A post about many different subjects

 

Hello.  As a blogger, cyclist, wrencher, and a few other titles that reflect my interests, sometimes I worry that my blog posts stray over a variety of topics, and that I have “buried the lead”.  Burying the lead is a classic journalistic “mistake” that, for me, is hard to avoid.  Possibly this is because I love a good mystery, and like the idea of being strung along while that facts and intrigue unfold.  Or, possibly, I am just a bad writer.

I have been musing over how to discuss the latest bike in my restoration queue – a  beautiful blue 1980 Méral.

Is this discussion about Méral bicycles?  Or is it about 650b conversions?  Or Vitus 788 tubing?  Maybe it’s also about seat post lug details, unusual components, frame geometry, and bottom bracket height.

Note the unusual slanted clamp

So, now that I have buried the lead, let me get into the dilemmas and intrigue involving this 1980 Méral Randonneuse that I recently acquired, having been shipped from France and looking no worse for the wear.  Why is this bike not a Randonneur?  Well, the French have a rule that bicycles are feminine, regardless of shape or size – and so all randonneuring bikes in France are called by their proper feminine adjective.  So, maybe this post is also about the strange gender assumptions and biases that bog down the cycling industry.

My 1980 custom Méral is shown above in the foreground.  Behind it sits its recently acquired sibling, also purportedly a 1980 model, though not custom, and obviously much BIGGER.  The larger Méral came to me as a complete bike, and has offered some new experiences:  a rare J.P. Routens seatpost with slanted clamp, Vitus 788 tubing, a Belleri stem and bars with decaleur clamp bolt, among other nice components including Campagnolo hubs and a drilled Stronglight triple crankset.

This really is a lovely bicycle, and far outside the norm of production bikes of this era.  As pictured, it weighs a little over 24 lbs.  Considering the Brooks Professional saddle, the fenders, and front rack, that is impressive.  The tubing is Vitus 788, which by the 1980s was apparently a butted tubeset with a 7/10 top tube, and 8/10 down and seat tubes.  The bike has the classic mix of components from this era (long before the Gruppo days) – Huret derailluers, Simplex downtube shifters, Stronglight drilled triple crankset, Campagnolo hubs laced to Mavic 700c rims, Mafac Racer centerpulls and Universal levers with gum hoods.

This bike was designed for tight clearances around a 700c wheelset. The bike is equipped with 23mm Michelin’s.  The very pretty custom steel fenders provide for a small bit of clearance for a larger diameter tire – possibly 25 mm.  While certainly not every 700c bike from this era is a candidate for a 650b conversion, I wondered whether this bike might have the right frame geometry and clearances so that it could be enjoyed with wider and more comfortable tires.

BB drop measurement

BB height measurement

The bottom bracket drop for this bike is quite significant – almost 80 mm.  That’s quite a bit more than I would normally think as ideal (I recommend under 70 mm) for a candidate frame for a 650b conversion.  The BB height with 23cm 700c tires is almost 28 inches.  So even with the big BB drop, the BB height will not be a concern when converting this bike to 650b, if that is what I decide to do.

Extra chainstay bridge for BB mounted dynamo

Dynamo control lever mount on the seat tube

This Méral has an extra chainstay bridge at the bottom bracket.  I believe this was intended to allow mounting of a bottom bracket dynamo.  The fenders have dynamo wiring installed, which routes through the frame.  The seat tube features a braze-on for a shifter which would have been used to engage the BB dynamo.  The frame also features rack braze-ons, front and rear, so the Méral’s custom camping racks could be added.

So, while this post was about many different topics, one take away is that Méral bicycles were an interesting offering.  The company built bikes from 1974 to 1983, and after that Francis Quillon, master builder, continued his frame building acumen with his own company, Cyfac, which continues to this day.

Groupe Sportif Meral

1980 Meral Sportif frame

I knew nothing of Méral bicycles until I spotted a vintage frame for sale on French eBay back in 2012.  At that time I was searching for the perfect platform for a 650b conversion, which I intended to build up into an all rounder that could equal the comfort and joy provided by my long ago crashed 1976 Centurion Pro Tour.

After lusting over the extraordinarily beautiful 49 x 51 cm frame with its gold-lined chrome lugs, chrome drive side chainstay, and Meral branded chrome drop outs, I did just a tiny bit of research before bidding.  Later I learned more about the company, and as a result, I have added two more Mérals to my collection.

Méral was a smaller workshop (employing about 35 staff at its peak) in La Fuye, France, a village in the grape-laden Loire Valley about 340 km to the south and west of Paris, before being acquired in 1983 by Lejeune Cycles. Unfortunately, very little English language information seems available about the company’s history.  And, the French Wikipedia site does not include Méral in its list of historical bicycle manufacturers, which is odd considering that there are thousands of other companies in this list, including all the constructeurs of the golden age, with the notable exception of Goeland.

