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Road Gear

The ‘now’ bike vs. the ‘forever’ bike

The bike you can see yourself using for years to come and the latest and greatest all-around offering each have their strengths and weaknesses.

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You’re mature enough now to commit for the long term. You’re ready to plant some bike roots. You’re after timelessness, versatility, and a handcrafted build that’s made just for you. As technology changes, you’ll look at your Forever Bike and have no regrets, even if it’s not wearing the coolest and newest.

I love Merlin’s Extralight titanium frame, on which I requested S&S couplers to make travel easier, enough to make it mine. It’s got double-butted 3/2.5 oversized titanium tubing, it’s disc-brake compatible, and it’s got clearance for wide road tires. And I watched it get built right here in the USA. I’d happily hang it on the wall for posterity one day.

Custom is key: My Extralight was made specifically for me, with geometry designed for my body and details made to my spec. Those decouplers, for example, don’t come standard; I needed them so I could travel easily with my bike. The Forever Bike is unapologetically all about me, me, me.

My Extralight comes with disc brakes and has geometry on par with today’s race bikes (73-degree head tube angle, 70 mm bottom bracket drop, 410 mm chainstays, for example). It’s a modern classic already.

Above all, I love the T47 threaded bottom bracket. This “standard” is still in its infancy and has largely been adopted only by smaller builders until Trek began using it on select bikes in 2019. Threads drastically reduce the likelihood of bottom bracket creaks. This is future-proofing in action.

Profile of custom Merlin bike
Merlin Extralight XLR | $3,200 (frame only) | Photo: Brad Kaminski

Yet, the frame is noticeably devoid of aerodynamic shapes. The round tubes are objectively slower than truncated airfoil shapes. While weight doesn’t matter as much here — indeed, the Forever Bike is likely to be heavier than the Now bike — the weight comes in the form of materials rather than tube shapes. It’s all about longevity and durability.

Quite on purpose, there’s no power meter on my Merlin. It’s all about enjoying the ride, not measuring it.

The frame, while forgiving, still feels stiff and responsive. It feels an awful lot like a race bike; the only difference is it’s more comfortable.

The Forever Bike is all about me now, and me later. It’s a bit about performance and a lot about romance. And that’s just perfect for this long-term relationship.

The bike of the moment has staying power, too. The primary focus on the “Now Bike” is speed — as much of it as you can get, with the best technology that’s available right now. Orbea’s Orca is a prime example of a bike packed with everything that goes fast, right now.

Profile of Orbea Orca bike
Orbea Orca M20LTD-D | $5,000 | Photo: Orbea

For starters, even the Orca, Orbea’s all-around bike, now looks an awful lot like its dedicated aero bike, the Orca Aero. That category blending happens on purpose; aero tube shapes make sense on any bike, but until now it was difficult, if not impossible, to create a bike with aerodynamic refinements while maintaining low weight and comfort. Yet here we are, enjoying exactly this new reality, due to dropped seat stays and smart carbon layups. While the bike of tomorrow will still maintain a few distinct characteristics that set the two categories apart, the categories will continue to blur that line.

While the Orca does feature a lot of aero tube shapes designed to help air flow over the frame more efficiently, the shaping isn’t as dramatic as the shapes on the Orca Aero. This is largely to save weight. Bigger tubes equals heavier bike.

The bike of now is also all about integration. Cables are nowhere to be seen, either because the drivetrain is wireless — like SRAM’s eTap AXS — or because the wires, cables, and hoses are cleverly hidden within the cockpit and frame. This is all done to prevent aerodynamic drag, but also to make the bike look as sleek as possible. That means setup isn’t nearly as convenient, nor are component swaps, but the end result is as sleek and fast as it gets.

The geometry screams race bike. A 73-degree head tube angle and short, whippy 991 mm wheelbase make the Orca ultra-responsive for quick changes in direction. The ride quality isn’t as buttery smooth as the forever bike, but that’s not what the Orca is made for. It’s stiff and punchy, ideal for endless cols and finish kicks.

Funny enough, the Orca — and all-around bikes like it — are the bike of the future. Forever? Not quite. But expect bikes to look a lot like this one for years to come.

 

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