Matej Mohorič switched from the road to the rough stuff to win the 2023 men’s UCI Gravel World Championship title riding what appears to be an unreleased Merida Silex gravel bike.
The Slovenian, a familiar figure at the front of road races, went solo with less than 20km remaining to finish ahead of Florian Vermeersch (Belgium) and Connor Swift (Great Britain) in Italy.
With the UCI Gravel Worlds once again attracting a strong contingent of moonlighting road pros – including Wout van Aert – Mohorič swapped his regular race-day Merida for this new Silex.
The not-so-subtle Silex branding gives this away as an update to the brand’s gravel bike, with the new machine getting, on the face of it, a new head tube design, a revised seatstay junction, a new fork and, we’d hazard a guess, increased tyre clearance.
Our photographer on the ground in Veneto, Tom Hardie, got up close with Mohorič’s bike at the start and finish of the 169km race, so let’s dive in. Here’s what we know so far.
1) It’s not the Merida Scultura GR
First, let’s start with the obvious – this isn’t the new Merida Scultura Endurance GR, launched back in June.
On paper, that bike might have served as the ideal ride for the Gravel Worlds. It was described as the “latest gravel-racing-specific addition to the Merida line-up” upon its release.
In fact, Merida went as far as saying the Scultura Endurance GR will “sit alongside the more adventure and bikepacking-focussed Silex and offer the perfect machine for one-day gravel races and fast-paced gravel sessions”.
It looks like some of Mohorič’s Bahrain–Victorious trade teammates were on the Scultura Endurance GR, but not the eventual race winner.
2) The sloping top tube remains, but with an updated geometry?
The original Silex, which arrived in 2017, is easily recognisable thanks to its heavily sloping top tube. At the time, Merida was among the brands pushing the boundaries of the fast-emerging gravel discipline with a geometry inspired by its mountain bike range.
Fast-forward to 2023 and the refreshed Silex’s sloping top tube remains, but the new bike appears to have a more aggressive layout than the original bike.
That said, we’ve only seen Mohorič’s bike so far and, as this is an unreleased bike, there’s no word from Merida.
3) There’s a new head tube design
Take a closer look at the head tube and Mohorič’s Silex sports a new shape.
The trailing edge of the old Silex’s head tube (pictured below) is a much more angular affair, with the new Silex looking like it fills some of that void, possibly in a bid to improve aerodynamics.
Mohorič’s head tube also appears to be more compact, in stack, than what we’re used to seeing on the Silex – but again, we’ve only seen the one bike, in one size.
Otherwise, the ever-so-slightly bulbous leading edge of the Silex’s head tube appears to remain.
Finally, as far as the head tube is concerned, we can’t help but smile at the big old race number slapped across the front of Mohorič’s bike.
Is this a gran fondo or a race for a rainbow jersey?
4) The fork is new, too
While we’re at the front end of the bike, there’s a new fork, too.
The new fork runs straight from top to bottom, rather than kinking to a vertical finish at the drop-outs, as is the case on its predecessor.
There’s an additional eyelet on the fork, too – we’ll come on to this – and clearance looks to have increased.
The existing Silex has room for 42c gravel tyres. Mohorič was running 40c Continental Terra Speed tyres for the Gravel Worlds in Italy and, given the current trend for wider tyres on the latest gravel bikes – even those being raced at the highest level – we’d expect to see room for 45c here.
5) What’s going on with that seatstay junction?
The most eye-catching part of the new Silex is the seatstay junction.
The seatstays flow either side of the seat tube and up into the top tube, creating an oversized junction that, while we can’t be sure, is more than likely designed to improve comfort.
The seatpost binder still appears to be accessed via the top of the top tube – evidenced by the rubber cover – but Merida may have dropped the clamp further into the seat tube to increase the amount of post available to flex.
The seat tube is otherwise pretty conventional in design, staying round – with no visible aero profiling, unlike the flat-back of the Scultura Endurance GR’s seat tube – but moving into a shallow cutaway for the rear tyre.
6) Integrated cable routing
No surprise here, but the new Silex now uses integrated cable routing.
The cables on the existing Silex leave the handlebar and then run internally through the down tube, but here there’s not a cable or hydraulic hose in sight.
Everything is concealed through the FSA ACR stem. There’s still a two-piece setup up front – with a separate handlebar and stem – but the ACR (Aerodynamic Cable Routing) design is a popular third-party option for keeping everything hidden from the wind.
Mohorič’s Silex also appears to have a custom headset top cap for a lower stack height.
7) Adventure-ready but…
The new Silex also sports a couple of features to ensure it’s ready for long-distance or multi-day rides, as well as the gravel worlds.
First of all, there’s that additional eyelet on the fork we mentioned, taking the total up to three. However, the Silex now also has mounts on the top tube.
Top tube mounts have become a go-to feature on many of the latest gravel bikes – including the still yet-to-be-released new Canyon Grail – and allow a rider to securely mount a bag for snacks and the like.
It’s a fairly aerodynamic solution, keeping the bag hidden behind the stem, and also means the all-important Haribo is kept within arm’s reach.
Still, there was no Haribo for Mohorič at the gravel worlds, though – not least in a top tube bag.
The former Milan–San Remo winner didn’t use any of the mounting options offered by the new Silex, but he did keep a small saddle bag behind the saddle for essential spares. At the Gravel Worlds, riders don’t have the support of team cars, as they do in road races.
8) … a road spec for the gravel worlds
Finally, while the Silex is Merida’s gravel bike, Mohorič’s bike in Italy was dressed in a familiar roadie trim.
With the amount of climbing increased for the 2023 UCI Gravel World Championships, compared to the inaugural 2022 race, Mohorič thought it necessary to drop down to smaller chainrings, though a sub-compact gravel crankset clearly wasn’t necessary for the 28-year-old’s superhuman legs.
Elsewhere, the road theme continues with a set of Dura-Ace SPD-SL pedals for the dry conditions in Veneto. The 40c Continental Terra Speed tubeless tyres – a fast-rolling gravel option with fairly limited grip – were wrapped around Vision Metron 45 SL carbon wheels.