But with much diligence (using my Google outsmarting skills), I discovered that Méral was founded in 1974 by Albert Metayer – a sofa manufacturing baron whose company still exists today, although he retired back in the 1980’s and has since passed away – Sedac-Meral.

In the late 1960’s, Monsieur Metayer wanted to become involved in France’s competitive cycling teams so had founded his own Meral Sportif team which competed for a number of years.  The riders pedaled the Gitane brand and wore Metayer’s chosen colors.  By 1974, Metayer decided that building his own bikes would be a way to sponsor racers as well as make money selling bikes to the general public.  It was at that time that Metayer recruited 24 year old Francis Quillon, who was a competitive cyclist riding on the Méral team, to take the reins of his fledgling bike shop. “I was 24 at the time, I knew how to make frames, I worked at Manutube, and then I was inspired by the high-end machines of the time, Singer and Berthoud” – quote attributed to Quillon from Confrérie des 650.

Francis Quillon on the right

Francis Quillon has been credited with being the mastermind behind the quality of Meral bicycles which consisted of off-the-shelf offerings as well as custom builds. When the company was acquired in 1983, Quillon split off and decided to start his own company – Cyfac – a highly regarded shop which built custom frames for professional racers and continues to this day, although Francis sold his interest in it a number of years ago.

Clearly someone was responsible for the extraordinary build quality and unique features of Méral bicycles, because these bikes really do surpass what one sees even in the most ethereal of cycling atmospheres. That’s why I have decided to increase my collection of these amazing bicycles. The 1980 Méral, which I bought as a frame and fork and converted to 650b has become one of my daily riders.  In addition I have a 1970’s Meral 650b randonneuse, and have recently acquired a 1980 700c Randonneuse.  Here are some photos of these wonderful bikes:

1980 Meral custom 700c sportif frame converted to 650b – my daily rider.

1970’s Meral 650b – with custom Meral steel racks and fenders.

Beautiful cream colored paint and nicely filed lugs.  Noted the sloping fork crown.

Fully chromed Reynolds 531 fork on the 1980 Meral.

And, my latest acquisition – a 1980 700c Randonneuse – still awaiting shipment:

1980 Meral Randonneuse with Vitus 788 tubes – photo credit eBay seller lilo920 – my latest addition.

Méral also pioneered an unusual take on a mixte frame.  This involved sloping and bending the top tube to allow an easier throw over of one’s leg.  Here is one example whose color scheme matches my 1970’s cream colored Meral:

Photo found on Pinterest – I would like to credit this photo to its proper owner.

Velobase.com has a 1984 Meral catalog on its site which is worth perusing.  Quillon’s influence is still visible at this point.  If you have a chance to acquire one of these machines, you’ll be advised to look for a pre-1983 model, which will reflect the builder’s amazing skill and attention to detail.

Cycling Bags & Panniers

2016-06-12 033

Carradice Long Flap saddlebag

I have used quite a few cycling bags over the years.  But, bags and panniers can be tricky.  How well they work depends not only on the mounting system designed for the bag, but also on what kind of rack system you have, or whether you have racks at all.  And, for saddlebags, the question of whether they will work for you depends a great deal upon your bike’s rear triangle geometry, as well as whether or not your are using fenders. In order to use front bags and panniers you need not only to have a front rack, fork braze-ons, and handlebar or stem mounting system, but the success of carrying a front load also hinges on whether your bike has the right front end geometry to carry a load there.

I have always had a special obsession with bike bags, which started back in my touring days when I would load up my 1976 Centurion Pro Tour and head out to explore my surroundings.

2014-04-18 001 002

I was happy that my handlebar bag and rear panniers were purchased from REI – a consumer cooperative being somewhat radical back then (even though REI was founded decades earlier).  The handlebar bag mounted with a removable rack which rested on the handlebars and stem.  The lower part of the front bag was secured to the front dropouts via a stretchy cord, which as you can see in the above photo, got overstretched so that I had to tie a knot in the cord to keep tension on the bag while underway.

I liked the rear panniers, but didn’t like the front bag so much.  It interfered with the beam of my battery powered head light. And, probably the Pro-Tour’s geometry was not ideal for carrying a front load.  However, one nice feature was the map case on the top of the bag.  In those pre-iPhone days, having my maps at the ready proved invaluable, although I will say that often my maps were totally wrong!

