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.

Mid Century Mercier Meca Dural

2017-01-16-036

2017-01-16-020 2017-01-16-011 2017-01-16-006 2017-01-16-022 2017-01-16-021 2017-01-16-0232017-01-16-044

2017-01-16-0382017-01-16-015

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.

2017-01-16-026 2017-01-16-025 2017-01-16-0292017-01-16-001

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.

2017-01-13-0092016-01-07-0142017-01-13-004 2017-01-15-003

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!

2017-01-16-060

Ideale Model 80 leather saddle

2017-01-16-064

Simplex shifter

2017-01-16-057

Luxor headlight bracket

2017-01-16-055

Luxor 65 headlamp

2017-01-16-053

C.M. calipers with reversed hardware

2017-01-16-052

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.

2017-01-16-059

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.

2015-12-31-009

Before

2017-01-16-049

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.

2017-01-16-014

 

A 1953 Follis 650b

P1000976 P1000985

Here is a very pretty 1953 Follis Mixte featuring Nervex lugs, Fratelli Brivio hubs, Mavic 650b rims, a Simplex Juy rear derailleur with 4 speed freewheel, and a number of other nice features.

2016-05-17 003 2016-05-17 006

Follis was another highly regarded French builder, founded by Joseph Follis in Italy in the early 1900’s. In the 1920’s, the company established its headquarters in Lyon after Mussolini took power. During and after WWII, the Follis company expanded and began building all kinds of bicycles, varying in purpose and price range, many of which were re-branded by other marques.

2016-05-17 030

Bonjour, Nicole.

This Follis was owned by Nicole Montbarbon, who resided in Bourg, Ain, France. A clearly visible owner’s name tag was a requirement for all French bicycles during this era.  Nicole took good care of her machine.  Even though the finish is very scratched, the bike appears completely intact and all original, possibly even down to the Michelin 650b 44 mm tires, color matched to the white Sufficit grips and rubber block pedals.

P1000954

Mavic alloy rims.

2016-05-17 011

White rubber block pedals

P1000953

Michelin 650B 44 mm tires – heavily cracked sidewalls means they are not safe to ride and should be replaced.

P1000966

Follis branded Jeay style brakes, nickel plated.

These Follis Jeay-style brakes are a bit nicer design than others I have seen. The inner plate, which pulls up on the caliper arms when the brakes are engaged, has a groove for each arm to travel on, so they stay in adjustment a bit better.

P1000952

F.B. – Fratelli Brivio hubs.

P1000963

Nervar crankset

Fratelli Brivio hubs are a nice touch, though the finish is now gone.  F.B. was an Italian component maker who first built hubs for Campagnolo, among others, as well as under their own name.  Nervar cranksets are not as highly sought after as Stronglight and T.A., but can be equally nice.  This one’s finish is pretty bad off, and it probably wouldn’t be worth it to re-chrome it.  Instead, the patina adds to its vintage appeal.

P1000967

Minimal brazing for the top tube/seat tube attachment. Through the frame cable routing for the rear brake.

P1000970

Lined lugs.

P1000960

Brass barrel adjuster for the rear brake.

I have been amazed at the number of different ways a mixte frame can be configured. In this case, the twin sloping top tubes are hand bent at the seat tube attachment, where they are minimally brazed, before travelling back to the rear dropouts. The frame includes pump pegs, double eyelets front, single eyelets rear, and braze-ons for the shifter and dynamo.  However, this particular frame was not built with the highest quality workmanship.  Although the Nervex lugs are fancy, the drop outs are stamped, not forged, and the finish work on the ends is just so-so.  Even so, a cursory examination of the tubes revealed absolutely no dings or dents, just a lot of scratches and lost paint.

P1000956 2016-05-17 007 2016-05-17 013

The lighting system looks intact, except for some broken wiring.  The lamps and dynamo are branded SELF.  The lenses and reflectors are not cracked and have a fun art-deco look to them.  Note the yellow front bulb.

2016-05-17 016

Simplex Juy Bell Crank derailleur

2016-05-17 015

Rigid chain guard

2016-05-17 024

Simplex shifter mounted to frame braze-on.

The Simplex rear derailleur is frame mounted.  This model uses a “bell crank” to move the cage. I haven’t worked on this model before, but fortunately catalog scans are available from Disraeli Gears.

Simplex 05-filtered

This derailleur has open pulleys at the back of the cage, allowing you to remove the chain from the derailleur without breaking it, a helpful feature. The chain is a Sedis model Yellorex, which also appears to be original to the bike.

2016-05-17 022

Luna Model 122B leather saddle.

2016-05-17 019

Matching leather tool cases.

2016-05-17 018

Brass wingnuts, branded “L.P.”

I originally acquired this bike as a “donor” – to give me some needed parts for other projects I am working on.  However, given its completeness and classic beauty, I may change my mind and restore it.  Perhaps that would please Nicole, wherever she may be.  Nous verrons!