Mid Century Mercier Meca Dural

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This winter’s crazy weather in Portland, Oregon finally gave me the time and focus needed to complete the restoration of a very interesting bicycle – a late 40’s/early 50’s Mercier Meca Dural.  The frame is constructed with aluminum tubes joined with ornate aluminum lugs and internal steel expanders.  The front fork is good old steel, but the rest of the frame is 100% “duralumin” – the same stuff that blimps were made from.

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Once I finally had the rear wheel’s axle spacing and dishing issues resolved (the 650b Mavic rims/F.B hubs wheelset installed replace the incorrect 700c wheels on the bike when I acquired it), I could devote time to mounting the 650b tires and dealing with fender line issues.  This bike’s beautiful hammered Le Martele Lefol fenders were meant for tires a bit larger than the Panaracer 40 mm Col de la Vie tires I mounted to the the vintage Mavic rims.  That meant spacers. And, my favorite spacers are wine corks.  Therefore, it was necessary and advisable to open a couple bottles of champagne (the higher priced, the better), to obtain the corks needed to meet this objective.  The photos above show the champagne corks installed on the front and rear fenders.

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Another issue was the chain line adjustment.  Once I had the rear derailleur installed – a NOS Simplex Grand Prix – it became clear that even after adjusting it to push the derailleur as far in toward the frame as possible, and after re-spacing and re-dishing the rear hub, the chain line was off.  It was going to be necessary to push the crankset away from the frame, by a few millimeters.  Fortunately, with this unique frame’s method of joining of the bottom bracket with brass bolts to the chain stays, I determined that I could remove the bolts, and then re-position the bottom bracket accordingly.  I removed the bolts from the frame, lubricated the bottom bracket shell – which is a beautifully machined aluminum cylinder, then began the process of moving it slightly over to the right.  This took the work of a mallet as well as my Lozan BB lockring wrench, but finally I moved the BB cylinder enough to provide the chain-line I needed. One of the many interesting things about this bike is that the BB axle is hollow (to save weight) and the crank bolt on the left side is threaded backwards.  Something not to forget in the future!

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Ideale Model 80 leather saddle

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Simplex shifter

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Luxor headlight bracket

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Luxor 65 headlamp

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C.M. calipers with reversed hardware

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Vintage french rack, Huret wingnuts

The bike’s leather saddle – an Ideale Model 80 – might be worth more than the bike itself if eBay seller pricing is to be believed.  The saddle is a little dry, but after reconditioning it, I think it will prove to be very comfortable.  The “C.M.” brake calipers are a long reach mechanism from the 40’s that I used to replace the incorrect CLB 700 brakes that were on the bike when I purchased it.  You’ll note from the photo above that I reversed the hardware on the rear brake to accommodate this bike’s brake routing – to allow the cable to enter from underneath the caliper.  I also installed a French rear rack from this same era, as the original rack was missing.

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The above photo shows that the seat post lug is pinned, as compared to the rest of the lugs on this bike which are joined with internal steel expanders.  There were other methods of joining aluminum tubes back in the day when these bikes were built, but I think these Meca Dural examples are likely to survive the test of time.  We’ll see once I get this bike out on the road.

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Before

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After

It’s funny (but not really) that the before and after photos of this bike don’t look that much different.  Perhaps what’s different is my perspective – the bike is now ready for a test ride, with appropriate components, and a period-correct restoration to make the bike 100% rideable.  I threw my leg over the saddle today just to see how the bike felt and I was startled to find that this bike fits me perfectly.  I can’t wait to get it out on the road.  For that, the weather gods must provide.

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Clear Coating a Vintage Steel Fork, Part II

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I have now clear coated the vintage steel fork which was part of the 1940s/50s Mercier Meca Dural I have been working on for the past year.  The bicycle was mostly original, with its beautiful aluminum frame in fantastic condition.  Unfortunately, the fork was terribly pitted, made worse by the application of an amateur spray paint job.

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This Mercier Meca Dural bicycle was built in the late 40’s or early 50’s.  The main tubes are made from “duralumin” – the same stuff blimps were made from. The forks on these bicycles were always steel, and in this case the fork had probably been originally painted gray or was chromed, to match the color of the unpainted aluminum on the main tubes.  Because the main tubes cannot rust, there was no need to paint them.

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But, the original fork was compromised – it was pitted with corrosion and rust. I needed to decide how to restore it or replace it.  After many hours of paint removal, sanding, and polishing, the fork looks much better. I became concerned about removing too much material from the fork blades, so I finally tossed in the towel.   On the bright side (pun intended), I guess you might say this fork has patina in spades.  I ended up deciding that I wanted to clear coat the fork (for now) rather than chroming it or sending it out for a professional paint job.  That would enable me to continue restoring the bicycle, which I am anxious to complete.

I decided to use Proctaclear by Everbrite for the paint, and MAAS metal polish for the final finish work prior to painting.  Both products worked very well.

