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Full Build Report: Red "Mystere" Mercier 531

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Full Build Report: Red "Mystere" Mercier 531

Old 09-14-17, 12:09 PM
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Full Build Report: Red "Mystere" Mercier 531

Hey all. I've been meaning to put up this full report for over a year, but one thing or another has gotten in the way. Since I'm getting sucked into a new project - a Bottecchia, I figured I better put this one up.

The "Mystere" bike build started with rummaging around in a box in the back of PT Cyclrey in Port Townsend WA. I pulled out a beautiful 1970 3ttt Record stem with some Gran Prix Merckx bend drops. Around the same time I became enamored with the Huret Jubilee drivetrain after getting miles in with a Huret Challenger/Duopar setup on my original vintage rig: a UO-8, and managed to put together a set of shifters and derailleurs without losing my kidneys or selling future kids. I had an Ideale 45 saddle lying around too.

A slow-burn project to build a bike formed, the kind where things taking a long time, and that was ok.
Well about a year passed. Occasionally I'd look at classifieds and see what frames were popping up, and a "mystery French frame" caught my eye. It had chromed stays and was the size I like in a road bike (or thought I did), 57cm. Strangely (given that it was FRENCH...it came with a French BB and a Stronglight 93 crank), it had a bike BB cutout in the shape of an M. No, not a Masi M, not any sort of M I'd seen, but an M nonetheless.

A mystery French frame to me was like a paper bag to a cat. So I went to check it out. The paint was not original and had been applied badly. We weighed it at the seller's house and the frame and fork were obviously not hi-ten. When I'd flick it, rang like a Westminster chime. I was pretty sure it was Reynolds. I probably paid too much but I bought it and the fork, the stronglight 93 crank with BB and a scary lightweight alloy seatpost (and a Jubilee cable guide!!!) for $200.

The community on here helped me figure out that the cutout was probably aftermarket, and so knowing that, the font of the M reminded me of Mercier. I wondered if someone had a frame from them a got a little too excited. It was a good guess in the end. Every attribute.... everything from the one lone brazeon for the rear derailleur cable to the style of stay caps and attachements (messy bikeboom brazing to the dropouts ending in a slight point), the "Implex" dropouts, the extent of the chroming, and the 75 degree head tube angle matched a Mercier 300 frame and nothing else I found anywhere. As in, every other make and model I could get a picture of was off in some fundamental way. This wasn't done casually and took a lot of time. I'll never be 100% sure, but at this point I'd say I'm 99%.

The fork on the other hand, did not match anything Mercier. It appeared to have a Nervex Du Bois crown lug with a Nervor steerer and Simplex dropouts. Almost on accident I stumbled on the exact fork on the a classic Gitane website, and believe it to be a 1974 fork off a Tour de France. (Keep in mind the frame matches none of the Gitanes) The scalloped ends at the dropouts indicate Reynolds 531, and I think someone had the whole thing chromed at some point. Verkyr ended up confirming the Gitane theory for the fork (thanks again Verkyr!). I don't know what happened to the original, but the frame showed no sign of buckled, bent or dented tubes.

The existing paint was applied without any primer, so just running an aluminum spanner along the tube made the paint leap off. I had to wear safety glasses because flecks would fly. I was sure I was going to find a show-stopper that would make me sorry I bought it, but the more paint I took off, the better it looked. The few rust spots I explored with some needle files were just surface stains. The brazing was complete, no gaps or any strangeness, and you could tell someone did a little cleanup on the brazing, though I couldn't tell if this was original or aftermarket. Lug thinning had been done and you could still see the makers marks. The only flaw in the whole frame was a rear dropout that was ever so slightly tweaked (has not caused issues).

I looked in the right places and found the REYNOLDS 531 BUTTED marks on the main tubes. The top and Down tube are heavy gauge 18/24 while the seat tube is lighter 21/24. The Bocama lugs indicated a head tube angle of 75 degrees (verified by measurement).

