A Mystery Vintage Touring Bike Courtesy of Fred DeLong

I discovered Fred Delong’s publications much too late in my life.  DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles and Bicycling, first published in 1974 (the year I graduated from high school), is a treasure trove of both technical and non-geeky information, and includes photos and material I have never seen elsewhere.

Fred was a lifelong cyclist, author, and bike guru, and was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 2001, six years after he passed away in 1995.

His book is unusual for its time in American cycle publishing.  It features French, Italian, and British built bicycles, and includes discussions of 650b tires with supple sidewalls mounted on low trail camping bikes, avoidance of toe overlap on touring bikes, and the importance of clearance in frame builds to allow for wider tires, as well as eyelets and baze-ons for fenders and racks.  Sound familiar?

The above photos are close up crops of the original photo shown as figure 2.11 in DeLong’s 1974 guide.  While most of the other photos in the book contain credits or are otherwise referenced, this image was not referenced or credited anywhere in the book.  That means we don’t know who built this bike.

So, let’s start with what we do know about this bike.  According to DeLong, this bike’s features are as follows:

“Wide tubular platform carrier with pannier bags mounted…

Hollow aluminum alloy rims on Phil Wood sealed precision bearing hubs…

Alloy mudguards, front with sliding fender flap in raised position and built-generator lighting…

Mafac Cantilever tandem brakes, rear brake cable direct routing (200 degree cable arc) with hooded levers

Aluminum alloy Randonneur handlebars

531 chrome-molybdenum braze-welded frame – 71 degree head and seat tube angles

15-speed wide-range gearing (23-116) on TA alloy crank and chainwheel set.”

Remember, this book was published in 1974. The photos in the book are all probably from at least one or two years earlier.  Phil Wood founded his hub manufacturing company back in 1971 when, as a racer he became frustrated with hubs developing play and needing an overhaul after each competition. That led him to explore sealed bearing designs for hubs and bottom brackets.  By the time of the 1976 BikeCentennial, Phil Wood’s hubs were all the rave, with touring cyclists ordering up Phil Wood hubs for their wheel builds, in preparation for a cross-country journey.

The above photo depicts an extremely unusual (for the time) sloping top tube.  The builder’s logos are not clear enough to make out, but the down tube seems to indicate “XP SR”.  The seat tube reflects some circular and elliptical logos, presumably also indicating the builder/manufacturer and/or frame tubing transfers.  Is this a custom frame?  I think not.  A custom frame wouldn’t ordinarily have what appear to be model monikers on the down tube. As DeLong indicates in the text, the frame is made of 531 steel and is fillet brazed.  The rear brake features through the frame routing for the “200 degree” cable arc.  While not necessarily a custom feature, it is also certainly unusual for a non-custom frame built in the early 1970’s.

The other intriguing elements of this bike include:

An extension (presumably) on the Mafac levers

A cover (or something similar) on the rear derailleur

A front tire which appears to be wider than the rear tire

A very long reach stem – possibly to accommodate a shorter than desired top tube length

Generous fork rake combined with slack angles

Half step gearing with a tiny third ring

Who made this bike?  Ideas and speculations are welcome.  In the meantime, I discovered a bicycle ridden by DeLong which went up for sale a while back.  The photo below shows the bike, a French JB Louvet built with Reynolds 531 tubing, in disrepair.  But, it may give some clues about DeLong’s interests and preferences.

Fred Delong’s JB Louvet – courtesy of http://bikeville.blogspot.com/

 

Mid Century Mercier Meca Dural Restoration – a Brief Test Ride

Mid Century Mercier Meca Dural – Autumn 2017

MId Century Mercier Meca Dural – Winter 2017

Today I ventured out for a test ride on this Mid-Century Mercier Meca Dural – a bike which had been incorrectly modified when I acquired it last fall.  I spent the winter restoring it and replacing many of the incorrect and missing components. But, I hadn’t had time in my schedule to get the bike out on the road for a test ride until now.

Vintage Rigid Chain Guard

Carradice Long Flap saddlebag – stuffed with all the possible tools need for a first test ride.

Unfortunately, I chose a bad moment to take the bike out to Sauvie Island – one of my favorite low key cycling jaunts.  It’s the weekend before Halloween, which I realized only too late upon arriving at the Sauvie Island parking lot where cyclists normally unload their bikes for a journey around the bucolic beauty of this little island treasure near Portland.  That meant hordes of cars heading to the Pumpkin Patch – a place where kids can enjoy all kinds of thrilling Halloween activities.  There are no shoulders on the flat roads of Sauvie Island, so cyclists who venture there rely upon the good will of the Island’s drivers, which is usually just fine.  Today, however, was not the right day to take an untested bike into this environment, and that realization dawned on me after just a few minutes of cycling on the Meca Dural’s duralumin frame.

Original alloy Guidonnet Levers.

The ride I cut short to avoid the stress of a steady stream of vans and SUVs passing too close provided some valuable information.  One thing I learned was that these original guidonnet aluminum alloy levers have an unusually long reach, so if you need to brake suddenly and don’t have gigantic hands, you may not stop as quickly as you would like.

C.M. long reach calipers.

The C.M. long reach brake calipers have quite a bit of flex under hard braking.  This caused the front brake to jump a bit when I attempted to stop suddenly.  That may simply mean that the brake mounting bolts need a bit more torque – so that’s an issue to sort out.

Chain guard mounting hardware.

I also discovered that the lovely vintage Rigid chain guard which I had installed using a combination of new and vintage mounting hardware needed adjustment, as the chain rubbed against the guard in the lowest gear. Fortunately, this mounting hardware makes it very easy to adjust the position of the chain guard by turning the nuts on the long connecting bolts.

Vintage Simplex Grand Tourisme rear derailleur.

The 3 speed freewheel is mated to a 46 tooth Louis Verot chainring on Stronglight 49d crank arms.  The small cogs make for high gearing, which was almost too high even on the totally flat roads of Sauvie Island.  One solution will be to locate a vintage french threaded freewheel with larger cogs.  The bell crank actuated Simplex derailleur worked perfectly and can definitely handle larger-toothed cogs. Shifting was straightforward, with no noticeable over-shifting required. Since I didn’t have the original chain, I had guessed at the chain length.

The ride quality overall was comfortable. I attribute this primarily to these wonderfully preserved vintage Mavic 650b rims and the new Panasonic tires, inflated to fairly low pressures, as well as to the flex characteristics of the duralumin frame.  This bicycle’s frame design doesn’t include an extra set of mixte stays extending to the rear drop out.  Initially, I experienced a bit of a wobbly feel at the front end, which would likely become a non-issue once a rider gets this bike underway for a few miles.

Meca Dural ornate aluminum lugs joined by internal steel expanders. Kitty is optional equipment.

After this brief ride I know what is needed to make the bike more useful and reliable.  And, I didn’t worry about the Meca Dural aluminum tubes – they performed no differently than any steel framed bike I have ridden.  The bike as pictured weighs 24 lbs – very impressive considering the full fenders, chain guard, and dynamo lighting system.  The next time I ride this bike, I hope to have a bit longer and more enjoyable ride.

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 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 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.