Merckx designs bikes in two geometries for two purposes: the pro for racers, and the performance (seen here) for longer days in the saddle. Compared to the pro, the performance geometry gains 20mm in head-tube height (193mm on our 51cm ride/effectively 57.7cm), and a shorter wheelbase (99.8cm) and reach(38.3cm). This gives a slightly more relaxed, upright position than the flat-backed stance on the pro. Don’t be fooled into thinking the EMX-1 is a cruiser though – there’s plenty that makes it a high performer.
The oversized lower headset stack and burly all-carbon aero-bladed fork make for a front end that’s as surefooted and stable as those on most pro-level race machines. This theme continues through the main frame’s large diameter down-tube and oversized bottom bracket. The chainstays taper from deep and wide to a more conventional shape at the rear dropouts, giving a decent blend of solidity where you need it and shock absorption at the rear wheel.
Out on the road the Merckx excels. The shorter position offers the opportunity for you to take a break and breather, but get your race face on and hustle and it feels perfect. On the hoods or the drops it rides brilliantly – balanced and purposeful with a solidness that could only come from the mind of a pro rider. Meanwhile, the handling on twisty, fast descents is exactly what you’d want.
The comfort level of the ride is a positive too; it isn’t a plush, surface-smoothing grand tourer but it counters vibration by skipping over the road, thudding through bigger hits such as potholes and never knocking you off line. Short, sharp climbs are handled with ease, the chassis being quick to react, with the decent middle-weight Racing 5 wheelset a great companion.
That said, the frameset is such a charmer that it would easily withstand being upgraded with a lighter set of hoops when these have seen better days. Longer, in-the-saddle climbing efforts are helped by the Ultegra compact chainset, the 34-tooth ring and largest 25-tooth sprocket at the rear giving a lowest gear that will see you over most climbs. The only hindrance is the hard, wide-nosed saddle, which was difficult to find a comfortable position on. Much of this is down to personal preference though. The tyres are grippy and confident on descents but feel sluggish uphill; they’re tough but we’d favour the lighter Pro Slick versions for a bike this swift-riding.
So the frameset’s a gem and full Ultegra is as good as any of us really need. But some compromises have been made to hit the price, and the all-alloy FSA bar/stem package is lower grade than the rest, though the compact shape is great. The killer frameset is also available with Shimano 105 and Racing 7s for £400 less.
Our time with the EMX-1 has proved that to make a comfortable bike for endurance riding – read ‘sportive’ – you don’t have to scrimp on handling in place of cushioning. This bike boasts a confident, high performance chassis that has just the right amount of comfort yet is ruthlessly efficient. Aside from a few small spec niggles, it’s just about ideal.