Back in the 1990s there were two companies that raised the bar on titanium bicycle frames and while both Litespeed and Merlin hit rough patches it looks like each has found its way back. While Litespeed is now a key component of the American Bicycle Group, Merlin could be spinning its own bicycle magic very soon.
The company was acquired by Competitive Cyclist, an online specialty retailer of road and mountain bikes, in 2011. Instead of just utilizing the Merlin brand moniker with products that wouldn’t live up to name, Competitive Cyclist took the brand for a sabbatical of sorts.
“We wanted to make sure we delivered a bike that was made in America, made of American materials and made with American labor,” said Zach Spinhirne-Martin of Competitive Cyclist. “As a result it took two years of talking to everyone we could from the Merlin of old.”
This included collaboration with industry insiders, former Merlin employees and others.
“The result of that was a lot of development, as we talked about how to get back in the industry with a product that lived up to that quality,” Spinhime-Martin told BikeRadar. “Merlin is very much that perfect blend of craftsmanship and cutting edge technology, which leads to incredible performance.”
To meet these goals Spinhime-Martin admitted that it also meant understanding the changes in the world of bicycles from the heydays of the 1990s.
While Merlin Metalworks, as the company was originally called, was founded in the mid-1980s and introduced its first titanium mountain bike in 1986 followed by a road bike in 1988, there have been significant developments in terms of materials, with virtually all pro riders these days on carbon fiber.
But the pro rider isn’t exactly Merlin’s target customer.
“We’re aiming for those who want a bike that is made in America and provides that comfort,” he said. “The frames aren’t as light as carbon, but when you ask if has a great ride quality, and great handling, the answer is yes.”
The new Merlin Extralilght, which will feature American-sourced, double-butted titanium, will be made by Form Cycles in Arizona. While the frame has seen the increase in diameters all around, including a 44mm tapered headtube and a PressFit 30 bottom bracket, for those who remember the frames from those bygone days it could be the next best thing to a time machine.
“All of us who rode back in the 1980s and 1990s remember how great they rode,” Spinhime-Martin added. “It just has the tubing that we love. We wanted that classic look.”
With the new road bikes available in brushed titanium and available in seven sizes from $3,500 beginning in April, Merlin might just be doing its magic all over again.