We’ve listed the Merlin PR7 at £650, but it presently has 27% off and could be yours for £475. Perhaps, even more impressively, Merlin – Preston’s long-standing online outfit – is also offering the PR7 ‘Road Bike Starter Kit’ with Shimano Claris for £439 – down from £699. That also gives you Shimano shoes, pedals – Look Keo or Shimano – helmet and even a saddlebag with tools.
If you’re looking to dip your toes into the world of road triathlon for the first time, what Merlin describes as a ‘simple, reliable road bike’ looks like it could be a great place to start, regardless of its spec.
The PR7 features a triple-butted 6061 aluminium frame and a carbon-bladed fork with an alloy steerer. The triple butting reduces tube thickness in the middle while keeping strength at the ends where it’s needed. The glossy black paint with bold Merlin logo belies its modest price and the Mavic CXP 22 rims are a rare sight on a £650 bike, let alone one at £475.
Elsewhere, there’s the usual cost-cutting on a couple of the PR7’s components, notably the non-cartridge brake blocks and the Kenda tyres, but even these are in a 25mm width and both are very easily upgradable; you might want to think about going for the maximum 28mm tyre width when the tyres are worn. We also think a wider cassette than the very aggressive 11-25 fitted would probably have greater appeal to tri newcomers. After all, you can never have a low gear that’s too low, not where we live anyway.
But if you’re looking for a racy introduction to the world of multisport, Merlin has put its century-plus experience to good use. The 10kg weight is perceptible when sprinting or climbing, but once you’re up to speed this romps along and it handles well, cornering and descending surefootedly, although better brake blocks would help with the latter. The current ones stop you safely enough but without the modulation of the best rim brakes.
Throw the RP7 around, aim at the apex and lean into the corner and it’ll repay your efforts in spades, a result of its racy geometry. Our medium size model has a 540mm top tube and a moderate 145mm tall head tube, although 2cm of spacers allows you to adjust this. The 74° seat angle and 72.5° head tube are also at the racy end of things.
We thought that the larger diameter 31.6mm seatpost and the Merlin’s budget 25mm tyres (rather than 28mm rubber) would make the PR7 overly firm on poorly surfaced roads, but it actually surprised us. While no magic carpet ride, the days of rough-riding, backside-beating budget aluminium are thankfully behind us. We also got on with the Merlin Black saddle, although that’s subjective and easily swapped if it doesn’t suit you.
Shifting from the nine-speed Shimano Sora groupset is slick and efficient, although our preference would always be for a lower bottom gear and a wider range overall. It did make for very small jumps between gears, better for competitive riders.
Merlin may not be the most glamorous name, but its RP7 is a fast-riding, entry-level two-wheeled treat. It’ll be overgeared for some, but there’s little to fault about the performance and the Shimano Sora groupset is great at the price, even if the Tektro brakes don’t quite match it.
Verdict: Merlin’s RP7 is a racy little number and some of us would appreciate – or need – lower gears, but it’s a fine, fleet-of-foot, fast-handling bike with a near-complete Shimano Sora groupset.If you’re looking for a bike that can handle tri racing or exist as a budget training workhorse, this Merlin’s a wizard, 85%
Buy from: www.merlincycles.com
More to spend? The Merlin Cordite 105 LTD ED (£1,699) has a carbon frame, full-carbon fork and Fulcrum Racing 3 clincher wheels on the grey and yellow model. The frame has a 990g claimed weight, and the full 105 groupset has a 50/34 chainset and 11-28 cassette.
Less to spend?
The Merlin PR7 Claris (£550) has the same triple-butted aluminium frame, carbon-bladed fork and Mavic wheels, and Shimano’s Claris eight-speed groupset with an 11-28 cassette.