Words Rob Hoyles | Photos Chris Catchpole
Whether or not Maserati’s same-named, Citroën-owned sports car of the Seventies was the inspiration for De Rosa’s marketing department when it came to conceiving of and creating the Merak is questionable, though there are certain parallels that could be drawn between the two — Latin style and a taste of the exotic at a relatively affordable price being perhaps the most obvious.
Both boldly hint at sporty performance. Both are more than a little quirky. Both are great to look at from every angle. Both were hand-built in Italy. Happily, though, the similarities end there and, after in excess of 700 testing miles, I am pleased to report that, unlike the ill-fated motor, the more recently named Merak has been utterly reliable, needing nothing more than air in the tyres and lube on the chain to keep it feeling the way De Rosa intended — totally Italian.
In fact, the Merak is even more regional than that. The beautifully engineered Athena groupset is made less than two hours up the road from De Rosa’s Milan works. A quick jaunt along the A4 to Campagnolo’s Vicenza factory also takes care of the Fulcrum wheels while the 3T handlebar and stem can be picked up on the way back down the A4 — just half an hour from home — in Trezzo sull’Adda. The Prologo saddle? Twenty minutes away in Busnago, leaving just the Continental tyres to be sourced from outside of industrial northern Italy.
While the proximity of its partners must come as a bonus for a small manufacturer such as De Rosa, it is clear there’s been no compromise just for the sake of logistics.
The matt-effect carbon monocoque frame features a mix of modern tube shapes that blends aerodynamics with power transfer and good looks with comfort. Nothing new there, then.
The usual aero trick of routing the cables through the frame has also been employed, keeping the lines clean and the front end uncluttered. Often this can compromise an otherwise smooth transmission, but pleasingly, shifting up and down the 11-speed Athena cassette is never anything other than slick and positive.
Indeed, having been warned about Campag’s often-fickle nature, I have to say the barrel adjusters have been left alone and I’ve had not a single missed shift or chattering chain to complain about, even when forcefully asking for a lower ratio, out of the seat on some of Surrey’s toughest climbs.
And climbing is something the Merak excels at. With the broader range of gears that 11-speeds allow, you’re seldom caught ‘in-between’ gears with each ratio that bit closer to the next. An all-up weight of just over eight kilos obviously helps here, but some credit also has to go to the frame’s stiffness — there’s an enthusiasm for acceleration and an underlying liveliness about this bike that shouts “race me!” even if the more sportive-oriented compact chainset and 12-25-tooth cassette could suggest otherwise.
Best bar none
Handling is another De Rosa strong point. The steering is fast and direct but never nervous — the oversized 1 1/2-inch tapered steerer and wide-bladed forks feel rock solid, whether cornering or braking hard, adding to the feeling of precision and security.
The Fulcrum Racing Quattro wheels slotted into those Ferrari-red aluminium dropouts suit the bike well. Aesthetically, the black rims and red anodised spoke nipples work with the Merak’s styling. From a more practical standpoint, while perhaps not the lightest at 1,710g, the aerodynamic rims and quality bearings mean they hold their speed well.
All this performance and precision hasn’t come at the price of comfort, though. Long stints in the firm but well-shaped Prologo saddle are only ever as painful as you make them, and while perhaps not an ideal mount for the cobbled Classics, there’s enough compliance engineered into the frame to dampen out all but the worst of British road buzz.
As any Campag die-hard will tell you, there’s nothing quite like the feel of the Italian hoods, and they’re right — the ribbed section provides a comfortable handhold with an easy reach to the slender carbon lever and thumb shifter.
But perhaps my favourite ‘big ride’ feature of the Merak is the 3T Ergonova Pro bar. Getting excited about a £69.99 part on a £3,000 bike might seem as though I’m missing the point just a touch. But on long, flat rides I often ride on the tops with a relaxed, narrow grip and the egg-shaped tops of this shallow-drop bar fit my palms perfectly. They are, without question, the most comfortable bars I’ve ridden. When fatigue sets in towards the end of those killer sportives, it’s often these otherwise trivial details that make all the difference.
De Rosa has created something special with the Merak. Whatever the influence, the end result is a bike that should suit every type of rider.
Having seven different frame sizes is, of course, a good starting point for making a bike that will have wide appeal, but it’s the Merak’s all-round ability that makes it really stand out. Climbing mountains, thundering along country lanes, swooping through corners… hell, stick an 11-tooth sprocket on the cassette and it’s ready to go racing.
De Rosa Merak £2,999.99
Frameset Merak Evolution carbon frameset
Gears Campagnolo Athena 22-speed (12-25t)
Chainset Campagnolo Athena Carbon compact 50/34
Brakes Campagnolo Athena
Wheels Fulcrum Racing Quattro
Tyres Continental Attack (front) Continental Force (rear)
Bars/Stem 3T ErgoNova Pro / 3T Arx Pro
Saddle Prologo Zero Degree Ti 1.4
Seatpost De Rosa Aero Tricolore Carbon
Size range 47, 49, 51, 54, 55, 57, 59cm
Weight 8.10kg (17.85lb) (Size 55 fitted with Shimano R540 SPD-SL pedals)
Scott Foil 20 Compact £2,899.99
Just like the Merak, Scott’s Foil 20 Compact boasts an aero frame and seatpost. The good news for Shimano aficionados is that the bike features the Japanese firm’s second-tier Ultegra groupset, so reliability is a given. The ride is a little on the stiff side, but if you’re in the market for a cracking climbing bike, then look no further.