I knew nothing of Méral bicycles until I spotted a vintage frame for sale on French eBay back in 2012. At that time I was searching for the perfect platform for a 650b conversion, which I intended to build up into an all rounder that could equal the comfort and joy provided by my long ago crashed 1976 Centurion Pro Tour.
After lusting over the extraordinarily beautiful 49 x 51 cm frame with its gold-lined chrome lugs, chrome drive side chainstay, and Meral branded chrome drop outs, I did just a tiny bit of research before bidding. Later I learned more about the company, and as a result, I have added two more Mérals to my collection.
Méral was a smaller workshop (employing about 35 staff at its peak) in La Fuye, France, a village in the grape-laden Loire Valley about 340 km to the south and west of Paris, before being acquired in 1983 by Lejeune Cycles. Unfortunately, very little English language information seems available about the company’s history. And, the French Wikipedia site does not include Méral in its list of historical bicycle manufacturers, which is odd considering that there are thousands of other companies in this list, including all the constructeurs of the golden age, with the notable exception of Goeland.
But with much diligence (using my Google outsmarting skills), I discovered that Méral was founded in 1974 by Albert Metayer – a sofa manufacturing baron whose company still exists today, although he retired back in the 1980’s and has since passed away – Sedac-Meral.
In the late 1960’s, Monsieur Metayer wanted to become involved in France’s competitive cycling teams so had founded his own Meral Sportif team which competed for a number of years. The riders pedaled the Gitane brand and wore Metayer’s chosen colors. By 1974, Metayer decided that building his own bikes would be a way to sponsor racers as well as make money selling bikes to the general public. It was at that time that Metayer recruited 24 year old Francis Quillon, who was a competitive cyclist riding on the Méral team, to take the reins of his fledgling bike shop. “I was 24 at the time, I knew how to make frames, I worked at Manutube, and then I was inspired by the high-end machines of the time, Singer and Berthoud” – quote attributed to Quillon from Confrérie des 650.
Francis Quillon has been credited with being the mastermind behind the quality of Meral bicycles which consisted of off-the-shelf offerings as well as custom builds. When the company was acquired in 1983, Quillon split off and decided to start his own company – Cyfac – a highly regarded shop which built custom frames for professional racers and continues to this day, although Francis sold his interest in it a number of years ago.
Clearly someone was responsible for the extraordinary build quality and unique features of Méral bicycles, because these bikes really do surpass what one sees even in the most ethereal of cycling atmospheres. That’s why I have decided to increase my collection of these amazing bicycles. The 1980 Méral, which I bought as a frame and fork and converted to 650b has become one of my daily riders. In addition I have a 1970’s Meral 650b randonneuse, and have recently acquired a 1980 700c Randonneuse. Here are some photos of these wonderful bikes:
And, my latest acquisition – a 1980 700c Randonneuse – still awaiting shipment:
Méral also pioneered an unusual take on a mixte frame. This involved sloping and bending the top tube to allow an easier throw over of one’s leg. Here is one example whose color scheme matches my 1970’s cream colored Meral:
Velobase.com has a 1984 Meral catalog on its site which is worth perusing. Quillon’s influence is still visible at this point. If you have a chance to acquire one of these machines, you’ll be advised to look for a pre-1983 model, which will reflect the builder’s amazing skill and attention to detail.