Deep in the Countryside
It was a twenty minute journey through Normandy to reach the isolated farmhouse where this bike resided. When I pulled up amongst the ancient farm buildings nestled amongst chestnut and birch trees, I could see the wheel of a racing bike protruding from a storage barn where old farm machinery was kept. The place was so private and tranquil I was loathe to disturb the owner of the old stone house, which was quiet and seemed empty. Eventually a man came out and asked me to follow him to see the bike, and this is what I found. it reminded me of this bike I found in a barn in 2019.
The owner of the bike had no information to give me about the bike and had no idea about its history. He just seemed eager to get it out of his storage area and accepted just 10 Euros for it. He even seemed slightly embarrassed to be selling a bike in such condition, but to me the bike represented something else: a potentially good quality machine beneath all the dirt and years of sitting amongst this farmer’s junk. The condition of the bike seemed to me better than it looked, rust wasn’t a huge problem and the tubes had no holes or cracks. I’ve seen a lot worse. The most encouraging aspects were the Stronglight 49D crank and Simplex Criterium derailleurs.
What Brand and Year is it?
It’s very difficult to identify a vintage bike with absolutely no decals, markings or serial numbers. After looking over all over it, I was quite pessimistic about the chances of ever knowing the brand and model of this bike. However, dating it is a different matter. Often, components carry date stamps, especially derailleurs and hubs, and I knew that Normandy hubs nearly always have the year stamped on them. After a quick cleaning of one, I saw the year “1975”, clear as day. What’s more, as I took the bike apart, I saw evidence that the frame had actually been resprayed this colour red. Red paint was randomly found on the headset, under the saddle, on the brake cables, even on the Mafac brake hangers.
So if the bike wasn’t originally red, what colour was it? The evidence wasn’t difficult to find. Under the bottom bracket as well as around the rear dropouts and in any place where the red paint had been scraped off, was the colour pink. Incredibly, the bike had originally been pink, but someone didn’t like it. And what brand made pink bikes in France in the 1970’s? Mercier. Some Mercier models had a “M” stamped on the fork crown, but not this one, and it is still possible that it could have been a Bertin or something else. However, I would say the evidence points, my dear Watson, to the conclusion that his bike is a 1975 Mercier. Here is an example of a Mercier Rose.
The Stuck Pedal
The first problem was discovered when I tried to take the left side pedal off the crank. It was stuck, stuck in a way that it will break tools and incur so much damage to the flats that the problem will get brutal. I realised after a while that only a vice was going to get this pedal off, so removal of the pedal body was necessary to get access to the spindle. With the body now off, I could use the vice, but there was a new issue: on the edge of the flats, nearest the pedal body was a lip, a small ridge which would prevent the vice grip grabbing the flats for removal. This lip needed to be filed down, and once that was completed, the removal of the pedal in the vice was quite straightforward.
Is the Frame Good Quality?
This site has some interesting information on the history of dropouts. The fact that this frame has no derailleur mount on its rear dropouts could be interpreted as a bad thing, a sign that this was a low end bike. But that is not necessarily always the case, and it is possible that these tubes were made with Reynolds or Vitus tubes. The weight of the frameset with headset and shifters still in place is 3.1 kilos, which is as light as Reynolds 531 framesets I’ve weighed in the past. I admit that this is the weight without the bottom bracket in place, but even with this installed, the frameset wouldn’t weigh more than 3.5 kilos. This would easily qualify it, being a 57cm frame, as a Reynolds 531 or Vitus 172 tubed frame. Check this page for frame weight comparisons.
The Good and the Bad
Surprisingly, the derailleurs could still shift the chain up and down the 6 speed freewheel. The seat post moved freely, the Philipe stem was movable, everything in fact was adjustable and this is not to be sniffed at when it comes to vintage bikes in this condition. Chances are, something will be stuck somewhere. Unfortunately, the biggest disappointment with this racer was the condition of its wheels; the spokes were very badly rusted, and when I scrubbed the dirt off them most of the spokes were, regrettably, not salvageable. If I put this wheel set back on the frame, it would ruin everything. A replacement set of wheels was in order.
How it Turned Out
You have to expect to replace something when you bike a bike in this condition, not every part is going to come back to life. This bike, happily, did well for the condition it was left in after all these years. The only major problem was the necessity to replace the wheels. Don’t get me wrong, it was possible to spent a few hours cleaning the rusty spokes, the freewheel and the old Mavic rims. They just wouldn’t ever look good and bring the bike down by their shabby appearance. For the rest, the bike came back to life really well: the Simplex derailleurs work perfectly, the Mafac brakes and CLB levers still work fine, all moving parts work well and the bike looks great!
Review and Restoration – Video
Image of Restored Bike:
- 1975 Mercier Rose ( ? )
- Possible Vitus or Reynolds Frame
- No Serial Numbers or Frame Stamps
- Simplex Criterium Derailleurs ( Unbroken )
- Huret Front Downtube Shifters
- Stronglight 49D Crankset, French Threading, 170mm, 52/40
- Mafac Racer Centrepull Brakes
- CLB Brake Levers
- Philipe Stem, 22mm Quill
- Belleri Franco-Italia Handlebars
- Unmarked Seat post ( Looks 24mm )
- GT7 Saddle ( French )
- Mavic 27 inch Rims
- 6 Speed Freewheel
- Normandy Large Flange Hubs ( Stamped “75” )
- Bluemels Record Du Monde Mudguards