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The steps I used, after removing the original paint and then sanding with finer and finer sandpaper to create a smooth surface are as follows:

  1. I polished the fork blades and crown with MAAS metal polish – this took hours!  However, I really like this polish and will continue using it for steel parts.  It’s not as good as NevrDull on aluminum fenders, but can make even funky metal parts look very nice.
  2. After polishing, I cleaned the fork blades with alcohol and a soft cloth – I didn’t have to use an acid neutralizing baking soda bath, because as advised by the Protectaclear instructions, MAAS polish does not contain acid.  However, some restorers do this process anyway, regardless of the polish used.
  3. I did a final wipe down on the fork blades with a tack cloth – to remove any debris from the surface.
  4. I cleaned the paint brushes and prepared my work area so that I could avoid fouling the brushes on an unclean surface.  I put the fork upright in my work stand so that the paint would flow downward. My paint brushes were new, so I only needed to wash them in warm water to remove their protective coating – however, see below.
  5. I poured a tiny bit of Proctectaclear into a clean glass jar – this stuff goes a long ways.  The small container I purchased could probably cover 2 bicycles in full.2016-11-15-007
  6. I painted the fork blades with smooth, even strokes.  The paint went on easily, and as the instructions advise, the paint will naturally smooth itself out on the surface so that you won’t see any brush marks.  This was an accurate description, and the painting itself took no time at all.  However…see below!
  7. As I was painting, tiny surface anomalies began to appear in the painted surface.  At first I thought the paint was reacting to something on the fork blades, but then I realized that my paint brush was depositing little particles onto the blades.  The new brushes still had some leftover protective glue which I thought I had washed off.  I then stopped painting, cleaned the brush extensively, then wiped the brush with tack cloth, and that solved the problem. I had to carefully remove the tiny particles with my fingernail (gloved) and then smooth the paint out again.
  8. After a couple of hours, I applied a 2nd coat, as provided for in the instructions.
  9. The paint cures hard in 4 – 5 days.  It is very soft prior to this, and even scuffed a bit when I laid the fork down on a wood surface about 24 hours after the final paint coat.

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The painted fork looks pretty much exactly like the raw steel fork. It really is a clear coat. I will know soon just how robust the paint is, but for now I am excited to begin building up the frame and completing the restoration.

The whole process to restore this fork took well over 25 hours.  Rather than following the typical 80/20 rule for paint jobs (80% preparation time, 20% painting time), this job was more like 99%/1%.  The painting portion of the work was almost a let down, because it was really so easy compared to all the other work involved in preparing the fork.  I’ll plan to do a long-term update once the Mercier Meca Dural is restored and back out on the road.

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Unrestored 1940s/50s Mercier Mecal Dural

 

Cranky

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Vintage TA crankset with triple rings – 48/40/28.

The lovely & vintage TA crankset which I selected for my 1980 Meral 650b conversion has been an unusually frustrating interaction between the characteristics of vintage components and modern cycling requirements.  I chose this component for two reasons:  the crank arms were 160 mm, helping me to eliminate toe overlap on my 1980 sportif frame; and, since the Meral came with a TA bottom bracket,  I thought it would be nice to match it to a TA crankset of the same era.

But this crankset was problematic.  The big ring had a massive wobble that I had straightened a few times in my vise.  And, even though I use a similarly geared crankset on my Terry – a Shimano 600 with 48/40/30 rings – there was something about the TA rings that never really came together.  I never landed on my “cruising gear” even though I went through two different cassettes and two different front and rear derailleurs.  And, the drive train was always noisy, even after trying a few different chains.

Some frame-up builds come together perfectly, and some require more tweaking.  The Meral ended up being in the latter camp.

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Version 2 with TA 44/28 rings.

I decided that I might prefer a compact setup for this bike.  Since most of my current riding is commuting, it is important if only for safety reasons not to have to worry about gear selection while riding.  My other bikes provide easy and intuitive gear selection, so that my eyes can stay on the road.

A large tooth difference between the chain rings was de rigueur back in the heyday of French cyclo touring.  So, maybe it would work for me too.  I sourced NOS TA 44 and 28 teeth rings on eBay.  The rings are very pretty, and gave the Meral a real “French” look.

Unfortunately, for my kind of riding, the 28 tooth ring did not work at all.  Essentially, I was now riding a bike with a single chain ring plus a bail out gear, rather than a regular double crank which allows for even steps between the gears.  And, shifting between the two front rings often required a triple shift to maintain cadence. To make matters worse, the small chain ring was noisy in certain gears due to the extreme angle of the chain, front to rear and side to side.

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Version 3 with 44/32 rings.

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Beautiful new TA Pro Vis 32 tooth ring.

Not one to give up, I decided that a larger toothed small chain ring would be the answer.  I ordered a brand new 32 tooth TA ring from Boulder Bicycle.  The new ring is beautifully etched, and looks quite fine with the older crankset.  Even better, after installing yet another cassette (a SRAM 7 speed 12-32) to accommodate this new gearing, and adding a few links to the chain, the bike’s gearing is perfect for what I need.  My new gear inch range is 26 to 95, with even steps between the gears.  My shifting pattern is normal, and I have a cruising gear on my big ring that matches a comfortable cadence on a flat surface.  While I was at it, I adjusted the Simplex Super LJ front derailleur lower to make my front shifts crisper.  This front derailleur uses a parallelogram with an extreme angle, so in order to make it work well, it needs be about 1 mm above the teeth of the larger chain ring, rather than the usual 2 or 3 mm, to achieve ideal shifting.

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1980 Meral 650b as currently configured.

This bike was meant to take the place of my old beloved 1976 Centurion Pro Tour, which I crashed irreparably in 1999.  It has been a “long and twisted road” finding the right bike which can carry me not only to work and back, but to the undiscovered as well as the familiar. But this is what I have been yearning for.  A soul mate.