The Bike and the Car

 

I’d had my eye on this pink Mercier bike for a few days, so on the morning when I finally arranged to meet the seller and see the bike, I felt quite determined to buy it. It was about a 25 mile drive to the seller’s house, deep in the Normandy countryside, but it was a nice winter’s day with clear skies. In a couple of hours, I thought, I’ll own a cool vintage Mercier. My car, however, had other ideas.

 

 

The Break Down

 

So I was driving on a quiet main road through the argricultural heartland of France, just 8 miles from the meeting point. There wasn’t much traffic around, and as I took a long bend in the road, I suddenly got a strong scent of petrol in the car. No warning lights came on the dashboard, and it was definitely coming from my car. In these situations, your instincts take over, and I knew something bad was about to happen. Within about 10 seconds I was losing power and the engine began to stutter, leaving me helplessly coasting over to the emergency layby that I was just able to reach. By the time I stopped, smoke was pouring out from the bonnet.

 

 

What’s Worse, Lose the Car or the Bike?

 

For a few minutes there I thought the car was going to burst into flames. There was a real chance of it happening, as one of the fuel injector hoses had split and petrol was pouring out of it and onto the engine. Luckily, the car didn’t explode, and within an hour I was picked up by a friendly French tow truck. The event cost me £200 altogether, including repairs, but I was just as worried that my chance to get the bike had gone up in smoke too. I feared the seller would run out of patience with my confused texts and messy explanations, but luckily, by late afternoon, I got the chance to finally buy the bike and get it in my car.

 

 

The Pink

 

Merciers in this classic colour of pink are special bikes like this one I had a few years ago, but the paintwork on some bikes of this age can looked jaded or washed out. I don’t think it’s because these bikes have been mistreated, left out in long winters and such; more likely, it’s just the effect that decades of light has on the colour, and unless the bike has been stored indoors for most of its life, it’s likely to have lost some of it’s pinkness over time. This frameset has suffered a little fading, just check out the forks compared to the main tubes, but it still looks great.

 

 

First Impressions

 

The bike is in good condition all round, I’d give it a good 8/10 for its cosmetics and mechanics. The tubes are not ruined by nasty scratches or loss of paint, especially the top tube. Neither has the gilding around the long pointed lugs deteriorated, I like the way it was detailed by a careful hand. There is some light oxidation in the small places of the components, mostly on nuts and brackets, which always get weathered first on brakes and derailleurs. The dropouts are Super Vitus, though the frame has straight gauge Reynolds 531 main tubes.

 

 

The Room for Improvement

 

There are a few details I would have preferred this bike to have, but these are not criticisms or dislikes; I think this is a lovely bike in its original build. However, I would have preferred Mercier to have used a metal head badge instead of a stick-on type; a head badge is important to the frame. I also like the tubular rims, as they are a throwback to the real racing days of the 1970’s, but I wish they had been built with stainless steel spokes. Would it have been a better bike it it had been built with Simplex SJ and Stronglight? Maybe..

 

 

The Shimano 600 Cosmetics

 

I like the Shimano 600 gruppo for its solid performance and build quality, and it was a highly competitive groupset when introduced in 1976. Campagnolo components still enjoy the reputation as being the best of this era, but did they really work better than this Shimano set? I do like the angular brake calipers, there’s something cool about them. I can, however, see the difference in the cosmetic standard between Campagnolo and Shimano at this stage. The Shimano 600 crankset and front derailleur, for example, have a matt finish and can’t be polished to a shine.

 

Cool looking brakes

Dating it

 

There is a 7 figure serial number on the head badge decal, but does one number signify the age of the bike? The last number is a 7, so could it be 1977?  The frameset has no braze-ons, so all the components are mounted with traditional clamp-on brackets. The frame has French threading and older French sizing, which means it was built before 1982. The tubular rims are more likely to be on a 1970’s build, which ties in with the style of the Mercier decals which are of that era. Check out the seat pin, which helps date the frame too: it’s the older nut and bolt type and not the allen bolt design of later 1980’s bikes.

 

25 x 1 French Thread

 

Provenance

 

It seems to me that the bike has all of its original parts, from the original pink handlebar tape to the pedals and Mercier saddle. Are the Dura Ace brake housing brackets on the top tube original? I think they are, the tiniest of upgrades that Shimano sent to the Mercier factory. There’s a sticker on the forks of the bike shop in Avranches, were the bike was bought. It’s a small town in La Manche, where I actually bought the bike, so it’s very likely the seller was the original owner and the bike had remained in the town for all its 40 years.

 

 

Finer details

 

The more you work on a bike, the more you can piece together its life and even the type of owner it’s had, if it’s just had one. What type of owner, for example, replaces a handlebar end cap with a cork? Or uses clear tape to secure handlebar tape? Someone who rode it casually, a person with a practical nature, who cared enough about the bike to recently replace its tubular tyres and keep it in a rideable condition. Most importantly, he stored it out of the rain and kept it pretty clean.

 

 

Final Prep Before Riding

 

It was never my intention to give this bike a full restoration. In my opinion, it didn’t need one, it was in good enough condition with its original components to just require cleaning and tuning. Some bikes need just a lighter touch and not the heavy hand of an unnecessary revamp. Admittedly, the brake hoods should be replaced, but they’re still hanging on in there. Instead, I got on with installing new cables, I lubed the components, tuned the brakes and just cleaned the bike from top to toe. Now it’s ready for a test ride.

 

 

Riding the Bike

 

I hadn’t ridden the bike before I started cleaning it, so by the time I’d put new brake and gear cables on it, lubed the chain and components and made small adjustments to the groupset, I had no idea how it would ride. The chain, for one thing, looked original, so it could have thrown everything out of mechanical order. Happily, it didn’t, and the bike was quiet and precise on the road. No creaks, no clunky gear changes, no strange sounds. The 40 year old brake pads struggle a bit to stop the bike, but that is what you’d expect. This Mercier is a light and responsive bike, a real joy to ride.

 

Stats

  • 1977/78 Mercier Road Bike
  • 55cm Seat Tube Length, Centre to Top
  • 55cm Top Tube Length, Centre to Centre
  • Reynolds 531 Straight Gauge Main Tubes
  • Super Vitus Rear Dropouts
  • Prugnat Long Pointed Lugs
  • Tange French Threaded Headset
  • Shimano 35 x1 Bottom Bracket
  • Shimano 600 Group Set
  • Belleri Handlebars and 90mm Stem
  • Mavic Championnat Du Monde Sur Route Tubular Rims
  • Mercier Original Saddle
  • Kyokuto Top Run Pedals

 

Ready to Ride

 

 

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