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.

Tires I have loved, and a few I have hated.

Cypres 650b

The amazing array of wheel diameters, tire widths, tread patterns, sidewall construction, and the debate over fat vs. skinny widths, and high vs. low tire pressure inspired me to share my own experience with bicycle tires.

I am also a motorcyclist, so my knowledge of tire performance and traction is informed by my understanding of how tires function on motorcycles. A lot of the same science carries over to bicycles.

In my own personal collection of bikes I can count 9 different rim diameters:  700B, 27″, 700c, 650c, 650b, 26″ metric, 26″ English, 26″ MTB, and 24″.  From there, rim widths vary, spoke counts and lacing vary, and tire widths vary.  Wheel construction also has a very important impact on ride quality. In my opinion, more spokes on the rim are better than fewer, and wider rims are better than narrower ones, at least for all non-racing applications (that is to say, most of the entire cycling population).

The research on tire width and construction relative to speed and comfort is very limited.  So I give kudos to Jan Heine and his team for sounding the alarm about narrow high pressure tires and their negative effect on performance.  Not to mention their negative effect on comfort, and the limiting effect they have on a cyclist’s ability to safely explore her or his surroundings.  Since most cyclists don’t have hundreds to spend on tires, not to mention thousands to spend on custom built bicycles, it is important to consider real world, long-lived, and reasonably priced tire and rim options.  Cyclists who use their bikes regularly for transportation figured this out long ago.

For anyone struggling to understand the bizarre nomenclature surrounding tire sizing:  you are not alone.  There is no consistency in size labeling (although that is improving), and even among tires that are purportedly the same size, there can be perplexing variation which can make it hard to mount the right sized tire to your rim.  Sheldon Brown’s site has a sizing chart and discussion which help to explain the strangeness surrounding tire sizing nomenclature.  If you are confused, join the crowds!  When in doubt, always measure your effective rim diameter in order to determine the correct tire size for your bike.  If you are removing a tire, it’s quite easy just to look at the size indicated on the sidewall to make sure you replace the old tire with the correctly sized new tire.  If your rim doesn’t have a tire, it probably has a rim diameter stated somewhere on it, if it is a newer rim.  Many vintage rims have no diameter indicated.

700A tires from the Land of Oz

Original 1929 Dunlop Le Pneu tires

700B tires

When I was restoring a 1929 Griffon, I needed to replace the corroded Dunlop Le Pneu tires.  No diameter was indicated on the old tires, so I measured the rim diameter and ordered 700A (642 mm) tires, which had to be shipped from Australia, as they were not available anywhere else in the world that I could determine.  When they arrived and I tried mounting them, I realized that I should have ordered 700B (635 mm) tires.  I incorrectly measured the ERD on the 1929 Westwood rims.  In retrospect, since I had the original tires, I should have measured their diameter instead.  700A and 700B sizes are not listed on Sheldon Brown’s chart because they are considered obsolete.  However, I found the 700B tires on Amazon, but you may be able to find these sizes in Canada and France, in addition to Australia.

So, what are my favorite tires?  And what tires will I never willingly ride again?  Here is my list:

My top three preferred tires for comfort, speed, and reliability are:

Compass Loup Loup Pass 650b tires

Panasonic Compass Loup Loup Pass 650b 38 mm – I use these on my 1980 Meral.  They are comfortable, oh so comfortable. I haven’t had a flat yet after a few thousand miles of mostly urban riding.  I keep the pressures low at 46 psi rear and 42 psi front, which seems to provide the optimal compromise between comfort and handling.

Panaracer Pasela Tourguard – 559mm/ 32 mm

Panasonic Panaracer Pasela – in all its models and sizes – used on my Terry and on many other bikes I have ridden.  I have found these tires to be very long lasting, although I have gotten a few flats on the folding version I use with my Terry.  Whether or not they are easy to mount really depends on your rim and whether you are using the folding vs. clincher model.  I prefer the folders because they are easy to carry with me when I am touring. The 27 inch size has a different tread pattern.  These tires are affordable, reasonably comfortable, and fast enough.  They are a good choice for all-round riding which is why I generally use them for my restoration projects.

2016-12-21-005

Compass McLure Pass 26″ tires – used on my Panasonic MC 7500 errand bike.  These tires replaced the frighteningly compromised Nimbus Armadillo 26 X 1.5 tires I had been riding.  The Armadillos, while never having a flat in over 6 years of use, were heavy and not very comfortable, not to mention the fact that they were splitting apart at the seams.  The McLure Pass tires have made the MC7500 faster, and much more comfortable to ride.  Tires really do make a difference!

My three second tier tires – good value and a decent ride:

Continental 700c Gatorskins

Kenda Raleigh 26″ tires

Panasonic Col de la Vie 650b tires

While I could mention many, many tires in this category, my top three mid-range choices reflect my own interests as well as the particular bikes I ride.  So, don’t take them to heart, too much.  The Continental Gatorskins are great tires for 700c road bikes.  I rode Gatorskins over many, many miles on my 1986 Centurion Ironman Expert.  They were comfortable for a narrow 700c tire, and I never had a flat in all those years.  The low-end Kenda tires on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist were a surprise.  I had expected these tires to be really horrible, and had purchased them as a placeholder until I could find “better” tires for this vintage Raleigh.  In fact, the Kenda’s proved comfortable as well as bullet proof.  I’ve had no flats in the eight years I have been using these tires, which show no signs of wear, and no sidewall cracks.  I have mixed feelings about the Panasonic Col de la Vie tires pictured above.  I tried these tires out on my 1980 Meral, and they were quite noisy, slow and ponderous.  However, these tires have worked well on the older 650b bicycles I have restored, so I list them here as a decent option for a 650b rim.  In this category I should mention a few other tires I have ridden:  Ritchey Tom Slick 26″ tires, Panaracer Ribmo, and Vee Rubber Micro knobbies.  All equally reliable and of good quality relative to price.

Tires I Won’t Buy Again:

In this category I include the Specialized Armadillo tires, noted above, which literally split apart at the seams.  I also include WTB tires – namely any of their 700c touring tires, which are noisy, heavy and very uncomfortable. I also will not ride any Continental Touring tires.  Continental’s offering is not really a touring tire, but instead a heavy and inflexible tire which is not even okay as a commuter tire, as there are many other nicer options out there (see Panaracer, above).  However, Continental does offer other tires which I do like.  I won’t buy any Schwalbe tires, no matter what the model, as I have found them to be unbelievably uncomfortable and heavy.

I do like micro knobbies as an interesting option for multi-modal cycling.  I used these Thailand manufactured Vee Rubber tires on my ALAN with very positive results – they were fast on the road as well as sure-footed on gravel.  While tire choice is not only highly personal, it should also be based on the type of riding you do, as well as the type of bike you are riding. If you are not happy with your current tires, it doesn’t hurt to think about other options.  I have found that ride quality is significantly affected by tire choice.