My Meral 650b conversion is now complete. In two previous posts, I shared the process of converting this 700c sport touring frame to 650b. The bike and I have taken a short test ride, and it is going to be my ride tomorrow for a more complete test of its road-worthiness. Today’s test ride revealed that I needed to ditch the vintage Mafac brake levers. They were not effective at stopping the bike when braking from the hoods, and the levers stick out so far from the bodies that I could barely reach them when braking from the drops. The Mafac Raid brakes had a tremendous amount of flex, and I also had some squealing while braking – partly caused by the flex of the brakes arms. I was disappointed because I liked the look of the cables sprouting from the non-aero levers (Campy levers shown in this photo)- but function over form must rule when it comes to safety. I installed Shimano aero levers (perfectly sized for smaller hands), tightened the brakes arms on the Mafac Raid brakes, and that solved the problem, mostly. The orange Kool Stop replacement pads for Mafac brake shoes are also very hard and smooth, and with the super smooth new rims, there is still some squealing under hard braking. I have sanded some material off the pads, but the rims will need to break in as well in order to quiet everything down.
But there were some successes, also. The Velo Orange leather mud-flap looks fabulous and will really help keep the drive train and my feet dry during Portland’s downpours. And, the Cardiff saddle proved to be far more comfortable than any Brooks I have ridden – it is comfortable now and I won’t need to endure the thousand mile break-in torture of a typical Brooks saddle. The copper rails are lovely to my eye, and with the extra long seat rails I was able to get the saddle exactly where I wanted it.
I decided to use Shimano derailleurs for now, and they are working fine. I needed an extra long cage on the rear derailleur in order to handle the 3 chain rings up front – the SLX was sitting in the parts bin but I’ll probably replace it at some point. It’s hard to see the gorgeous chrome dropouts in this photo – but they are beautiful as is everything about this Meral frame. The T.A. triple crankset has 160mm crank arms, which I chose to help deal with the problem of toe overlap common on smaller frames. I like the feel of my cadence on these shorter arms (I usually ride 165mm or 170mm). The outer chainring on the crankset had a serious wobble, so I disassembled the crankset to straighten it out in the vice. When reassembling, I managed to over-torque one the the crank arm bolts even though I was only going up to 70 in lbs. I had to order some new fasteners (you can get some from Velo-Orange, or on E-bay), and I have them torqued very low now until I can get the specs on these small fasteners.
Here is the “smooshed” Mafac brake hanger – working fine – and here are the Ticino bags on the completed bike – they look pretty decent.
Before starting any conversion, it’s important to check the clearances on your frame for: chainstay and fork clearance for the new wheelset, fenders, and clearance and proper chain line for the crankset and BB you are using. Below, my clearances were good, but I had to do a little more work to clean up the fender-line and to level the Ticino rack (whose stays are not adjustable).
How does it ride? As beautifully as it looks – comfortable, yet lightweight (27 lbs as pictured, including the heavy rack and saddle).
Here is the build list:
Frame and fork: 1980 Meral with Reynolds 531 tubing on frame and fork (49 x 51), chrome fork, frame chromed and then painted, lugs, chainstays and dropouts are chrome. Geometry: 74 deg HT, 74 deg ST, fork rake 50 mm (approx). Originally designed as a 700c sport touring bike with eyelets for fenders, but no rack mounts.
Nitto Technomic stem (sanded to French size); Nitto Olympiad bars, Shimano brake levers, Shimano 600 headset (French), cloth bar tape
Shimano bar end shifters in friction mode, Huret modified DT clamp, Shimano Ultegra front derailleur; Shimano SLX rear derailleur; Shimano 8 speed cassette 11/30, TA bottom bracket, TA triple crankset 48/40/28, Sram chain, Lyotard pedals
Cardiff leather saddle with copper rails, Campagnolo seatpost
Mafac Raid brakes, Mafac brake hangers front and rear
Ticino rear rack, Ticino canvass panniers
Hammered aluminum fenders (no brand but never drilled or mounted – an Ebay purchase) – mounted with Velo Orange stays and hardware, Velo Orange “plum” mudflap, Velo Orange constructeur bottle cage
Velocity Synergy 650b wheelset with dishless rear wheel and sport hubs; Panaracer Col de la Vie 38 mm tires.