A 1940’s/50’s Mercier Meca Dural

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This French Mercier bicycle has captured my attention.  It is made from duralumin – the same stuff blimps were made with – by Meca Dural using a unique procedure to join the tubes with aluminum lugs and wedged steel internal expanders.  The Meca Dural company produced aluminum frames from the 1930’s through the 1950’s on behalf of a number of cycling manufacturers, Mercier being one of them.  A Mercier Meca Dural is included in the Embacher collection (which was sold in its entirety at auction, earlier this year).  The blackbirdsf site also has photos of a variety of duralumin frames of various manufacturers, including Aviac and Barra, as well as Meca Dural.

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This Mercier Meca Dural is a “ladies” bike with a step through frame, although it is not a mixte frame as it lacks the set of extra chain stays typically used to stiffen the frame.  Depending on many factors, this may or may not be a good thing.

The bike features a Stronglight crankset with 46 teeth, CLB 700 brakes with useful and ingenious quick release mechanism, Atom hubs, Samir Saminox 700c rims, Huret plunger/pushrod derailleur, a 4 speed freewheel, and a serial number on the left side rear drop out – 16822.  Here are some photos of the components:

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Huret derailleur with plunger/pull chain mechanism – for 4 speed freewheel.

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Stronglight 49D crankset

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Tank pedals

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Atom hub with Huret wingnuts

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Very nice CLB 700 brakes

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Mercier headbadge, with upper round Meca Dural headbadge missing

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Crankset lettering – Louis Verot chainring with 46 teeth, bottom bracket connector bolt

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Rear drop out with SN 16822

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Beautiful lug design which includes cable routing braze-ons

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Ideale Leather Saddle, Model 80

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Alloy porteur bars, CLB Guidonnet levers, Sufficit grips, Luxor headlamp, Dural Azur stem

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Luxor 65 headlamp

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Samir Saminox 700c steel rims

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Bottom bracket lug, joined below with bolts

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Hammered Le Martele Lefol fenders, hammered rear lamp.

Mercier fork

Steel fork with lugged chrome fork crown, amateur paint job, Stronglight headset

The bike has a number of issues which will affect the restoration process.  The steel fork was horrifically spray painted gray  – so the paint will need to be removed.  Upon closer examination, I have concluded that the wheels are not original to the frame.  There is a 1975 date code on the Atom hub, and not only that, their diameter suggests that this bike was built for 650b wheels and not 700c – the fork crown and rear brake bridge daruma bolts foul the 700c tires.  Clearly the bike was built for 650b wheels, which I confirmed after measuring the CLB 700 brake reach.  And, some features are missing –  the fenders show that the bike originally had a rear and front rack, and the fork mount dynamo is absent, as well as the original chain guard.

Even so, I am looking forward to restoring this machine and to its first test ride, as I want to experience the feel of the aluminum frame and steel lugs, and to judge the frame stiffness for myself.  Stay tuned!

More Than Eye Candy

1973 Jack Taylor

Drooling over gorgeous vintage bicycles is one thing, but appreciating their enduring ride quality is another thing altogether.  This 1973 Jack Taylor Tourist has been with me for over eight years, and while I rode it quite a bit initially, I eventually set it aside.  The bike is larger than my usual size, and I did not adequately assess the lack of comfort associated with a 55 cm top tube length, given that I normally ride a 51.

Adding to that are the big 27 inch wheels and 29 cm bottom bracket height.  Throwing a leg over this bike is like mounting one’s 16 hand steed for a ride in the country side.  However, the very tall riding position is great for commuting.  It puts your head up above the fray and helps make you more visible to the car driving masses.  So, in order to enjoy this bike I needed to make some ergonomic changes.  Back to the drawing board.

