A Meral for Town and Country

Bicycles with 650B wheels are nicely suited to a relaxed riding style.  The wider rims and greater clearances on the bike’s frame allow for plump, comfortable tires.  Often, vintage 650B bicycles are set up as city style bikes, with minimal gears and an upright position for the cyclist.

My recently acquired early 1980’s Meral randonneuse cried out for a 650B conversion.  It was built with Vitus 788 tubing around a set of narrow, 700c rims.  The bike as originally configured had a high bottom bracket and minimal tire clearances. These elements would normally indicate an ideal bicycle for a 650B conversion. Still, I wasn’t sure if I would be successful converting the bike, because the brake clearances were odd – with the front brake having more (not less!) reach than the rear brake. In times past, competitive oriented bicycles were sometimes built with more brake reach in the rear than the front, and that was so that a shorter reach and therefore stronger brake could be used at the front end.

Not so with this bicycle.  The rear brake reach is shorter than the front by more than several millimeters.  When it came time to install the Mafac Raid long reach brakes, this fact made me concerned.  In order to have the rear Mafac Raid brake pads contact the new 650B rim, I needed to angle them down slightly, which is not ideal.  There are other options for dealing with brake reach problems, including installing brackets (a la Sheldon), and filing some material off of the caliper arms, to allow the brake pads to sit a bit lower.  None of those options appealed to me.

Vintage Mafac Raid brake calipers with V-O squeal free pads.

I decided to ignore the problem for now, as the front brake reach was perfect for the conversion to 650B, with plenty of room to position the brake pads correctly.  I am using Velo-Orange’s smooth post “squeal free” pads for this set up – and they are working perfectly and as advertised.  Since the front brake provides 70% of a bike’s stopping power, I haven’t noticed any issues involving the angled rear brake pads.  Meanwhile, here are some photos of the rest of the build:

Brooks leather grips, Tektro vintage style levers, V-O thumbies, Campagnolo shifter

Velocity A23 650B rims

Shimano Tiagra hubs

Meral custom steel fenders, wine cork spacers

Meral custom steel rack, with mounts for front flashlight.

This project was loads of fun, thanks to the beauty and quality of this vintage Meral bicycle.  The custom fenders and rack were a perfect match to its new Town and Country personality.  V-O’s thumbies worked well for this build – they can be used with just about any type of shifter so are more adaptable than their Paul’s competitor.

I used a lower end 650B wheelset that I will not purchase again, and I consider the wheels as a placeholder for now.  Probably I will build the ideal wheelset for this bike when the time comes, and will sort out the lighting options at that time.  Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these photos of this amazing vintage bicycle which now has a new lease on life.  I have included the specs and full build list at the bottom of this post.

A view from the back – with a tiny vintage reflector installed on the custom fenders.

Original Brooks Pro saddle.  Through the frame brake cable routing for the rear brake.

Campagnolo shifter on the seat tube braze on – intended for a BB mounted dynamo. Nicely executed seat cluster.

This gorgeous custom Meral steel rack can also be installed at the rear of the bike.

The drive train is a single 42 tooth drilled ring up front, with a 7 speed cassette at the back, controlled with a vintage friction Campy shifter.

The specs and build list are as follows:

Frame and fork:  Early 1980’s Meral with Vitus 788 steel tubing, 54 cm ST, 56 cm TT, through the frame brake and dynamo wiring, 2 rack mounts on the seat stays, 2 rack mounts on the fork, bottle cage mount, shifter braze-ons, ST dynamo braze-on, 127 rear spacing.

Drive Train:  Vintage Sugino crankarms and Sugino drilled 42T ring; new 7 speed cassette, vintage Lyotard pedals, Shimano SLX rear derailleur, original T.A. bottom bracket, replacement T.A. spindle of shorter length, V-O thumbie with vintage Campagnolo friction shifter.

Braking: Vintage Mafac Raid long reach centerpull brakes, new V-O smooth post pads, new Tektro vintage style levers, new blue color matched housing.

Wheelset & Tires:  New 650b wheelset: Shimano Tiagra hubs on Velocity A23 rims (purchased from Harris), tires and wheelset are placeholders for now.

Saddle and Seatpost:  Original Brooks Professional saddle, original JP Routens slanted seatpost clamp.

Bars, stem and headset:  new Soma Oxford handlebars and Nitto Technomic stem (sanded to French 22.0 steerer size), original French Stronglight headset.

Accessories:  Original Meral custom steel fenders, original Meral custom steel front rack, new V-O bottle cage.

Ready for a leisurely ride wherever you want to go.

Vitus Steel Tubing

Long before Vitus began making bonded aluminum frames (Vitus 979), the company had an extensive history of manufacturing quality steel bicycle tubes.  According to Classic Rendezvous, Vitus began as Ateliers de la Rive, on the outskirts of St. Etienne, a city southeast of Paris, near Lyon.  Beginning in 1931, they began making tubes branded as Rubis and Durifort.

Durifort Tubing advert from the Octobre 18 1947 edition of Le Cycle

Durifort advert from the June 1947 edition of Le Cycliste magazine

These 1947 ads, which appeared in Le Cycle and Le Cycliste magazines, show that Durifort tubing was the brand promoted by the Ateliers de la Rive company as the company’s best offerings.  Numerous races were won, with bicycles using the Durifort tubing.  At this time, Rubis tubing was also offered, and was featured on a number of bicycles offered by the manufacturers of the day.

