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The Merida Scultura Limited shares the same geometry as the top-end models used by the pros, but in a more affordable package. It delivers a cracking ride, and while this sort of money used to see you getting a higher spec groupset, the inclusion of deep-section carbon fibre rims (our test bike had SL35s, production models have SL45s) means that performance doesn't suffer. Check out our guide to the best road bikes for up to £3,000 to see how it compares.
If your budget can't stretch to the Scultura Team and its £8k price tag, but you still want a high-performance road machine with great geometry and impressive comfort, the Scultura Limited fits the bill.
The carbon fibre in its CF3 frame and fork might not be to the same performance level as the top flight CF5 found on the Team, but the geometry is the same, the comfort is just as pleasing, and you are getting a lot of bike for the money.
Merida separates its carbon frames and forks into levels, with CF2 at the bottom in terms of performance and CF5 at the top.
This CF3 model is a bit heavier, not quite as stiff, and the comfort levels aren't quite as refined as the CF5, but – and this is a big but – unless you've ridden both, you'd barely notice the difference.
The Limited with its CF3 frame and fork is still a belter.
Although the boxy looking tube junctions and semi-aero tube profiles all give the Scultura a firm look, the ride is on the supple side.
Some of that is down to the fact that this fifth generation Scultura frame has dropped and relatively slender seatstays, but a lot of it must be down to the carbon lay-up, as this is still a very stiff frame, ideal for powering out of the bends, climbing hard or just when smashing the hell out of the pedals for the sake of it.
The Scultura comes fitted with 28mm tyres, although it will accept 30mm wide ones if you want to boost comfort even further.
Merida has specced the geometry to suit the performance of the stiff frame, with measurements and angles that gives the Scultura Limited quick, precise handling and a nimble, eager personality when you want it to get a shift on.
I'll go into the numbers in a minute, but let's just say this bike is fun in the bends. The steering is quick, and thanks to the stiff fork, very precise.
I loved riding this bike on fast, technical descents as the front end just goes where you point it – there is no vagueness in the steering as feedback is spot on. And with the sub-one-metre wheelbase (medium size), the Scultura changes direction quickly and feels planted on the road too.
The front end is low, thanks to a short head tube, and paired with the amount of seatpost I was running makes for a low centre of gravity, even when riding on the hoods. This gives the Merida an even more confident feel through the corners.
On the whole, this bike just feels on it. Perfect if you want the handling of a peloton-ready race machine but without the price tag, and are happy to accept a small weight penalty.
The Scultura Limited is available in six sizes ranging from XS through to XL, which covers top tube lengths from 520mm through to 590mm.
Ours is a medium with a 560mm top tube, 501mm seat tube and a 140mm head tube. The wheelbase is 990mm overall, with chainstays of just 408mm in length.
The head angle is 73.5 degrees, which is the same as the seat angle. Stack and reach figures are 557mm and 395mm respectively.
Overall, the geometry has a racy edge to it, as befits a bike of this style.
The Limited uses Shimano's well-proven R7000 105 mechanical groupset with a compact 50/34-tooth chainset paired to an 11-30T cassette. That's an ideal spread of gears for those of us who don't race but still want high enough gears for some speed work, with a tall enough bailout ratio for the climbs.
Merida has also specced 160mm RT-54 rotors front and rear.
We've covered the performance and quality of 105 loads of times, so I won't go into a huge amount of detail – you can just read the review here for the groupset, and this review for the hydraulic disc brake components.
As for the rest of the kit, the majority of it is Merida branded, although the stem is from FSA with its SMR ACR, which is designed to funnel the brake hoses and gear cables down through the head tube and into the frame and fork for that smooth look I mentioned earlier. Length depends on frame size, with this medium frame coming with a 110mm.
The Merida Expert SL handlebar is aluminium and has quite a rounded profile for the drops which I got on well with. The 420mm fitted to the test bike bike worked a treat, giving a balance of quick handling and comfort. Again, bigger and smaller frames get a different width handlebar.
The Expert CC seatpost is full carbon fibre and comes with 15mm of setback. It's held in place in the frame by way of an expanding wedge type clamp, something that remained secure throughout reviewing with no slippage to report.
Merida also supplies the saddle, also called the Expert SL, and on the whole I liked it thanks to its curved shape.
Probably the biggest bonus regarding the build is the set of deep-section carbon fibre wheels, something you don't often see for this kind of money (and you can't see here, as our bike had slightly shallower hoops on).
The actual wheels you should get are Merida Team SL45s (not SL35s), which have an inner width of 19mm, making them well suited to various sizes of road tyres.
The hubs are set up to accept Center Lock brake discs, and they can also be run tubeless. The SL35s felt quick out on the road, and remained true throughout the review period, so I'm confident the SL45s will behave just as well but you'll get that aero bonus of the 45mm-deep rims.
Wrapped around each is a Continental Ultra Sport III tyre. These are decent all-rounders, in fact I'd say they perform much better than their price would have you expect, giving a great balance of grip and speed. Durability is looking good, too, both in terms of wear rate and puncture resistance.
