Mid Century Mercier Meca Dural

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This winter’s crazy weather in Portland, Oregon finally gave me the time and focus needed to complete the restoration of a very interesting bicycle – a late 40’s/early 50’s Mercier Meca Dural.  The frame is constructed with aluminum tubes joined with ornate aluminum lugs and internal steel expanders.  The front fork is good old steel, but the rest of the frame is 100% “duralumin” – the same stuff that blimps were made from.

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Once I finally had the rear wheel’s axle spacing and dishing issues resolved (the 650b Mavic rims/F.B hubs wheelset installed replace the incorrect 700c wheels on the bike when I acquired it), I could devote time to mounting the 650b tires and dealing with fender line issues.  This bike’s beautiful hammered Le Martele Lefol fenders were meant for tires a bit larger than the Panaracer 40 mm Col de la Vie tires I mounted to the the vintage Mavic rims.  That meant spacers. And, my favorite spacers are wine corks.  Therefore, it was necessary and advisable to open a couple bottles of champagne (the higher priced, the better), to obtain the corks needed to meet this objective.  The photos above show the champagne corks installed on the front and rear fenders.

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Another issue was the chain line adjustment.  Once I had the rear derailleur installed – a NOS Simplex Grand Prix – it became clear that even after adjusting it to push the derailleur as far in toward the frame as possible, and after re-spacing and re-dishing the rear hub, the chain line was off.  It was going to be necessary to push the crankset away from the frame, by a few millimeters.  Fortunately, with this unique frame’s method of joining of the bottom bracket with brass bolts to the chain stays, I determined that I could remove the bolts, and then re-position the bottom bracket accordingly.  I removed the bolts from the frame, lubricated the bottom bracket shell – which is a beautifully machined aluminum cylinder, then began the process of moving it slightly over to the right.  This took the work of a mallet as well as my Lozan BB lockring wrench, but finally I moved the BB cylinder enough to provide the chain-line I needed. One of the many interesting things about this bike is that the BB axle is hollow (to save weight) and the crank bolt on the left side is threaded backwards.  Something not to forget in the future!

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Ideale Model 80 leather saddle

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Simplex shifter

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Luxor headlight bracket

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Luxor 65 headlamp

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C.M. calipers with reversed hardware

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Vintage french rack, Huret wingnuts

The bike’s leather saddle – an Ideale Model 80 – might be worth more than the bike itself if eBay seller pricing is to be believed.  The saddle is a little dry, but after reconditioning it, I think it will prove to be very comfortable.  The “C.M.” brake calipers are a long reach mechanism from the 40’s that I used to replace the incorrect CLB 700 brakes that were on the bike when I purchased it.  You’ll note from the photo above that I reversed the hardware on the rear brake to accommodate this bike’s brake routing – to allow the cable to enter from underneath the caliper.  I also installed a French rear rack from this same era, as the original rack was missing.

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The above photo shows that the seat post lug is pinned, as compared to the rest of the lugs on this bike which are joined with internal steel expanders.  There were other methods of joining aluminum tubes back in the day when these bikes were built, but I think these Meca Dural examples are likely to survive the test of time.  We’ll see once I get this bike out on the road.

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Before

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After

It’s funny (but not really) that the before and after photos of this bike don’t look that much different.  Perhaps what’s different is my perspective – the bike is now ready for a test ride, with appropriate components, and a period-correct restoration to make the bike 100% rideable.  I threw my leg over the saddle today just to see how the bike felt and I was startled to find that this bike fits me perfectly.  I can’t wait to get it out on the road.  For that, the weather gods must provide.

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When in Doubt, Accessorize

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Late 40’s/early 50’s Mercier Meca Dural, as originally acquired – with incorrect 700c wheel size and various missing parts.

To counteract the too frequent headaches and setbacks on the mechanical side of bringing this Mercier Meca Dural back to life, I decided to focus on the “extras” that are often regarded as nonessential accessories – chain guards, lighting, and racks.  As fashion experts know, it’s the extras that really make one’s ensemble come together.

