Friday, April 23, 2010

Oh, This Old Thing?

The Co-Habitant teases me for my tendency to love decrepit old bicycles despite having modern options. My Mercier in particular is not only old, but quite crusty - with dulled paint, visible rust, and various other signs of wear. And yet this bicycle is so comfortable and charming, that I have been on an obsessive quest to make it "perfect" in its own unique way.

Pictured here are my latest additions: fenders, front rack, bell, and stem shifters.

For fenders, I chose the inexpensive stainless steel fenders from Velo Orange. The idea (aside from saving money) was that the plain polished fenders would go nicely with all the chrome parts on this bicycle. I think it worked out well.

And this is the tiny, adorable vintage TA front rack, designed to attach to the Mafac brakes on the Mercier. These come up for sale occasionally online and from fellow collectors at reasonable prices.

The rack, while very cute, is so small that I am not sure what I will put on it. A classic touring handlebar bag does not really fit the look of this bike, but I will keep thinking. What did the French put on bicycles with these handlebars?

Finally, we replaced the original Simplex downtube shifters with Suntour stem shifters (this part was done at Harris Cyclery, while the fender and rack installation we did at home). Downtube shifters just did not seem appropriate for this bicycle and reaching all the way down there in traffic did not feel safe. The little stem shifters are perfectly placed and very easy to operate.

In addition, I have begun converting the Mercier to a 5-speed - so the left shifter (leading to the front derailleur) is no longer connected to anything. The left shifter and front derailleur will come off once I get the situation completely sorted, and a vintage French chainguard will be installed. I will explain why and how I am doing this in a separate post - but hopefully it will work out.

All of this does sound like a lot of fuss about an old bike. But in a way, it is the Mercier's decrepitude that liberates me: Had the original paint been in better condition, I would not have dared re-paint the lugs by hand to this nice green-gray from the original black. Had the components been higher-end, I would not have been willing to experiment with a 5-speed conversion. There is a lot of fun to be had with an old bicycle. The main thing, is that you like the ride quality and care enough to gradually improve the rest.

27 comments:

  1. I share your impulse to "rescue" charming old bikes. Sometimes they seem to have souls, so leaving them to "die" is almost immoral.

    Plus, almost any decent bike will serve you well as long as it fits and you like the ride of it.

    If I had a bigger living space or a barn, I would "rescue" even more bikes. I feel the same way about books and cats. Both of my cats were rescued from the streets, and a number of my books have been "rescued" from various scrap heaps and dusty corners. And one "rescue" involved purchasing a small paperback volume of "silver" poets from the copies of cheap porn novels that surrounded it on a shelf in a truck-stop where I had lunch on a ride I took in New Jersey.

    As for the rack: It's really intended for a handlebar bag. But I would think you could probably fit a basket to it.

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  2. Justine - so could you see a little handlebar bag here, or do you think it would be a faux pas given the sort of bike it is? For some reason, the TA rack does not seem to want the basket, though I will ask it again to be sure.

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  3. I think those racks where intended to use with baskets, but like you I'm not totally sure :-)

    We have one Louison Bobet here, very similar to your Mercier. Is a pity that Velo Orange products are so expensive here in Europe because of the shipping.

    We've replaced the downtube shifters also, but ours are handlebar mounted, I'll post some photos soon.

    Very nice photos and blog!

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  4. "There is a lot of fun to be had with an old bicycle. The main thing, ........... and care enough to gradually improve the rest."

    O yes ... 'finally' there's a lady who has probably begun to share my joy in getting into 'compromising positions' with old bikes. :D
    I can only hope that those 'genteel ladies' orbiting around me (who regard my dalliance with 'decrepit ' bikes as 'unfeminine' if not 'immoral') would discover the same and understand why I took such bikes off the hands of my relatives.
    FYI, 'influenced' by you,:p, I've already put out words (including to my 'business' associates too)that I'm looking for 2 'good' used mixtes to breathe a touch of my soul into them. :D heeeheee.

