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 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.

Mercier Meca Dural Restoration Progress

2016-12-11-015

Restoring vintage bicycles, especially those from the “golden era” which lasted from the 30’s through the 50’s, sounds vaguely romantic and thrilling.  Which it can be.  But the truth is that it can also be a very solemn and tedious process, full of stops and starts.

2015-12-31-004

This late forties or early fifties Mercier Mecal Dural is one of those projects that can test your resolve.  The bike, whose frame is made from aluminum “duralumin” tubing, was not 100% original, yet the frame itself was in beautiful condition.  Over the course of its life, someone had tried to mount 700c wheels from the 1970’s on this late 40’s/early 50’s bike designed for 650b rims, and had spray-painted over the rust and corrosion on the bike’s original steel fork.  Some parts were missing, such as the original chain guard as well as the bike’s bolt-on attachments for the shifter and chain guard.  And, the Meca Dural head badge was gone.

2016-12-11-031

Undeterred, I set out to research the history of this method of frame building, as well as to find as many other examples of these frames as possible.  Fortunately, I was successful on both counts.  Several others before me have successfully restored these bicycles, and there is a decent amount of information available on the web and in print which gives a history and background for this interesting frame construction.  However, I still haven’t been able to locate any information on the serial number scheme used by Mercier.  This frame’s SN is 16822.

1953 Mavic rim 650b

2016-12-11-017 2016-12-11-028

My first task was to find a 650b wheelset from the same era.  I harvested the wheelset from another project, which dates to 1953 and features Mavic aluminum rims laced to Fratelli Brivio hubs.  One of the initial challenges involved rebuilding and restoring the wheelset itself.  While the front hub was easily brought back to its free-spinning glory, the rear hub proved difficult.  I was not able to remove the unbranded 4 speed freewheel from the hub, lacking the particular removal tool.  I modified a Suntour two prong remover, applied copious and various kinds of lubricants to the threads, used both my vise and my giant-sized long-armed wrench, to no avail.  I didn’t want to take this freewheel apart – it is working fine and will probably last another 60 years.  So, that meant cleaning and rebuilding the hub with the freewheel attached.  All went well until I discovered that the original axle was slightly bent. When I was ready for the hub’s final adjustment, I found that the axle could not turn in the hub, due to the zero distance between the hub shell and the cone.  This particular hub has no dust cover, so I couldn’t strong-arm the opening by widening the dustcaps themselves.  That meant trying to find another perfectly straight 9.5mm axle of a similar length and with similar threads.  Amazingly I had ONE such axle in my parts bin – it was only slightly shorter than the original axle.  Whew!  On to the next problem.

2016-12-11-006

CLB 700 brakes with 650b rims

2015-12-31-006

CLB 700 brakes with 700c rims

Once I had the wheels rebuilt it became clear that the CLB 700 sidepull calipers were probably not original to the bike.  Their 70cm reach is not quite long enough to engage the 650b rims.  Darn it!  The extra reach needed is only about 2mm.  When there is enough material on the brake calipers to allow for it, you can take a round file and sand the opening lower at the bottom of the caliper arm to allow for a slight improvement in brake reach.  But, these calipers do not have enough material on the lower brake arms to make me comfortable with this approach.  Instead, I will now locate long reach side pulls from this era.  One more setback.

2016-12-11-001

Tight clearance – chain ring and chain stays

2015-12-31-003

Stronglight 49D crankset with Louis Verot chainring

Then it came time to rebuild the bottom bracket and install the beautiful, lightweight Stronglight 49D crankset, with its 46T Louis Verot chainring.  Everything went well until I observed the clearance of the chainring to the frame.  I had previously noted what I thought was a crimping mark on the sleeves which serve as the chainstay fender bridge.  When I looked closer, I realized that the “crimping mark” was actually a gouge caused by the chainring contacting the frame at the chainstays, probably under vigorous pedaling.  Investigating further, I found that the chainring itself had a wobble, which is not unusual for this type of crankset with a tiny bolt circle diameter.  A larger diameter can resist stresses from the rider, but the downside is that a larger diameter BCD cannot accept tiny chainrings needed for climbing.

2016-12-11-014

2016-01-07-014

One of the things I learned in my research about these duralumin frames is that the bottom bracket shell is set up to provide for chain line adjustment.  The shell is a simple aluminum cylinder, held in place with bolts.  In order to address the issue of the crankset contacting the chainstay sleeve under vigorous pedaling, I first measured the torque setting on the bottom bracket bolts, referencing the highest setting at 100 inch pounds as being the most accurate.  After removing the bolts, I twisted the BB shell using the locking on the non drive side of the bottom bracket.  I adjusted the BB shell over about 2mm to provide for additional necessary clearance for the crankset, by taking a mallet and gently tapping the BB.  I would not have known about this option had I not seen numerous examples of other duralumin framesets showing the BB shell in various positions.  Unfortunately one problem with these frames is that the aluminum chain stay sleeves can fail.  I wanted to give this frame a good shot a lasting through the decades, so by adjusting the BB shell, further damage to the chainstay sleeves will be avoided.

2016-12-11-035

Huret derailleur

2016-12-11-033

Beautiful Dural Azur stem with arrow design

2016-12-11-018

Hammered rear light

2016-12-11-026

Lefol hammered fenders

The next steps involve installing the Huret derailluer and shifter, polishing and cleaning the beautiful components, and setting up the brakeset and cables, and installing the tires, as well as cleaning and lubricating the leather saddle.  Stay tuned for more torture, and related thrills!