Vitus advert – 1956 Le Cycliste Magazine – Volume 10

 

1980’s Meral with Vitus 788 tubing

By the 1970’s, Vitus was making a variety of tubesets with different wall thicknesses, both butted and straight gauge.

I have owned and worked on several bicycles with Vitus tubing, the oldest of which is a 1947 Peugeot Mixte which featured Vitus Rubis tubing. I still have this bike in my collection.  Although I have seen examples of Vitus’ bonded aluminum frames, I have not ridden one.  I understand that these frames have similar flex characteristics to the alumiminum ALAN frames, which feature aluminum tubes screwed and glued into steel lugs, but Vitus 979 frames do not include steel lugs.

It would be nice to have a resource which identifies the characteristics of each designation of Vitus steel tubing, but this seems to exist only in fragments on various websites.

A writer called vertkyg on the gitaneusa.com forum has developed a fairly complete Vitus timeline, with interesting photos and commentary.  He derived much of his information from a 1974 version of DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles and Bicycling.  As I didn’t have this book in my collection, I ordered a copy and found it to provide a wealth of information, as well as being an interesting commentary on the bicycle industry of the mid 1970’s.

Tube Thickness Guide – courtesy of Delong’s Guide to Bicycles, 1974 edition.

Continuation of the tube thickness guide, courtesy of DeLong’s

The top photo above shows that Vitus tubing in 1974 was offered as the following tubesets:  172, 971, and Durifort.  Durifort was a butted set, but was otherwise identical to the 172 tubeset (although by this chart, I think both tubesets were butted).  971 tubing was presumably the best offering of the time, with its lighter weight .9/.6 wall thicknesses for all of the main tubes.

Steel Tubing Characteristics, courtesy of DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles, 1974 edition.

This additional chart shows the properties of various tubing offerings of the era. Vitus 971 tubing is shown to have ultimate psi strength in excess of Reynolds 531, and as you can see from the above chart is significantly stronger than lower end steel tubing of this era. It is much stronger than the Titanium B 338 tubeset noted on the table, and greatly so, as is Reynolds 531, of course. Vitus 971 and Reynolds 531 tubesets show similar performance characteristics, and could certainly be seen as equals in the marketplace at this time.

My early 1980’s Meral features this steel Vitus 788 tubeset.  Available catalogues from this era do not feature this designation.   From what I can surmise, this was apparently a butted tubeset with a 7/10 top tube, and 8/10 down and seat tubes, thus the 788 designation.  Whether I am right or wrong about that, one thing I know is that Vitus steel tubing is competitive with the Reynolds and Tange tubesets of this era.

UPDATE 10/21/17:  Reader Bruno (see comment below) has shared a different timeline of the Vitus, Durifort, and Rubis tubing brands and their related owners.  It appears that all of these brands were initially owned by separate companies, and that Durifort was folded under the Vitus brand in the early 1970’s.  The link he shares has many historical advertisements – if you don’t speak French you can use a translate tool to study the material presented there, which includes an article written by Daniel Rebour which reviews the history of Vitus.

French Threaded Shifter Bosses

While I usually love all things French, I was perplexed to discover that the shifter bosses on the early 1980’s Méral Randonneuse I am currently restoring are not threaded “normally”.  What is normal threading for a shifter boss?  Well, it’s the same  5 mm x .8 that you will find on much of the rest of your frame:  bottle cage mounts, rack mounts, etc.

Courtesy of Park Tools.

Fasteners have several elements that help identify their size, the two most important of which are: thread pitch, which is the distance from the crest to the crest, and thread diameter which is the outer measurement of the thread crests.  English threading is designated by the frequency of how many threads are counted along one inch.  This is know as “threads per inch” or TPI.  Metric threading uses the direct pitch measurement in millimeters, measuring between two adjacent thread crests.  A fastener designated as TPI is “standard”.  Unfortunately, some fasteners are “mix and match”, with both a TPI and a metric size, such as Italian bottom bracket threads labeled “36mm x 24 tpi”.  There are standard coarse metric threads which are designated with the letter “M” followed by the thread pitch.  For example M6 = 6.0 diameter with a 1.00 mm pitch.

This Méral has a shifter boss on the seat tube – for engaging a bottom bracket mounted dynamo.  When I acquired the bike, the lights and dynamo had been removed from the frame.  So, I planned on reinstalling a BB dynamo hooked up to a friction shifter on the seat tube.  That’s when I discovered that the threads on the shifter mounts did not match any threads on any shifters I tried, even including some Simplex shifters from this era.

Simplex Shifter with 6 mm x .8 threading

That’s because these shifter bosses are tapped with 6 x .8mm threads (not 5 x .8), as you can see from the above nomenclature on the bike’s Simplex shifter boss bolts.  These Simplex shifters use a nonstandard threading on the boss. My research indicates that Simplex used a variety of threading standards for its shifters:  5 x .8, 5 x 1.0, as well as 6 x .8, shown above.  Classic Rendezvous has a discussion of these sizing anomalies.

Soubitez BB dynamo

Here is one idea for a BB dynamo for this bike – a Soubitez which is in good shape. I’ll need to set up the seat tube shifter, and given that the boss threading is non standard, it’s back to the drawing board for now.