Merlin Malt 725 Steel SLX Hardtail Review

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Merlin Malt 725 Steel SLX hardtail is billed as a “trail centre destroyer, single track ripper and all-round adventure bike” but we think it should just focus on the latter, as it does a great job of that.

  • Brand: Merlin
  • Product: Malt 725 Steel SLX Hardtail
  • Price: £2,299 £1,599*
  • From: Merlin Cycles
  • Review by: Amanda Wishart

*we review bikes at their stated SRP (Suggested Retail Price), which is £2,299 in this instance. In the Real World, this bike will always be on sale for £1,599. Which is worth factoring in.


  • The frame and branding look nice
  • Fork lockout is useful for touring
  • Attention to detail on finishing jobs, like cable tidies


  • Geometry doesn’t lend itself to trail riding
  • Build spec is a bit mediocre for the (Suggested Retail Price) money
  • Seatpost lever is not very nice

The Merlin Malt has been around since the early nineties, in some sort of form. The 2023 iteration is a steel 29er with 120mm fork travel. The 29in wheels bring it into the current century, but the geometry seems to have missed the boat. That said, not everyone wants or needs a long, low, slack bike, so I have tried to test this bike for what I believe it lends itself to best: pootling around bridleways at a leisurely pace.

The frame is built from Reynolds 725, which tends to be chosen for having a bit more flex than the slightly lighter steel alloys, though in both weight and flexibility the differences aren’t likely to be enough for the average rider to notice without a direct comparison using the exact same components. You could buy a really expensive frame using the most forgiving of steel tubing, build it up with a stiff wheelset, firm forks and stiff bars, and it’d feel like a harsh ride. The components need a lot of consideration to make a comfortable hardtail, so don’t be fooled into thinking the ‘best’ steel is the answer to having a supple ride.

The spec on this Merlin Malt 725 SLX model is the most budget build in the range. 12-speed Shimano SLX groupset with a Sunrace cassette puts it close to the bottom spec of Shimano groupsets. The WTB STi30 rims are an XC/trail aluminium rim that I find to be strong yet quite heavy and characterless, so no complaints but also no great ride quality increase from them.

The brakes are Magura MT Trail Sport that have quite a big deadzone in the lever action before you actually feel them kick in, but they’re plenty powerful enough for this bike. I really like the lever shape, they’re quite ergonomic and have a reach adjustment screw.

Being able to lock-out the 120mm fork is a great addition to a short travel hardtail, especially one that lends itself more to touring than trail bashing. I say it lends itself more toward touring because the 71.5° seat angle paired with the 67° headangle put you more upright than most modern mountain bikes. It’s not a playful, forgiving bike. It’s a bike that will get you from A to B.

The RSP Plummet Stealth dropper has 125mm of travel, cable actuation and a very small and rather un-ergonomic lever. The button is quite small and takes quite an intentional press down, however the post itself is really smooth and reliable. There’s no rotational play in it, and it really seems like a perfectly good component just with a lever that doesn’t suit me (which could be changed easily enough).

So where does the Merlin Malt 725 Steel SLX sit in the market? The old skool geometry takes it out of the running for mountain bikers looking for a fun, playful hardtail. The cost also bumps it off any cheap winter bike lists. Bikepackers and tourers would appreciate the short travel and especially the fork lockout, and the steep geometry also suits that sort of riding. Newer riders looking to just get about by bike, maybe give some bridleways a go, or travel off-road with more comfort than a gravel bike, again would find this bike a great fit.


If you’re looking for a solid, durable bike to put some mileage on with the added comfort of a bit of suspension, convenience of a seatpost and plenty of frame space for baggage, I see no reason not to go for the Merlin Malt. The build quality and finishing touches are excellent, and it is a smart looking bike.

Although I don’t sound overly positive about the Malt, that’s because it doesn’t suit my riding style. I like to play, I want to go fast and I want to hop around and jump off anything I can. The Merlin Malt has been great for riding to and from work on the Pennine Bridleway, so it’s perfectly capable, it just lacks the fun and playful aspects most modern hardtails might bring.

Merlin Malt 725 Steel SLX Hardtail specification

  • Frame // Reynolds 725
  • Fork // RockShox Judy Silver TK 120mm
  • Wheels // WTB STi30
  • Front Tyre // Schwalbe Nobby Nic 29×2.25in
  • Rear Tyre // Schwalbe Nobby NIc 29×2.25in
  • Chainset // Shimano SLX M7100 32T
  • Brakes // Magura MT Trail Sport
  • Drivetrain // Shimano SLX/SunRace 11-51T
  • Stem // Control Tech Lynx
  • Handlebars // Control Tech Lynx Riser
  • Grips // DMR Brendog
  • Seat Post // RSP PLummet Stealth Dropper
  • Saddle // Charge Spoon

Geometry of our size 17in

  • Head angle // 67°
  • Actual seat angle // TBC
  • Seat tube length // 431mm
  • Head tube length // 100mm
  • Chainstay // 435mm
  • Wheelbase // 1,000 mm
  • Effective top tube // 600mm
  • BB height // TBC
  • Reach // 446mm

Review Info

Brand: Merlin
Product: Malt 725 Steel SLX Hardtail
Price: £2,299 (£1,599 on perma-sale)
Tested: by Amanda for
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Amanda Wishart

Art Director

Amanda is our resident pedaller, who loves the climbs as much as the descents. No genre of biking is turned down, though she is happiest when at the top of a mountain with a wild descent ahead of her. If you ever want a chat about concussion recovery, dealing with a Womb of Doom or how best to fuel an endurance XC race, she's the one to email.

