Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mercian Vincitore: First Impressions

Mercian Vincitore, Nitto Noodles
At this point some of you know that my new fixed gear bike is a Mercian. It was meant to be part of a "his and hers" pair, and I tried to postpone writing about it until the Co-Habitant's bike was set up. But it looks like that won't be happening for a bit, and hiding mine in the meantime felt wrong. So here is a less dramatic introduction that will hopefully still be informative for those curious about this legendary manufacturer.

Mercian, Lillies
In the Fall of 2010 we began talking about getting the Co-Habitant a nice touring frame, and at the same time I started looking for a fixed gear frame for myself to replace my vintage conversion. After considering the kinds of bikes we wanted (lugged steel, comfortable, fast, fairly lightweight) Mercian was one option we gravitated towards. A small manufacturer in Derby, England, Mercian has been building custom frames since 1949. With pricing for a lugged steel frame made with Reynolds tubing starting at under $1,000, the value is hard to beat. And their waiting times were not absurd. I happened to know a handful of Mercian owners who were experienced cyclists and whose tastes I respected, and they all raved about the bikes - some being repeat customers. Finally, it appealed to us that Mercian Cycles are made in England, toward which we both feel some personal attachment. We considered other manufacturers and custom builders, but found that they were either unaffordable or did not offer quite what we wanted. After several months of research, contemplation and budgeting, we placed an order with Mercian in Winter 2011.

Mercian, Lillies
The way the order process works, is that they send you a form to fill out that is similar to their online framebuilder (warning: use at your own risk; has been known to result in frame purchase). You then submit it along with a deposit and get in the queue. When it comes time for the frame to be made, they confirm the specs and proceed. Afterwards the frame waits for paint (two tone liquid coat and lug lining are included in the price), and when everything is done you pay the remainder of your balance and the frame is shipped to you. When we were placing our order, it was estimated that the frames would be ready by summer. The actual time of completion ended up being in autumn. There was a small adventure with US Customs, but that was soon resolved and the frames arrived at our door in the end of September.

Mercian Vincitore, Headtube
While allowing for custom geometry specifications, Mercian offers more than half a dozen lugged frame models, each in a choice of several different tubesets. From the beginning, we both knew that we wanted the Vincitore Special model, because of its distinct handmade lugwork.

Mercian Vincitore, Seat Cluster
We were less sure about the tubing, but after speaking to several Mercian owners settled on the 631 - the modern version of Reynolds 531

Mercian, Lillies
I wanted my bicycle to be a comfortable and versatile single speed/ fixed gear, not a track bike. So I asked for the "Sportive" (sports touring) geometry with track ends. This is an entirely normal request for Mercian, as almost any model can be built as a fixed gear - they just need to tweak it to make the bottom bracket higher. I also asked for braze-ons for fenders just in case I'd want to use them in future. 

Mercian Vincitore, Cambridge MA
There was a myriad of other choices, such as threaded vs threadless steerer (threaded), maximum tire size (32mm), where to route the brake cable (braze-ons are along the top), how many bottle cage bosses (just 1), and whether to drill for brakes front and rear (yes to both). Aside from this, the only real custom thing I asked for was making sure there was no toe overlap - which caused them to make the top tube longer than they normally would on a frame this size. 

Mercian, Lillies
After agonising about the paint colour, I finally settled on a subdued lilac with white panels and white lug outlining. I wanted to make sure that the colour came out subtle, and not like a garish purple. I sent Mercian pictures with a description of what I wanted it to look like, and the result is pretty much spot on.

Vincitore Lugwork
The one thing I would have done differently here, is not use black lining where the lugs meet the white head tube panel (black is so harsh, why not gold?) - but this is stylistically typical for Mercian and ultimately fine with me. Sadly, there is no space on the headtube for a headbadge emblem, due to my small frame size. Maybe later I can get a miniature one made. 

Mercian Vincitore
My frame came out as I specified. It fits me well and there is no toe overlap with the 28mm Panaracer Paselas (more like 30mm in actuality) that I now have it fitted with. But it's close, so if I install fenders in future, I will have to consider my tire and fender choice carefully. When I mentioned earlier that the Co-Habitant's frame is not ready, it is because the one he received did have overlap despite its large size and his request for no TCO. He has spoken with Mercian about it, and they have agreed to resolve it. Once his frame is ready and he wishes to review it, I will write more about his experience; until then I will stick to discussing my own bike.  

Mercian Vincitore, Headtube Lugs
When it comes to construction, the main gist of my first impression is that the Mercian Vincitore frame is strikingly "different" from other currently made lugged frames I have seen. I don't mean the shape of the lugwork, but the craftsmanship itself. Different how... All right, the best way I can describe it is that it looks like a vintage frame in mint condition and not like a currently made lugged frame. In fact, every single (knowledgeable) person who's seen the bike in person so far was certain it was an older frame until I'd point out the Reynolds 631 decals. It's difficult to pinpoint what exactly creates the vintage impression, but it's everything from the finishing to the close-up look of the paint and outlining. Mercian's production methods for their classic frames have remained unchanged for decades, and that is probably what we are seeing. It's quite uncanny actually, and when we first received the frames we kept staring at them and running our fingers along the tubes and edges of the lugwork in disbelief. You really have to examine this bike next to, say, a Rivendell to see what I mean. 

