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

 

1953 French Mystery Mixte Out on the Road

2015-08-08 007

I decided to take the 1953 French Mystery Mixte out for its first test ride today.  I headed over to Sellwood so I could start the Springwater trail from Sellwood Park, and avoid downtown traffic.  This year, Summer riding in Portland has been a mixed bag.  It has been easy to be beckoned by the dry weather, but the recent heat waves and high humidity have made it challenging to enjoy even my regular commute.  Although cool and breezy, today was more humid than I expected, so my single water bottle turned out to be inadequate.

I was anxious to see how the Challenge Strada Bianca tubular tires felt.  I even wondered if somehow the ride would be transformed by the legendary smoothness and purported supple sidewalls of tubular tires.  I was brought back to reality worrying that I might get a flat.  But, one upside to tubular tires is not having to carry a spare tube, patches, or tire irons.  I can’t imagine what it was like to actually have to carry an entire spare tire (or two, plus glue and a sewing kit).  So, I didn’t even bother with a pump, and just stuffed a few tools and my cell phone into a tiny seat bag.

As I got underway, I felt like I was riding an e-bike. Wait. The bike is long and tall, and  I was in a fairly upright position with the city style bars.  Yet I was positively rolling!  Could it be the tubular tires?  Well, it turned out to be a tailwind, which I discovered when I reversed direction to head back to my starting point on the trail.

After this moment of elation, I concentrated on what the bike was telling me as I sped along, passing nearly everyone:  responsive frame, comfortable saddle, smooth-as-glass hubs, easy shifting, and no lateral flex (thanks to the twin sloping top tubes of this mixte frame).  The tires felt fast, yet more comfortable than similar 30mm width tires that I have ridden, and handled the brief time I spent on hard packed dirt when I took a detour with no mishaps.

2015-08-08 005

The gearing is very high, and even moderate hills required a standing position to maintain cadence.  I ended up not using the highest gear, and rode the bike as a three speed.  Fortunately, the Simplex Tour de France derailleur can handle up to a 24 tooth cog, which means that the gearing could be lowered from its current 59-83 gear inch range, down to a low gear of 52.  That would help make this bike more versatile.  Even so, hill climbing will remain challenging.

A tubular tire oddity is that they lose pressure very quickly.  They will lose several pounds overnight, and a lot of air after a week.  That’s one reason you’ll see bikes with tubular tires kept elevated, so that no flat spots or creases develop in the sidewalls.  For this outing, I had inflated the tires the night before with about 85 lbs in the rear tire and 75 lbs in the front, but as I was riding I felt sure that I had lost pressure especially in the rear tire.  In the future I will plan to inflate the tires before each ride – which is a good practice anyway.

2015-08-08 0022015-07-22 002

I enjoyed using the old Lyotard Marcel Berthet pedals with their original clips and straps.  I hadn’t rebuilt them yet, and even so they performed just fine for this short trip, and were easy to get my shoe in and out of.

2015-07-22 010

The narrow braking surface of the Clement rims is imprinted with a pattern, theoretically to improve braking.  In practice, the rims emitted a high pitched whining sound whenever the brakes were applied.  While the noise did alert others to my presence, I want to find a way to make braking silent, so will be experimenting with some different brake pads.  I also still have friction in the rear brake cable, which I need to troubleshoot.

2015-08-08 004

1953 French Mixte at Tilikum Crossing

1972 Mercian

1972 Mercian

Yesterday, I had taken the 1972 Mercian out for a spin, so it was interesting comparing the riding experience of these two different bicycles.  The Mercian is a classic 1970’s road bike, using 700c tires on a small frame which happens to fit me perfectly.  It has a 100cm wheelbase, but similar (and higher than I prefer) wheel flop and trail numbers (wheel flop 17 and trail 59).  I was not disappointed in the handling of the mixte.  I did not have any trouble maneuvering at slow speeds, whereas the Mercian does exhibit the unwieldy feel of a high wheel flop bike when riding at slow speeds. The long 109cm wheelbase helps to keep the bike feeling more stable than it otherwise would. Both bikes are comfortable yet performance oriented, and versatile enough for any kind of riding, with the right gearing.  Neither bike has rack mounts, but both have fender eyelets.  With a saddlebag support, either bike could be put into daily service as a commuter, and the Mixte’s high gearing and light 22 lb weight could allow it to do double duty as a training bike.

2015-07-22 023

The city style bars have flush mounted levers, which although stylish-looking, means that the only way to adjust the position of the levers, is to adjust the handlebars.  My wrists and hands were uncomfortable after a while, because they were not in a neutral position, so I’ll be making adjustments to the bars as well as completing a few other minor tweaks.

The bike’s first ride left me impressed.  Riding it today reminded me again of how well the cycling industry had developed by the end of WWII.  Its high end components and beautiful Oscar Egg lugs translate into a well-appointed, lightweight bicycle that is perfectly competent and comfortable to ride. I am looking forward to riding it again.

Early 1950’s French Mystery Mixte, Part II

1953 Oscar Egg Mixte

I have dated this bike to the early 1950’s.  It is most likely a 1953 model, given the “53” code on the Fratteli Brivio (F.B.) hub cones, the “53” code on the Regina 4 speed freewheel, and the Simplex Tour de France rear derailleur, which matches visually to photos of other TDF models I have located dated as 1953 models (and includes a few features not seen on the late 40’s models).  However, there is also a “51” code on the Melas fork mounted dynamo, but an earlier date code for a component such as this doesn’t necessarily indicate the bike’s date of creation.

