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.

1947 Camille Daudon – Frame Details

My 1947 Camille Daudon bicycle, custom built for Irene Faberge Gunst, is currently in a state of disassembly, so this seems a perfect time to share some details of the frame’s construction.

While I have some information about this bike from the previous owner, I wasn’t sure about the steel tubing.  Because the previous owner had re-chromed the frame, all the original decals and transfers were lost.  So, I was delighted to see this VITUS logo on the steerer tube when I removed the fork.  This logo probably means that all the frame tubes are Vitus – a quality steel tubing made by the French company Atelier de la Rive.

The work done to create this frame is far beyond anything you would ever see today, except from a custom builder.  The creases in the chainstays, to provide clearance for the crankset and the wheels are beautifully executed.  And, the sloping downtube connection to the seat-tube is one of my favorite designs for mixte bikes that use a single, rather than double, sloping top tube.  This type of robust brazing firms up the frame, and gives the mixte bike better handling characteristics.  Peter Wiegle has continued this concept on the mixte frames he has built.

Pinned chainstays

Another interesting feature are the pins used to secure the chain stays, as can be seen by peering inside the bottom bracket shell.  Pinning the tubes was a method used by a number of builders of this era, and is even continued today by Mercian, whose process involves using a brick oven to heat the tubes for brazing.  I don’t know whether Camille Daudon used this heating process, as the only tubes which are pinned in this frame are the chainstays.

The finish work on the stays is beyond anything I normally see – simply extraordinary.

This frame has only a few braze-ons -the shifter mount, pump pegs, and shifter and brake cable routing.  Most notably, there are no braze-ons for a dynamo nor for a chain guard.  Since this bike was designed for commuting and city riding in San Francisco, that seems odd to me.

1947 Camille Daudon mixte, prior to re-chroming

Prior to being re-chromed, the frame looked as above.  As you can see, the chrome was seriously compromised.  Chroming a bicycle frame is a harsh process that may not yield the results you are looking for.  It is very labor intensive, and will remove some brazing material from the frame.  It is essential that the frame be thoroughly cleaned and the old plating removed before re-chroming.

The previous owner thought that he had prepared the frame correctly for the chroming process, but unfortunately a small section of the drive side seat stay developed a hole during the re-chroming, due to incorrect preparation.  This is an area of frame construction where failures can develop.  However, in this case it looks like the combination of incorrect preparation, along with the harshness of the re-chroming process itself, caused this hole to develop. While it is a small flaw, it’s something to take note of.

I haven’t decided yet whether I will try to re-create the Daudon logos which were original to the frame, as shown in the above photo.  I love seeing such a large head tube on a smaller frame such as this, which should provide for a comfortable riding experience.

Best of all about this disassembly process was seeing the codes engraved on the fork and rear dropouts – “471” which makes me think that this was the very first bicycle off the line from Daudon’s shop in 1947.  A nice, and interesting,  thought.

Frame dimensions:

Seat tube:  50 cm

Top Tube -effective:  52.5 cm

Wheelbase:  102.5 cm

Frame Weight:  5 pounds, 15 ounces

Material: Vitus steel tubing

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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