Mercian Vincitore, Cambridge MA
We built the bike up with a medley of mostly high-end, gently used components that I either already had or managed to get a good deal on. I am still not sure what's staying and what will ultimately be changed, so I will include the component list when I write a proper review at a later stage. 

Mercian Vincitore, Cambridge MA
I have the bars about 2" below the saddle at the moment - which may ultimately be too extreme for me, but feels surprisingly okay for now. Initially the bike had 49x16 gearing due to the wheels and crankset I ended up with, but from the very beginning I intended to change it. After absorbing a great deal of advice, I decided to switch the rear cog to a 19t. The gearing now is quite low, and hopefully the spinning will keep me in shape during the colder season.

Mercian Vincitore, Cambridge MA
Having only ridden the Mercian a few times so far, it is much too early for anything resembling a review. But I can say a few things: The ride is not harsh at all - which was a top concern for me, as harshness causes me a great deal of pain. I also like the "feel" of the tubing, in the sense that it's just the right amount of flex for my taste. On the 20-30 mile rides I've taken so far, I've experienced less fatigue on this bike than on other fixed gear bicycles I've ridden, which may be related to both of the above points. One thing to be aware of, is that the 631 frame is not spectacularly "lightweight" by contemporary standards, and part of me now wonders whether I should have paid more and gotten lighter tubing. But would I get the same ride quality with the lighter tubing? In a fictional dream-world I would be able to try an identical bike with 725 or 853 tubing, then decide. Until then, if I am happy with how the bike feels, it seems silly to wonder about different tubing options. [Edited to add: We've weighed this bicycle and it's 22lb with the build shown, not including saddlebag.]

Mercian, Lillies
Well, that is all I have for now. Despite our early snowfall, I hope to have much more time with this bicycle before winter really hits. It is basically my roadbike for the rest of the year: With the shorter days, I no longer have time for long rides and for me a fixed gear is ideal for 20-30 mile jaunts. The bicycle is of course beautiful, and I am looking forward to getting to know it better. If you are looking for a traditionally made steel frame with custom geometry at a reasonable price, Mercian Cycles are worth exploring.

81 comments:

  1. I always wonder why more people in love with lugged bicycles don't buy Mercians. They are far cheaper than rivendells, and pretty much fully custom. I am not even so hung up on lugs and I still lust after one.

    A question: what handlebar tape is that - real leather or the elusive brown Fizik or something else?

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  2. Mark: Several reasons come to mind - the main ones being that Mercian does not produce frames with 42mm tire + fender clearance, nor do thy produce 650B frames, as far as I understand.

    The tape here is Fizik in honey. They also make a brown version, which is much darker

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  3. It's a gorgeous bike obviously well crafted! The head-tube lugs are beautiful on their own,but when added in with the rest of the bike...just gorgeous!

    FWIW IMHO you chose well on the tubing. 853 rides well,but doesn't smooth out trail (sorry,my experience with both are off road,not on) quite as well as the slightly heavier sibling. Looking forward to a full review :)

    Steve

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  4. That amazing finish on a Mercian is stove enamel. A serious throwback. No one starting fresh is going to copy that. Mercian has the process perfected.

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  5. Wow. That is an absolutely beautiful machine. I wouldn't have thought the color would work, but oh boy does it

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  6. Is this a 52 w/a 54 tt?

    I'm thinking the super-ornamental lugs, old-style font, classic st decal and the kinda plain drop out give it a lot of the vintage vibe.

    I have that wb cage, it's ok, not great.

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    Replies
    1. I have a Vincitore special made for me in 2005 ridden up and down most of the Colorado mtn passes fine machine its reynolds 725 tubing with Campag 27sp weighs 22lbs.Love the bike John Crump Parker,Co

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  7. GR Jim - Yes, that's the size (the seat tube measure being c-c - whereas they call it 54cm but measure c-t).

    Even discounting the visuals you suggest, there is a distinct vintage feel. It's the finishing IMO.

    I like the bottle cage in itself, but it does not suit the bike. Looking for a different one.

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  8. Wow - I bet the lugwork alone sold you on this bike. I've not seen such a gorgeous bike in decades.

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  9. Peter - Not initially. I tried to be very cold-hearted about it and looked through the options. Rivendell SimpleOne, Royal H, Soma, and a couple of vintage track frames were considered, but Mercian made the most sense when weighing spec against cost. Then once I decided on Mercian, I decided to pay a couple of $$ extra for the Vincitore lugs (as opposed to plainer lugs). Not that I don't love them : )

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  10. Low-gear downhill scary goes away quickly. You'll spin freely soon. Until then the bike has three functional brakes.

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  11. Handlebar width? Back when I did drop bars, I was happiest with Nitto Randos, 45cm (I think). Whoops, V-O no longer carries them, but the Rando bar they do carry looks plausible.

