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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Clear Coating a Vintage Steel Fork, Part II

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I have now clear coated the vintage steel fork which was part of the 1940s/50s Mercier Meca Dural I have been working on for the past year.  The bicycle was mostly original, with its beautiful aluminum frame in fantastic condition.  Unfortunately, the fork was terribly pitted, made worse by the application of an amateur spray paint job.

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This Mercier Meca Dural bicycle was built in the late 40’s or early 50’s.  The main tubes are made from “duralumin” – the same stuff blimps were made from. The forks on these bicycles were always steel, and in this case the fork had probably been originally painted gray or was chromed, to match the color of the unpainted aluminum on the main tubes.  Because the main tubes cannot rust, there was no need to paint them.

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But, the original fork was compromised – it was pitted with corrosion and rust. I needed to decide how to restore it or replace it.  After many hours of paint removal, sanding, and polishing, the fork looks much better. I became concerned about removing too much material from the fork blades, so I finally tossed in the towel.   On the bright side (pun intended), I guess you might say this fork has patina in spades.  I ended up deciding that I wanted to clear coat the fork (for now) rather than chroming it or sending it out for a professional paint job.  That would enable me to continue restoring the bicycle, which I am anxious to complete.

I decided to use Proctaclear by Everbrite for the paint, and MAAS metal polish for the final finish work prior to painting.  Both products worked very well.

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The steps I used, after removing the original paint and then sanding with finer and finer sandpaper to create a smooth surface are as follows:

  1. I polished the fork blades and crown with MAAS metal polish – this took hours!  However, I really like this polish and will continue using it for steel parts.  It’s not as good as NevrDull on aluminum fenders, but can make even funky metal parts look very nice.
  2. After polishing, I cleaned the fork blades with alcohol and a soft cloth – I didn’t have to use an acid neutralizing baking soda bath, because as advised by the Protectaclear instructions, MAAS polish does not contain acid.  However, some restorers do this process anyway, regardless of the polish used.
  3. I did a final wipe down on the fork blades with a tack cloth – to remove any debris from the surface.
  4. I cleaned the paint brushes and prepared my work area so that I could avoid fouling the brushes on an unclean surface.  I put the fork upright in my work stand so that the paint would flow downward. My paint brushes were new, so I only needed to wash them in warm water to remove their protective coating – however, see below.
  5. I poured a tiny bit of Proctectaclear into a clean glass jar – this stuff goes a long ways.  The small container I purchased could probably cover 2 bicycles in full.2016-11-15-007
  6. I painted the fork blades with smooth, even strokes.  The paint went on easily, and as the instructions advise, the paint will naturally smooth itself out on the surface so that you won’t see any brush marks.  This was an accurate description, and the painting itself took no time at all.  However…see below!
  7. As I was painting, tiny surface anomalies began to appear in the painted surface.  At first I thought the paint was reacting to something on the fork blades, but then I realized that my paint brush was depositing little particles onto the blades.  The new brushes still had some leftover protective glue which I thought I had washed off.  I then stopped painting, cleaned the brush extensively, then wiped the brush with tack cloth, and that solved the problem. I had to carefully remove the tiny particles with my fingernail (gloved) and then smooth the paint out again.
  8. After a couple of hours, I applied a 2nd coat, as provided for in the instructions.
  9. The paint cures hard in 4 – 5 days.  It is very soft prior to this, and even scuffed a bit when I laid the fork down on a wood surface about 24 hours after the final paint coat.

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The painted fork looks pretty much exactly like the raw steel fork. It really is a clear coat. I will know soon just how robust the paint is, but for now I am excited to begin building up the frame and completing the restoration.

The whole process to restore this fork took well over 25 hours.  Rather than following the typical 80/20 rule for paint jobs (80% preparation time, 20% painting time), this job was more like 99%/1%.  The painting portion of the work was almost a let down, because it was really so easy compared to all the other work involved in preparing the fork.  I’ll plan to do a long-term update once the Mercier Meca Dural is restored and back out on the road.

