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What’s Going On With Merlin: An Update

- There’s an interesting story hidden here. But at 5,862 words, it’s desperately seeking an editor.

- The riding is gutsy. The announcing is otherworldly:

- Long-forgotten baubles and trinkets of PROness. Shall we call it PRO apocrypha? Or shall we shorthand it as aPROcrypha? A perfect example: The Yakima Race Ready bike rack.

- Highlights of the week:

Seat Tube (2011 WK27)

1967 Giro, 50th edition

Motorpacing

IMG_0113

- Things that made me mildly uneasy this week:

Throwback

Adidas Giant T-Mobile Team Cycling Jersey

Italian for Suntour XC Pro

Wiggo saddle

- A few of you have asked ‘What’s going on with Merlin?’ A brief update is overdue:

It’s been a yearlong struggle trying to nail down our goals for the resurrection of the brand: Is an art project OK, or should we pursue financially viability? Is it reasonable to maintain Merlin’s fanaticism for titanium, or is moving into carbon inevitable?

It was a debate with a deadline because of a daydream I couldn’t shed. I wanted to officially and pyrotechnically re-introduce the brand and unveil our design concepts in March at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) in Sacramento.

NAHBS seemed like the perfect place for our kickoff. It’s a show that celebrates craft while simultaneously extending a big middle finger to the bike industry. There’s an appealing lack of retailer politics and the tedium of distribution and market talk. Like nearly all the brands present at NAHBS, Merlin would put the customer first, not the bike shop.

We contacted the show about reserving booth space. But its reply was heartbreaking. Registration was limited to brands conforming to, among other things, these regulations:

‘FRAME BUILDERS: PRIMARY DISPLAY BIKES ONLY (YOU BUILT THESE IN YOUR WORKSHOP).
No bicycles are permitted in any frame builder’s booth other than those built by the exhibitor, and if branded, bearing the exhibitor’s brand.
No sub-contracted bicycles are permitted. Not even those by a current-year NAHBS exhibitor.’

MerlinGiven the vast untapped capacity for titanium bike production in the US, we never gave a moment’s thought to anything except subcontracting Merlin’s production. Doing otherwise would be staring into the economic abyss.

Here at Competitive Cyclist we keenly appreciate Merlin’s past, we’re consumed with a passion for riding, we have an aptitude for back-of-napkin design and we know what’s missing in the bike market as a whole. But when it comes to what we don’t know, like sourcing flawless raw material and the meticulous manufacturing, there’s a great deal of underutilized capability available in America. To develop that expertise within our four walls would be plain dumb.

And so the end of my NAHBS dream upended my vision of what Merlin may become. The one-time titans of Ti are breathing their last breaths. For a reason. The Independent Fabrication buzz from 2009 has seemingly vanished. What in the world is going on at Serotta? Doesn’t the resurgence of Litespeed rest purely on the back of carbon? What percentage of Seven bikes are Ti? The remains of Titus were bought by whom? And who with a taste for Ti wouldn’t just want to buy a Moots?

What I previously didn’t grasp is that what differentiated Merlin was its approach to Ti, not Ti in itself. Its key distinction in the market was its commitment to amazing quality. In moving forward we’ll become better students of the spirit of the brand, rather than tripping up on a fixation with the material it long ago mastered. This may lead us to something other than Ti. Or, in appreciation of that spirit, we may choose to never build a single thing. We’ve hit the reset button, which may also prove to be the off button.