Have Mercier!

4 05 2011

We were still in the depths of winter when an especially lovely Mercier was donated to EBC. With tubular tires and hard to find French components, it wasn’t a bike for your average rider, and the derailleur and derailleur hanger had been bent all the way into the back wheel. Its lithe lugged steel frame with cast dropouts called to me though, and I’d visit it every time I went into BikeWorks. I fixed up the bent derailleur enough that I could ride it around the shop (there was still several feet of snow outside), and even on the cramped shop floor, that bike wanted to fly, and I’ve never ridden a bike that felt so quick and fast. I was smitten with this bike, but considering how little money and how many bicycles I have, I couldn’t justify buying it.

One day, I was giving some folks a tour of EBC/BikeWorks, and when we entered the bike “showcase” area I noticed the Mercier was nowhere to be seen. I began to panic – “my” little French bike had been sold! I kept it cool and continued the tour, but I was holding back tears. After everyone else had left, I frantically looked around for some clue of what had happened to it, and found the bike hanging unassumingly in the bike room. Relief! I decided at that moment that I would somehow scrape enough together to buy it.

Le Mercier, taking a break from going fast.

Justifying it as an early birthday present, I finally brought her home, where she sat in my living room where I could admire her while waiting for winter to loosen its icy grip. When the roads finally did clear, I wasted no time taking her for speedy rides, wishing the puddles and gravel and potholes would go away faster. When I ride this bike, I feel like it’s pulling me along, not me pushing it.

Spring and Mercier!

As lovely as this bike is, there’s a couple of issues. First is the rear derailleur. I was able to bend the derailleur hanger back into shape (I love steel – it was, like, 30 degrees off) but the derailleur itself was also bent, and the lightweight aluminum wasn’t as forgiving, though with some help from the Raving Bike Fiend, we got it working. The metal is probably weak, though, so I should expect to have to replace it soon.

The other question about this bike is the tubular tires. I figured this would be a great way to learn something new, but from what I’ve read it seems like patching them is difficult, replacements are expensive (even with a shop discount), and the whole system seems much more prone to failure than the common clincher. I decided I’d just ride them and deal with that problem when it arose.

It was only my third ride on this bike when I got a flat. I was a long way from home, a long way from anything, and I ended up using my shoulder bag as a sling to carry the bike two miles through the river valley to a place I could catch a bus with a bike rack the rest of the way home.

Sad bike and rider wait for a bus on a cool spring evening.

As I waited for the bus, I pulled three sizable pieces of gravel out of the completely flat rear tire, while moisture on the front tire revealed that air was also slowly bubbling out of it. Two flat tubulars? What had I gotten myself into?

Mass transit saves the day.

So, now I either have to repair or replace both tubular tires. Hello steep learning curve! My other option is to replace the rims with ones that take conventional tires, and I’m so torn between the two options that I think I’ll do both. Those beautiful tubulars are part of the magic of this bike, and it will be difficult to find comparable clincher rims without spending an arm and a leg. The tubulars seem so delicate, though, and it’s important to me that I don’t end up stranded somewhere, especially after riding hard for a long distance, so I’m going to build up a second set of wheels for when I feel like a more robust ride. Stay tuned for more updates once the Mercier is roadworthy again, including some pictures of the components that made the raving bike fiend drool!



7 responses

4 05 2011

Despite your initial setbacks, this looks like a fine bicycle! Happy Riding ๐Ÿ™‚

4 05 2011

Definitely a lot to learn with tubulars, but you could wind up loving them. Of course, you know to check Sheldon Brown for the basics. I would also recommend asking around or looking online for some used tires with miles left in them (much better for the budget). The strategy for flats is to have the tires glued on in such a way that one can be removed from the rim and another reinstalled with the adhesion almost unimpaired (if no one else can teach you, I will try to describe it – it’s kind of a laborious process). At that point, you can carry a spare tire, and install it as necessary, repairing the flat back at home base. Have fun studying!

7 05 2011

The tubulars definitely left me wanting more. I have found one used tire, though I don’t know if there’s any holes in it, either. I’ll have to put it onto a spare rim and test it. I’ll also keep my eye out for tubs with a removable valve stem so I have the option of putting some sort of sealant in it.

Another mechanic friend was (half jokingly) telling me I should be riding around with the spare tire around my shoulders in a figure eight. Not quite the fashion statement I wanna make, so maybe I’ll make a nice saddle bag to store such a beast.

7 05 2011
Randy Talbot

Nice post – good story and photos.
I’ve never had a bike with tubulars but they seemed like more trouble than they were worth (unless a person is racing). I think I almost bought a Mercier years ago but pretty sure it had clinchers.
Happy riding!

8 05 2011

Regardless of how many bike you have there are some you can’t let get away. Great photos, especially “Spring and Mercier”.

12 05 2011

Such a beautiful bike… and it is so very fast.

And quiet… ๐Ÿ™‚

14 05 2011

AWESOME photo of you and the Mercier! I’m happy you got the bike you loved so much and I’m sure you’ll work through all the issues soon enough.

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