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  12. I noticed you opted for full length brake housing on the top tube instead of a more typical bare cable routing as found in modern bikes.

    Is this your personal preference to make this bike look more vintage or is there any particular advantage of full length cable housing?

    Really pretty bike, BTW.

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  13. bostonbybike - I don't like feeling the bare cable in my hand when picking up the bike by the TT.

    dr2chase - They are the narrower (42mm?) Nitto Noodles. Have not tried any of the VO dropbars.

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  14. How could you order a custom Mercian and not get the barber pole stripe?

    Inconceivable!

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  15. wow! the moment i opened your blog and had a first glimps of the first photo i felt some tingeling in my chest! i think i fell in love with your bike :)
    this is actually the first mercian i ever saw, and somehow i think i'll have one in the future :)

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  16. Nice bike, nice review, and the Carradice zip roll is a great complement to the bike. I've considered a Mercian myself, but as I'm interested in a bike that can take wide (35-50 mm) tires with fenders and, possibly, 650B, I've reluctantly ruled them out for now. Still, I might have a change of heart....

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  17. I ordered a Mercian in August and am currently waiting for it to be delivered. My suggestion for a bottle cage is the Nitto Race (see http://www.euroasiaimports.com/productcart/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=8001&idcategory=1314 )

    Also, many beautiful Mercians may be seen at http://www.flickriver.com/groups/435952@N20/pool/interesting/

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  18. Mercians really are something special, that is beautiful. One small point and I only make it because I thought you might enjoy seeing this photo, but you said they had been making frames since 1949, a friend of mine who is a serious collector of vintage bikes in general and Mercians in particular owns this 1946 Mercian that is believed to be the 4th oldest Mercian in existance. http://flic.kr/p/4C5yk5

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  19. I mentioned it on flickr, but it needs to be said again: That is a gorgeous bike. I've wondered if Mercian would do a "custom" custom-option and build something for serious fat rubber. I've toyed with the idea but never contacted them. Hmmmm.

    Would love to hear about customs, as that might be what keeps a lot of people from buying from the UK or elsewhere. FWIW, I've purchaed from Wiggle, Chain Reaction and other UK mail-order houses with nothing but positive results and no customs hassle.

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  20. It is a thing of beauty. Did you paint inspiration come from that vintage purple-y bike that you had in your hands a while ago?

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  21. Really pretty. What is the weight of frame+fork, I understand that it isn't something you buy for low weight, just curious?
    Having read you blogg for a while I am just a bit suprised you havn't bought a modern (but good looking) racer (or cx if you want somewhat wider tires and don't mind the cantilevers or discs) for clubrides yet.

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  22. I agree that the Nitto bottle cage would be a good match here; I am saving up for it : )

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  23. Johan - I will most likely buy a super-light modern bike as my geared roadbike and if I were buying a trackbike intended for the velodrome I would do the same, but this is not meant to be a racer. I just wanted a comfortable, fast, reasonably light bike for riding around the countryside on my non-geared-roadbike days. Not sure what the weight of the frame and fork is. Whole bike is probably under 20lb, not including bag. I did not mean to imply that it is "heavy," only that Reynolds 631 is by no means the lightest steel tubing currently available.

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  24. Velouria, Thanks for the great review, it's a beautiful bike. I also considered a Mercian, but purchased a used Rivendell instead. I'm curious about a couple of points: How was the shipping cost to the East coast vs. Rivendell shipping? and, not to be dense, but did your comparison to Rivendell fit/finish mean that the Mercian was "better"? Thank and enjoy your new bike. Steve in MD.

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  25. Alice - I had the idea for a dusty lilac + green colour scheme last Fall, so when I saw a vintage Shogun in that colourscheme I bought it (before even knowing what I'd do with it). It is now the give-away bike (very soon to be given away, I promise!). Then I ordered the Mercian frae in a similar (but more lilac-y) colour.

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  26. Mercian is a full service custom builder. They produce MTBs, tandems, TT specials, unequal wheel bikes, the works. I haven't pored over every word of the new webpages, the last edition specifically offered increased tire/fender clearance as a no-charge option on any model.
    Any custom builder can decline any commission, or decide a feature has to be charged. Look over the Mercian blog pages to see what they've been doing lately. It does not appear they decline much.

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  27. A Mercian, I thought so from the paint work of your peekaboo photos from the other day. Wow! You are blessed in the bike department. I am very drawn to mercians, have seen a few second hand on ebay or craiglist, but all too big for a wee lass like me. I especially covet the Miss Mercians.
    My secret plan is that if and when I finally get to the UK ever again(alas)I will order one and have it ready to ride there, then I can bring it home as my own bike 'wink wink' and just pay the airplane fee.
    I can't wait to read more, and to see your co habitant's frame! Also, just wondering, to compare your mercian to your rivendell, which would you recommend? And any idea what tubing rivendell even uses?

