A lot has changed since Eddy Merckx Bikes were produced in a converted barn; but then again a lot hasn’t changed, such as the all-time greatest cyclist's hands-on involvement with the line.
Eddy Merckx Cycles was born in the small farming town of Meise, Belgium, shortly after its namesake ended his racing career—a career that included victories in five Tours de France, five Giros d’Italia, one Vuelta a España, three World Championships and every major Classic—and who is still, to this day, considered the greatest of all time.
In 1980 Eddy Merckx began producing a line of bikes in his “factory,” a converted barn next to his house—even hiring some of his ever faithful former teammates. Over the course of the next 30 years, Eddy Merckx Cycles has had a place in the pro peloton, ridden by the likes of Lance Armstrong, Tom Boonen, and Eddy’s own son, Axel. Even though Merckx’s involvement in the actual production of the bikes is limited these days, he still plays a large role in their designs, ensuring that the traits he most values in a bike remain present in the brand that bears his name.
The EMX-5 ($3800 frameset) stands just below the flagship EMX-7 ($6000 frameset) in the Merckx line, but for most riders, the EMX-5 is the more practical choice due to its use of a traditional seatpost rather than the EMX-7’s integrated seatpost design, not to mention the price difference. The EMX-5 was also Tom Boonen’s model of choice in the 2011 edition of Paris- Roubaix, due to its use of a lower modulus carbon, giving it a slightly smoother ride. Using geometry that has been handpicked by Merckx, the EMX-5’s long, 100cm wheelbase and fairly relaxed 72.4-degree head tube angle put the emphasis on stability and comfort. This is precisely what you would expect from a bike designed in the cobble-laden Belgian countryside.
The EMX-5 keeps up with the latest trends with internally routed derailleur and rear brake cables in addition to a 1 1/8- to 1 1/2-inch tapered head tube. An 86mm-wide bottom bracket shell allows for a massive downtube, which helps give the bike an ultra-stiff bottom half, while thin, curved seat stays are designed to counterbalance the frame’s lateral and torsional rigidity by damping the hits before they reach the rider.
Between the Campy Record group and Campy Eurus aluminum wheels— along with FSA’s K-Force carbon handlebar, seatpost and OS-99 stem the entire bike builds up to 15.4 pounds. That’s not exactly considered super light for a bike at this price range, but the weight is a trade-off according to Eddy Merckx Cycles’ engineer Jan Vanpraet. He explained, “We will not sacrifice ride quality or durability in order to play the weight game. There are things more important to us than just weight, and I think that our customers agree.”
Internally routed cables don’t impede the impressively stiff front-end of the EMX-5. The 1 1/8 to 1 1/2 tapered head tube is the main culprit for the stiffness.
Our initial time on the EMX-5 was in northern Italy during the Eddy Merckx Gran Fondo. There’s nothing like jumping on a bike for the first time and racing against a couple thousand Euros for 60 miles! Even without having the time to get the bike dialed in 100 percent before the ride, we were impressed with its descending ability, or, better yet, its stability. Equally unfamiliar with both the roads and the bike, we pushed beyond our sensible limits, screaming past riders while descending twisty Italian roads no wider than a bike path. The EMX-5 gave us an extra shot of confidence— bordering on overconfidence—but our adrenaline kept us from coming to our senses until we were in the valley below, fortunately where we were safe and sound.
Once the EMX-5 arrived stateside, we had ample time to take it on our normal test rides to get more than just first impressions. After a month on the bike, our opinion hadn’t changed. Its secure handling comes from a combination of geometry and frontal stiffness that ends up being some of the best we’ve ever ridden. It’s not only the front end that’s rigid; the bottom bracket follows suit and once again ranks among the stiffest we’ve tested. Its stiffness-to-weight ratio might not be tops in the market—due to the frame’s approximately 1100 gram weight—but it’s not far off.
Ride quality has not been forgotten in the quest for power efficiency, either. With a ride-all-day feel, the EMX-5 was a treat— regardless of the terrain we were riding over.
The frame's use of the BB86 bottom bracket design utilizes cups that press into the frame to avoid unsightly external threaded cups.
The EMX-5 didn’t have any surprises up its sleeve during the test, and that’s a good thing. It’s a matrix of stiffness for performance, vibration damping for comfort and geometry for surprise-free miles. It’s easy to see why Merckx values these features— the perfect balance of each makes for a great all-around bike. What gives the EMX-5 its stability are the head tube angle, fork rake and wheelbase, making it an ideal bike for almost everyone, with the possible exception being the criterium crowd who might opt for a bike with more aggressive geometry.
The Eddy Merckx Cycles line includes two models below the EMX-5: the EMX-3 that can be had for $3950, which includes a Shimano Ultegra group, and the Shimano 105-equipped EMX-1 for $2700.
• Handpicked geometry from the legend himself
• Italians—who? The Belgians know bikes too
• Not going to pose a challenge to the UCI’s weight limit
Price: $8500, $3800 (frameset)
Weight: 15.4 pounds
Sizes: 50, 52, 54, 56 (tested), 58, 60cm
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