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.

Meral 650b Conversion, Part Two


My 1980 Meral 650b conversion is well underway.  I needed hardware for the aluminum fenders, which I ordered from Velo-Orange.  I wanted to use their Constructeur rear rack, as it mounts to the fenders, but this item is currently out of stock, so I decided to try out an Electra Ticino rear rack with a similar appearance.  It is more securely mounted to the seat stays (using P-clamps, since the frame lacks rack mounts) and will probably hold a lot more weight.  The stay mounts are NOT adjustable, however, and I just happened to be lucky enough to have the rack be reasonably level.


The Mafac Raid brakes look great, but I still haven’t made up my mind about the brake levers, which I might swap out for Mafac’s instead of Campy.  As with any frame-up build, there are many surprises and dead ends to be dealt with.   The TA crankset looks great – it has 160 mm crank arms which I chose to help reduce toe overlap that is common on smaller frames – however, the largest chainring is bent and needs to be adjusted back into plane.  I really like seeing the Shimano shifter pods on the old Huret clamp, specially modified to take these pods.  I used a Velocity 650b wheelset that I purchased from Rivendell.  The rear wheel is dishless, thanks to the placement of the drive side spokes on the same side of the rim as the non drive-side spokes, which should contribute to a long-lived wheel.



Because this is a smaller frame, there’s not much room at the seat stays for the brake hanger.  Plus, the seat lug on this bike did not match the seat post bolt used by Mafac.  I decided to “modify” a Mafac brake hanger by bending it slightly and installed it askew, but not too much, by adding a longer seatpost bolt (which I will replace later to clean up the look).  I wanted to use some French pedals, even though I had tapped out the TA crankset to English threads, so I cleaned up these beautiful old Lyotard pedals which have English threads.  Later I will install the toe clips and straps.  There’s lots more work to do including installing the “plum” front fender leather flap (a la Velo Orange), installing the leather bar tape, inserting the new Kool Stop Mafac brake pads into their holders, fine tuning the shifting and braking, and checking the ergonomics.  But, it looks good so far, I think.


1980 Meral 650B Conversion

I acquired this frame and fork last year.  It’s a Reynolds 531 fully chromed frame with a Reynolds 531 chrome fork built by the Meral bicycle shop located in Paris, France.  The shop was a small one, employing about 15 workers at its height, located just off the Champs  Elysees.  It was designed to be a sport touring bicycle with 700c wheels, but I am going to convert it to 650B.  Here goes…


I decided to sand down a Nitto Stem because I couldn’t find a tall enough French stem (thank you, Sheldon Brown), and I am trying out a Cardiff saddle – similar to a Brooks…but different.  It has longer seat rails for more adjustment fore and aft and I like the looks.  I am using aluminum fenders and T.A. cranks, and I found a custom Meral rack that I will mount to Mafac Raid brakes (needed for the longer reach).  This is a preliminary look at how it will appear when built: