1980 Meral 650b Conversion – Part Three – Fini!

1980 Meralchrome lugsReynolds 531Meral seatpost lug

My Meral 650b conversion is now complete.  In two previous posts, I shared the process of converting this 700c sport touring frame to 650b.  The bike and I have taken a short test ride, and it is going to be my ride tomorrow for a more complete test of its road-worthiness. Today’s test ride revealed that I needed to ditch the vintage Mafac brake levers. They were not effective at stopping the bike when braking from the hoods, and the levers stick out so far from the bodies that I could barely reach them when braking from the drops.  The Mafac Raid brakes had a tremendous amount of flex, and I also had some squealing while braking – partly caused by the flex of the brakes arms.  I was disappointed because I liked the look of the cables sprouting from the non-aero levers (Campy levers shown in this photo)- but function over form must rule when it comes to safety.  I installed Shimano aero levers (perfectly sized for smaller hands), tightened the brakes arms on the Mafac Raid brakes, and that solved the problem, mostly.  The orange Kool Stop replacement pads for Mafac brake shoes are also very hard and smooth, and with the super smooth new rims, there is still some squealing under hard braking.  I have sanded some material off the pads, but the rims will need to break in as well in order to quiet everything down.

Velo Orange mudflapCardiff saddle

But there were some successes, also.  The Velo Orange leather mud-flap looks fabulous and  will really help keep the drive train and my feet dry during Portland’s downpours.  And, the Cardiff saddle proved to be far more comfortable than any Brooks I have ridden – it is comfortable now and I won’t need to endure the thousand mile break-in torture of a typical Brooks saddle.  The copper rails are lovely to my eye, and with the extra long seat rails I was able to get the saddle exactly where I wanted it.

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I decided to use Shimano derailleurs for now, and they are working fine.  I needed an extra long cage on the rear derailleur in order to handle the 3 chain rings up front – the SLX was sitting in the parts bin but I’ll probably replace it at some point.  It’s hard to see the gorgeous chrome dropouts in this photo – but they are beautiful as is everything about this Meral frame.  The T.A. triple crankset has 160mm crank arms, which I chose to help deal with the problem of toe overlap common on smaller frames.  I like the feel of my cadence on these shorter arms (I usually ride 165mm or 170mm).  The outer chainring on the crankset had a serious wobble, so I disassembled the crankset to straighten it out in the vice.  When reassembling, I managed to over-torque one the the crank arm bolts even though I was only going up to 70 in lbs.  I had to order some new fasteners (you can get some from Velo-Orange, or on E-bay), and I have them torqued very low now until I can get the specs on these small fasteners.

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Here is the “smooshed” Mafac brake hanger – working fine – and here are the Ticino bags on the completed bike – they look pretty decent.

Before starting any conversion, it’s important to check the clearances on your frame for:  chainstay and fork clearance for the new wheelset, fenders, and clearance and proper chain line for the crankset and BB you are using.  Below, my clearances were good, but I had to do a little more work to clean up the fender-line and to level the Ticino rack (whose stays are not adjustable).

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How does it ride?  As beautifully as it looks – comfortable, yet lightweight (27 lbs as pictured, including the heavy rack and saddle).

Here is the build list:

Frame and fork:  1980 Meral with Reynolds 531 tubing on frame and fork (49 x 51), chrome fork, frame chromed and then painted, lugs, chainstays and dropouts are chrome.  Geometry:  74 deg HT, 74 deg ST, fork rake 50 mm (approx).  Originally designed as a 700c sport touring bike with eyelets for fenders, but no rack mounts.

Nitto Technomic stem (sanded to French size); Nitto Olympiad bars, Shimano brake levers, Shimano 600 headset (French), cloth bar tape

Shimano bar end shifters in friction mode, Huret modified DT clamp, Shimano Ultegra front derailleur; Shimano SLX rear derailleur; Shimano 8 speed cassette 11/30, TA bottom bracket, TA triple crankset 48/40/28, Sram chain, Lyotard pedals

Cardiff leather saddle with copper rails, Campagnolo seatpost

Mafac Raid brakes, Mafac brake hangers front and rear

Ticino rear rack, Ticino canvass panniers

Hammered aluminum fenders (no brand but never drilled or mounted – an Ebay purchase) – mounted with Velo Orange stays and hardware, Velo Orange “plum” mudflap, Velo Orange constructeur bottle cage

Velocity Synergy 650b wheelset with dishless rear wheel and sport hubs; Panaracer Col de la Vie 38 mm tires.

