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The Merlin Malt-G is an aluminium gravel/all-rounder bike that puts in a solid performance on both asphalt and hard-packed roads and offers exceptional value for money.
The Malt-G is a versatile proposition, able to handle a variety of different types of riding with assuredness. I've used this bike a lot for the commute into work – a 14-mile trip on mainly country lanes with a couple of miles of urban roads at the end – and although it lacks the all-out speed of a full-on road bike, it's comfortable and confident across the tarmac. When I've fancied mixing it up with a bit of towpath, that's been cool too, the Malt-G having semi-slick tyres that provide sufficient grip and enough low gears to cope with more draggy surfaces.
The frame and fork each come with eyelets for fitting mudguards which is good news if you fancy using this bike as an all-weather commuter, and you get rack mounts at the rear too – handy if you'd rather ride to and from work without a bag on your back, or if you'd like to head off on a bit of an adventure at the weekend.
You'd probably expect all of that of an all-rounder, but is the Malt-G really gravel-capable? In short, yes it is, and that's what I've been using it for most.
I'm lucky enough to have quite a bit of gravel close to where I live – chalk roads that sometimes have a proper gravel surface and sometimes are down to the bare rock. The Malt-G is a lot of fun across this kind of stuff.
You'd have to say that at 11.1kg (24lb 8oz) it's not a light bike (for comparison, Boardman's £750 ADV 8.8 hit the scales at 10.57kg/23lb 5oz), but I've not particularly noticed that weight when riding, the Malt-G bowling along just fine. Yes, there are plenty of bikes that are a little sharper to accelerate and a bit more nimble on the climbs, but you get plenty of comfort and control here and that's an important characteristic on a bike of this kind.
I wouldn't say the Malt-G is as stable as some other gravel bikes we've reviewed here on road.cc but neither is it knocked off its line particularly easily when you hit a rough section of road and you can tackle descents with the confidence that you'll end up where you want to be, not just where the bumps and holes send you.
The Malt-G doesn't leave you feeling like you're riding a £649 bike. This is a bike that's not just competent, it's hugely enjoyable. You find yourself relishing the ride, focusing on the terrain, your surroundings and whatever else fills your head as you turn the pedals, not any shortcomings of the bike.
The frame is made from double-butted 6061 aluminium with a sloping top tube and external cable routing. It's a tidy piece of work with a threaded bottom bracket that's unlikely to result in annoying creaks as time goes on. I've certainly not experienced any during two months of testing.
The fork that slots in up front has both carbon blades and a carbon steerer, which is unusual on a bike of this price. That steerer is tapered to improve front end stiffness.
Both the frame and fork take post mount disc brakes while the flat mount standard now dominates the road market, and the wheels are held in place by quick release skewers rather than thru-axles.
I've been riding the 56cm Malt-G. I usually ride 57cm or 58cm bikes but this one has a a 580mm top tube to go along with the 560mm seat tube (measured centre to top) and 195mm head tube. This puts you into a riding position that you'll likely find quite upright if you're coming from a road bike, especially if you stick with the 45mm of spacers that come fitted, and the 90mm stem.
I fixed the stem as low as possible simply because that's the position I've got used to over the years, but if you want front end height to take the strain off your back and neck and/or to give you more of a head-up position in traffic then there's plenty available. Personally, I found myself down on the drops a little more than usual here, searching for a little more efficiency, but that's not a bad thing at all.
The Malt-G is built up with Shimano's Tiagra groupset, which is unusual on bikes of this price. Tiagra is a 10-speed group that sits fourth in Shimano's hierarchy, just below super-popular 105, and it's more commonly found on aluminium bikes priced from about £900 to £1,400-ish (although there are exceptions). More or less in line with that, the Malt-G was originally priced at £899.99 although the price has now been fixed at £649 – it won't alter – so that's the price we're reviewing it at.