Get to the spring and summer months, though, and the Limited could do with something more performance orientated, so there is definitely upgrade potential there.
Gone are the days of £3k getting you a road bike equipped with Shimano Ultegra Di2 or similar. Many of the big brands have models sporting 105 mechanical for even more money than the Scultura.
Giant's TCR Advanced Pro Disc 2 costs £3,299 and comes with the 105 groupset and deep-section wheels.
Overall, I think this shows the Merida to be pretty good value for money against the opposition.
The Scultura Limited is a great bike. It has the stiff and firm ride of a fast road bike, but maintains enough comfort that you can be out for hours on end. It's a good looking bike too, and well specced for the money.
Sweet-handling race bike with an impressively comfortable ride
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Merida Scultura Limited
Size tested: Medium, 56cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
WHEELSET: MERIDA TEAM SL45
FRONT TYRE: Continental Ultra Sport III
REAR TYRE: Continental Ultra Sport III
HUBS: MERIDA EXPERT SL
CRANK: Shimano 105
BOTTOM BRACKET: SM-BB71-41B, Pressfit 86.5
CASSETTE: Shimano CS-R7000
CHAIN: KMC X11
SHIFTERS: Shimano 105 Disc
FRONT DERAILLEUR: Shimano 105
REAR DERAILLEUR: Shimano 105
BRAKE LEVER: Shimano 105
BRAKES: Shimano 105
ROTORS: Shimano RT54
HEADSET: FSA ACR
STEM FSA: SMR ACR
STEM SIZE: 90 mm-XXS/XS, 100 mm-S, 110 mm-M, 120 mm-L/XL
HANDLEBAR: MERIDA EXPERT SL
GRIP: MERIDA ROAD Expert
SEAT POST: MERIDA EXPERT CC
SEAT CLAMP: MERIDA EXPERT
SADDLE: MERIDA EXPERT SL
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?
Merida says, "Team Bahrain Victorious put the fifth generation Scultura thoroughly through its paces, winning mountain top stages of the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana before the bike was even launched.
Gen 5 keeps the Scultura's fabled lightweight, agility and rider comfort focus and even manages to improve on both measures.
The Scultura now incorporates learnings from the Reacto in terms of aerodynamics; they now share the same race proven geometry.
Improving weight, comfort and aerodynamics requires plenty of engineering ingenuity. Round tubes are lighter than aero profiled tubes, fatter tyres are more comfortable but less aerodynamic. There are always compromises to be made."
The Scultura Limited is an all-round race bike that balances performance, speed and stiffness.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
The Scultura range kicks off with the aluminium-framed Rim 100 at £885 and tops out with the Scultura 10K which costs... errr... £10K.
The Limited sits third in the line-up of carbon bikes, out of a range of eight.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The build quality is to a high standard and the black/silver colour scheme looks very smart too.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Merida uses differing grades of carbon fibre on its bikes, with CF2 at the bottom of the performance range, and CF5 at the top. The Limited uses CF3 for both the frame and the fork.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The geometry is on the racy side, with a relatively steep head angle and short head tube, which makes the handling feel fast.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The stack and reach figures are very typical of a race bike of this size.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Comfort is impressive considering the stiffness of the frame.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Stiffness throughout the bike is ideal for hard efforts.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Power transfer through the lower half of the frame is impressive thanks to the large bottom bracket junction.
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? Responsive.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The handling on the Limited is quick, just on the right side of twitchy, which makes it fun if you like to ride fast on technical descents.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I got on well with the shape of the saddle.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The SL35 wheels are stiff enough, especially when getting the power down while out of the saddle, and in theory the SL45s that should come with the Limited will be just the same but with an extra aero boost on the flat.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The 45mm-deep wheels will bring an extra level of efficiency on the flat and will work well alongside the frame and fork design.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Shimano's mechanical 105 is dependable and offers great performance.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
Our test bike came with SL35s, a good quality set of wheels all round; production models will have SL45 deep-section rims, which is impressive for this sort of money.
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?
Good tyres for fast training and general riding, although the Limited does deserve something faster and grippier in the dry months.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Neat touches like the stem give the Merida a clean look, and the rest of the kit works well too.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's noticeably cheaper than a lot of similar bikes from the other big brands, as you can see from the review.
Use this box to explain your overall score
This is a great bike to ride, especially if you want a race bike that is also comfortable enough to ride for many hours without beating you up. Against the competition it is well specced for the money, too. It's very good.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
As part of the Tech Hub here at F-At Digital, our senior product reviewer Stu uses the knowledge gained from putting well over a 1,000 products through their paces (including hundreds of bikes) to write in-depth reviews of a huge range of kit. After first throwing his leg over a race bike back in 2000, Stu's ridden more than 160,000 miles on road, time-trial, track, and gravel bikes, and while he's put his racing days behind him he still likes to smash the pedals rather than take things easy. Although, as he spends a fair bit of his time reviewing ebikes these days he's becoming an expert in letting the motor take the strain. He's also waiting for 23mm race tyres to make a comeback!