The Missing Catalogues
Unlike the information on Peugeot and Motobecane, there are not many Mercier catalogues posted on the internet. I’m not sure why exactly. Mercier has a pedigree and reputation in France for great bikes and cycling achievements, yet there are no internet sites dedicated to cataloging the Mercier brand. Perhaps it’s because Mercier bikes were not exported to the US in droves like Motobecane and Peugeot were, as I think the main swell of interest in vintage bikes comes from the US and Canada. Consequently, there is much less demand for information and discussion about models like the Mercier, or for finding the identification of this Velo De Mercier pictured above.
About Mercier Bikes
The business started out as Ribauld and Mercier in 1921, in Rue Guttenberg, in the great bike city of Saint Etienne. In 1924 Emile Mercier bought out the rest of the business, and in 1924 asked for the support of his brothers to develop his project. Beenard Chaussinand in his book about the cycle industry in Saint Etienne, states that “Depuis, l’entreprise n’aura cesser de progresser pour devenir l’une des premières sur le marché français” ( since then, the business wouldn’t stop until it became one of the best in the French bicycle market ). Indeed, in 1937 a Mercier won the most prestigious bike race in the world; Roger Lapébie rode to victory, though the bike wasn’t painted in Mercier colours.
The Great Poulidor
What gives Mercier so much kudos is their involvement in professional cycling over a long period. They started sponsoring a race team as early as 1933, and continued through the decades until they hit the jackpot in the 1960’s with Raymond Poulidor. Now Poulidor didn’t achieve anything like Merckx or Anquetil in Grand Tour victories, in fact, he never won the Tour De France. But he was the most popular rider in France for two decades, and this must have boosted Mercier sales through the steel bike era. By 1985 it was bought out by France Loire, and Joop Zoetemelk was the last top rider who rode for Mercier’s professional cycling team.
The Mercier Classics
I’d love to get my hands on a 1973 Mercier Service Des Courses, in the colour rose of course, or equally a Prestige built with Reynolds 753 tubing and sold for a whopping 7400 francs in 1976. There’s also the super cool Special Sport, and let’s not forget the Mercier 300. A good place to see some great Mercier bikes is here on this Dutch forum. I’ve had a couple of rose coloured Merciers myself, and they are really quite beautiful bikes. There’s something about the bright pink colour that demands your attention and veneration, having such a deep tradition in the sport and in the history and culture of cycling in France.
My Unknown Model
My bike is a much more modest affair than these great Mercier bikes just mentioned. Nevertheless, it’s a nice example of a later Mercier, built with simplicity and quality that is worth every penny that I spent to buy it. It seems like a mid 1980’s bike to me, judging by its frame built with braze-ons, by its decals and paintwork, as well as by its seatpost cluster. The components on the bike seem all original, including the Solida crank, always a cheaper alternative to the more desirable Stronglight models. One thing I like about Solida cranksets is they are lightweight; they may be more prone to cracking and breaking under pressure, but they were lighter than many high end cranksets of the time.
The Good and the Bad
The frameset is one of the best things about the bike, its distinctive paintwork – half red – half white -, is subtle and not so 1980’s like some Peugeots of the time. Interestingly, it has eyelets for mudguards on the dropouts, which means the bike was built with practicality in mind. But by this stage Mercier were using pretty cheap components for this bike, the plastic Sachs shifters, the simple and rather bland Sachs rear derailleur, as well as the cheap seatpost and CLB brakes. The wheelset is a mismatch, and I’m guessing the rear Mavic Mach 2 anodised rim with Gipiemme hub was a later addition, the white Rigida rim and Maillard hub being the original of the two.
I don’t know what type of tubes were used to build this steel frame, whether or not they were perhaps Vitus tubes or if they were made in-house at the Mercier workshop. There are no decals to identify what type of steel tubes they used. The fork crowns still retain the nice Mercier emblem, and the top tube is quite long: 56.5cm, centre to centre, while the seat tube measures 57cm, centre to top. The forged dropouts are not stamped, if I remember correctly, and the lugs are simple but fit the aspect of the frame perfectly.
Riding the Mercier
This is a 14 speed bike, 7 x 2, fitted with a standard 52/42 crank pulling a freewheel with a small gear ratio, 13-22. It’s not ideal, then, for hilly territory unless you like the big gears. It’s great for the flat, and being around 24lbs, it is light enough to get a good cruising speed up without too much effort. It’s frame geometry is comfortable and would benefit long rides, and its handlebars are slightly wider than the previous generation of vintage bikes. The 1980’s saw big changes in bike technology, and this bike is no different. It may not have indexed gears, but even the simple transmission worked efficiently. In summary, this Mercier is a nice blend of the practical and the aesthetic, and thirty -odd years on, it still rides well.