Tiagra is great stuff that's not a million miles from Shimano's high-level groupsets in terms of ergonomics. The shifter body is the same compact shape as you get with 105 and Ultegra – you'd be hard-pressed to notice the difference in your hand – and the cables are routed underneath the handlebar tape, providing a clean look at the front of the bike. The brake shifters and gear levers are easily accessible whether your hands are on the drops or the hoods.
The gearing that different brands opt for is always interesting on a gravel bike, the Malt-G coming with a 50/34-tooth compact chainset matched up with an 11-32t cassette, which is the same as you'll find on many road bikes.
Our man Dave Arthur reckons there's no place for a compact chainset on a gravel bike – he's very insistent on this – but I'm not as hardline as him! I've been riding along the rolling gravel roads around my way quite happily with this setup, just occasionally wishing I had a Get Out Of Jail Free gear to make things easier on the really steep stuff. It might be a different story if I had to tackle longer and/or sharper climbs on a regular basis.
Bear in mind, though, that we're all different, as is the terrain we're likely to tackle, and you might prefer a bike with smaller chainrings or a more wide-ranging cassette (the medium cage rear derailleur fitted here allows you to swap to a cassette with a 34-tooth large sprocket if you like), particularly if you're intending to fit a rack and lug loads.
That Boardman ADV 8.8 I mentioned earlier, for example, comes with a 48/32 chainset and an 11-32 cassette, giving you a lower low gear and also a lower high gear. The obvious benefit of a compact chainset is that it gives you some high gears that come in especially handy when you're riding on asphalt roads. Horses for courses.
The Malt-G's brakes aren't from Shimano, they're cable-actuated Tektro Lyra callipers operating on 160mm rotors front and rear. They might lack the performance of a hydraulic setup but this is a £649 bike.
They do a decent job for the money, the fact that the braking surface is positioned further away from the road than with a rim brake setup meaning that the performance is less compromised in wet and muddy conditions. Maintenance is pretty straightforward for anyone who's familiar with adjusting cable-operated rim brakes too.
The wheels comprise no-name six-bolt disc hubs (quick release) laced to Mavic's XM 119 Disc rims with 32 spokes front and rear. The rims are entry level but reasonable quality, designed to support tyres from 28mm upwards.
The only maintenance issue I had with the Malt-G during a two-month test period was when the front wheel went quite a long way out of true. The cause was simply a single spoke nipple that had backed right off – the sort of thing that takes seconds to fix if you know one end of a spoke wrench from the other. It really wasn't a big deal although, admittedly, a bit of a pain if it's not something you feel you can sort out yourself.
The tyres are Kenda Kwicks in a 35mm width, which is a good size for a bike that's likely to be ridden on a variety of surfaces. I wouldn't want to go narrower than that for gravel riding. They're a semi-slick design with a low tread down the centre and chunkier shoulders. They can hold their own on asphalt, hard-packed gravel and perhaps a bit of mushy towpath, but beyond that they'll struggle. These are pretty basic tyres; they do the job but I'd soon be upgrading them if this was my bike.
We fitted 40mm wide tyres with a reasonable amount of space around them, so plenty of options are available to you.
The £750 Boardman ADV 8.8 that I've mentioned a couple of times comes with a 7005 aluminium alloy frame and, like the Merlin, a fork with carbon fibre blades and steerer. The Boardman has better tyres in the shape of Schwalbe G-Ones while the Malt-G has a higher level groupset: 10-speed Tiagra as opposed to 9-speed Sora.
The Malt-G can turn its hand to many different types of riding and I've really enjoyed my time on it. Some of the components are basic but the frame and fork are good and the Shimano Tiagra groupset is way better than you have a right to expect at this price. The Malt-G might not particularly sparkle on tarmac but it puts in a solid, workmanlike performance and has the huge bonus of being being able to put a smile on your face on gravel, towpaths, and even the occasional bit of bridleway and woodland trail. Add mudguard and rear rack mounts into the equation and you have a really strong all-rounder for the money.
