Wednesday, June 9, 2010

If You Like It, Get Two... or Three

Last week I was excited to learn about the new bicycle blog started by the fascinating and knowledgeable Justine Valinotti: Mid-Life Cycling.

[image via Justine Valinotti]

Justine is a writer and a college instructor who lives in Queens and blithely cycles all over New York for transportation and recreation. This is a departure from her cycling past: the past of a lycra-wearing, hard-training, fast-spinning, Alps-conquering roadie... named Nick. As the meaning of this sinks in, it is self-evident why Justine's point of view is so valuable. She has experienced the cycling world from two diametrically opposed perspectives: that of a competitive male roadie, and that of a woman who cycles to work in a skirt and heels - and she has much to share about both.

[image via Justine Valinotti]

And then there are Justine's spectacular bicycles!... She has two custom-built, lugged steel Mercians: a roadbike and a single-speed fixed gear, both in an intriguing colour that Mercian calls "flip-flop purple green." It looks lilac under some lighting conditions, but changes to green under others.

[image via Justine Valinotti]

Here is a close-up where you can sort of see the colour change on the rear stays. Justine likes both the Mercians and the colour so much, that she has recently ordered a third one: a mixte model called the Miss Mercian. For those interested in custom lugged mixtes, Mercian is a great option in addition to Rivendell and Velo Orange: The frames come in custom sizes and are fairly priced - including custom colour.

Because I respect her opinion on bicycle-related matters, Justine's preference for Mercian Cycles has made me curious. Mercian has been handbuilding custom lugged steel frames since 1946 in Derby, England. Their models include track, road, and touring diamond frames, as well as a touring mixte. Some vintage Mercian models had elaborate lugwork and are now highly collectible. Over the decades, Mercian's reputation for quality has not changed, and whether in bike shops or on cycling forums, you will be hard pressed to find anything but positive feedback about them - which is particularly impressive considering their reasonable pricing.

[image via Mark Gell on flickr]

This sage green trackbike is the sort of Mercian I would not mind falling into my lap...

[image via Justine Valinotti]

But for now I will live vicariously through Justine and look forward to seeing her Miss Mercian all built up: no doubt there are some interesting adventures in its future. Justine has toured extensively on her trusty bicycles, including such dreamy routes as the Loire Valley of France, the Mediterranean coast, the Rhine, the Alps, and the Pyrenees. Her descriptions of cycling routes are filled with interesting information and nostalgia, making even a ride through New Jersey sound intriguing. And you know she is a practical woman, as she wisely heeds the old adage when it comes to bicycles: If you like something, get two... or three!

21 comments:

  1. Justine, are those twin Nitto cages I see?

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  2. Bob Jackson Cycles still builds similar bikes in Leeds, UK. They have their stock bikes, but will also due custom.

    My manufacturer of choice at the moment appears to be Raleigh...:-D

    Aaron

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  3. Now that sound like an interesting blog with a very interesting perspective, I will have a look. I love the flip-flop purple green paint job on the Mercian, have to check that out too. I do not NEED another bicycle, but I WANT another bicycle!

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  4. Awesome news. Beautiful bicycles. I have enjoyed Justine's comments here and look forward to NYC content, too.

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  5. justine, i've valued your insightful contributions to lovely_bicycle and i look forward to reading your blog! and your mercians are stunning!

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  6. I have long wanted to do a "Jekyll and Hyde" project one of these days, which would consist of getting two of something old, restoring and/or preserving one of them faithfully, and customizing the other. Example: two identical 1970's lightweight road bike frames. One looks just as it did when new, the other gets a mishmash of non-stock bits and rides on as a nimble fixie runabout or some other fun contraption. A bonus in this scenario is that the custom could donate hard-to-find parts to the stocker.

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  7. A big part of my business is return customers :)

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  8. I too am jealous of the Nitto cages. I didn't think I'd get them, because they are pricier than the VO and Riv versions. But I just saw some in person yesterday, and they are so much nicer looking than other cages I've seen. Darn it! Are there any practical advantages to them?

    Steve A - And what happened?... Don't tell me you were denied a Mercian!

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  9. Pro: more bicycle blogs to read! Hooray!

    Con: more bicycles to want! Noooo!

