We mostly feature the bikes of World Tour riders, but it’s also always interesting to see what the bikes look like one tier down at the Pro Continental level. Often times these pro bikes include some smaller brands that can’t always afford the bigger sponsorship costs of the huge teams, but at the same time are looking for brand visibility and development feedback from the riders. Belgian Merckx cycles don’t need much introduction to most cyclists, but they still look to a Pro Conti team for visibility and find a fitting match with eponymously Flanders-based Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise. We caught up with them riding the latest version of the EM525 Performance at the team’s training camp and got a closer look at the bikes….
The newest version of the carbon EM525 race bike keeps a lot of the dramatic tube shaping of its predecessor, with a couple of key updates. The biggest outward difference is that the new bike is available in two different geometries Performance & Endurance, so cyclists can pick the position on the bike that best suits them, while still getting the same top-level carbon frame construction and ride quality.
Another change is that the new race bike, already one of the early adopters of building in flex to make the northern Spring Classics more bearable, also has added a new disc brake counterpart for even more reliable performance in rough conditions. The team wasn’t riding those bikes at their Spanish training camp, but the disc bikes are expected to make their racing debut back in northern Europe.
With regards to bike setup, team sponsor Deda Elementi provides SuperZero alloy stems and Zero100 alloy handlebars in varying shape to meet individual rider needs. A few different Prologo saddle shapes could be found across the team, with or without their grippy CPC rubber tops, but with most riders opting for the Skratch and everyone on metal rails.
Other than that the new EM525 gets an updated dropped chainstay design for improved aerodynamics and more controlled flex at the rear wheel. Plus the front end is said to be more responsive thanks to a reshaped, lighter weight tapered fork.
The new version of the EM525 keeps the general shape of the rear triangle with kinked seatstays to eat up vibrations from its home cobbles, but the new bike splits the B stay for a bit more forgiveness over its predecessor. It also gets a slippery internal wedge-style seatpost clamp around the proprietary aero post.
The team is riding the last generation of Shimano’s 9050 Dura-Ace Di2, with power meters care of Pioneer.
One of the other component specs that we don’t see at the World Tour level are the Swiss Edco wheels, that are also spec’d on the stock builds from Merckx. The team mixes up alloy and carbon wheels for training, depending on the weather, and we saw them mostly riding the alloy Optima clinchers (tubeless-ready, although the team was sporting tubes.)
The team did have a healthy selection of mid section carbon Edco tubular wheels (carbon 45mm deep Umbrial Lights at left & 35mm deep Pillion Lights at right) at the ready in the truck for training when the roads dried out, but seemed to prefer more durable reinforced clinchers and more reliable braking when we caught up with the team amongst rain & snow. Edco also recently bought out Paul Lew and the FASTER wind tunnel in the US, so we might expect to see the team to be racing some new wheels later in the season.
In the end when weather is predictable, some teams sit inside on the trainer, and others head out on the road. The Belgian staff didn’t seem too fazed by bad weather, and just packed the bikes up so the riders could ride on nearby roads that were still wet, but at least not covered in snow.