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I needed to bring the bars closer to me. The tall Nitto Technomic stem came to the rescue.  Drop bars or mustache bars would push my arms out too far for this top tube length, so I located a vintage city style bar that had the right clamp size for the Nitto Stem.  I used Velo Orange levers to complete the vintage look.  Even though new, they are quite a bit more sturdy than the Weinmann and DiaCompe flat bar levers made in the 70’s.  Their only downside is that the levers sit out pretty far from the bar, so they are not the best choice for smaller hands.  I couldn’t resist using some bright yellow Benotto bar tape, which when wrapped three times over fit perfectly on the grip side of the bars, and which brings out the bike’s vibrant yellow highlights.

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This bike is unique in many ways, and one of them is the rear wheel which features this Sachs-Fitchel 2 speed Orbit hub.  The internally geared hub takes the place of a front derailleur and extra chain ring.  I had sent the hub out for a rebuild 8 years ago, not daring to do it myself at the time.  It still feels smooth, so I resisted the very faint urge to tear it down.  The internal gears can be lubricated by removing the spindle and squirting in a bit of automotive oil.  Easily done.  The spindle broke apart a number of years ago, so I did my own repair job using a tiny brad which I banged into the chain links.  The repaired link is slightly bigger than it should be, but hasn’t caused any problems.  One of the nice things about this gearing arrangement is being able to shift to a lower gear when stopped.  That’s not something you can do with a 100% derailleur equipped bicycle.

Whenever a bike sits for a while, all kinds of things go wrong.  Grease congeals, one kind of metal fuses itself to another kind of metal, bearings embed themselves into their cups and cones, and rust seems to form everywhere.

So, there were lots of other issues to address:  pitted bottom bracket cups, which I replaced with an exact and pristine match that I happened to have in stock; broken wiring for the sidewall driven Soubitez dynamo; and various rusted areas on the frame which needed to be sanded and then painted (I use clear Testor’s paint).  I had considered replacing the dynamo with something newer, but it is actually working just fine, and I can use it as a back up to my battery powered light if needed.  (P.S. I hate dynamos).

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Soubitez dynamo headlight is working!

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Testor’s Paints – I use clear paint for touch ups.

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Inelegant wire routing. Oh well.

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Perfect for commuting – Lyotard pedals with reflectors and cage tabs to keep your shoe in place.

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Frame touch up – sanded and painted.

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Very tight clearance due to low tread Stronglight 99 crankset.

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IRC Road Winner 27 x 1 1/4 tires

I really like these IRC 27 x 1 1/4 inch tires.  I purchased them eight years ago and unfortunately, they can no longer be found.  Not not only do they have a nice appearance, the sidewalls are very supple and the ride quality is even better than the much beloved Panaracer Pasela’s I have ridden.  I hope to ride these tire until the bitter end, and replace them only when absolutely necessary.  One issue with these older rims is that they cannot tolerate high pressures, due to their design.  So, I have blown these tires off the rim more than a few times.  Finally, I have settled on 70 psi in the rear and 65 psi in the front, and have had no blow outs since.

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In addition to rebuilding the pedals, front hub, and bottom bracket, I also replaced the straddle cables for the Mafac Cantilever brakes.  The brakes, while very powerful, are noisy under hard braking, partly because I am using these Kool Stop pads which not only don’t allow for toe-in, they seem to provide for the opposite of toe-in.  Even so, I would rather have these strong and reliable cantilevers for commuting in Portland.

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And finally, I sourced an exact match for the taillight with the broken reflector. I kind of miss the look of the bare bulb, though.

Now it’s time to get back out on this bike into this Fall’s windy, rainy weather and ride the leaf strewn avenues of Portland – hopefully in comfort!

