Eddy Merckx, the most decorated cyclist of all time, was always on the attack and unafraid of being out front alone. Take the 1969 Tour de France, when the Cannibal (as he was then known) rode away from the peloton and time-trialed some 90 miles to win the stage—despite the fact that he already led the overall by more than eight minutes. The new endurance Mourenx 69 commemorates that victory with a design that’s so forgiving you can charge all day on your own, but it’s still quick enough to outpace the competition.
Thick-gauge tubes and robust shaping make the Mourenx stand out. It’s geometric and angular without being obnoxious. The top tube is vaguely triangular and flat on top, and the seatpost is thick and squared off, with a set screw for height adjustments built straight into the top tube. Meanwhile, the rear end is dainty and elegant, with tapers halfway down the seatstays and down tube that add compliance. Together, the design looks daring and high end, with internal cable routings throughout and an understated paint job.
As is common in the endurance realm, the frame has a slightly longer top tube and a slightly taller headtube relative to the more race-oriented bikes in the Merckx line, which adds a modicum of comfort. The bottom bracket is also a touch lower and the wheelbase longer for high-speed stability.
Because the Mourenx isn’t aimed at the highest-performance racer, it doesn’t get the full-bling build. But the spec is smart and hardworking and more than most riders will ever want. Our Ultegra Di2-equipped model is the top of the range, and we were once again reminded just how good these parts are despite being third in Shimano’s hierarchy. Shifting is as fast and accurate as Dura-Ace Di2, and durability and reliability on par with Dura-Ace mechanical. We also love how the E-tube wiring feeds neatly into the frame ports and can easily be plugged and unplugged for maintenance.
The Ultegra rim brakes were also excellent, but on an endurance bike like this one, we’d much rather have disc brakes. The finesse and stopping performance of discs are so much better that it’s hard to justify not including them on a bike that’s mostly aimed at the sportive rider. Hopefully a 2016 model will make discs standard, or at least add them as an option.
The thick, blocky seatpost probably contributes to the bikes overall solid feel—and is a departure from many manufacturers’ move to skinnier diameters for added give. It worked fine, but we’re never huge fans of proprietary seatpost shapes, because if something goes wrong—we’ve broken the clamp on more than one—your bike is inoperable until you can get a replacement post, which can sometimes take a while.
We liked the shape and shallow drop of the Deda M35 bars, but several testers wished for a carbon version to improve the ride and feel. Ditto that on the wheels: The alloy Fulcrum Racing 5s (with 25mm tires) were average, if a little harsh and dull. For a bike that’s inclined toward long, solo miles, a deeper, wind-cheating rim profile would have also made more sense.
The Mourenx rode as straight and true as a locomotive. In packs, it easily held a line even when I took my hands off the bars to change clothes or grab food, and on descents it charged downward as if drawn by a magnet. This is probably the most confident descending bike I’ve tried all year; it allowed me to brake late and plunge into corners. The downside of that rooted confidence, of course, was that the Merckx lacked the flick and snap of a lightweight climbing bike. I could cannon it forward on shorter, shallower grades, but I felt like I was hanging on when pitches hit 12 percent and up.
Then again, the ride quality is so smooth and silky that I was happy take on the extra pounds of climbing weight for the comfort the bike afforded. After a brief sub-hour shakedown, my first ride aboard the Merckx was over five hours, and I never felt a twinge in my neck or pull in my lower back as I often do on more aggressive frames and builds. (Full disclosure: Based on my discomfort on the ProLogo from that first ride, I switched to my own saddle.)
Given how well the Merckx churns forward, we would rather it was spec’d with at least a midcompact gearing up front, as the 50-34 ratio felt underpowered in the flats and rollers. And our pitted New Mexico pavement definitely exploited the 25mm tires and aluminum bars—long rides had a way of making my hands buzz slightly.
Bikes such as the Cannondale Synapse and Specialized Roubaix are ostensibly direct competition for the Mourenx 69, though neither feel quite as race oriented. In terms of comfort, we’d put this bike up against the active rear-end damping of the Trek Domane. The latter would probably win on that front, but we like that the Mourenx 69 is a bit more rare and exotic. Heads up: Because of Merckx’s relatively small size as a company, there are fewer levels and spec options than with the bigger brands. If component choice and price point are critical for you, it might pay to look for a more mainstream option.
Endurance roadies are a staple in the market these days, and we feel that the majority of riders would be happier on these easier-going frames than on a stiffer race bike with steeper angles. For those who are wary of full-fledged comfort performance rides, the Mourenx 69 cuts a fine balance between endurance geometry and race readiness. It would make a great primary bike for anyone who logs big mileage but might also dip into some regional racing.
The Mourenx 69 is neither the lightest nor the cheapest bike out there—you definitely pay more for the name and the European mystique. Eddy Merckx himself has said that rather than build something cheap or feathery, he wants to make bikes that are fast, smooth, and exceptionally fun to ride. In that respect, he has succeeded with the Mourenx 69.