On this Friday evening, with the gentle cool breeze blowing across my summer garden, I thought it would be nice to share some of my favorite photos of my bicycle restorations from the 1920’s through the 1950’s:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.