I recently purchased this Mercian on eBay. The seller described it as a 1960’s model, but with its Shimano dropouts, I suspected it was actually made a bit later.
The bottom bracket shell seems to indicate this is a 1972 model. A name appears to be etched above the serial number, but I can’t quite make it out. Perhaps this was the owner’s name. Having looked through the available Mercian catalogs on-line, and after taking frame measurements, I still don’t quite know what model this is.
However, given that it has decent length chain stays (44mm), and single eyelets front and rear, it is possible that this is the Campionissimo or Olympic model, off the shelf frames designed for light touring and randonneuring, but with no customizing available except choosing the color.
The lugs are ornate, and unusually shaped, although not a great deal of time was spent filing them. The frame is equipped with pump pegs and a full set of cable stops. The pump pegs are mounted slightly off center below the top tube, to prevent interference with the cable stops also mounted slightly off center on the opposite side.
I measured the frame and took some preliminary angle readings. It is a 49 cm x 51 cm frame (or, speaking British, a 20 inch frame – which the company measures center to top). The angles appear fairly steep, at about 74 degrees for both the head tube and seat tube. Of course, there is a margin of error using this method, and once the bike is built I will re-measure the angles using a level to correct for errors. I also checked brake reach using 700c wheels (I think the frame was built for 27 inch wheels). It looks like I will need about 65 mm of brake reach to use 700c wheels with this frame – that is definitely doable.
However, the biggest challenge will be determining whether the paint damage and oxidation to the top tube will mean having to re-paint the frame, something I am loathe to do. If the paint damage is just at the surface level, and there’s no rust underneath, I’d like to preserve the beautiful patina of this nice Reynolds 531 hand built frame.
Thankfully, it was a rainy, stormy day today, not suited for riding. A perfect shop day. I got out my various cleaning products and began to experiment on the back side of the fork legs, so that if I did something irretrievably bad, it would not be so visible. As it turned out, the most effective product was an automotive paint cleaning compound. Applied vigorously, and polished vigorously afterwards, this product was best at removing the years of neglect. I was worried about taking off too much paint however, and I only gently cleaned the Mercian logos. I definitely did not want to damage these as they were all in great condition. The photos above show the frame after several hours of cleaning and polishing – there is a definite improvement! That gave me the impetus to start working on the top tube. I figured that no matter how hard I rubbed, I couldn’t make it worse than it already was. I really wanted to see what the damage looked like underneath the oxidized paint.
The good news is that underneath the oxidation was nice silver-colored steel, with no rust visible at all. The bad news is that the top tube looks pretty funky, still. I will probably clean it up a bit more and then apply some clear paint to protect the exposed areas. After more cleaning, I will also apply many coats of wax to the entire frame, just to make sure that it remains protected in the elements. You’ll note from the above photo that I also removed the California bike license tag. While I usually keep these kinds of artifacts intact, this one really detracted from its appearance. Underneath was the original frame color – a very vibrant red. Well, now the bike is a very cool orange color!
It’s now time to start thinking about the components. Since the frame has such a vintage look, I think it would be best to build it up with period components. Fortunately, the old Mercian catalogs will provide a lot of information about how these machines were typically configured. I have these GB 88 brakes which would be from the period, and which have just the right amount of brake reach. My crankset collection includes two Stronglight candidates. The crankset at the left is a Spidel/Stronglight set from the 80’s – meant to be a copy of a Campy Super Record Crankset, and the one at the right is a 1970’s model with the star shaped spider that I love. I will probably go with the more vintage look. The frameset came shipped with a TDC headset, probably orginal, and a Sugino bottom bracket, which may or may not be original. By this time, Shimano and other Japanese components were beginning to be considered on par with the best French, British and Italian component makers of the time.
I have been wanting to find the right home for this beautiful Dura Ace high flange front hub with its smooth as butter cups and cones. It is laced to a 700c Araya rim. I might decide to use an unusual rear hub, such as a 2 x 6 Sachs-Fitchel hub, or even a Sturmey Archer, in keeping with its British heritage. That is part of the fun – envisioning the many interesting ways this frame can be configured. I look forward to riding it and getting this great old frame back out on the road.