Enter the Empire. Standing as Merlin's maiden voyage into the carbon realm, it comes fully armed with the bird of prey engineering prowess revered by so many, along with a platform that's been built from the ground up by a team of cyclists and composite experts hell bent on delivering the best carbon road machine in the world. The new design pays homage to Empire Pass, one of the most difficult climbs in North America, which served as prime testing grounds for the new this UCI approved, EN certified frameset. Coming from the world of titanium, Merlin knew that the root of any sound frame design begins not only with material selection, but also tube shape. So, for its inaugural carbon fiber endeavor, Merlin's US design team partnered with a group of Italy's top carbon engineers for the handmade construction of the Empire. First glance reveals that, while not titanium, the Empire's sleek tubes flow in a manner reminiscent of metal. Absent are the aggressive swoops and curves commonplace on so many of today's road bikes, which, to Merlin, are seen as unnecessary to the overall function of the machine. Starting with the most obvious in appearance, the Empire's pencil thin seatstays draw inspiration from those of the Extralight, but carry a modern ovalized curvature. These have been paired with chainstays that flow from the dropouts into stout, box section tubes as they move into the bottom bracket junction, resulting in a rear triangle that provides the tuned compliance necessary for hours in the saddle, along with incredible torsional rigidity. The bottom bracket itself wears an oversized BB86 profile, contributing to an ultra stiff platform that directs pedaling forces directly to the rear wheel. From this junction, the Empire's large down tube moves up to the tapered, 1 12 to 1 18in head tube, which is responsible for its rock solid tracking and stability at speed. Supplementing this razor sharp handling is ENVE's Road 2. 0 fork, which has been given a cus...