Merlin Cycles has been building bikes under the licensed Rock Lobster brand name for years, and the 853 is a perennial favourite.
It’s a classic XC/trail frame with angles set up to be happiest around a 100mm travel fork. We’ve ridden several complete bikes on this frame over the years, and even taken them on trips to the ultra-technical singletrack of Sierra Nevada with FreerideSpain.com, but we’ve never had a bad moment.
Despite being impressively race light for a steel frame (one of only two here under 2kg), it has a resilient toughness that won’t shrink or skitter away from sketchy lines or rock fields. Reynolds’ flagship tubing keeps a stiff upper lip in steering terms, while the slim tapered tube back end gives a good balance between long-haul comfort and muscular power delivery.
Touches such as investment cast dropouts, low-profile ring reinforcing on the head tube and captured bolt sockets on the forward-facing seatpost slot give a retro feel. We’d avoid using really big discs on the rear because there’s no inter stay brace to spread stress, and there are no rack mounts either.
The excellent-value complete bikes Merlin creates are another great reason to play ‘team tig’ if you’re after a classic steel speed bike, though.