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  28. I forgot to mention in my previous post that if you need to go with a slightly smaller tire to be able to fit fenders, Schwalbe makes their 700x25c Durano model in creme, brown, and lime green colors.

    see http://bluelug.com/products/detail.php?product_id=10918

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  29. Anon 7:02 - I saw a mountain bike on their blog several months ago. It was not lugged. They do make a number of more modern (non-lugged) models, and I suspect the MTBs you mention are part of that. I have never seen a *lugged* Mercian frame with clearances over 32mm, and when I asked them about it over the phone, I got the impression they did not feel comfortable working with wider sizes. If I am mistaken, please show me a lugged Mercian with wide tires; I would only be too happy.

    Heather - Ha the airplane bike fee may be more than the shipping! Though I suppose it depends on the airline.

    Rivendell uses oversized tubing on their production models. I could not even begin to "recommend" one over the other; Rivendell and Mercian are very different. Specifically, Rivendell has very distinct ideas about geometry and tubing and you either like them or don't. For a fixed gear I am glad I chose the Mercian, because I have since seen and held a Riv Simpleone and it is considerably heavier than the bike I had in mind. For a touring or commuter bike with wide tires, I think Rivendell used to have the best deal with the Sam/Betty back when the frames were $1K. Now that the prices have gone up, it is hard to say.

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  30. Anon 8:14 - Yup, I already got the Durano tires in cream (from wiggle), but am saving them for Spring. Looking forward to trying them. I am thinking that those, plus really tightly fitting fenders could work with no TCO. I do not intend to use the bike with fenders in the near future, so it is not a huge deal, but I like knowing that the possibility is there.

    islaysteve - I have never had a frame shipped from Rivendell, as mine was bought locally (from Harris Cyclery). Mercian's shipping from the UK (for 2 frames) was a good deal in my book.

    Re the frame finish: It's more complicated than that. (1) I think Rivendell's finish is unusually prone to chipping, and others have noted this also. (2) Mercian's is not so much better or worse (I have not owned it long enough to know how prone to chipping it is), as it is different. Just an inherently different style, more like what you would see on a NOS vintage frame, if that makes sense.

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  31. cyclotourist - I've never had customs issues when receiving things in the US from the UK before, but I know others who have, even with smaller items.

    What happened with the Mercian shipment, is that apparently it raised a red flag that we were receiving 2 frames, and they thought we might be an importer. So they held the frames and asked us to fill out a form testifying that we were getting these for private use, and also to pay a small customs fee. Once we faxed them the form, the frames were at our doorstep in 2 days. I think there would have been no interception and no fee had we had the frames sent as 2 separate shipments.

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  32. Is there such a thing as lilac zip ties? I'm guessing for the moment yes.

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  33. On the continuous brake cables -- better for keeping out the water, which can freeze to ice in the winter.

    When this happens to segmented cable you can still, with effort, squeeze your brakes, but they won't let go. If you had slotted stops, you have the option of undoing the cable and flexing the casing till you can slide it, then break the ice off the inner wire. Big fun on the road, in (necessarily) freezing weather. Guess how I know this.

    Handlebars widths are a mystery to me. I am not small, but I find that I prefer skinny bars (current are 42cm). I'm not sure what the plan for handlebars would be if I were a smaller person and my handlebar preference scaled down proportionally. I have ripped a couple of handlebars in half in years past, so I'm also a little nervous about anything that gives me too much leverage.

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  34. @Velouria: Got it, thanks! You had me wondering there!!!

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  35. Gorgeous bike with a definite vintage feel. You did good!

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  36. "lilac zip ties?"

    : )) This one won't be getting dynamo lighting.

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  37. Velouria @ 8:16

    Sure. Here is Grant Peterson's lugged tandem with wide tires: www.flickr.com/photos/gzahnd/515613230

    Here is a more recent tandem with bilaminated lugs. No, I can't really say what the clearances will be, the photo does show their fabrication abilities and the lengths to which they will go: www.mercianblog.com/2009/08/tandem-frame.html

    Here is a lugged 650B: www.flickr.com/photos/24722971@N05/2773174878
    If there's a wrong number there, it's also Mr. Cranky's photostream.

    Here's a fat tire tourist bike. It is a Pro Lugless, not a lugged. On a lot of custom builds fillet brazing is a more rational choice than scratchbuilding custom lugs: www.mercianblog.com/2010/09/leigh-timmis.html

    I wonder why they discouraged you. Could it be they thought you were talking Vincitore and not in general? Making the Vincitore BB work with clearance could be a major project, and keeping an identity going for that flagship product could be an issue. Or it could be a lot of things. Someone wanting a special build should do a lot of research to see if their request fits in with what Builder X does, and let the builder decide.

    About the paint. Stove enamel is a vintage finish, done the vintage way. That I know of no one does it anymore but Mercian, Argos, and maybe Bob Jackson. Fifty years ago it was the primary British way and prewar it was common elsewhere. It's a very simple process, it is not simple to do well.

    One of the great things about the finish is that it varies from example to example. When you meet another Mercian and it's owner you'll compare, and repeat the ritual of gazing and touching. The finish gets you involved.
    The finish does not work at all for those seeking robotic perfection.

