About Nola Wilken

Cycling enthusiast and owner of Restoring Vintage Bicycles; CPA/Founder of Wilken & Company, P.C., CPAs

A post about many different subjects

 

Hello.  As a blogger, cyclist, wrencher, and a few other titles that reflect my interests, sometimes I worry that my blog posts stray over a variety of topics, and that I have “buried the lead”.  Burying the lead is a classic journalistic “mistake” that, for me, is hard to avoid.  Possibly this is because I love a good mystery, and like the idea of being strung along while that facts and intrigue unfold.  Or, possibly, I am just a bad writer.

I have been musing over how to discuss the latest bike in my restoration queue – a  beautiful blue 1980 Méral.

Is this discussion about Méral bicycles?  Or is it about 650b conversions?  Or Vitus 788 tubing?  Maybe it’s also about seat post lug details, unusual components, frame geometry, and bottom bracket height.

Note the unusual slanted clamp

So, now that I have buried the lead, let me get into the dilemmas and intrigue involving this 1980 Méral Randonneuse that I recently acquired, having been shipped from France and looking no worse for the wear.  Why is this bike not a Randonneur?  Well, the French have a rule that bicycles are feminine, regardless of shape or size – and so all randonneuring bikes in France are called by their proper feminine adjective.  So, maybe this post is also about the strange gender assumptions and biases that bog down the cycling industry.

My 1980 custom Méral is shown above in the foreground.  Behind it sits its recently acquired sibling, also purportedly a 1980 model, though not custom, and obviously much BIGGER.  The larger Méral came to me as a complete bike, and has offered some new experiences:  a rare J.P. Routens seatpost with slanted clamp, Vitus 788 tubing, a Belleri stem and bars with decaleur clamp bolt, among other nice components including Campagnolo hubs and a drilled Stronglight triple crankset.

This really is a lovely bicycle, and far outside the norm of production bikes of this era.  As pictured, it weighs a little over 24 lbs.  Considering the Brooks Professional saddle, the fenders, and front rack, that is impressive.  The tubing is Vitus 788, which by the 1980s was apparently a butted tubeset with a 7/10 top tube, and 8/10 down and seat tubes.  The bike has the classic mix of components from this era (long before the Gruppo days) – Huret derailluers, Simplex downtube shifters, Stronglight drilled triple crankset, Campagnolo hubs laced to Mavic 700c rims, Mafac Racer centerpulls and Universal levers with gum hoods.

This bike was designed for tight clearances around a 700c wheelset. The bike is equipped with 23mm Michelin’s.  The very pretty custom steel fenders provide for a small bit of clearance for a larger diameter tire – possibly 25 mm.  While certainly not every 700c bike from this era is a candidate for a 650b conversion, I wondered whether this bike might have the right frame geometry and clearances so that it could be enjoyed with wider and more comfortable tires.

BB drop measurement

BB height measurement

The bottom bracket drop for this bike is quite significant – almost 80 mm.  That’s quite a bit more than I would normally think as ideal (I recommend under 70 mm) for a candidate frame for a 650b conversion.  The BB height with 23cm 700c tires is almost 28 inches.  So even with the big BB drop, the BB height will not be a concern when converting this bike to 650b, if that is what I decide to do.

Extra chainstay bridge for BB mounted dynamo

Dynamo control lever mount on the seat tube

This Méral has an extra chainstay bridge at the bottom bracket.  I believe this was intended to allow mounting of a bottom bracket dynamo.  The fenders have dynamo wiring installed, which routes through the frame.  The seat tube features a braze-on for a shifter which would have been used to engage the BB dynamo.  The frame also features rack braze-ons, front and rear, so the Méral’s custom camping racks could be added.

So, while this post was about many different topics, one take away is that Méral bicycles were an interesting offering.  The company built bikes from 1974 to 1983, and after that Francis Quillon, master builder, continued his frame building acumen with his own company, Cyfac, which continues to this day.

Groupe Sportif Meral

1980 Meral Sportif frame

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 runner, 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 on the right

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:

1980 Meral custom 700c sportif frame converted to 650b – my daily rider.

1970’s Meral 650b – with custom Meral steel racks and fenders.

Beautiful cream colored paint and nicely filed lugs.  Noted the sloping fork crown.

Fully chromed Reynolds 531 fork on the 1980 Meral.

And, my latest acquisition – a 1980 700c Randonneuse – still awaiting shipment:

1980 Meral Randonneuse with Vitus 788 tubes – photo credit eBay seller lilo920 – my latest addition.

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:

Photo found on Pinterest – I would like to credit this photo to its proper owner.

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.

Doing What Google Can’t Do

The first digital computer – a Hartwell – developed in 1951.

Internet based resources for all types of cycling enthusiasts are extraordinary.  Being able to share experiences, insights, knowledge, photos, and technical advice is a real testament to the upside of the worldwide web.  Sheldon Brown’s site is a good example of a knowledge base (Sheldon’s brain) growing with an emerging technical delivery platform (the web).  Sadly, his site is now monetized with obnoxious advertising. That is one of the downsides of the browsing experience.  It is also one of the ways the web has “matured”.  Money must be made, or our “free” browsing will be at peril.

Have you ever tried to find an answer to a question that seemed elusive?  You might experiment with various search terms or try out other languages, but you still can’t find what you are looking for.  Well, that’s Google (or whatever search engine you might be using) limiting your results, based on their own proprietary algorithm for generating revenue.  So, your goal is to get around the Google biases so that you accomplish your research objective.

Decades ago, as a young accounting student, I often stayed up late reading George Boole‘s The Laws of Thought.  That book, published in 1854, remains a challenging read for me to this day, but at the time I was struggling to not flunk out of my three term computer science class, led by the oldest and crankiest math professor at my university.  She held court at the local dive, and while drinking vodka straight up, counseled the undergrads who gathered round her in the hopes of avoiding an embarrassing grade and the humiliation of summer classes.  Our sole task, encompassing all three terms, was the creation of a computer program, written in Pascal, which would convert Roman numerals to their numeric equivalents.  The Pascal program would be fed at night, via punch card, into our university’s giant humming computers, and we’d learn of our success or failure (mostly the latter) only after days had gone by.

My own efforts were sub-par.  My Pascal program would abort after reaching the number 71, for reasons which I could not determine.  Nevertheless, I passed all three terms with a miserable C grade, probably mostly attributable to my monetary contribution to the vodka fund.

1960’s Mercian Catalog

Later, this experience paid off in spades.  Not only was I tuned into the way in which computers operated, I learned that computers do exactly what they are programmed to do.  If you provide the proper inputs, you will get the desired results.  I learned the logical Boolean expressions which I use to this day to develop spreadsheets, to conduct internet searches, and even to contemplate Boole’s most baffling equation:  x = x squared.  However, Google, or whatever search engine you use, is not a computer that you can program.  It’s a “free” service that comes at a price.  So, if you want to get better results from your vintage cycling searches, I recommend using different search engines, and especially using other languages.  If you vary your search terms and put them out of order, you are likely to also come across hits that wouldn’t appear otherwise.  An invaluable resource can also be cycling forums, which will often contain links to unusual sites that you would not locate with an internet search.  This is especially true for foreign language sites.

Locating a 1960’s Mercian Catalog on the internet was not as easy as it sounds.  If you type in those search terms, you’ll come up with a lot of other stuff, but not what you are looking for.  To find the info I wanted for the restoration of my 1972 Mercian, shown above, I needed to go directly to the Mercian website and download their historical catalogs.  This link did not appear in any search that I attempted.  So, sometimes your result is really the most logical (thank you, George Boole), regardless of whether or not your search engine thinks so.