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.

Mid Century Mercier Meca Dural

2017-01-16-036

2017-01-16-020 2017-01-16-011 2017-01-16-006 2017-01-16-022 2017-01-16-021 2017-01-16-0232017-01-16-044

2017-01-16-0382017-01-16-015

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.

2017-01-16-026 2017-01-16-025 2017-01-16-0292017-01-16-001

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.

2017-01-13-0092016-01-07-0142017-01-13-004 2017-01-15-003

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!

2017-01-16-060

Ideale Model 80 leather saddle

2017-01-16-064

Simplex shifter

2017-01-16-057

Luxor headlight bracket

2017-01-16-055

Luxor 65 headlamp

2017-01-16-053

C.M. calipers with reversed hardware

2017-01-16-052

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.

2017-01-16-059

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.

2015-12-31-009

Before

2017-01-16-049

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.

2017-01-16-014

 

An Illuminating Subject

2016-05-17-007

Dynamo lighting:  who hates it?  Almost everyone.  But virtually all vintage bicycles, except those wondrous vintage Raleighs with Sturmey Archer’s dynohubs, use sidewall or bottom bracket-driven dynamo lighting.

2017-01-14-001

Soubitez dynamo with Margil roller

Today, I was finally connecting the wiring on the Mercier Meca Dural’s lighting system  – a project I have been putting off because, well, I hate dynamo lighting. The bike’s own original fork-mounted dynamo had long ago been lost, so I set up this nice Soubitez unit, shown above, which is very light-weight and free-spinning, as compared to its slightly older counterparts, shown below.

018

1941 Radios dynamo

2014-08-01-001-011

1950’s Ducel dynamo

2017-01-14-010

1953 EDKO SELF dynamo

Lighting set-up is a project that I would rate right along side fender line adjustment and front rack mounting:  patience and resolve can be sourly tested as one works through the glitches and conundrums involving wiring routing, bulb wattage, voltage mysteries, and the absolute worst:  cutting electrical wires and clearing their housing so that they can be spliced properly to carry the current through the system.

dynamo1 dynamo2

There are very few resources which adequately discuss how to set up a sidewall driven (or bottom bracket driven) lighting system. For the uninitiated, setting up the wiring on these old systems can seem daunting.  The most important aspect of the set up is insuring that the dynamo is positioned correctly so that a straight line can be drawn through the center of the dynamo, down to the center of the wheel’s drop out.  This will insure that maximum efficiency is obtained from these already inefficient devices.  Another mystery can be the wiring set up. Every dynamo needs a ground.  For vintage steel bicycles, the ground often existed automatically via the presence of a “ground screw” which contacted the steel frame.  The above illustrations are courtesy of Glenn’s New Complete Bicycle Manual.  They show how to set up the wiring, and how to position the dynamo.  Fortunately, the wiring part of these old systems is very simple:  hook one wire to the front bulb, one to the rear, and both into the dynamo.  These old systems are 6 volt/3 watt power that can easily be upgraded to LED lighting. One can apparently blow out the lights if going at very high speeds.  I haven’t had that experience yet, though.

2017-01-14-020

3 wires through the lug braze-on: shifter cable, brake cable, and dynamo wire.

2017-01-14-024 2017-01-14-014 2017-01-14-018

Routing the dynamo wires across the bicycle’s frame can lead to frustration.  If you are really obsessive, you can make the whole thing look magnificent (clearly, I am NOT in this camp).  Ideally, you wrap the lighting wires wherever they can be wrapped, in this case around the brake housing. This Mercier Meca Dural has wonderful lugs which include many options for cable routing, so I ran them through one of the openings, and brought the wiring up across its sloping top-tube, to the front fork where the dynamo resides.  In between, I wrapped the wires around the front and rear brake cables.

2017-01-14-033 2017-01-14-004

Amazingly, after changing out the wiring with something new and replacing a burned out front bulb in the Luxor 65 headlamp, the system worked!  Testing this out on the road will be fun, as this dynamo’s drag is significantly less than other’s I have tested.

2014-09-21-001-012

Soubitez dynamo on 1977 Jack Taylor Tandem

2015-02-13-029

Soubitez dynamo on 1973 Jack Taylor Touring

2015-10-25-008

Busch and Muller Dymotec 6

2015-10-25-009

If you really are interested in dynamo lighting for your own bike, you could consider using the more efficient Dymotec 6 from Busch & Muller.  I’ve had one of these around in my shop, but haven’t tried it out yet.  It is definitely lighter than any vintage dynamo I have handled.  However, I will also say that Soubitez dynamos appear to have the least drag among all the vintage dynamos I have tested.  I have two of these – each mounted on my Jack Taylor bicycles  – a 1973 Touring model, and and 1976 tandem.  They still work very well after all these years.

2017-01-14-008

I do love the engineering quality of these old steel dynamos.  They are very pretty, but very heavy.  And, while I still hate dynamos, there are lots of reasons to love them. They can be disengaged whenever you want, so are only creating drag when lighting is needed.  They aren’t that much heavier than a hub dynamo, and are simple to add or subtract to an existing bicycle, without the complexity of a hub dynamo.  So, if you like riding vintage bicycles, maybe you will like dynamo lighting.