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  38. 20 pounds sounds like a very reasonable weight for a bike like that, especially with those tires. What seatpost and quill stem is it you are using, the seatpost seems to be somewhat inspired by old aero setposts? How do you store all your bikes BTW you must have like 10 bikes between the 2 of you

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  39. Yes, love the online framebuilder. I'm not sure I've come up with this colour combination yet though in the hours I've spent on there - it's beautiful!

    When I initially saw the black lug lining here, I thought I wouldn't have chosen that, but it really works. So it was interetesting to then read your comment about this. It does work!

    Oh, so torn between getting a new solid transportation bicycle with dynamo lighting etc for the winter or something lovely and zippy like this.

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  40. Is that a Campy Record Pista crankset on there?

    No matter what the crankset is that is a truly lustworthy bicycle.

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  41. "Here is Grant Peterson's lugged tandem with wide tires"

    Oh my, THANK YOU for the link! I've heard of this bike and have tried in vain to find pictures of it. Wow.

    Okay, now that I've recovered, a couple of things:

    1. That tandem bike is pre-2007. Perhaps they could do it as recently as that, but no longer do? Remember that they could do a twin stay lugged mixte until 2009 or so, but are no longer able to (the issue on that one is actually with the tubing, not with the lugs). The 650B bike in your other picture has 32mm tires, which is the outer limit of normal for them.

    2. It's possible that they will do it, but only if you've very special/ high profile customer, because it is a pain. And it will cost a lot.

    Look, what agenda could I possibly have for this argument? I like Mercian. I obviously would *like* it if they made bikes with wide tires as a matter of course, proper mixte bikes (sorry, the current Miss Mercian is not a mixte), etc. I asked them about the wider tire thing on the phone (because the husband would have preferred wide tires on his touring bike) in early 2011 and the reply was not a "yes, of course," but more like a "not really." And it seems like a bad idea to order a feature from a builder for whom it is not a regular, common thing, so we did not. If anyone else has spoken to Mercian directly about this within the past year and received a different answer, please share.

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  42. Forgot to address this part of your comment:

    "Could it be they thought you were talking Vincitore and not in general? Making the Vincitore BB work with clearance could be a major project."

    I don't think so. I was asking general questions at that point, including about why the mixte was discontinued. Also, the Vincitore can be made with a regular BB; only the Vincitore Special has the pointy one.

    "On a lot of custom builds fillet brazing is a more rational choice than scratchbuilding custom lugs"

    Yes, that is what I was told. I am not questioning that they will make anything you want in a lugless version. But remember that we are starting with the premise of a lugged frame.

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  43. If Bob Jackson does indeed use a stone enamel finish then I agree it lends it a classic look but the durability of it on my Robert ain't something to write home about.

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  44. On the wide tyres issue, Mercian are a very traditional, old-school road bike frame maker.

    For them 28mm tyres are very fat. In England it would be very, very unusual to see anyone on a fixie or other drop handle barred bike with tyres as fat as the ones on your bike.

    In fact, in decades of cycling I've never seen one.

    Over here road bikes tend to be race replicas with 20 or 23 mm tyres. Fixies are the same.

    Even classic tourers often have 28mm tyres which look much thinner than your tyres.

    Fat tyres are popular with UK cyclists, but that's because most of them ride cheaper MTB type bikes or hybrids, not quality ones.


    I'm not surprised Mercian were less than keen about your reqest about accommodating a larger tyre size. Specialist frame builders are a conservative lot and often like to do things the old fashioned way.


    Fat tyres on a road frame is something they know is possible but have difficulty coming to terms with.

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  45. I recently bought a vintage Mercian (1971) that had a factory frame restoration and respray last year. I know exactly what Velouria is referring to when she mentions that "vintage-y" feel and look. I don't know what it is, but that baked on stove enamel does have something about it that is very vintage-y. Hard to put my finger on it.

    My Mercian is currently outfitted with 30mm tires, which is pretty much the widest tire that can fit with fenders. 32mm might fit w/o fenders, but that would be pushing it.

    Oh, and Velouria-- if you opt to clad your Vincitore with fenders, I would suggest NOS Bluemels to preserve the undeniably English character of the bike. I recently put some black NOS Bluemels on mine (I wanted white, but that color was impossible to find in the model I wanted):

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/20909677@N05/6269577104/

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  46. pete - Yes. That is how I understood Mercian's stance on wide tires, after speaking to them directly. Maybe they can do it, if the customer is very insistent and it's a high profile project, but it's not "their thing."

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  47. "pretty much fully custom"

    Also - not to be pedantic about it, but one thing to keep in mind is that when going with Mercian you are limited to Reynolds tubing. This is not meant as a criticism, just stating fact. Mercian will only use Reynolds tubing on their frames, which limits the customer to whatever tubesets the one manufacturer makes available.

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  48. Can you explain again why you got this bike instead of the Rivendell Simeple One, which would have allowed you to have the wide tires you wanted?