1980 Meral 650b Evolution

1980 Meral

1980 Meral 650b conversion – before

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1980 Meral 650b Conversion – different fenders and racks – and showing a little wear

Two years ago, I built up this lovely Reynolds 531 1980 Meral sport touring frame, and converted it to 650b (it was originally built for 700c wheels with minimal clearances).  I used a combination of new and vintage components.  My initial build had some issues, primarily involving fork shimmy as well as the Panaracer Col de la Vie tires feeling ponderous and slow.  That problem was easily solved with the amazing Compass Loup Loup Pass tires.2015-05-07 005

With that issue resolved, I began riding the bike a lot more and using it as my primary commuter and weekend rider. But then, it was a dark and rainy night when…I was climbing a steep hill, approaching a light, suddenly a pedestrian walked in front of me, and I had to swerve while driving the pedal down.  That caught my shoe up in the fender stay bolts of the pretty hammered fenders I had installed, and I nearly crashed.  While I knew about the toe overlap issue with this build, and had adjusted to it, more or less, this was one of those situations when toe overlap became unacceptable.

As I was thinking about changing out the fenders, I felt it was the perfect time to consider replacing the heavy and not so attractive Ticino rear rack.  While rummaging through my parts bins, I came across some rusted old F. Fiol front and rear racks, which I had removed from an early 60’s rando bike.  They are made from stainless steel tubing, which I discovered once I started cleaning the rust off with a brass brush and some cleaning oil.

I didn’t want to give up the beautiful hammered fenders, but finally concluded that I had to do something different.  I probably needed narrower fenders, which didn’t use a stay mounting system with large bolts sticking out.

Then I remembered the simple but sturdy aluminum fenders I had used on my old Centurion Pro Tour.  I dug them out, and realized that their stays were flush mounted to the interior of the fenders (just what I needed), and that they were a bit narrower, albeit with much less bling, being of a very understated design.  Amazingly, they still looked great, even after about 40,000 miles of use.  So, I embarked on a whole new fender/rack installation.

The racks mount to the fenders, and are made from very small diameter steel tubing.  Even so, they are much stronger than expected and I have had no qualms about hauling groceries and commuting gear on these racks.  Admittedly, I will not try to haul really heavy items, but I actually think I could even carry minimal camping gear, and certainly enough gear for credit card touring with these racks.

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F. Fiol rear rack

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F. Fiol front rack

Once that was done, I decided to tackle the other issue that had been bothering me about the build – the constant trimming needed on the front derailleur (a Shimano Ultegra designed for a double crankset).  I realized that I had a NOS Simplex Super LJ front derailleur in my inventory, and kind of wondered why I didn’t think of using it before…but, once installed it worked perfectly with the T.A. triple crankset.  It requires a bit more robust up-shifting, but there is now no trimming needed, and I was able to reinstall the original 8 speed cassette I wanted to use (replacing the lower geared 7 speed cassette I ended up using with the Ultegra).

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During this time, I also decided to stop using clipless pedals on all my bikes.  Because a lot of my riding is commuting, the constant clipping in and out at stop lights and intersections caused some chronic pain and swelling in my “clip out” foot.  So, what was old is new again.  I have always loved toe clips, and even though I have used clipless pedals for about 15 years, it felt great to go back to my roots, and that resolved the issue with my swollen ankle.  I had originally chosen these beautiful Lyotard pedals to use on the bike, so it was nice to put them back on, and you’ll see I’m using Velo-Orange leather straps – very well designed because the extra material below the clamp helps to keep everything aligned, making it very easy to slip my shoe in and out of the clip.

Lyotard pedals, Velo Orange leather straps.

Lyotard pedals, Velo Orange leather straps.

I am very happy with the rest of the build:

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Cardiff leather saddle – very comfortable, and showing no wear at all.

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Velo Orange front pads – I replaced the Kool Stop brake pads with these to get some better toe-in – and they work great.

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Reynolds 531 frame is very responsive.

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Yes, battery powered lights, for now.

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A nice clean bottom bracket, thanks to my Velo Orange mud flap

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It was easy to transfer the mudflap to the new (old) fenders.

Meral at Champoeg Park

A delightful bike – comfortable, handles well, eats up miles – and no toe overlap. See you out there!