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Merlin CrusherTi Frameset $4,199.00
The gravel standard.
The Merlin CrusherTi Frameset began life here in our office-bound daydreams with the eventual aim of producing the ideal gravel racer. The Crusher isn't a grinder made for noodling and commuting. Instead, it's inspired by the new breed of multi-surface races and events that take riders across road, gravel, dirt, and high-altitude granite moonscapes where patches of snow manage to persist even into the heat of July. By adding an ENVE carbon disc fork to Merlin's titanium expertise, we think we've helped establish the new standard, but we'll let your own legs and gravel ambitions be the final metric.
By now, you know the standard line about titanium. It's springy, it dampens vibrations without feeling dead, it's responsive, it's lively — all of which sounds very nice, but the tendency to apply these modifiers to a frame's material alone glosses over the most important aspect of any frame's ride quality: how the damn thing is put together. That's why names like Merlin, who knows how to manipulate titanium in order to excite the above praise, carry so much weight in the cycling industry. That's also why the US-based manufacturer was the only obvious choice to build the CrusherTi.
The CrusherTi's head badge indicates that Merlin's company name refers to the bird of prey and not the sorcerous Briton of Arthurian myth. But we know better. There's definitely some alchemy at play in how the frame transforms rough roads and multi-surface punishment into solid gold. Of course, no frame-design magic in the world can elicit descriptions like "springy, damping, etc." from a frame that starts with sub-prime materials, so the CrusherTi is made entirely from double-butted 3Al-2.5V titanium sourced right here in the US.
This alloyed Ti's particular modulus means that, under stress, it expresses less deformity than aluminum and more than carbon fiber — all of which is the pseudo-engineering talk behind the pseudo-marketing fluff ("springy, responsive") that all sloughs away once you feel the frame underneath you. There may be a pre-Roman road languishing somewhere in Eastern Europe whose surface is so unfortunate that it wouldn't melt into a strip of butter under the CrusherTi, but even the Napoleonic stones of northern France will find little weakness in the long wheelbase and generous, stable rake.
Those material's resistance to deformity also means that, when the path or the watts turn up, the frame continues to transfer power efficiently from pedal to wheel. After all, plush ride aside, titanium still has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal, which puts it on par with all but the most punishing carbon frames. No matter how much marketing magic is wished into carbon, we find it often feels dead and dull compared to the CrusherTi, and it definitely won't stand up to the abuse of flung pebbles and trail-type detritus that titanium shrugs off.
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