2015-05-07 009

Velo Orange Handlebar Bag

Eventually I stopped using front bags altogether until I began building up my 1980 Meral as a 650b Randonneur, a few years ago.  Even so, I am not all that thrilled with front bags, finding them fidgety, noisy, and irritatingly intrusive on my hands.  Perhaps a decaleur could solve these problems.  But, for now, I only occasionally use this really nice Velo Orange front bag.  I have not used low rider front panniers, but have occasionally used small panniers mounted to the front racks of various bicycles I have ridden.  Mastering a front load requires a bit of saddle time.

Below is a list of some of the many cycling bags I have used over the years, as well as my comments on their utility.  If you have been searching for the right bag for your bike, perhaps this highly personal list will be of use:

Jandd

IMHO, Jandd is the gorilla manufacturer of cycling bags.  Their bags last forever.  They never wear out.  They are intelligently designed and reasonably priced, given their longevity.  They are not particularly pretty, but offer the best in bike bag value and utility.

Here are the Jandd bags that I have used over the last 35 years:

003 (2)

Grocery panniers – large, securely mounts to most racks, holds an actual grocery bag, unlike other competitors which are much smaller and less robust.  I have a set of Jandd grocery bags that I purchased in the early 90’s and they are still in use.

cannondale fb2 2016-01-23 012

Hurricane panniers – These are the grocery panniers on steroids.  Excellent mounting, total weather protection, tons of visibility.  But, there are also very heavy weighing about 2 lbs each, unladen.  I use these on my Panasonic winter/errand bike.  A perfect utility bag.

Jandd Trunk rack bags – I used a Jandd trunk bag for many years.  It never wore out, and I finally gave it to a friend, as I don’t use trunk bags any more.

2016-05-04 011

Jandd Throw-over small panniers – I am using these “small” panniers on my 1980 Meral.  They are deceptive in nomenclature and appearance – I have managed to jam all kinds of stuff into these bags.  Lightweight, fits any rack.

Brooks

2016-07-29 007 - Copy (2) 004

Brooks Roll Up Panniers – who can say anything bad about a Brooks bag?  These are beautiful bags, with appropriately lovely packaging.  They are NOT waterproof, and they do not have any attachment at the base of the bag.  I am using these on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist, which is perfect for what they are designed for.

Ortlieb

Terry Symmetry in Ashland

Various “roller” models – Ortlieb bags are the perfect Portland commuter bag, being totally waterproof, easy to mount on any rack, and with a lot of visibility.  Newer models have internal organizing pockets.  These are my commuting bags of choice.  I have these smaller panniers, pictured above, as well as an older set of larger panniers.  The smaller model is actually able to carry quite a bit of stuff, and I have successfully loaded these panniers with way more than I would have anticipated, so I use the smaller bags pretty much all the time.

Electra Ticino

2013-03-15 001 2013-03-15 012

Electra Ticino Large Canvass Panniers – I hate these bags and have them sitting in my shop – awaiting some kind of disposition that I haven’t thought of yet.  The bags are narrow, heavy, and feature the worst mounting system I have ever seen.  After having these bags pop off the rack while riding at speed, and thankfully not crashing as a result, these bags are on my s$#t list.

Detours

2015-09-06 001

Detours seatpost mount quick release bags – I own three of these bags.  These are excellent bags for bikes which cannot take rear racks.  However, based on a recent search it looks like these bags are no longer offered by the company.  That’s too bad as I find these bags quite useful.  They are not as big I would like, but can still hold enough stuff for a day’s adventure.

2010-01-22 001 010

Sackville Bags from Rivendell   For awhile I used these Sackville front and rear rack bags, which I purchased from Rivendell.  The color scheme went well with my 1973 Jack Taylor Tourist.  However, these bags have no internal pockets, are not expandable, and so are of very limited utility.  They do have visibility, as you can see from the above photo.  Because of their limitations, they are sitting in my shop now awaiting some purpose in their lives which I haven’t thought of yet.

Other Bags I Have Used:

peugeot-mixte-531-porteur-1 731

While too numerous to list here I have tried out many different kinds of cycling bags.  Trunk bags, which I used for a time, put the weight up high and also make it difficult to throw a leg over (depending on how tall your rack is).  I no longer use trunk bags at all.  Saddlebags often interfere with your thighs while pedaling, and can also swing from side to side while you are climbing.  Mostly, I only use saddlebags on bikes that I will not ride vigorously, and where I can position the bag to sit far enough away from my legs – mostly this would be on larger bicycle frames.

For most riders, carrying weight on the rear of the bike will feel the most stable and natural, but it is is a good idea to think about your bike’s geometry and purpose before embarking on a new bag/rack experience.  You can measure your bike’s angles by using an angle finder, and you can take a rudimentary trail measurement of the front fork rake by following instructions which are readily available on the internet.