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Unrestored 1940s/50s Mercier Mecal Dural

 

1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist – 45 lbs of Riding Pleasure

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I recently cycled home from work on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist.  The bike had been sitting at my office for a while.  One of the reasons I haven’t ridden it with greater frequency is that the full chain guard (“gearcase” for those who speak British) and the drive side crank arm contact each other with an annoying noise with each pedal stroke.  Previously, I had tried to solve this problem by mashing various parts of the gearcase with my hands to see if I could force it into a different position that would provide clearance for the crank arm.

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As I was noisily making my way up Clinton Street, I came upon a rider on a Mercian.  We chatted for a while and I learned he was riding an early 80’s model that a friend had given him as a frame (nice gift!), which he then built up.  That’s only the 2nd Mercian I have spotted in Pdx, aside from my own.  Interestingly, because my Raleigh is geared so high, I ended up surging past him in my big (but lowest) 52 gear inch as we began to climb the steeper hills, and so we parted company.

When I arrived home, sans heart attack, I put the bike into the shop stand, determined to solve the gearcase/crank arm clearance problem.  The first thing I did was to mark the position of the axle in the dropout and the adjuster on the shifter cable.  This way, I could restore the wheel and cable back to their current position – something which took a while to perfect so that the hub shifts correctly.

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One thing I’ve gotten questions about before is how to get the gearcase off the bike.  There are two pieces at the back of the gearcase which can be removed by unscrewing the bolts which attach them to the main part of the gearcase.  After that, there is a bracket which attaches the gearcase to the chainstay, plus a bolt which holds the front part of the gearcase, and attaches near the bottom bracket.  Once those are removed, then it’s a matter of re-positioning the gearcase and sliding the opening at the back through the narrowest part of the drop out.  The photos above show how this is done.

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Once I had the gearcase off, I took my mallet to it and tried straightening it out a bit.  Then, I tried various methods of altering the position of the gearcase once I re-mounted it to the frame, but nothing worked.

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Finally, I took my files and filed away a small section of the metal on the inside of the crank arm, to provide more clearance.  I didn’t want to take a lot of material off.  But with these solid steel crank arms, I probably have nothing to worry about.  Ultimately, I was successful in adjusting the gearcase cover to eliminate any contact with the crank arm.

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Since I had the pedals off, I thought it might be time to overhaul them. Their last overhaul was 8 years ago.  Sure enough, the grease was pretty dirty.  Fortunately, the brilliant design of the cone and lock washer made the process incredibly quick and easy.  The tabs on the back of the cone make it simple to adjust the cone to perfection.  Once adjusted, the cone’s tabs lock into position with the grooves on the lock washer.  If your adjustment needs a tweak or two, just loosen the nut and move the cone one notch at a time.  If only all pedals were designed this way!

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I headed out on the bike today and thoroughly enjoyed not only the new, silent drive train, but the amazing ride quality of this bike.  The steel frame and steel wheels absorb road shock very well, so that even the upright riding position does not transmit pain waves to your spine.  With the inertia of the heavy steel wheels, the bike really rolls once it gets going.  In my high gear, I have even passed a carbon fiber bicycle or two, much to their riders’ surprise.  The components, the paint, and the attention to detail in every aspect of how this bike was manufactured puts modern quality control to shame.

The bike responds to pedal strokes and never feels mushy or bogged down.  The geometry is perfect for the type of bike it is, and it does not wobble at slow speeds and provides for fun descents and excellent cornering at high speeds.  In fact, the ride quality of this bike is a sharp contrast to another 45 lb. machine I recently rode – the SoBi bicycles which are part of Pdx’s new Biketown bike share program.  Those bikes are made with large diameter aluminum tubing, and also feature an upright riding position, although much more extreme than that of the Raleigh.  The stiff aluminum frames, bad geometry and questionable component quality provide for a really unpleasant riding experience.

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It would be fun to see a bike share program which used quality vintage bicycles and de-emphasized modern technology (which serves as a barrier to those who cannot afford the latest internet device) as a way to introduce new riders to urban commuting. There are so many quality vintage bicycles out there. Find one and ride it!