 54 made for a ride that was long and low, and well suited to our test riders preferences. A taller 561mm stack height was a nice offset for the longer reach while at 74º, the headtube angle made for a bike that was reactive and agile.
Moving to the back of the bike and short 408mm chainstays aid in power transfer out of the saddle, while the unmistakable and seemingly ubiquitous, dropped seat stays are said to improve vertical compliance and comfort while providing increased aerodynamic efficiency.
The Merak is available in sizes 43 through to 58cm, with orders attracting a lead time of 4-6 weeks. Colours available in Australia include Bianca (white), Blu, Nera (Black/Silver as tested), Azzurro (Pale blue), and Super Silver. Framesets are priced from AU$6,300, whereas complete bikes start at AU$11,800 for a Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc build.
More Than The Sum of its Parts
While the frameset is the star of the show, our tester was adorned with what can only be described as a superbike build kit, and priced at AU$14,500 (as tested), it has a price tag to match. Our example made use of a full Shimano Dura-Ace 9170 Di2 disc groupset, a Dura-Ace C40 disc-specific wheelset wrapped in quick-rolling Vittoria Corsa 2.0 28mm wide tyres and a Vision Metron 6D integrated handlebar and stem.
The Vision Metron 6D bar and stem was an excellent accompaniment for the frameset, with De Rosa painting the bars to match a frameset. Not commonly seen down under, the 6D is typically reserved for WorldTour pros. Weighing in at just 415g, the one-piece unit both soaks up road buzz well and does a sound job when putting the power down. All told, we measured our test bike at 6.9kg with bottle cages, but without pedals.
De Rosa are no strangers to the manufacture of high-end superbikes, and with so few Merak's out in the wild, it's safe to say we were looking forward to putting the bike through its paces. We handed our tester over to our in-house NRS privateer racer to put the all-new Italian stallion through its paces over the course of a few weeks.
To say the Merak impressed would be an understatement, with our chief tester finishing his testing period with a glowing review of the steed. Simply put, the bike was an absolute pleasure to ride, super smooth and comfortable across bumpy and dead roads yet agile and stiff when getting out of the saddle and putting the power down.
Much of that comfort can be put down to the recently revamped fork that reduces road buzz and a frame that can swallow tyres up to 30mm wide. The Vittoria rubber impressed us with its all-weather grip and composure under heavy braking. Additionally, we were also pleasantly surprised at how good the bike felt just cruising around the streets given its somewhat aero/race geometry and integrated cockpit.
After owning, and testing several aero bikes in the past, we can confidently state the Merak felt just as fast on the flats. Additionally, the refined frame shape and integrated cockpit definitely made our tester measurably more efficient at slicing through the wind.
When it came to climbing the bike definitely came into its own. With a weight focussed frame, a carbon layup optimised for stiffness and a beefy BB86 bottom bracket, the Merak was eager to surge forward at the slightest hint of power through the cranks. This feeling was measurably both out of the saddle and tapping away under load. This isn't to say the bike was skittish at all, but the quicker handling characteristics will suit those seeking a bike with more direct handling manners.
If we're being honest, there's little to fault about the bike in operation. The only thing, if anything worth remarking on is the conservative aesthetics of the bike. The sloping top tube, dropped seat stay, aero focussed frame style is definitely in vogue right now. Let's face it, there's only so many ways you design around "the fastest" frame shape, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, in doing so, we can can't help but feel that the Merak has traded in a little of that traditional Italian flair that makes other bikes in the line-up look and feel "special". Think of the Merak as a new-age Ferrari, faster and more refined than ever, but it'll never have the soul of a 250 GTO, or the raw, visceral feel of an F40. Whether that's a positive, or a negative is up to you and what you want out of a bike. For those in the market for a modern race machine such as this, it likely won't matter, however, those seeking something a bit different may look elsewhere as a result.
To sum the Merak up in a few words, it's a full-on race machine that is equally as comfortable for all-day riding as it is for putting the hammer down. Off the peg, it's a bike more at home in the hands of an in-form rider capable of ringing the best out of a bike. However, with a few component changes, the Merak is equally as capable for those wanting a steed that eats up 100km+ Saturday epics and Tuesday night crit races with ease. So if you've got deep pockets, are seeking a ride that's great near on flawless in operation and sure to turn heads out on the road, the Merak is certainly worthy of your consideration.
Thanks to De Rosa Australia for providing the product for this test. Our main tester stands at 178cms and rode a size 54 frameset.