At the same time, I spotted a set of MAFAC Racer brakes and levers at the local dump on a "yard art" bike. They know me there, so they said I was free to strip the parts as long as I left the rest of the bike - an unidentified but far gone bikeboom model (later identified as a St Etienne). To add to the strangeness, the local bike shop owner was cleaning and found a MAFAC kit and black pouch on one of the upper rafters of the store and gave it to me. He figured it must have been there for 30 years.
I took the brakes apart and wetsanded them with 600 grit sandpaper followed by 1500 grit and then a polishing compound. I polished through some of the original uneven finish and ended up with polished aluminum. In a way, it's a vision of what could have been. It's amazing how a component can look weak when it's tarnished, and look bombproof when it's polished. It was nice to get the techniques down to where I had the option of restoring any aluminum piece to that finish, and I used it a lot later.
The crankset was in pretty good shape other than the chainrings which were on their last legs. I managed to find a NOS 53 ring on Ebay for $25 (!!!) the big ring that came with the crank was a 45, and I made that my small ring for the time being. This gave me a 53/45. The only complication with the crank was the BB, which was a hollow spindle 118mm Stronglight that was getting pitted. I decided to keep it until I found something better, and I turned the pitted side so that it would be at 6-o-clock when the driveside crank was at the end of the upstroke.
The Jubilee drivetrain had spent plenty of time on display for conversation. The cable guide that came with the frame completed the group set. I had to do a little monkeying with the Huret hanger to fit on the thick Simplex dropouts (The Simplex claw had been ground off by someone else).

I was originally going to build the wheels, but let the bike shop build them instead. Early on I was going to fix up a set of Normandy Sport hubs, but that was upgraded when I found a set of Luxe Competition gold label hubs + Simplex skewers with all the little black plastic pieces for $15 (bike shop in Portland). A buddy of mine gave me two tubular rims that he'd used back in the day before he went to clinchers. One was a Fiamme Red Label. The other was unmarked, but from the remnants of a decal I think they were Mavics (400g even). For spokes we selected top of the line DT Swiss Revolution double butted with alloy nipples. Wheel weight came out about to about 1680 grams between front and rear not counting freewheel.
The buddy who gave me the rims also gave me a jewel of a freewheel - a decidedly non-French Suntour Winner Ultra 6 with alloy cogs. 250g. We weren't sure if it was going to work though.
For tires the price of good tubulars came as a shock. I opted for Vittoria Corsa Elites which are sort of their version of a Gatorskin-ish training tire and run around $80 per tire.
I took the frame for powdercoating (Seattle Powdercoat) and after a lot of agonizing, completely abondoned all my pre-selected colors for a copper metallic red. $300 later it looked like a million bucks. I'd ordered the French Reynolds replica decals from online and picked out one of the possible sets of Mercier transfers that seemed to appear on a '300. For the final touch I insisted on outlining the lugs in gold ....on the lug tops....with a paint brush. I guess I like being stressed out. I SHOULD have clearcoated everything at this point but my winter was starting to turn into spring, and I started getting impatient.
One of the last pieces to get was the headset. I was going to put a Phillipe stem on the bike after I decided I just couldn't sand the 3TTT Record to be 22mm. That lasted until I bothered to test fit the 3TTT for the hell of it and.....the Nervor/Nervex fork had a 22.2 steerer (OR as has been mentioned, a sloppily bored 22mm that came out too large) I saved my Velo Orange French headset for the UO8, and found an English-sized Stronglight A-9 needle bearing headset (80+- grams!).

Gradually adding the puzzle pieces to the frame, it was starting to look like a bike. I set it to the right fit and discovered how different the classic race fit looked from the "modern" fit. I'd gone for the frame knowing that 57cm was my sweet spot frame size for a carbon go-fast ride seeing as that's what my Roubaix is (and yes, even though I'm 6'2", that fit works and I'm sticking to it). It looks fine on the Roubaix, but it makes the Mercier look a little strange. It almost has a pista fit. The seatpost is at minimum insertion. Still, I achieved my road seat height, position and reach.

