Friday, March 31, 2017

Mercian 753 Special

It's my spring break from work, so I've had some time this week to work on a pretty awesome project: a 1979 Mercian 753 Special. It's now mostly finished and ready for some photos.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I believe 1979 was the first year that Mercian offered a model built with Reynolds 753 tubing. According to the book The Custom Bicycle by Kolin and de la Rosa, by 1978 the only 753-certified builders in the U.K. were Raleigh, Bob Jackson, and Harry Quinn. At the time they were being interviewed for that book, Mercian owner Bill Betton said they were looking into using the special heat-treated tubing, but hadn't yet decided, and had not yet sought certification for it. But according to the serial number, this frame was built some time in 1979, and by 1980 the model was listed in the company's catalog. I suspect (but can't say for certain) that there can't have been many frames built with 753 prior to this example of mine.

When I got the frame last fall, it had a busted cable guide and would need new paint, but the price was low enough that I figured it was worthwhile even with the cost of the renovation added. I already had most of the parts needed to complete the bike, but I did want a top-level pair of tubular wheels for it, which I felt would be the right choice for a special racing frame. While the frame was off at Mercian Cycles being renovated, I spent some time sourcing the right vintage rims and hubs, then built the wheels last month.

Why did I go with Mercian for the renovations? There are very good painters much closer to home, but the price of renovations at Mercian is really competitive, and the exchange rate right now is as good as I've ever seen. The price of shipping back and forth to the U.K. is the big downside. Ultimately, the renovation itself was cheaper than keeping it in the U.S., but the shipping cost eliminated any savings so the price would have been about the same either way. But the idea of having the frame renovated by the same folks who originally built it was enough to tip the scale.

Remember that post a couple months ago about "proper" bike setup? Not-so-modestly speaking, right here is a great example. 
I had these '80s vintage sew-up tires on hand, Clement Super Condors - I mounted them (without glue) to check them out but I probably won't end up using them - they are really narrow at only about 20mm wide. Even with short-reach brakes (the pads are all the way at the bottom of the slots) there is so much room in the frame that I can easily mount a larger-volume tire, and nowadays there are some good choices, even in sew-ups.
I've got a full Campy Super Record group on the bike - with one exception: Simplex retrofriction shift levers. That's a substitution a lot of riders made back in the day. Putting Campagnolo rubber covers on Simplex levers was a little trick riders like Laurent Fignon used to do to keep his sponsor Campagnolo happy. Fignon continued using the Simplex levers as late as 1989, even after Campagnolo came out with their own retrofriction levers (they called their system "doppler," by the way).
It's rare for me to use anything but Brooks saddles, but I had this like-new Cinelli Unicanitor saddle looking for a lightweight, high-performance vintage bike. Fistful of post, too. I went back and forth on the brake cable housing - trying to decide between this vintage translucent red Casiraghi housing and the classic grey Campagnolo housing (yes, I had both). I thought the red might be almost "too much" with the color matching - but at the same time, it is an EXACT match for the Ruby Red on the frame. In the end, I think the red is the right choice.
These are old-logo Cinelli stem and bars (Mod Campione del Mondo - the deep drop ones). The current "flying C" logo came about after the Columbo family bought Cinelli around '78.
There's that Campagnolo Hi-Lo hub.
Campagnolo Super Record rear derailleur with Regina Extra freewheel and drilled chain.
Can't quite see them here, but I've got super light Ale aluminum toeclips and classic Alfredo Binda straps on these Record Superleggero (SL) pedals. The SL pedals are not quite the same as the rarer Super Record pedals - the SR use titanium spindles, whereas the SL use steel. Not as light, but a lot easier to find and they'll last a good long time.

All assembled, the bike weighs around 20 lbs - not bad for a steel bike with a 60cm frame. In a post on 753 tubing, I pointed out that Reynolds offered the tubing in a couple of different gauges. The very thinnest gauge was generally reserved for smaller frames, below about 58cm, while larger frames would have tube walls that were not quite as extremely thin. Though there could be exceptions to that distinction, Mercian was (still is) a pretty conservative builder, and this one for sure uses the slightly thicker gauge. How can we tell? It takes a 26.8mm seatpost. Smaller frames, or any using the thinner gauge would take a 27.0mm post.

I still have to glue on tires before I can take it for a ride. When that happens, I'll put out a ride report.

16 comments:

  1. That's super nice looking, Brooks. It's a straight-up walk back in time.

    Wolf.

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  2. Upping my previous comment on just the frame from "nice", to "extremely nice" for the lovely finished bike.

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  3. 'Tis a thing of beauty. And, I'm sure, a great ride forever!

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  4. That is a labour of love. You have a real knack for restorations. That's a knockout bike !

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  5. Interesting observation on the tubing and seat post size. I have a 57cm 753 Raleigh Team SBDU resprayed in Molteni orange (that is another project to correct). I could not figure out why a 27.00 mm post would not fit. Its does fit a 28.8. I am going to build it up with vintage Super Record if I can accumulate a suitable gruppo.

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    1. I assume you meant to type 26.8 - but yes, that would make sense. With a 57cm frame, I'd think they'd use the thinner gauge tubes, but as I understand it, rider weight was also a consideration.

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  6. As the owner of a mid-80s Mercian Professional, I applaud your latest choice of cycle. Larger volume tubular tires.... On all my clincher tired bikes I have gradually increased the dimensions. Don't ride the two sets of tubular wheels much any more but I'll be interested to see what you come up with. Always loved the ride of tubulars and usually was able to fit at least 25mm models.

    Wonder if that frame was originally meant for "standard" reach brakes? My late 70s Colnago takes standard reach.

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    1. You could be right about brake reach. You can see in one of the pictures that the pads are all the way at the bottom of the slots -they reach, but just barely. No breathing room. "Normal" reach brakes would have the pads almost at the top of the slots, but with a bit more room. On the other hand, I had the short reach calipers on hand, and they seem to fit, so I'm glad I didn't have to go searching for a pair of longer reach calipers in similar condition!

      I found some Schwalbe One tubulars in a nice large volume size and at a bargain price. Someone was clearing them out. They get good reviews. They have a pretty big logo on them which I'm not crazy about (they don't look vintage at all) but they at least have a natural tan casing.

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  7. What a treat to see such a bona fide labor of love come to such fruition! Done with care and taste. Well done.

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  8. Gorgeous bike with nice choices for the build. I applaud the decision to have Mercian do the rehab.

    I have a Merckx Pro in 753 - wonderful bike. The - not so svelte- C-Record group has it checking in at 21.5 lbs though.

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  9. what a beauty. You just gotta know that this bike was absolutely the best that Mercian could build. Really interested in your comments about how it rides.

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  10. The parts choice is a bit before my riding experiences beginning in the late '90s (so it's unfamiliar), but I love the period-specific build and the end result. Thank goodness there are still people that value things from yesterday. Beautiful job.

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  11. The authors of The Custom Bicycle apparently missed a builder. I have an early-’80s Woodrup frame made with 753.

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    1. That book was published in '78 or '79. It's likely they got their certification soon after publication.

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  12. Bravo! A connoisseur's bicycle, truly.

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