Merlin’s PR7 got a bit of a reboot for 2016, creating a more modern look while still keeping the British company’s reputation for no-nonsense value.
The 6061 aluminium frame is paired with a carbon fibre fork with an aluminium steerer, while Shimano’s eight-speed Claris groupset is at the heart of the kit.
Claris did well here with consistent and accurate gear changes, and though I don’t like the cables that dangle in front of the bar, that’s a minor consideration when you consider the quality of the shifting.
The brakes are unbranded and show every sign of coming out of the Tektro factory and though they were okay even in some quite challenging weather, I’d swap the non-cartridge blocks for cartridge pads sooner rather than later.
The 50/34 FSA chainset is matched with an 11-30 cassette, which results in a good gear range, though inevitably with only eight sprockets there are biggish jumps between gears. But newer cyclists and older riders will appreciate the lower gear offered by the 30-tooth sprocket when the road profiles turn hilly. It’s good to see 25mm tyres too.
The frame itself gives you what you want from a modern road bike, echoing the likes of Specialized thanks to its large diameter ‘oversize bi-axial’ and flattened ‘broad-to-slim’ top-tube. This results in stiffness in all the right places without leaving you beaten up, though the frame doesn’t have the smooth welds of similarly priced bikes like the Boardman Road Sport and Specialized Allez E5.
The slim seatpost and supportive saddle do a great job with comfort, while the handling is sharp enough when the adrenaline is pumping and you want to throw it around bends.
The shortish sub-metre wheelbase puts the PR7 at the racier end of the spectrum, certainly when it comes to bikes at this price. But ride on the tops and hoods and you can still get in hours of composed and comfortable riding, though you will inevitably feel its weight on the hills at 10.47kg — pretty much all of which is in the wheels and tyres. Once up to speed you don’t notice it; when gravity has its say — you do.
The PR7 has fittings for a rear rack and mudguard but not a front guard, making it practical for fast commuting, everyday use and training. There is just about room for aftermarket mudguards such as Tortec’s Razor guards or Crud’s Roadracers, though you’ll struggle to fit wider tyres. That said, the 25mm CSTs inflate to a shade under 26mm, which is fine for most circumstances and helps with comfort.
Merlin’s choice of saddle and bar tape was also first rate for a machine at this price. The result is impressive. I’d fit cartridge brake pads and would prefer grippier tyres, but apart from the lack of front mudguard fittings those are about my only quibbles.