I had been aiming to try and get the machine sub 20 lbs, and thinking of replacing the Ideale 45 with something really light, like an Avocet racing III, but that ended when I stumbled on a beautiful Ideale 90, Rebour edition. So much for light weight..... Later in the year, I picked up a TA Criterium bottle cage (the one with a single mounting band) that I placed on the downtube and found a clamp to let me put another TA-lookalike on the center of the bars. I like to timetrial, and for Merckx style TTs, I got a stopwatch mount and managed to scrounge a Heuer from 1970. The icing on the cake was finding a nice original wool 1972 GAN Mercier Hutchinson jersey.

Exiting the "project" phase, the bike weighed in around 22lbs.

For the first run up and down the road I quickly learned that the wing-and-a-prayer weightweenie alloy cogs were done. I had one steel cog so I could at least take the bike around the neighborhood. My buddy came back over with the steel cogs and we rebuilt the freewheel. The main further squaks were the standard French bike teething problems (BB unscrewing itself, brake adjustments and MAFAC pads screaming like a banchee, etc.

The best way to describe the bike's personality is that it thinks it's 1973, and it's young, proud and impetuous. The cockpit is polished aluminum and chrome with Olympic rings and the World Championship rainbow smiling up at me. Cables and bar tape are white with the MAFAC hoods wrapped Anquiteil style. Handlebars are brutally deep. Drivetrain response is no-nonsense stiff and puts power to the ground. Turning radius is tight once in the turn. In short, there's nothing laid back or slow going on here.

A drilled nine speed chain was used just to try and save weight, but alas it can almost fit between the chainrings. In the end it's turned out ok, and the Stronglight chainrings and chain have learned how to play nice. When I replace the chain at some point I'll switch to the 8 speed model.
The big suprise of the whole drivetrain has been the Huret Jubilee rear derailleur. I heard it described as working "ok". It's fantastic. It's precise with a light touch, it's silent, it weighs nothing, it looks amazing. It draws attention. As long as it doesn't turn into pretty aluminum sparks, I'll be fine.

Handling has been interesting because it seems to respond more to butt balance than my other bikes, and after 1000+ miles I'm just learning how to talk to it. Somehow I feel like the front end is a little more stable than my Roubaix, yet the bike feels serpentine undeneath me without feeling twitchy. Handling is easier up on the MAFAC hoods and gets a little over-stable down in the drops. Compared to my Roubaix, the BB is lower, and the rear stays are about the same length, though the wheelbase on the Mercier is almost an inch shorter, completely from the front. Trail appears to be the same, in the 65mm realm despite different head tube angles and fork rake. As a result there's more weight on the front wheel than the Roubaix. Even with the sort-of similarity in the numbers, they handle completely differently.

In the end, it's geometry that will go straight until you tell it to turn, and then it will turn hard and tight.

The before-mentioned drops are deep enough that on my distance rides I found them rarely used, and I considered replacing them. Then I took it to a timetrial and discovered that they were just the ticket for an all out effort. The only cost is that I probably ride on the hoods a lot more than I would if it were a classic fit.

In terms of miles, it mostly does perfect-day mid summer commutes once or twice a week. Last year I eventually took it out for a metric century, then a full century, and I followed that up two weeks later with a 200 mile Seattle to Portland run (one day) ala vintage. My buddy came down on his vintage Merckx with a Molteni jersey to match my GAN, and I ended up wearing my spare tubular oldschool style. The next day I did a further 100 mile ride to Breitenbush hotsprings. Any saddle I still like after 300 miles in a weekend is a keeper. It went from a project to my single-weekend distance record holder in 8 months.

Finally, I'd like to send out a special thanks to Juvela for wisdom and encouragement while I figured this stuff out.

