Mercier Meca Dural Restoration Progress

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Restoring vintage bicycles, especially those from the “golden era” which lasted from the 30’s through the 50’s, sounds vaguely romantic and thrilling.  Which it can be.  But the truth is that it can also be a very solemn and tedious process, full of stops and starts.

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This late forties or early fifties Mercier Mecal Dural is one of those projects that can test your resolve.  The bike, whose frame is made from aluminum “duralumin” tubing, was not 100% original, yet the frame itself was in beautiful condition.  Over the course of its life, someone had tried to mount 700c wheels from the 1970’s on this late 40’s/early 50’s bike designed for 650b rims, and had spray-painted over the rust and corrosion on the bike’s original steel fork.  Some parts were missing, such as the original chain guard as well as the bike’s bolt-on attachments for the shifter and chain guard.  And, the Meca Dural head badge was gone.

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Undeterred, I set out to research the history of this method of frame building, as well as to find as many other examples of these frames as possible.  Fortunately, I was successful on both counts.  Several others before me have successfully restored these bicycles, and there is a decent amount of information available on the web and in print which gives a history and background for this interesting frame construction.  However, I still haven’t been able to locate any information on the serial number scheme used by Mercier.  This frame’s SN is 16822.

1953 Mavic rim 650b

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My first task was to find a 650b wheelset from the same era.  I harvested the wheelset from another project, which dates to 1953 and features Mavic aluminum rims laced to Fratelli Brivio hubs.  One of the initial challenges involved rebuilding and restoring the wheelset itself.  While the front hub was easily brought back to its free-spinning glory, the rear hub proved difficult.  I was not able to remove the unbranded 4 speed freewheel from the hub, lacking the particular removal tool.  I modified a Suntour two prong remover, applied copious and various kinds of lubricants to the threads, used both my vise and my giant-sized long-armed wrench, to no avail.  I didn’t want to take this freewheel apart – it is working fine and will probably last another 60 years.  So, that meant cleaning and rebuilding the hub with the freewheel attached.  All went well until I discovered that the original axle was slightly bent. When I was ready for the hub’s final adjustment, I found that the axle could not turn in the hub, due to the zero distance between the hub shell and the cone.  This particular hub has no dust cover, so I couldn’t strong-arm the opening by widening the dustcaps themselves.  That meant trying to find another perfectly straight 9.5mm axle of a similar length and with similar threads.  Amazingly I had ONE such axle in my parts bin – it was only slightly shorter than the original axle.  Whew!  On to the next problem.

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CLB 700 brakes with 650b rims

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CLB 700 brakes with 700c rims

Once I had the wheels rebuilt it became clear that the CLB 700 sidepull calipers were probably not original to the bike.  Their 70cm reach is not quite long enough to engage the 650b rims.  Darn it!  The extra reach needed is only about 2mm.  When there is enough material on the brake calipers to allow for it, you can take a round file and sand the opening lower at the bottom of the caliper arm to allow for a slight improvement in brake reach.  But, these calipers do not have enough material on the lower brake arms to make me comfortable with this approach.  Instead, I will now locate long reach side pulls from this era.  One more setback.

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Tight clearance – chain ring and chain stays

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Stronglight 49D crankset with Louis Verot chainring

Then it came time to rebuild the bottom bracket and install the beautiful, lightweight Stronglight 49D crankset, with its 46T Louis Verot chainring.  Everything went well until I observed the clearance of the chainring to the frame.  I had previously noted what I thought was a crimping mark on the sleeves which serve as the chainstay fender bridge.  When I looked closer, I realized that the “crimping mark” was actually a gouge caused by the chainring contacting the frame at the chainstays, probably under vigorous pedaling.  Investigating further, I found that the chainring itself had a wobble, which is not unusual for this type of crankset with a tiny bolt circle diameter.  A larger diameter can resist stresses from the rider, but the downside is that a larger diameter BCD cannot accept tiny chainrings needed for climbing.