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  49. Anon - Gah things are getting all confused.

    At no point did I want wide tire clearance for my fixed gear bike. It is my husband who was considering wider tires for his frame, which is a touring frame for derailleur gearing.

    I crossed the Rivendell SimpleOne off my list when they announced that the smallest frame size would be 56cm (really 54cm c-c), which is too big for me. But other reasons for not getting it included weight, too slack geometry, and not knowing whether the frame would have TCO.

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  50. I emailed mercian in september about a 63cm audax frame [lugged] with brake drop of 67mm using the tektro 556 side pull to accommodate 700x38 tires with fenders [45cm chainstay] . Also 73 head/60mm rake and a kickstand plate. grant emailed me back and siad yes we can do all of that.

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  51. Thanks Anon, good to know. I am not sure how to explain the discrepancy between your & mine experiences, but they are both posted in the comments here and readers can make their own decision (or better yet, ask Mercian themselves!).

    (And to clarify for those who might be confused, the owner of Mercian is also named Grant.)

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  52. Sorry if I came across as needlessly argumentative. Just kicking things around and looking at what can be found.

    I would never question Velouria's motives. Only the pure and good would shoulder the work of maintaining and moderating this space.

    Here's a photo of two Mercians doing what Brits think you can do with narrow tires: www.flickr.com/photos/hillspecial/430121182/in/photostream
    Americans need fat tires and studs for that and I still wouldn't have done it. Those two in the photo are not youngsters.

    One of the traditional ways to make tandem lugs was to build a complete fillet brazed frame in oversized tubes. Cut away the midsection of each tube. The tube junctions become the lugs. They still need a lot of shaping and filing. Silver solder a set of smaller tubes into the pieces of the first frame. This is such a staggering amount of work it's amazing it was done even once. Yet builders do it. The things builders do to accommodate our whims. Mercian does a lot. Just gratitude to Mercian. Also to Velouria.

    GRJ - Agreed about Jackson paint.

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  53. Mercian builds lugged adventure touring bikes with clearance for very wide tires. They also have been known to use a wide Pacenti fork crown.

    http://www.merciancycles.co.uk/gallery/34/gallery-image/33/

    http://www.merciancycles.co.uk/images/gallery/1/82-display.jpg

    http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=2b7knp&s=5

    The man who owned Mercian from the 1960s into the last decade was a well-known off-road (which is not the same as dirt road) tourist in Iceland and Scotland, using tires much narrower than Rivendell and Bicycle Quarterly fans require for riding graded dirt roads. Mercian also built cyclocross bikes in the days when 28-30mm tires proved perfectly suitable for that discipline, no matter what sort of mire might be involved. So they may have a different perspective on such matters. Still it seems clear that they build frames for tires wider than 32/35mm.

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  54. Pete, don't know where you're riding but round here I regularly see fixie/singlespeeds with fatter tyres than you suggest. In the core team we probably have most on 28's, but 32 isn't unusual.

    I do accept what you say about builders being conservative. Back in the early 90's we wanted a 26" wheel touring tandem. Two noted custom builders told us it wasn't possible and that we'd never get 26" 40 or 48 spoke tandem wheels. One builder tried to talk us out of our ideas. Pete Bird from Swallow built us exactly what we wanted.

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  55. A Mercian with 38mm tyres just doesn't seem right to me.

    About as right as pick up truck made by Rolls Royce or a sensible family car made by Ferrari.

    Why the need for such fat tyres?

    My two 'best' bikes are both 631 framed Bob Jacksons, another specialist frame maker in Leeds. My road bike runs on 23mm and the tourer on 25mm or 28mm when I load it heavily for holiday trips.

    A decent set of 25mm tyres at 100psi on good wheels can cope with most things, including paths in woods etc, unmade roads and canalside towpaths.

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  56. Anon 12:32 - Not at all, and please feel free to argue/debate all you like. My only concern is that I don't come across as critical of Mercian re the fat tire issue, because that is actually not something I feel they need to offer in the first place. Basically I am with Pete insofar as I believe that manufacturers like Mercian and Bob Jackson specialise in English lightweights and not 650B Randonneurs. So get your fat tire bike from Riv or Herse or Rawland, and get your English lightweight from Mercian or Bob Jackson. It's a happy world where there are different types of builders to choose from.

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  57. Anon 1:48 - Thanks for the links; those are awesome bikes! Once again, all I can do is state my own experience and invite others to share theirs, or evidence that is contrary to my experience. Mercian did not outright say "no" when I asked about wide tires, but they indicated that it is not the type of frame they normally build. Basically, what Pete wrote, and what you wrote in your last paragraph: not everybody believes that tires wider than 32mm are necessary for cycling off road, unless we are talking about hard core mountain biking.

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  58. I LOVE your new bike, I have always admired those lugs. A fellow rider got one this summer, only its fillet brazed, also a very sweet bike.
    I think your new bike matches your style.

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  59. 1. That is one lovely bicycle. I love the spear point lugs. It sure was nice of Peppy to let you borrow it.