More posts from Amanda

Viewing 14 posts - 1 through 14 (of 14 total)
  • Merlin Malt 725 Steel SLX Hardtail Review
  • IHN
    Full Member

    Is the geometry really that ‘old school’? It’s not super longlowslack, but the head angle of 67deg is a decent chunk slacker than the usual 70deg you’d get on actual old-school hardtails.

    Full Member

    Somewhere between this and the On-One Huntsman is a bargain bikepacking rig to be had.

    “all-round adventure bike” yet only one set of bottle cage mounts? They says it’ll take 27.5 x 3″ so I guess 29 x 2.6 or so, yeah?

    Full Member

    £1.6 – 2k bike with Judy TK Silver. ☹️

    Full Member

    I think they geometry is a bit old for the suggest use of ‘trail centre destroyer’, and I thought it before bothering to look at the actual numbers. To ride it feels like it’d be excellent for a long day out, or a multiday trip, where you aren’t touching on playful trails. It’s a sit-up-straight, good posture, no stress on your arms kind of ride.

    Full Member

    sounds like it is mainly good on the sort of stuff that gravel bikes excel at. So for same money one could get a nice gravel bike with a decent grx groupset and a much lighter and lively ride…

    Full Member

    £1.6 – 2k bike with Judy TK Silver

    OTOH it’s got mostly an SLX drivetrain and ISTR seeing quite a few £3k bikes using Deore. Despite Amanda saying it’s near the bottom of Shimano’s range.

    As for the geo, 67 is a lot slacker than ‘traditional’ hardtails, and 446 reach on a 17/medium isn’t that short either. I’m a bit puzzled by this review, and I wonder if it’s down to 725 being a bit ‘dead’ feeling.

    Free Member

    I’d take Deore with a useable fork, rather than the Judy.

    67deg HA is six-year-old trail geometry, might be perfect for the people who moan that “all new bikes are LLS”.

    Let’s see if it flies off the shelves shall we?

    (it won’t)

    Full Member

    Almost a straight copy of a Stanton Sherpa. Cant believe that wheelbase figure though, must be nearer 1130mm for the 17″?

    Full Member

    71.5° seat angle

    Is that correct? Appears rather relaxed, maybe too relaxed to match the other numbers?

    I’d take Deore with a useable fork, rather than the Judy.

    67deg HA is six-year-old trail geometry, might be perfect for the people who moan that “all new bikes are LLS”.

    Let’s see if it flies off the shelves shall we?

    (it won’t)

    +1 to all of that

    Full Member

    Slx is fine but that fork isn’t acceptable on a hardtail at that price point (higher or lower). I wonder why anyone would take this over something like a Vitus Sentier whoch for just over £1k packs in a much better fork and more modern geometry.

    Is it’s the steel factor then the Ragley Bigwig absolutely smashes it out the park on spec:

    Stif Squatch shows small companies can get a reasonable spec on stuff – Pike on a £1600 ish build and 130mm fork etc:

    Stif Squatch AM Kit

    Full Member

    71.5 degree head angle seems odd. Even my that new gravrl bike is 74 degrees

    If you are entertained by geometry figures you might enjoy this from spa cycles. Now I’m so old school that 67 degrees seems fine for a head angle. But even for me this is short and steep. 430mm reach on an XL. nb this isn’t as drop bar bike it’s a flat bar bike with space for a suspension fork

    Geometry table

    Full Member

    Stif Squatch shows small companies owned by much bigger ones can get a reasonable spec on stuff


    Free Member

    I just thought I would share my opinion of riding my Malt for the past couple of months.

    I purchased a Malt to sit alongside my Hightower as a fun trail bike for family ride duties and to liven up my local trail centre. The Malt appealed due to price and that the geo is very similar to the highly regarded Stanton Sherpa.

    I built the bike up to a decent trail specification with Rockshox Pike Select RC 120mm, Hope pro 5 wheels, Maxxis Ardent 2.4  tyres, SLX groupset, Burgtec Ride wide bars etc.

    The Malt has been my go to bike over the last few months over a rather nice Hightower. I think that says a lot! To me the bike is hugely fun, versatile and capable. I have raced XC, enjoyed plenty of mellow trails and pointed it down some steep greasy enduro routes. My only complaint when it gets steep is that the seat tube is perhaps a little too long. Being able to get the saddle a little further down would add a lot more confidence on the steep stuff.

    It is not a bike without faults though. The paint quality is awful. The thing flakes paint at any opportunity. Some welds are showing rust and the worst part is the dropper routing most forward cable mount on the down tube strikes the compression adjustment of my Pike fork. This is really annoying as I transport my bike on a pick up tailgate pad. I have expressed my annoyance with Merlin who have offered to inspect the frame if I stripped and returned it. I have not taken them up on this.

    Despite these niggles the Malt is still a bike I would recommend due to its value, ride quality and versatility. Just buy a chain stay protector and plenty of heli tape!




    Full Member

    I have expressed my annoyance with Merlin who have offered to inspect the frame if I stripped and returned it.

    I had the opposite with my Merlin gravel bike – basically an email saying ‘meh, suck it up’ over the missing mudguard mounts issue.
    I wouldn’t buy Merlin again.

Viewing 14 posts - 1 through 14 (of 14 total)

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