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1988 Merlin Mountain Vintage Mountain Bike

This is a Merlin Mountain vintage mountain bike with the serial number 440 - so an earlier model. A way to visually identify this as an early Merlin frame is due to the straight chainstays and black decals. With that being said, if you have an even earlier frame number, the welds can be slightly cruder as the welding of titanium tubes was not as elegant as we are accustomed to these days. 


I’m not 100% certain this frame is from 1988 because the serial numbers that used to feature on the original Merlin Bike website (since disappeared from the World Wide Web) started with frame numbers 1 to 59 were built in 1988, and subsequent serial numbers that have been recorded (by a good friend), say that frames 60 to 139 were built in 1989 and 139 to 3604 were built in the year 1990. It’s apparent a clerical error happened along the way, especially considering they were founded in 1985. This is a fun conundrum I hope to figure out one day. If you have any thoughts on this or can provide any insight, I’d love to hear from you.


I bought this bike from a good friend, who owned an amazing bike shop in San Diego, which has since closed due to his retirement, very deservedly. He was a very early proponent of drop bar mountain bikes which came about after he had ridden Ross Shafer’s (the mastermind behind Salsa Cycles ((Scoboni!)) which featured his very elegant unfiled brazed fillets) in 1986 at the ‘Rockhopper’ race in Anadel Park. Based on that experience he began educating his customers on how great drop bar MTBs rode and he built this bike as you see it now given his love affair with drop bars and his customers agreed!


The shop owner ended up buying the bike back from the original owner a few years ago (circa 2019) and then I happened to be in the right place at the right time and bought it from him.

I think you’ll agree that the bike is certainly built to a high specification in its original state but I have some plans for it, so it’s an ongoing project for me as time (life!) allows... So the photos you see below reflect a few different stages in its development.


Some of the cool original build features are the drop bar setup where typically you’d see a regular flat stem (perhaps with a 0 or 5-degree rise) and a flat handlebar. The drop bar setup consists of an Ibis LD (gooseneck) stem, WTB RM-2 Dirt Drop bars (note the flare in the drops which provide greater comfort), and WTB thumb shifter mounts. Note how tall the stem is (9.5 inches), bringing the drops of the bars into a really comfortable position, so the rider isn’t bent over in an uncomfortable position and the flares of the bars are in a natural orientation to your wrists so you have full control over the bike, with the brake levers and shifters in an ergonomic position, so your fingers can control the bike.
Another nice feature is the upgrade to the Manitou suspension fork, which features internal replacement springs, from the original factory-installed elastomers. The springs are a vast improvement over the elastomers, the forks feel so much better with them. The rest of the build features sturdy and reliable Shimano XT components and wheels.


Some of my initial thoughts on upgrading the bike's components, are to install some of the parts I truly love for their longevity, comfort, and perhaps rarity. I will 100% keep the drop bar setup as I really enjoy that riding position and not replace any of those parts. What I might do is replace the Manitou fork with a rigid IRD fork, but will definitely replace the following; to include a black IRD seatpost and with a Selle Italia Turbo saddle (ideally a perforated version) sitting atop the post, the harder to find black color version of the Shimano XT M73X crank arms, a black WTB/King Grease Guard headset, a black WTB Roller Cam brake to provide rear braking and finally modern tan wall tires so the bike is rideable, modern because I don’t want old aged tires to potentially collapse beneath me and cause an accident.

Once the project is complete, I’ll update this page and add new photos.

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