A solid all-rounder that's a whole lot of fun for tackling gravel
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Merlin Malt-G
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: Double Butted 6061 Series Aluminium
Fork: Merlin Disc with Carbon blades and steerer
Wheels: Mavic XM 119 Rims with 6-Bolt Disc Hubs (quick release)
Tyres: Kenda Kwick 35mm
Gear/Brake Levers: Shimano Tiagra 4700
Front Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra 4700
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra 4700
Chainset: Shimano 50/34T
Cassette: Shimano Tiagra 10 Speed 11-32T
Chain: Shimano 10 Speed
Pedals: Not included
Saddle: Merlin Black
Seatpost: Kalloy Uno 3D
Handlebars: Kalloy Uno 3D
Grips: Black Cork Handlebar Tape
Stem: Kalloy Uno 3D
Brake callipers: Tektro Lyra Mechanical
Tell us what the bike is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Merlin says, "The Merlin Malt-G Gravel Bike is highly versatile putting the FUN back into a Functional Bike! This efficient all-rounder features a no-nonsense Shimano Tiagra 10 Speed groupset, together with mechanical disc brakes for great stopping power. The Malt-G Gravel bike comes fitted with fast rolling, gravel-friendly Kenda Kwick 35mm tyres which provide great traction while giving plenty of mud clearance between tyre, frame & fork.
"The Gravel Bike concept has recently gained a great amount of popularity for good reason - with this type of bike you don't have to stick to the road; the Merlin Malt-G can handle a wide variety of terrain including gravel tracks and green lanes allowing you to combine sections of road with more challenging segments meaning more of your adventures can start at your front door. The Malt-G has a full complement of mounts the bike is ready to sport mudguards and even a rear pannier – so if you want to head off on a touring adventure or simply commute to work you can, no problem.
"The Merlin Malt-G Gravel bike features a double-butted 6061 Aluminium frame with a comfortable, confident geometry that encourages all-day riding, a carbon fork that stops the ride feeling too harsh when you're on the ruff-stuff and quality cable-activated disc brakes that deliver consistent, controllable braking in all weathers and riding conditions. A dependable, precise shifting Shimano 10-speed Tiagra groupset with low-ratio gearing completes this excellent value-for-money package."
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
This is the entry-level gravel bike in Merlin's range. The Merlin X3.0 Tiagra Gravel Winter Bike is £1,150, reduced to £899.99.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The welds are tidy enough, and the finish is good throughout.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is made from 6061 aluminium alloy.
The fork has carbon fibre blades and steerer.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The seat tube is 560mm (centre to top), the top tube is 580mm and the head tube is 195mm. The seat angle is 74 degrees and the head angle is 73 degrees.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
At 58cm, the top tube is a little longer than you'd expect on a 56cm bike. The front end is higher than you'll find on most road bikes of this size, although about the same as some endurance road bikes.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yeah, the 35mm tyres give a decent amount of cushioning between you and the road. You can always switch to wider tyres if you want more: we fitted 40mm wide tyres with a reasonable amount of space around them.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Reasonably stiff, yes. The tapered head tube/fork steerer helps at the front.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, pretty well.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? About normal.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
I wouldn't say the Malt-G is as stable as some gravel bikes I've ridden, although it's far from twitchy.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I found the saddle a bit too soft and squishy for my taste, although saddles are always a matter of personal preference.
It's not light.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Shimano Tiagra is really good equipment, especially at this price.
Wheels and tyres
I had one spoke nipple back off leading to the wheel going out of true, but once re-tightened I had no more issues.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
The tyres are okay but they're definitely a budget option. I'd be upgrading them if this was my bike.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
You can't go wrong with Tiagra at this price.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? If I was after something at this price point, yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? As above.
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
The Boardman ADV 8.8 (£750) has a 7005 aluminium alloy frame and, like the Merlin, a fork with carbon fibre blades and steerer. The Boardman's Schwalbe G-One tyres are better than the Malt-G's Kenda Kwicks, but the Malt-G has a higher level groupset: 10-speed Shimano Tiagra as opposed to 9-speed Shimano Sora.
Use this box to explain your overall score
I think this is a clear 8 overall. The performance is good, the value is exceptional – I can't see it any other way!
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.