On this Friday evening, with the gentle cool breeze blowing across my summer garden, I thought it would be nice to share some of my favorite photos of my bicycle restorations from the 1920’s through the 1950’s:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dynamo lighting: who hates it? Almost everyone. But virtually all vintage bicycles, except those wondrous vintage Raleighs with Sturmey Archer’s dynohubs, use sidewall or bottom bracket-driven dynamo lighting.
Today, I was finally connecting the wiring on the Mercier Meca Dural’s lighting system – a project I have been putting off because, well, I hate dynamo lighting. The bike’s own original fork-mounted dynamo had long ago been lost, so I set up this nice Soubitez unit, shown above, which is very light-weight and free-spinning, as compared to its slightly older counterparts, shown below.
Lighting set-up is a project that I would rate right along side fender line adjustment and front rack mounting: patience and resolve can be sourly tested as one works through the glitches and conundrums involving wiring routing, bulb wattage, voltage mysteries, and the absolute worst: cutting electrical wires and clearing their housing so that they can be spliced properly to carry the current through the system.
There are very few resources which adequately discuss how to set up a sidewall driven (or bottom bracket driven) lighting system. For the uninitiated, setting up the wiring on these old systems can seem daunting. The most important aspect of the set up is insuring that the dynamo is positioned correctly so that a straight line can be drawn through the center of the dynamo, down to the center of the wheel’s drop out. This will insure that maximum efficiency is obtained from these already inefficient devices. Another mystery can be the wiring set up. Every dynamo needs a ground. For vintage steel bicycles, the ground often existed automatically via the presence of a “ground screw” which contacted the steel frame. The above illustrations are courtesy of Glenn’s New Complete Bicycle Manual. They show how to set up the wiring, and how to position the dynamo. Fortunately, the wiring part of these old systems is very simple: hook one wire to the front bulb, one to the rear, and both into the dynamo. These old systems are 6 volt/3 watt power that can easily be upgraded to LED lighting. One can apparently blow out the lights if going at very high speeds. I haven’t had that experience yet, though.
Routing the dynamo wires across the bicycle’s frame can lead to frustration. If you are really obsessive, you can make the whole thing look magnificent (clearly, I am NOT in this camp). Ideally, you wrap the lighting wires wherever they can be wrapped, in this case around the brake housing. This Mercier Meca Dural has wonderful lugs which include many options for cable routing, so I ran them through one of the openings, and brought the wiring up across its sloping top-tube, to the front fork where the dynamo resides. In between, I wrapped the wires around the front and rear brake cables.
Amazingly, after changing out the wiring with something new and replacing a burned out front bulb in the Luxor 65 headlamp, the system worked! Testing this out on the road will be fun, as this dynamo’s drag is significantly less than other’s I have tested.
If you really are interested in dynamo lighting for your own bike, you could consider using the more efficient Dymotec 6 from Busch & Muller. I’ve had one of these around in my shop, but haven’t tried it out yet. It is definitely lighter than any vintage dynamo I have handled. However, I will also say that Soubitez dynamos appear to have the least drag among all the vintage dynamos I have tested. I have two of these – each mounted on my Jack Taylor bicycles – a 1973 Touring model, and and 1976 tandem. They still work very well after all these years.
I do love the engineering quality of these old steel dynamos. They are very pretty, but very heavy. And, while I still hate dynamos, there are lots of reasons to love them. They can be disengaged whenever you want, so are only creating drag when lighting is needed. They aren’t that much heavier than a hub dynamo, and are simple to add or subtract to an existing bicycle, without the complexity of a hub dynamo. So, if you like riding vintage bicycles, maybe you will like dynamo lighting.