    I like your choice of fenders for your Mercier.

    Wish you many happy hours with 'decrepit' bikes. :D ;)
    Lemony

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  5. I think it is the decreptitude combine with knowing it isn't really rare. I can't imagine all those tweaks with a Singer, but Merciers are not really an endangered species. My Falcon is the same way.

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  6. Your Mercier is wonderful. Love it. I have a 60's/70's Bertin. French bikes ride great. I had the Bertin repainted and now wish I'd left it original. I've not been able to replace the French decals. My only advise to you is to look after the rust.

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  7. Lovely! One of my old mixtes was set to get a shiny new powdercoat but I had some time to wait so I put it together with all the new things I'd gotten for it and decided it's orginal glory was too perfect to cover.

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  8. demimismo - Thanks for the link to the Louison Bobet mixte, it's wonderful!

    Lem - Two good mixtes? You don't kid around! Re women who love old bikes, you might enjoy Riding Pretty, Chic Cyclist and Biking in Heels - they all ride exclusively vintage bicycles. I think for most women - people in general actually - a new bike just feels safer and more reliable than a vintage one. Yes, upgrades can be done to the vintage bicycle, but a non-enthusiast will not know what exactly needs to be done, how to go about it and whom to turn to. This is certainly how I was, when I was shopping for my first bike. But now, I clearly feel more comfortable.

    Steve - There is an original Rene Herse Mixte for sale an an East Coast bike shop for a mere $8K. I considered picking it up and repainting the lugs, but just haven't been able to find the time!

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  9. I am actually hoping for three to drop into my my hands ... but I am not asking openly for 3 lest some of 'them' may think I'm unhinged 'upstairs' :D or that I'm going into 'second-hand ' business with bikes.
    The first that comes in would definitely go to an eighteen year old neighbor for her use to commute to U. She has declared she would love to have a mixte after reading your posts on yours. She needs some assistance to possess one. (Nice girl .. my kitchen-accomplice in 'clandestine experiments' in producing high-caloric and 'health-threatening' desserts whenever I'm free.:D )
    Lem.

    Ps: Remember my previous'comment'?: my 'beater-bike' has become my 'premier' and most reliable bike after having gone through a 'multitude of (a little exaggeration in emphasis here :D) multifarious 'additions & substractions' through the years.
    Lem

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  10. Good call on the fenders. Simple lines are better for this bike. If you're feeling froggy, a grey pinstripe down each side of the fenders to match the lugs could be a sweet detail.

    I was going to suggest that you polish the brakes-it will not make them look new, just bring them more in line with the rest of the bike, now that it's visually obvious that she's being loved and ridden. A healthy patina is a good thing.

    Have you found a chainguard yet?

    La Petit Mercier is coming along in this world, and she knows it-look at how high she holds her handlebars!

    Corey K

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  11. Recycle old bikes! I applaud anyone who does this, and as far as I am concerned, rarity and worth really do not amount to much. If you like an old bicycle, whether because of it's lines, comfort, or style, then by all means restore it. That doesn't mean dump hundreds of dollars into a bike that's worth fifteen, but just a clean up of components, and adding a few that appeal to you really shine up a jewel in the rough. As far as I am concerned, (except for a few of the hand made frames out there) modern bikes lack the style, substance and charm of the older manufactures. Older components alone really make them stand out no matter how valuable they are.

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  12. velouria, i second corey k's comment about polishing up the brakes. those MAFAC racers polish up *very* nicely with some steel wool and dish detergent. mine were encrusted with dirt and oil. this is how they look now:

    http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4034/4549213442_2d6dd7a55f.jpg

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  13. I do not think that Simplex ever made shift levers for a stem, but I wonder if you could find a vintage Huret single shift lever. I see them fairly often in a downtube version. I guess I just can't stand to see Suntour or Shimano on those vintage European machines. :-)

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  14. I am wondering how you will use the smaller chainring only since it appears to require the large chainring to mount to the crank.