    2. Grant vs. Grant cage match.

    3. Question: I installed some cork grips with double stick tape; a year later I want to remove them to do some experimenting and then re-install. Is it possible to remove the grips at this point without ruining them?

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  60. DFD - It really depends on how strong the tape is, etc. Possibly not and the cork might have to be removed in pieces.

    Peppy was reluctant to allow me to ride the bike : )

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  61. Cher Velouria, the bike looks great. I'm suprised the "artisan" brazing your frame didn't call you up and say that the lugs on the head tube are "trop grand" we need something a little more "petit", something that would match the smaller head tube. I does look great and as well as the colour.

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  62. Thanks, V. Is there any particular solvent that should be used, or just attempt to pull the grips off by hand?

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  63. I love all of your bikes, but this is the frame out of all of them that I really, really, want. Just sayin. Interested in reading what your ride impressions will be in a couple of weeks.

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  64. DFD-solvents may help, but I don't know which and how you would get them under the cork.

    The idea here is once the tape moves, that part is no longer sticky to the cork. So twist. The best way is to try to remember how your double sided tape is wound and twist them off. Wear gloves if your hands slip. You need a strong grip, but not so strong that the cork is squeezed tight. You might want to twist in place as opposed to do a straight pull.

    Remember, once a piece of cork sticks past the end of the bars you may no longer use that for grip or leverage, you will rip it right off. Fortunately, if you get it moving at all, you are 50% there.

    It's not guaranteed, and they might easily crack. Either way, they will need more tape next time around.

    If you manage to get just one off you can use compressed air (but I imagine you don't have a tank at home) to shoot the other one off. You could rig something up with a floor pump. So see if one is easier to remove than the other. I haven't personally tried compressed air with cork, so I can't promise it won't blow the bottom off.

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  65. Thanks MDI, that definitely helps. I'll give it a try. If the cork breaks, it's not the end of the world, but I'd prefer to be able to re-use the grips.

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  66. Now you know why I have four Mercians: They have a ride quality, and an aesthetic, that almost no modern bike has. Even on my fixed gear Mercian (which is actually more like a tight criterium bike than a true track bike in geometry, I don't feel beat up even after riding some harsh streets and roads. But, at the same time, the bikes are very responsive.

    As for your tubing question: I have owned two bikes built with 853 tubing, and have ridden others made from 853 and 725. One of the bikes I owned had a similar geometry to my fixed-gear Mercian, and it was a fairly harsh (albeit responsive) ride. Other cyclists have said similar things about bikes with aggressive geometry and 853 tubing. The 725 seemed a bit more forgiving, but I actually like the 631 better. (Now you understand why so many longtime cyclists still swear by 531.)

    In any event, congratulations on your new bike. It is sublime.

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  67. Justine - thank you again for the inspiration and advice; as you know I love your bikes and value your opinions.

    Re the tubing: What I am trying to reconcile is on the one hand, the feedback about the "harsher ride," and on the other hand, Jan Heine's claim (as I understand it) that those lighter weight tubesets are actually more flexible. Clearly I need to try for myself.

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  68. Frame tubing has subtle effects on a bike's ride but it is not much about flex. At least not for lightweight riders.

    There are old standard one-inch tubed frames built with lugs that weigh 3-1/4 pounds. They might flex a bit for you. But only about as much as a 190# rider gets flex from a 5 pound frame. The 5 pound frame would normally be considered quite stout. And unless our 190# rider is himself stout, his frame tubes are lever arms 10% or 20% longer than the tubes in Velouria's frames.

    At the limit anyone gets flex. The big sprinters ride frames that weigh 8 and ten pounds and turn them to jello. Danny MacCaskill rides frames that weigh 20 pounds and breaks them constantly. A normal rider on a normal tubeset gets a little flex now and then. The effects of tire flex, wheel flex, and frame geometry are much greater. A 5psi change in tire pressure has more effect than the difference between Reynolds 725 and Reynolds 631. A good builder and good alignment are way more important than which sticker is on the frame.

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  69. Anon - I can feel some frames and forks flex and I only weigh around 125lb. How would you explain it? If it's all in my head, then why only some bikes and not others?

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  70. It's not in your head. What you feel is real and you're good at describing it. The question is can what you feel be attributed to flex.