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One of the things I learned in my research about these duralumin frames is that the bottom bracket shell is set up to provide for chain line adjustment.  The shell is a simple aluminum cylinder, held in place with bolts.  In order to address the issue of the crankset contacting the chainstay sleeve under vigorous pedaling, I first measured the torque setting on the bottom bracket bolts, referencing the highest setting at 100 inch pounds as being the most accurate.  After removing the bolts, I twisted the BB shell using the locking on the non drive side of the bottom bracket.  I adjusted the BB shell over about 2mm to provide for additional necessary clearance for the crankset, by taking a mallet and gently tapping the BB.  I would not have known about this option had I not seen numerous examples of other duralumin framesets showing the BB shell in various positions.  Unfortunately one problem with these frames is that the aluminum chain stay sleeves can fail.  I wanted to give this frame a good shot a lasting through the decades, so by adjusting the BB shell, further damage to the chainstay sleeves will be avoided.

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Huret derailleur

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Beautiful Dural Azur stem with arrow design

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Hammered rear light

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Lefol hammered fenders

The next steps involve installing the Huret derailluer and shifter, polishing and cleaning the beautiful components, and setting up the brakeset and cables, and installing the tires, as well as cleaning and lubricating the leather saddle.  Stay tuned for more torture, and related thrills!

A 1940’s/50’s Mercier Meca Dural

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This French Mercier bicycle has captured my attention.  It is made from duralumin – the same stuff blimps were made with – by Meca Dural using a unique procedure to join the tubes with aluminum lugs and wedged steel internal expanders.  The Meca Dural company produced aluminum frames from the 1930’s through the 1950’s on behalf of a number of cycling manufacturers, Mercier being one of them.  A Mercier Meca Dural is included in the Embacher collection (which was sold in its entirety at auction, earlier this year).  The blackbirdsf site also has photos of a variety of duralumin frames of various manufacturers, including Aviac and Barra, as well as Meca Dural.

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This Mercier Meca Dural is a “ladies” bike with a step through frame, although it is not a mixte frame as it lacks the set of extra chain stays typically used to stiffen the frame.  Depending on many factors, this may or may not be a good thing.

The bike features a Stronglight crankset with 46 teeth, CLB 700 brakes with useful and ingenious quick release mechanism, Atom hubs, Samir Saminox 700c rims, Huret plunger/pushrod derailleur, a 4 speed freewheel, and a serial number on the left side rear drop out – 16822.  Here are some photos of the components:

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Huret derailleur with plunger/pull chain mechanism – for 4 speed freewheel.

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Stronglight 49D crankset

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Tank pedals

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Atom hub with Huret wingnuts

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Very nice CLB 700 brakes

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Mercier headbadge, with upper round Meca Dural headbadge missing

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Crankset lettering – Louis Verot chainring with 46 teeth, bottom bracket connector bolt

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Rear drop out with SN 16822

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Beautiful lug design which includes cable routing braze-ons

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Ideale Leather Saddle, Model 80

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Alloy porteur bars, CLB Guidonnet levers, Sufficit grips, Luxor headlamp, Dural Azur stem

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Luxor 65 headlamp

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Samir Saminox 700c steel rims

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Bottom bracket lug, joined below with bolts

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Hammered Le Martele Lefol fenders, hammered rear lamp.

Mercier fork

Steel fork with lugged chrome fork crown, amateur paint job, Stronglight headset

The bike has a number of issues which will affect the restoration process.  The steel fork was horrifically spray painted gray  – so the paint will need to be removed.  Upon closer examination, I have concluded that the wheels are not original to the frame.  There is a 1975 date code on the Atom hub, and not only that, their diameter suggests that this bike was built for 650b wheels and not 700c – the fork crown and rear brake bridge daruma bolts foul the 700c tires.  Clearly the bike was built for 650b wheels, which I confirmed after measuring the CLB 700 brake reach.  And, some features are missing –  the fenders show that the bike originally had a rear and front rack, and the fork mount dynamo is absent, as well as the original chain guard.

Even so, I am looking forward to restoring this machine and to its first test ride, as I want to experience the feel of the aluminum frame and steel lugs, and to judge the frame stiffness for myself.  Stay tuned!

More Than Eye Candy

1973 Jack Taylor

Drooling over gorgeous vintage bicycles is one thing, but appreciating their enduring ride quality is another thing altogether.  This 1973 Jack Taylor Tourist has been with me for over eight years, and while I rode it quite a bit initially, I eventually set it aside.  The bike is larger than my usual size, and I did not adequately assess the lack of comfort associated with a 55 cm top tube length, given that I normally ride a 51.