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Baffling chain guard hardware.

Mounting a chain guard, however, proved daunting.  I had a nice aluminum Rigid-branded guard from this same era, which fit well around the 46T Louis Verot chain ring.  But, one of the odd things about this bike is that all the frame mounted braze-ons and brackets are missing.  I had this chain guard hardware set, shown above, that included a baffling assemblage of clamps, threaded bolts, and numerous nuts and washers, but I couldn’t determine how to make this hardware work on this bike and with the Rigid-branded chain guard.

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Creative chain guard mount – spotted in downtown Portland.

Fortunately, while downtown waiting to catch a train a while back, I spotted this wonderful Raleigh Sports with an interesting chain guard mounting solution.  I snapped this photo with my iPhone so that I wouldn’t forget what I saw.  Meanwhile, I searched the internet for chain guard mounting lore.  Velo-Orange came to the rescue, with a nice discussion of different kinds of frame braze-ons for chain guard mounts, as well as how to configure hardware when your frame lacks such mounts.  You’ll note in the photo above that this cyclist has mounted the chain guard using eyebolts on the guard, which make it easy to adjust the chain guard when used with the long threaded bolts – with the threaded portion attaching the the frame clamp.  Using these ideas, I anticipate that I’ll get the Rigid chain guard mounted properly, but I can see that I’ll need a bit more in the way of hardware.

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Luxor 65 headlamp.

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Creases at back of lamp to hold cables in place.

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Very pretty branded Luxor stem clamp.

Moving on to this bike’s lighting system, I re-installed the front Luxor 65 headlamp back on to its Luxor branded stem mounting bracket.  Luxor lighting is very well thought of, and there is even one enthusiast who loves Luxor 65 so much that  the cyclist machined a copper heat sink for their beloved Luxor light so that LED’s could be used with this system.

I don’t plan to go that far, but I am impressed with the quality of this light.  When I was setting it up, I noticed creases at the back of the headlight shell that I thought were caused by the shell being dropped and dented.  But once I had the light mounted, I could see that the creases were in the perfect position to hold the front brake cables in place.  I don’t know if these dents were a fortunate mishap – but it works for me.  You’ll note that I used red cable housing for this build.  These housings are vintage from the 1970’s – they are a darker red than the new red Jaguar cables, and match the dark red color in the Mercier head badge.  Hopefully, the fashion police will agree with my choice.

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Installing the lighting meant coming up with a fork mounted dynamo, which this bike would have originally had (as there is no dynamo mount on the seat stays).  I located a vintage dynamo fork bracket, and installed it on the fork blade over some black cloth handlebar tape, to protect the steel fork.  For now, I have set up this very lightweight and free spinning Soubitez Argil dynamo, which is not from this era, but dates probably to the 1960’s.  If it works well, I’ll keep it.  If not, I’ll source a dynamo from this era.  You’ll see that the fork bracket includes a grounding set screw in the middle of the bracket.  This provides the electrical ground for this system, so it needs to contact the steel fork. But, you don’t want to screw it in too far, as it could damage the fork.

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Finally came the ideas for a rear rack.  I have had this interesting 1940’s steel rack in my shop for awhile.  I haven’t found the right project for it.  I dry mounted the rack on the bike and found that it seemed to fit well.

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This steel rack is reasonably light weight and features fully adjustable stays, so that it should fit on pretty much any configuration.  It is a bit rusted and needs to be cleaned and polished.  It’s not the strongest rack out there, but should work well for this bicycle, which was designed for city riding.

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One of the fun things about this Mercier Meca Dural, is that it served as the inspiration for Public Bike’s Champs-Elyisees d8i bicycle. The above photo provided their inspiration.  When I have completed the restoration of my Mercier Meca Dural, I hope to be equally inspired, and inspiring.

Mercier Meca Dural Restoration Progress

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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CLB 700 brakes with 650b rims

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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.

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Tight clearance – chain ring and chain stays

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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.

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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.

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Huret derailleur

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Beautiful Dural Azur stem with arrow design

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Hammered rear light

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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!