Electra Ticino Canvass Panniers and Constructeur Rear Rack

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I needed some stylish bags to go on my Meral 650B conversion.  The bike was originally a 700c sport touring bike, and when converted to 650B has fairly neutral geometry meaning that it should carry weight on the front or the rear with aplomb.  Since I ran into trouble mounting a front rack, I decided to install a rear rack instead.  I wanted to use the Velo-Orange constructeur rear rack, as it is made in the traditional style and mounts to the fenders.  It is currently out of stock so I decided to use the Ticino rear rack instead.  It is not as pretty, but looks to hold a lot more weight.  That’s a good thing, because these Ticino panniers weigh in at 2. 3 lbs – each – unladen!  But, more on that in a minute.

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First, the bags:  they are handsome, with nicely turned-out lining, like the what you might find in a fine Italian sport-coat.  They have two interior pockets, and the outside laces can be adjusted with the inside leather bound straps shown above – although fairly minimally.  They are long, tall, and not very wide.  They are very easy to mount and remove from the rear rack, and I wouldn’t hesitate to haul these bags into a business meeting in any setting.  They look professional and business-like.  They are made of waxed canvass.  On my first outing with the bags installed, a fine mist began drizzling, and the rain-drops simply beaded up on the bags, with no penetration.  I haven’t tested them in a typical Portland downpour (and I’m not sure I want to).

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Okay, now for the down-side.  On the Ticino rear rack, the bags are placed very high above the hub, meaning that you are carrying weight higher up than is ideal, and to my eye, just doesn’t look right.  And, on my little Terry commuter they simply overwhelm the bike, although with the Tubus rear rack on my Terry, the bags are sitting much lower which is better if you are going to carry some serious weight.

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One problem with mounting these bags on the Ticino rack (the very rack these bags were designed for) is that the enormous length of the bags make them extend far beyond the rack support.  With a lot of weight in these bags, you will feel them swaying back and forth as you climb out of the saddle; they can even slap back and forth against the rack and fenders – not a good thing and possibly unsafe if the bags become dislodged with all the movement.  However, with a lighter load, I didn’t notice any problems with the bags moving around while I was climbing.  The other problem is that, while it’s nice to have the two interior pockets in each bag, they are very shallow and do not hold my “kit” that I keep on each bike (the V-8 is a trick I learned from Grant Peterson – if your energy is lagging because you got carried away on a long ride and have run out of steam – the V-8 is a amazing energy drink!).  This kit easily fits in the internal pocket of my small Ortlieb panniers.

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The shape of these bags makes them ideal for someone who needs to haul work files and notebook computers or tablets.  The bags are long and tall enough to accommodate just about any legal or letter sized files or 3 ring binders.  They are super easy to remove – in fact so easy that I will use a luggage lock on these bags to prevent casual theft (I am someone who likes to leave the bags on my bike when I am doing errands and shopping, as I usually carry a few cloth shopping bags inside my panniers).  The two hooks fit perfectly onto the Ticino rack, but I also had no trouble mounting them to a Tubus rack.  The hooks can turn a bit from side to side so that if you are short of space you can turn the hooks and hopefully get them to fit just about any rack.  They are very attractive bags, but rather large, and probably won’t look great on every bike.  I am not sure I will let these bags endure the Portland rains, as I am not sure how well they will weather.  Although they are “water-resistant”, they are definitely not waterproof.  With their really nice lining, I would hesitate to throw in a 1/2 gallon of milk, or anything else that could spill.  And, the bags are so narrow that you could not possibly carry a gallon of a milk in them.  That said, these bags appear well-made.  How they withstand the rigors of transportation cycling remains to be seen.