    I was trying to decide which velo fenders to get for my NOS Raleigh Grand Prix and this convinced me to go with the stainless.

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  15. Jeff,

    Maybe Velouria could just file down the teeth in order to transform the larger chainring into a chainguard?

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  16. Jeff - Eventually there will be a vintage Huret single shifter there. I just really wanted to be able to ride this bike and switch gears in traffic in the meantime.

    Herzog - That is exactly what's happening; the large chainring will soon be toothless! There was just no easier way.

    Re polishing the brakes - great idea! I'll do it while polishing the silverware; might as well kill two birds with one stone.

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  17. Velouria, your Mercier looks gorgeous. I was apprehensive at first about the changes, as I tend to prefer the original components, colors, etc. But you have such good taste and vision! It's stunning. Thank you for sharing the process with us!

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  18. What a beautiful bike. I bet it still has most of it's usefull life still in it. Now it will actually get some serious miles in before a respectable retirement as an ornament and occasional croissant fetcher (hopefully her retirement is still years away). Too many really well made bikes get a few miles and are then stuck in a corner till they are no longer new and are deemed OLD.
    I bought a great old 1980 Nishiki mixte for $40 in a thrift store that could never have been ridden more than 10miles. I gave it to my sister who had been commuting on a 3rd hand wal-mart mountainbike (horrible dual suspension 50pound pig)and her response was "WOW, now I know why you love bikes so much". I found out later that bike came from a friends mother who bought it on sale new and got the wrong size. And 29 years later she was putting it out on the curb when her daughter encouraged her to take it to the thrift store. She couldn't imagine that anyone would want "that old thing". It was PERFECT... Don't get me started, I better go lay down...

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  19. Mike - Thanks, and I know what you mean about keeping things all original. The thing about this bike, is that the paint really was in pretty shabby condition, even though the pictures disguise this. On the positive side, it's nice to know that the previous owner used it quite a bit!

    spindizzy - My Motobecane mixte was like that. The woman we bought it from received it as a gift 30 years ago, but could not handle riding it (it really is very twitchy and road-bikey) - so it basically stood in their closet for decades waiting for me.

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  20. What about a Rivendell Trunksack Small for the front rack? Looks like it might go better than a handlebar bag.

    http://www.rivbike.com/products/show/sackville-trunksack-small/20-134

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  21. Alex, we tried it but it's still a bit too large and would sag. Also, the snaps are designed for a wider front rack. One solution is to sew in a stiff bottom into the trunksack and then it could sit on the rackling (although would not be easily removable). But, still, how much weight can one safely have hanging off the front brake? Surely not more than 2-3 lbs + bag & rackling.

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  22. After reading the title I thought this was going to be about your custom mixte or sam.

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  23. Ok, that was random, I read two blog posts about teeny front racks in the space of 10 minutes. Here is the other, asking the same "what's it good for?" question.

    http://bicyclesafari.blogspot.com/2010/04/by-peugeot-without-luggage.html

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  24. There is a whole lotta love in that ride. I love the green paint!

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  25. quality! im super in love with my mixte and very happy to see them all over, with awesome women and being loved.
    I'm also quite excited about the bicycles-article we are both being featured (YAY!!!!)

    cheers velouria and ride on.
    wonderfulness and bikey luv.
    xxo.m

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  26. Hello! I have followed this blog already have some time, I live in Brazil. In Brazil we have marvels like these, ready to restore, and sometimes when we find them are in terrible condition ... sometimes lethally damaged. Still seeking reforms bikes Cr-Mo and put them on my blog. Congratulations for the beautiful blog, I put this on my list of favorites, and I consider the best.
    Furtado Roberto

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  27. This is on Ebay: "TA Handle Bar Pack 1960's (Perfect Condition)"

    http://tinyurl.com/2cuz66m

    Though high cost due to its collect ability is "IS" what goes on the rack. Buy it, put it on, a ride it awhile to get used to it, then decide if it should stay or not. ( I think we both know what you will decide.)

    http://tinyurl.com/2cuz66m

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