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  10. I am so excited to hear of Justine's blog as I have been wondering about Mercian bikes for ages. My heart longs for an A.N.T. mixte but my wallet can't get over the shipping and taxes involved in transporting to the U.K. I am wondering whether Mercian may be too sporty for me though. Hmmm.

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  11. Jennifer - based on what I understand from their website, you can ask for custom geometry. That is, ask for the touring mixte to have more relaxed angles, etc.

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  12. Hi, I read your Mercian entry with great interest. I'm from Derby, home of the Mercian have one of the older (1980's) Miss Mercians, which has the twin mixte tubes, now replaced with a single. It's a truly wonderful bike, lovely to ride and so pretty, with elaborate lug work and decals. I have a modern Dawes bike for everyday use, an old Raleigh in mint condition and the Mercian, which is by far my favourite, in terms of aesthetics and ride. Hope to trade the Raleigh soon for a Raleigh Lenton Clubman. Enjoy your new Mercian Justine, can't wait to see the photos when it arrives. Thanks also for such an entertaining blog - I read it from the UK most days!

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  13. I am enjoying the straightforward appreciation of your blog; which I have recently discovered.... it's a good offset to the bikesnob whom I also enjoy. I was the proud recipient of a 1980 Mercian Vincitore when I turned 40 a couple of years ago. The bike had sat for a few years at my local shop, (apparently not for sale), then my wife passed the hat and it became mine! It is my first road bike (what took so long?) and I cannot spend enough time on it.I like the historical reference of the Mercian name as well(first Kingdom in England if I'm correct). Next big outing? An overnight 160 km ride to Lake Erie ala' Dunich Dynamo on the closest full moon to the solstice.

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  14. Anon 3:12 and Anon 8:30 - Good to hear from you and I am glad to hear that you are enjoying your Mercians. I am so disappointed that Mercian discontinued its twin-stay mixte in 2006 (I think that's the year at least) and now makes only the single tube. And I would love to get my hands on a vintage Miss Mercian with twin lateral stays in my size!

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  15. Jennifer and Velouria,

    It is indeed possible to ask for custom geometry. It doesn't cost much more (25 pounds, if I recall correctly). Both of my Mercians, and the Miss Mercian I ordered, have custom geometry: I have a rather short torso for my height, so I asked for a shorter top tube.

    I would have preferred the twin lateral stays. But I think I'm still going to end up with a lovely bicycle. The frame is supposed to be ready by the end of July. I have everything else I need to build it.

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  16. Velouria,

    There are no practical advantages to the Nitto cages. They're just very pretty and well-made.

    Now I'm going to do something completely unladylike and make you and other people even more jealous. ;-) I'm going to tell you that I also have those cages on my fixed-gear Mercian.

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  17. Justine - Oh inducing jealousy is a perfectly lady-like trait. But for maximum effect, it is disguised as a sweet compliment. For example: "Oh Velouria, I just love your bottle cages! They are such a sensible alternative to my Nittos."

    : ))

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  18. Justine, you've re-awoken the terrible lust for Nitto cages among certain Hillborne owners... Thank you very much. :)

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  19. My daily ride is a Big Blue Mercian Triathlon from 1982, when I bought it new: not direct from Mercian, but from Beta Bikes in London. It was my first ever big money purchase after getting a proper job. At the time, I was living in Huntingdon, about 50 miles north of London. When the time came to collect the bike, the railways were on strike, so my very first ride on the mount was all the way from London to Huntingdon!
    These frames were specials for the shop, and only in production for a couple of years. It is basically an 'Audax' style frame, but as it was designed for 27" wheels, I have been able to convert it to take 32mm tyres on 700C rims. Last year it went back to Mercian for an overhaul & respray, and they fitted extra eyes for the pannier rack, making it more like a touring design, but with slightly sharper handling - note the relatively short chainstays. It is (and always has been) a delight to ride. It now takes me to work most days.
    The Mercian website has been completely redesigned in the last week or two, and it now features an on-line frame design tool, which is great fun. The shop is wonderful, an Aladdin's cave in a rather run-down area of Derby. They seem to be doing a roaring trade in frame renovations, especially the most amazing paint jobs!

    Max

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