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Eddy Merckx EMX-1 2010

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Tested by Jonathan Manning

Review

There's nothing new about sports stars lending their names to products, although I suspect that Eddie Merckx spends significantly longer with the new product development team at his eponymous cycle firm than Roger Federer does with the razor specialists at Gillette.

The question is whether The Cannibal, the finest road racer of all time, can build a bike for mere mortals. The EMX-1 is the answer, a bike whose geometry sits somewhere between racer and tourer, with a slightly shorter top tube that makes it ideal for sportives and long days in the saddle. By raising the stem using three headset spacers, my torso felt as if it leaned at about 45 degrees, similar to the Trek Madone and far more forgiving on the lower spine than the bum-up, head-down position of the Boardman road bikes.

However, among entry level carbon framed bikes it's the Boardman models that set the benchmark. The award-winning Team Carbon is almost half the price of the Merckx, yet its SRAM componentry matches the Shimano 105 on the Merckx, while the Boardman Pro Carbon is still a useful couple of hundred pounds cheaper than the EMX-1 despite having superior gears and brakes and an Olympics-winning frame.

And it's the frame where the competition is going to be won or lost, in a battle that's reminiscent of the way motoring enthusiasts will argue about whether it's better to drive a top of the range, lavishly equipped Mondeo or a similarly priced but much lower specified BMW.

The EMX-1 frame appears lovingly sculpted, the tubes flaring towards the handlebars. The bike I tested came in matt black, stripped back to see the raw carbon - if arms manufacturers ever make a stealth bike I imagine it will be finished like this. Personally I prefer a gloss finish, particularly when carbon fibre makes it easy to eliminate the welding seams visible on steel frames. Compared to the lustrous finish of a Wilier carbon bike, the matt black Merckx looks dowdy, but fortunately it is also available in glossy red and white or glossy black and grey and beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.

Out on the road, the EMX-1 displays Jeckyll and Hyde characteristics. At lower speeds the stiffness of the frame is unforgiving, and road vibrations and bumps feel quite harsh. I also found the bike creaked and ticked and clicked to the point of distraction, and no amount of fettling and lubrication appeared to solve the problem. Perhaps it's the stiffness of the frame or the friction of the joints, but it bugged me.

Above 20mph, however, and it becomes a completely different bike - smooth to the point of gliding and a genuine pleasure to ride. It also transmits power to the wheels with impressive efficiency, catapulting me to an unaccustomed position at the head of club hill climbs, without having to stamp on the pedals, while in the middle of the peloton it's nimble and agile.

The Shimano 105 drivetrain is well tried and trusted, the gears snapping sharply, and the brakes inspiring confidence. But am I being a little greedy to hope that a £1,900 bike might come with Ultegra as a minimum? I'd also prefer a more comfortable perch to the Prologo Kappa saddle, although this is such a popular option that the issue almost certainly lies with my posterior.

Overall, it's easy to spend many happy miles riding the Merckx, and as an entry level carbon fibre bike it's worth consideration. Its compromise geometry is ideal for all but out-and-out racers and time triallists, and the only real question to ask yourself is whether you'd find better value on a more mainstream carbon fibre bike.

At a glance

Verdict Top notch frame credentials applied to a more comfortable racer/tourer geometry, and you pay for the privilege.
Value
Performance

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