    I have a retired Medici downstairs with 0.7/0.4 main tubes. 59cm square.About 3-3/4# with the long tubes, lugs, paint, full chrome under the paint, complement of brazeons. I'm 180, have ridden that bike at 195. No flex to report. I can tell right away when I'm on a long chainstay bike. Maybe I'm flexing them. I can tell when I'm on a long fork blade, with rake and brake reach. Maybe I'm flexing the fork. Maybe I'm just responding to the slightly different weight distribution.
    For you to get a bike as flexy relative to you as the Medici has been to me you'd have to source special 0.5/0.3 tubes. Old skinny ones. (Rodriguez has a 2.2# steel but they're fat stiff tubes.) There might be some old specials out there that light, sadly the real light ones get dented easily, damaged in handling
    Flex is something you're told is there and then you find it.
    First pro bike I rode was a loaner Wastyn that really had been used for pro 6 day. It had pencil seatstays and the skinny coke bottle chainstays to match. Any of the flex talkers would say that bike should fall apart in a sprint on a 55 degree banking. Well it didn't. It was alive on club rides thirty years later.
    I've ridden a fair number of SP/SL bikes with dimensions quite similar to the Medici. Five pound frames. The only difference, sort of, maybe, marginally, would be on a long ride the Medici might've been less fatiguing. A one millimeter wider tire would have a bigger effect.
    I'm very interested to see how you respond to the Mercian with somewhat lighter tires. And how you like the Moser if it does become a racy bike with light tires. My suspicion is you will find your bikes greatly changed.
    And I expect you will continue to surprise me.

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  71. Great Success! I dribbled a little bit of Goof Off down into the grip and after about a minute I gave it a twist and it came right off the tape with no damage.

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  72. If I had the means to buy a mercian, I would also have trouble deciding which tubing to use. I would definitely NOT go for oversized. I have never ridden 531 reynolds or better or anything columbus to know how it feels(nothing ever shows up in miniature size!). I had contacted jan Heine about frame tubing and he also recommended lighter traditional tubing considering my lightweight and small stature.
    All I can say is my surly lht is way too flexy. It's stable,smooth but boing boing boing. On the other hand, my vintage raleigh with 20-30 raleigh tubing is much more responsive with omph and is flexible without being a noodle.

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  73. Wanted to add that we've now had a chance to weigh the bicycle and it's 22lb with the build shown, not including saddlebag. That isn't bad for a steel bike, but not exceptionally lightweight for a single speed either.

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  74. I love your blog and read it obsessively.
    Love steel lug--absolutely obsessed :)

    The paint is a tad frosty for my taste. I agree about the black (perhaps silver lining).
    I am a woman (Floridian).

    Was curious why you elected to utilize white tires?

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  75. Gorgeous bike... the least I can say...

    You have set the pathway to my 2013 bike.

    I am assuming that you have done all the deal with Mercian by email and phone. As I have the saqme intention, I am wondering what king of measurements you have settled with Mercian folks to have your custom bike ?

    Thank you for your time sharing your passion with us.

    Wal

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  76. Great bike - interesting on how many want wide tyres - my 60's lightweight came with tubular tyres which were a bit uncomfy but 700 x 25c seems more than wide/comfy enough… big tyres surely wouldn't look right on a Mercian?

    It this an urban v off-road thing or a European v American thing?

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  77. i've got a 1982 vincitore in 531, while it's showing signs of age in it's paintwork, it is still a very nice bicycle

    i think where some of the other people commenting this may be going wrong is that there are more than just the one gauge or profile of each tube, the reynolds catalogue lists around 55 different 631 tubes that they can chose from, to create the correct stiffness or strength of the bicycle

    853 is simply heat treated 631, it doesn't get any more simple than that !

    if one was to chose 853, the misconception is that it will be lighter, however this can both be true and false !

    if you were to pick 853 in the same gauge as the 631 yours is built with, it would give a considerably stiffer ride,

    however there is an 853 variant called 853 pro-team, because of the much higher strength of the 853 material, it can be drawn thinner than the 631 can, so it would create a much similar ride, with a small reduction in weight

    i don't mean to tell you that you might have ordered something inferior, because you certainly have not, they're a remarkable bike, i'm just trying to clear up some of the incorrect info there is on the net regarding these things, bikes are really a continuation of yourself, and are somewhat personal, what suits you may not suit someone else, so all i say is if you like it, and someone else doesn't, it's their loss !

    enjoy the ride quality, you won't get it from anywhere else !!

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  78. Many thanks for the review. After reading i ordered a frame for myself. http://wolff234.tumblr.com/
    Got everything you want these days in an american daytouring cycle. Low trail, low bottom bracket, rivish rack brazeons, space for my beloved supreme 700 40 + fenders, long top tube, horizontal dropouts so I can use my rohloff if I want, comfortable 631 tubing in normal, not oversize diameter. Everything seems to fit fine, only the son cableholder is a little bit too high. The other thing is - the frame is not fully prepped, so I have to carry it to my lbs to have it done. I am looking forward to ride the bike. Gunnar.

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  79. I ordered my Mercian Vincitore custom road fixed-gear in 2002, and it arrived in January 2003. It's no.504 on the fixedgeargallery. I told them not to cut anything off the chainstays, so it is a long, smooth-riding bike. Using 28mm tires, I've ridden it across the state and on countless long rambles over smooth asphalt, bumpy neglected macadam, gravel fire roads and hard-packed dirt roads. It is my all-time favorite bike, ever, and when I sold my Rivendell I kept this Mercian, as well as a battered vintage Mercian Colorado racing bike I got for a song. They're very different in design, but they both ride very, very well. There is just something about them that is exquisitely, perfectly right. I hope you get the chance to enjoy yours every day! The lilac is a STUNNING color!

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