2015-07-22 011 2015-07-22 014

2015-07-22 012

Oscar Egg lugs. Note the small diameter tubes.

2015-07-22 026 2015-07-22 013 2015-07-22 015

I say “creation” instead of “manufacture”, as clearly this unique mixte, with its Oscar Egg lugs, was a custom build.  Unfortunately, there is no headbadge, nor are there logos of any kind present on the frame.  However, some barely visible white and orange paint artifacts still remain on the seat tube indicating the presence of transfers which have either faded or were removed.  And, on the headtube there is a shadow of what was once an oval or triangular sticker.

2015-07-22 010 2015-07-22 021

The fork is likely not original to the frame.  Its brake reach is 7 mm longer than that of the rear brake reach, necessitating the use of longer reach Weinmann 810 sidepulls on the front (with the rear using a Weinmann 730).  In addition, the downtube shows evidence of a front impact, further supporting my theory that the original fork was replaced.  The fully chromed fork, although in beautiful condition, is not as nicely finished as the rest of the frame, with crude file marks still visible on the inside of the fork crown lug.

The use of a longer fork than original means that the headtube angle is slacker than originally conceived.  I measured it at 68 degrees, compared with the 71 degree angle of the seat tube.  According to this helpful guide from Damon Rinard, you can determine the effect of using a longer or shorter fork on your bike’s original frame geometry.  Conclusion: even fairly large length differences don’t matter all that much.  An 11 mm difference in fork length only changes the head angle by .64 degrees.  In this case, the slacker angle increased the wheel flop a bit, but the trail measurement of 58 mm and the wheel flop of 20 mm are still well within the normal range.

2015-07-22 035

Ideale TB 14 Saddle

2015-07-22 034

City style Scheeren bars, highly polished, with original grips

2015-07-22 027

Clement tubular rims

 

Fratelli Brivio (F.B.) hubs

Fratelli Brivio (F.B.) hubs

This bike is a study in contrasts.  It is built with top end, very light components.  As pictured it weighs only 22 lbs.  The use of the very best hubs available at the time laced to the Clement tubular rims indicate a rider who wanted speed and comfort, and was willing to pay for it.  The timeless Marcel Berthet Lyotard pedals include Christophe toe clips and leather straps, further evidence that the bike was meant for spirited riding. On the other hand, it has slack geometry, city style bars, and a heavy, but comfy Ideale TB 14 saddle.  It is also a larger mixte frame, measuring 55 cm x 55 cm, with a very long 109 cm wheelbase.  Although there are single fender eyelets front and rear, there are no rack mounts.  When cleaning the bike, I found evidence that a rear saddlebag support had been clamped on the seat stays.

Regina Model Fulgur Regina Model Fulgur

The Regina drilled 4 speed Model Fulgur 15-17-19-21 freewheel was an especially nice bit to find on this bike. The teeth show no wear, and with a little oil and cleaning, it looks and sounds brand new.  Some freewheels, such as SunTour and Regina, emit an incredibly pleasing sound, and this one is no exception.

2015-07-22 003

Simplex TDF rear derailleur mounted to the model specific Simplex drop out

After setting up Simplex TDF plunger/pushrod style rear derailleurs more than a few times, I have finally got the hang of it.  For this build,the derailleur responds extremely well and shifts as quickly as any modern derailleur, without any over shifting required.  Fortunately, I had the original chain, so I was not left to guess about chain length, and I think that helped a lot.  The new chain is a bit longer than I would have cut it if I had not had the original.

2015-07-22 022

Titan seatpost, gold lined lugs

2015-07-22 002

Favorit PWB (Prague Warsaw Berlin) crankset

2015-07-22 033

Highly polished stem, bars, and headset.

All of the components had been highly polished, even the Weinmann sidepull calipers.  Cleaning them was very easy.  The frame took more work, as there was a heavy layer of gunk over the paint.  The resulting sparkle was well worth it.  I was very surprised at how nicely even the silver paint on the stays cleaned up.  The bike really does look impressive.  An unusual feature is the curved rear stay, to allow the brake cable to lay flush against the frame.

2015-07-22 020

Curved rear stay

2015-07-22 016

Through the frame wiring for the fork mount dynamo, not yet installed.

2015-07-22 009

Flush mounted levers, Scheeren bars, Phillipe stem

2015-07-22 005

Simplex shifter with helpful cable stops

This was one of those bikes that I wanted to keep as original as possible.  However, the frayed brake cable housings had to go, as they were not usable.  I have a stash of vintage cable housing in various colors and from various periods.  I have found that this silver colored housing which I believe dates to the 1960’s has a really nice vintage-y look.  I had a length that was in good condition, so used it to replace the brake cable housing.  I decided to keep the shifter cable housing original.  Although the outer casing is cracked in areas, far less forces are exerted on shifter housing and the interior coils were fine, so I lubricated the original shifter housing and installed a new cable, which had to be sanded down a bit in order to fit into the Simplex shifter mechanism.  I did not install the Melas fork mount dynamo – it had probably failed long ago and was not useable.  I hooked up the pretty rear lamp, and will now try to source a fork mount dynamo from the period which has an integrated head lamp.

2015-07-22 030

I have yet to test ride the bike and to experience the tubular tires, the mounting and gluing of which not only expanded my knowledge (and possibly fried my brain), but made me feel glad to live in the era of high performance, supple clinchers.  Back then, tubulars were really the only option for comfort and performance.

I’ve got some friction in the rear brake cable, and I suspect I’ll also have a bit of noisy braking when I venture out.  So, there’s more effort still to make in getting this bike back on the road. It will be interesting to see how the bike rides, given its contrasting features.