Components For Le Mystere Rouge:

Frame: Mercier 300 Reynolds 531 57cm (99% sure)
Fork: Gitane TDF (est)
Stem/Bars: 3TTT Record (1970) with matching Gran Prix Merckx Bend bars
Seatpost: Unknown
Saddle: Ideale No.90 Rebour
Crankset: Stronglight 93 53/45
BB: Stronglight 118mm
Headset: Stronglight A-9
Front Derailleur: Huret Jubilee
Rear Derailleur: Huret Jubilee (short cage, 1971)
Shifters: Huret Jubilee
Cableguide: Huret Jubilee
Brakes: MAFAC Racer
Hubs: Normandy Luxe Competition Large Flange Gold Label
Rims: Fiamme Red Label/Unknown
Freewheel: Suntour Winner Ultra 6 14-24

Photo Album:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/773256...h/23653155610/

Previous posts about this bike:
http://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vi...odd-frame.html
http://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vi...-philippe.html
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Old 09-14-17, 01:31 PM
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Wow, great job "restifying" a gorgeous bike!
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Old 09-14-17, 02:07 PM
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That's quite the right up! Great effort and job on bringing some mystery into your life.
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Old 09-15-17, 08:10 AM
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Good job and good looking!

On another note – thank you for putting a “full” post together. I really appreciate the effort and you giving us more than just a couple of pictures and – “hey - look what I have done”. Too few make the effort of explaining background, thoughts, choices - and the ups and downs. When, like in your post, one gets more - I start to like the bike even if it is not in my normal line of interest. I like that – it expands my mind and widens the horizon. Thank you.

After many years in different hobbies and on the net I have made an observation though – that the more effort one lays into a post the less response it gets. My theory about what lays behind this phenomenon is too long, meandering and old man grumpy to dwell on here and - I do not wish to take away focus from you excellent post.

I do not let the phenomenon discourage me though – and I hope you do not either.

Thanks again!

Last edited by styggno1; 09-15-17 at 08:20 AM. Reason: spelling
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Old 09-15-17, 10:50 AM
  #5  
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@styggno1 I appreciate those words, and thanks for the encouragement. I almost didn't realize how long of a book I wrote until I posted it and thought "Holy........". But there it is.

I figure even if it doesn't get noticed now, I know I've enjoyed enough good posts from a long time ago, and hopefully someone looking up "Mercier" enjoys reading it sometime in the future. It's out there for the community, and that's all that matters.
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Old 09-16-17, 07:09 AM
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What a beautiful machine!
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Old 09-18-17, 01:56 PM
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I'll add one more anecdote,

I like to timetrial at the local (unofficial) 7.5 mile Tuesday gathering after work on Whidbey Island, and I have a road bike that I've tweaked out with aerobars, and for me, a setup that includes a skinsuit, aero helmet, shoe covers, etc.

So for the last few runs of last season, I took the Mercier out, first using all the TT clothing, and a couple weeks later wearing the classic wool jersey, crochet gloves, uncovered shoes....the classic setup.

The run with the full TT getup came within 50 seconds of my fastest time to that date on the "modern" bike, which is remarkable because most of that time could be attributed to the lack of aerobars, and additional time could be attributed to picky things like differences in tire Crr (several watts and if I recall, about 15 seconds according to the estimates).

Moral of the story is that a Reynolds 531 frame with a 6-speed Huret Jubilee drivetrain doesn't give much, if it gives up anything at all vs a Specialized carbon frame with a Shimano 105 setup.

BTW, The difference between full skinsuit/helmet "cosmic penguin" setup and the classic wool jersey was almost another minute!
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Old 09-18-17, 02:07 PM
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;-)
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Old 07-12-19, 01:19 AM
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Originally Posted by Aurorabucky View Post
@styggno1 I appreciate those words, and thanks for the encouragement. I almost didn't realize how long of a book I wrote until I posted it and thought "Holy........". But there it is.

I figure even if it doesn't get noticed now, I know I've enjoyed enough good posts from a long time ago, and hopefully someone looking up "Mercier" enjoys reading it sometime in the future. It's out there for the community, and that's all that matters.
Well, that is exactly what happened. I guess Phil (Aurorabucky) hasn't posted here in almost 2 years, and I don't know if he'll even see this, but I want to say thank you anyway (if anyone here is in contact with him, maybe you'd be kind enough to direct him here). And I agree with what styggno1 said above. I tried to message Phil, but apparently I need to have a longer posting record before I can do that. Oh well.

