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.

A Velo-Orange Shipment

I order components from a variety of sources, but one of my favorite suppliers is Velo-Orange.  Even though its founder, Chris Kulcaycki, sold the company earlier this year to two of his long time employees, I haven’t noted any negative impacts on the quality and variety of products offered.  I think the company is well positioned amongst its competitors, namely Compass Bicycles – Boulder Bicycle – Rene Herse (all owned by Compass Bicycles/Jan Heine), Rivendell (Grant Peterson), and Harris Cyclery (Sheldon Brown’s shop), as a purveyor and innovator of bicycle frames and components for cycling enthusiasts, and especially for those who appreciate the quality and reliability of steel frames, comfortable, wide tires, and retro-inspired components.

My haul today included some of the parts needed to complete the 650b/city bike conversion for the early 1980’s Meral Randonneur bike I recently purchased.  In my box of goodies was a full length chain guard, Velox rim strips (more on that later), V-O thumb shifter mounts (competing with Pauls’ Thumbies), Tektro brake levers, and a new KMC 8 speed chain.

I also ordered an extra 8 speed chain (you can never have enough chains), as well as my favorite brake pads:  V-O’s non-squeal smooth post pads, which work really well with Mafac long reach brakes.

I also use these bake pads on any bike with cantilevers – they really are almost 100% squeal proof and provide excellent stopping power.

But what prompted this order was the extraordinarily bizarre experience I had attempting to mount a set of Grand Bois 32 mm 650b tires to the Velocity A23 650b wheelset I had purchased from Harris Cyclery for $289.  Yes, that was the price for both wheels, which feature Shimano Tiagra hubs.  Well, you get what you pay for.  I purchased these wheels as a placeholder to see if a 650b conversion would really work for this bike, so that is why I went with the cheapest offering out there.  The downside was discovering the the holes drilled in this narrow rim end up partially on the upper edge inside the rim where the tire’s beads need to mount.  Installing the necessary narrow rim strip meant not covering these very sharp edged holes completely, which I knew would lead to flats and blow-outs later on.  I tried installing a wider strip, but that interfered with the Grand Bois tires’ beads.  Many swear words ensued at this point.  Finally I took to the internet to see who else had experienced this problem.  Turns out – everyone.  The best advice I read was to use three narrow rims strips on each rim, carefully positioned to cover the holes without interfering with tire mounting.  We will see how that goes (subsequent blog post forthcoming!).

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to setting up the other components, such as these very elegant Tektro brake levers.  Using 32 mm tires means that I will be able to re-install the lovely custom stainless steel Meral fenders.  It will also be interesting to try out the full length chain guard for this build which I envision with a single chain ring up front, as well as to experiment with V-O’s version of Paul’s thumbies.  Stay tuned.

Vitus Steel Tubing

Long before Vitus began making bonded aluminum frames (Vitus 979), the company had an extensive history of manufacturing quality steel bicycle tubes.  According to Classic Rendezvous, Vitus began as Ateliers de la Rive, on the outskirts of St. Etienne, a city southeast of Paris, near Lyon.  Beginning in 1931, they began making tubes branded as Rubis and Durifort.

Durifort Tubing advert from the Octobre 18 1947 edition of Le Cycle

Durifort advert from the June 1947 edition of Le Cycliste magazine

These 1947 ads, which appeared in Le Cycle and Le Cycliste magazines, show that Durifort tubing was the brand promoted by the Ateliers de la Rive company as the company’s best offerings.  Numerous races were won, with bicycles using the Durifort tubing.  At this time, Rubis tubing was also offered, and was featured on a number of bicycles offered by the manufacturers of the day.

Vitus advert – 1956 Le Cycliste Magazine – Volume 10

 

1980’s Meral with Vitus 788 tubing

By the 1970’s, Vitus was making a variety of tubesets with different wall thicknesses, both butted and straight gauge.

I have owned and worked on several bicycles with Vitus tubing, the oldest of which is a 1947 Peugeot Mixte which featured Vitus Rubis tubing. I still have this bike in my collection.  Although I have seen examples of Vitus’ bonded aluminum frames, I have not ridden one.  I understand that these frames have similar flex characteristics to the alumiminum ALAN frames, which feature aluminum tubes screwed and glued into steel lugs, but Vitus 979 frames do not include steel lugs.

It would be nice to have a resource which identifies the characteristics of each designation of Vitus steel tubing, but this seems to exist only in fragments on various websites.

A writer called vertkyg on the gitaneusa.com forum has developed a fairly complete Vitus timeline, with interesting photos and commentary.  He derived much of his information from a 1974 version of DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles and Bicycling.  As I didn’t have this book in my collection, I ordered a copy and found it to provide a wealth of information, as well as being an interesting commentary on the bicycle industry of the mid 1970’s.

Tube Thickness Guide – courtesy of Delong’s Guide to Bicycles, 1974 edition.

Continuation of the tube thickness guide, courtesy of DeLong’s

The top photo above shows that Vitus tubing in 1974 was offered as the following tubesets:  172, 971, and Durifort.  Durifort was a butted set, but was otherwise identical to the 172 tubeset (although by this chart, I think both tubesets were butted).  971 tubing was presumably the best offering of the time, with its lighter weight .9/.6 wall thicknesses for all of the main tubes.

Steel Tubing Characteristics, courtesy of DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles, 1974 edition.

This additional chart shows the properties of various tubing offerings of the era. Vitus 971 tubing is shown to have ultimate psi strength in excess of Reynolds 531, and as you can see from the above chart is significantly stronger than lower end steel tubing of this era. It is much stronger than the Titanium B 338 tubeset noted on the table, and greatly so, as is Reynolds 531, of course. Vitus 971 and Reynolds 531 tubesets show similar performance characteristics, and could certainly be seen as equals in the marketplace at this time.

My early 1980’s Meral features this steel Vitus 788 tubeset.  Available catalogues from this era do not feature this designation.   From what I can surmise, this was apparently a butted tubeset with a 7/10 top tube, and 8/10 down and seat tubes, thus the 788 designation.  Whether I am right or wrong about that, one thing I know is that Vitus steel tubing is competitive with the Reynolds and Tange tubesets of this era.

UPDATE 10/21/17:  Reader Bruno (see comment below) has shared a different timeline of the Vitus, Durifort, and Rubis tubing brands and their related owners.  It appears that all of these brands were initially owned by separate companies, and that Durifort was folded under the Vitus brand in the early 1970’s.  The link he shares has many historical advertisements – if you don’t speak French you can use a translate tool to study the material presented there, which includes an article written by Daniel Rebour which reviews the history of Vitus.