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!