So, this is my first post on BF. I only found the forums recently, after getting more serious about doing some online research on Mercier bikes. My dad gave me a red Mercier (probably a model 100) in 1969, for my 13th birthday. It was stolen in 1970, and unfortunately I never saw it again. A few years later, I got a sort of entry level Bianchi (a "Strada"), and rode that quite a bit from the mid-70's to the late 80's. It was a good bike that I put a lot of miles on, and I had it far longer than the Mercier, but to this day I still feel far more nostalgia and sentimentality for that Mercier that my dad got me. When my wife and I started a family, I got a Schwinn cruiser and hadn't owned another road bike since... until a couple of weeks ago. For the past several years, I've had my eyes open for a Mercier similar to the one I had. I've seen some come up for sale locally, but none of them were right (model, condition, price, color, etc). To my surprise, I found one a couple of weeks ago on a local Craigslist ad which seems to be completely original except for the tires, and it's in very nice condition for its age (I think it probably dates to about 1970-71). It's green, and slightly fancier than the one I had (this one may be a 200). Unfortunately, I think I also need to have more posts up before I can upload photos. I'll probably start my own thread when I reach that requirement. Cheers.
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Old 07-12-19, 02:15 AM
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Originally Posted by JimR56 View Post
Well, that is exactly what happened. I guess Phil (Aurorabucky) hasn't posted here in almost 2 years, and I don't know if he'll even see this, but I want to say thank you anyway (if anyone here is in contact with him, maybe you'd be kind enough to direct him here). And I agree with what styggno1 said above. I tried to message Phil, but apparently I need to have a longer posting record before I can do that. Oh well.

So, this is my first post on BF. I only found the forums recently, after getting more serious about doing some online research on Mercier bikes. My dad gave me a red Mercier (probably a model 100) in 1969, for my 13th birthday. It was stolen in 1970, and unfortunately I never saw it again. A few years later, I got a sort of entry level Bianchi (a "Strada"), and rode that quite a bit from the mid-70's to the late 80's. It was a good bike that I put a lot of miles on, and I had it far longer than the Mercier, but to this day I still feel far more nostalgia and sentimentality for that Mercier that my dad got me. When my wife and I started a family, I got a Schwinn cruiser and hadn't owned another road bike since... until a couple of weeks ago. For the past several years, I've had my eyes open for a Mercier similar to the one I had. I've seen some come up for sale locally, but none of them were right (model, condition, price, color, etc). To my surprise, I found one a couple of weeks ago on a local Craigslist ad which seems to be completely original except for the tires, and it's in very nice condition for its age (I think it probably dates to about 1970-71). It's green, and slightly fancier than the one I had (this one may be a 200). Unfortunately, I think I also need to have more posts up before I can upload photos. I'll probably start my own thread when I reach that requirement. Cheers.
Welcome to BF and I'm looking forward to reading your thread on your Mercier. There is not as much info on them as some of the other French bikes (Peugeot, Motobecane, and Gitane).
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Old 07-12-19, 06:12 AM
  #11  
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Thanks for some newly educating too

Thanks also for helping new guys to think about frames/angles/handling and such. Newer guy here accumulating a couple bikes, and reading and trying is an education. These kinds of posts help with the education.
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Old 07-12-19, 05:56 PM
  #12  
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One of you full side shots is now in my desktop rotation. Very nicely done.
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Old 07-12-19, 06:04 PM
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Originally Posted by bikemig View Post
Welcome to BF and I'm looking forward to reading your thread on your Mercier. There is not as much info on them as some of the other French bikes (Peugeot, Motobecane, and Gitane).
Thanks, bikemig. I will look forward to sharing it.
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Old 07-12-19, 07:36 PM
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Originally Posted by CV-6 View Post
One of you full side shots is now in my desktop rotation. Very nicely done.
In a similar vein, I included a couple of them in my current screen saver (dozens of vintage Mercier images found on the web).
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