Adding to that are the big 27 inch wheels and 29 cm bottom bracket height.  Throwing a leg over this bike is like mounting one’s 16 hand steed for a ride in the country side.  However, the very tall riding position is great for commuting.  It puts your head up above the fray and helps make you more visible to the car driving masses.  So, in order to enjoy this bike I needed to make some ergonomic changes.  Back to the drawing board.

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I needed to bring the bars closer to me. The tall Nitto Technomic stem came to the rescue.  Drop bars or mustache bars would push my arms out too far for this top tube length, so I located a vintage city style bar that had the right clamp size for the Nitto Stem.  I used Velo Orange levers to complete the vintage look.  Even though new, they are quite a bit more sturdy than the Weinmann and DiaCompe flat bar levers made in the 70’s.  Their only downside is that the levers sit out pretty far from the bar, so they are not the best choice for smaller hands.  I couldn’t resist using some bright yellow Benotto bar tape, which when wrapped three times over fit perfectly on the grip side of the bars, and which brings out the bike’s vibrant yellow highlights.

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This bike is unique in many ways, and one of them is the rear wheel which features this Sachs-Fitchel 2 speed Orbit hub.  The internally geared hub takes the place of a front derailleur and extra chain ring.  I had sent the hub out for a rebuild 8 years ago, not daring to do it myself at the time.  It still feels smooth, so I resisted the very faint urge to tear it down.  The internal gears can be lubricated by removing the spindle and squirting in a bit of automotive oil.  Easily done.  The spindle broke apart a number of years ago, so I did my own repair job using a tiny brad which I banged into the chain links.  The repaired link is slightly bigger than it should be, but hasn’t caused any problems.  One of the nice things about this gearing arrangement is being able to shift to a lower gear when stopped.  That’s not something you can do with a 100% derailleur equipped bicycle.

Whenever a bike sits for a while, all kinds of things go wrong.  Grease congeals, one kind of metal fuses itself to another kind of metal, bearings embed themselves into their cups and cones, and rust seems to form everywhere.

So, there were lots of other issues to address:  pitted bottom bracket cups, which I replaced with an exact and pristine match that I happened to have in stock; broken wiring for the sidewall driven Soubitez dynamo; and various rusted areas on the frame which needed to be sanded and then painted (I use clear Testor’s paint).  I had considered replacing the dynamo with something newer, but it is actually working just fine, and I can use it as a back up to my battery powered light if needed.  (P.S. I hate dynamos).

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Soubitez dynamo headlight is working!

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Testor’s Paints – I use clear paint for touch ups.

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Inelegant wire routing. Oh well.

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Perfect for commuting – Lyotard pedals with reflectors and cage tabs to keep your shoe in place.

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Frame touch up – sanded and painted.

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Very tight clearance due to low tread Stronglight 99 crankset.

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IRC Road Winner 27 x 1 1/4 tires

I really like these IRC 27 x 1 1/4 inch tires.  I purchased them eight years ago and unfortunately, they can no longer be found.  Not not only do they have a nice appearance, the sidewalls are very supple and the ride quality is even better than the much beloved Panaracer Pasela’s I have ridden.  I hope to ride these tire until the bitter end, and replace them only when absolutely necessary.  One issue with these older rims is that they cannot tolerate high pressures, due to their design.  So, I have blown these tires off the rim more than a few times.  Finally, I have settled on 70 psi in the rear and 65 psi in the front, and have had no blow outs since.

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In addition to rebuilding the pedals, front hub, and bottom bracket, I also replaced the straddle cables for the Mafac Cantilever brakes.  The brakes, while very powerful, are noisy under hard braking, partly because I am using these Kool Stop pads which not only don’t allow for toe-in, they seem to provide for the opposite of toe-in.  Even so, I would rather have these strong and reliable cantilevers for commuting in Portland.

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And finally, I sourced an exact match for the taillight with the broken reflector. I kind of miss the look of the bare bulb, though.

Now it’s time to get back out on this bike into this Fall’s windy, rainy weather and ride the leaf strewn avenues of Portland – hopefully in comfort!